Updated: Feb 9
I knew in 6th grade itself that I would be doing an MBA. No kidding. My mother's logic was, "Your dad has one degree. You must have at least two. We will see about the PhD". Ever since I was a kid, I knew I had to prepare for the all important entrance exams. So determined were my parents to see me become a post graduate, they would shove Competition Success Review magazines in my face every month. No comic books for you, start preparing. Having committed the grave crime of not being an engineer, I spent my early 20s compensating for that sin. My atonement was directed towards my father, my relatives and to a major extent, even myself. I had to prove a point. I was smart and could get into a decent enough institute.
Every street corner has an MBA college today and despite repeated reports of the quality of graduates out of these institutes not being up to the mark, the craze for MBA won't die down for at least another decade. This is because premier MBA grads are overpaid by a country mile and a half. It's not even funny how staggeringly financially rewarding this degree is and to what lengths the aspirants, students, administrators and trustees will go to ensure the status quo remains as it is. With the backdrop of an economic slowdown, rising population and a bumbling Government, young people can't be faulted for trying out their luck in the MBA game.
The most common question in any entrance interview is "Why MBA?" and rightly so. The panel must know the motivation(s) behind the applicant's pursuit. The most common answers range from "peer to peer learning" to "learning under legendary faculty" to "gaining insights into the running of a successful business". While noble, none of these answers reflect the true reason behind most applicants' desire - Money. Don't get me wrong, this article isn't written to shame the average 20 something's ambition to earn as much as possible. I'd never do that after epitomizing this approach for almost half a decade.
One of the most common complaints of institute faculty in India is that students hardly show any desire or commitment to causes which doesn't impact their chances of getting a fat paycheck at the end of their course.
"We are an educational institute, not a placement factory!" bellows every faculty worth his/ her salt in every MBA college in India! But are you really?
While young men and women raised in India's hyper competitive education system can be held partially responsible for the malaise of placement oriented effort allocation, what percentage of blame must be put on institute management? What about the hordes of MNCs and VC funded startups that claw and gnaw to get the best students graduating from these institutes year after year? This talent arms race has inflated the market to such an extent, it has signaled to every applicant that an MBA is a shortcut to a cushy corporate life where they're more equal than others.
We enter the corporate world with the halo of an above average hire that's supposed to "bring about transformation" in whichever role we are put into. We are classified as "Young Leaders" as part of programs specially designed with a three-five year road-map designed for our progress within the organisation. Most big firms have these programs where young guns are paired with massively experienced actual leaders within the organisation. This is done to mentor the new hires in to the ways of the company and the industry. If you are in sales, you are thrown into the field with a revenue target and a bunch of sales executives under you, most of them elder to you but not blessed with a fancy CV. If you are in consulting, you are sent to client offices to "build Go To Market plans" or "transform sales team structures" armed with zero experience but with a fanatical zeal to earn more, do more and maintain the status quo you've established over the years.
What follows next is an absolutely random series of events where every MBA grad must take crucial decisions that'll shape their immediate future, if not career trajectory. All the waffling about "I want to do Marketing" or "Sales is my passion" or "Finance is where I will build my church" goes out of the window the moment REAL corporate rules come into the picture. It's not even funny how quickly people abandon their strongly held beliefs about career objectives and stream allegiances.
Today, the Indian MBA is just a step in the direction of solidifying a high paying role within the air conditioned hallways of corporate India.
Maybe it always was just a gateway to enter the exclusive club of above average hires that have a shot at high impact roles. Maybe it became so recently. But it is exactly that at this point of time.
The first few months are magical especially with the paychecks lighting up your phone notifications. Wait for a year or two and this salary will hold you hostage. If you don't like where you are and what you do, it will feel like a burden you didn't ask for or no one warned you about. Taking a pay-cut is considered blasphemy and the only way to prove your allegiance to the status quo is by lighting up your Instagram every three to six months with vacation photos specially designed to mess with everyone's sense of self. Look at me bitch. That's a Pina Colada. And that's a beach. Yes I vomit every Monday morning before heading to work. But that's immaterial right now. Look at this Pina Colada again. Bitch!
Did you see the airport check-in I posted while wiping away tears of an existential crisis on a Wednesday afternoon? Don't worry, I will share throwback pictures to prove to everyone how classy my life is. I will also post the yearly award I won for being a top performer despite wailing in my office parking lot about how mean some people have been! Burnout? You mean the cries of the weak? Sorry, don't know that concept.
I am an MBA. I am elite. My institute called me a "young leader" five hundred times in two years. They can't be wrong! I am special.
Okay. I am exaggerating a little. But I know enough and more fellow MBAs who are more confused two years after their MBA than they were before filling out their entrance forms. What life inevitably teaches sheltered MBAs is that they aren't special and their only value is dependent on their output that positively affects either the top line or bottom line of their corporate benefactors. It also makes you question what is your actual purpose in life and career. With work life balance fast fading away as a concept to cede space to "hustle culture", most MBAs are heading towards a burnout. Which is what makes "Why MBA?" so crucial. It's extremely important that one knows what they are getting into and what they can handle and what they can't. There's absolutely no point of being an MBA if you don't have peace of mind. In fact there's no point of being anything at all without that.
Having criticized MBA culture thus far, I'd also like to point out that the two years I spent in my institute are still some of the best memories of my life. While my "peer to peer learning" was overwhelmingly in the space of 'how much alcohol can my friend drink before he passes out in front of a railway station', it also exposed me to people who were exceptionally talented, dedicated and ambitious. It gives you a much needed sense of humility and perspective that's necessary to be a good human being. It challenges you to become better than you ever thought you could be. It also teaches you how some people can be respected even within the scope of rivalry. All in all, my MBA was the correct decision. At least for me. But was it for you? Will it be for the lakhs of starry eyed applicants? Time will tell. But what's important is to have a balanced view of reality in the absence of bullshit frameworks. My only advice would be to choose a role that's closest to your passion. Because as a senior once told me:
Salary is one day of the month. The role stays for the rest twenty nine.