“The current global pandemic has hit every individual in the world, making everyone think about the various aspects of life. The business world has changed dramatically and entire models of functions are evolving every day. Is the MBA programme relevant in such uncertain times and is it the right time to pursue PGP from ISB? Find these answers through the lenses of ISB alumni.”

When Pallavi decided to pursue PGP from ISB in 2009, the world was reeling with the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, emerging from the breakdown of US Subprime Mortgage. With already a comfortable job at IBM, the risks and doubts came into consideration. For Sivakumar, the same questions came up when he decided to leave his job in the United States in 2007 & pursue an MBA from an Indian institute instead of an Ivy League school. In the case of Sameer, the world had plunged into chaos amid his PGP journey in 2001, when the World Trade Centre in New York came to rubble due to 9/11.

Pallavi Malani is now a Managing Director & Partner at Boston Consulting Group and has been in the organisation for a decade after her PGP from ISB. Sivakumar Sethuraman, after his PGP in 2008, has worked with 3 of the top 5 tech companies in the world – Amazon, Facebook & Google. Sameer Khetrapal, at present, is the Director (Category Management) at Amazon.

That is the significance of management education. In an ever-changing world, businesses around the world must evolve at a much faster pace to cater to the new realities. The skills and agility modern-day businesses require to survive & thrive come from leaders with a strong foundational layer of business understanding and management.

In an online panel discussion organised by ISB, the trio from the different batches of PGP shared their views of the relevance of pursuing an MBA in uncertain times. Here are a few important pointers raised & addressed.

ISB MBA Necessary or Relevant at all?

Speaking on the subject, Pallavi Mallani said, “During a survey conducted among the client CEOs in our firm with the onset of global pandemic last year, 85% percent indicated the need to have managers with skills navigate through the current volatile situation and the uncertainty it brings to the business environment. This situation also paves the way to new opportunities that businesses can capitalise upon. Hence, it is necessary to have managers who are well-educated, trained and skilled to work under such strenuous conditions. Time and again, the demand for people with managerial skills rises during uncertainty. Therefore, the relevance of MBA continues.”

Sivakumar added, “Pandemic or not, two skills are critical in business management. One is the ability to deal with ambiguity and the second is the ability to influence without authority. An MBA programme such as PGP helps you amass these skill sets and help you gain credibility in the talent pool market. One may not require an MBA to succeed or become an entrepreneur, but in a high talent contested world where resources are limited and decisions are made in split-seconds, the rigor and credibility of comes from the MBA.”

Sameer believes MBA is foundational in building managerial careers. While sharing his thoughts on the subject, he said, “PGP helped me become a generalist athlete in my career. It brings the ability to straddle across various functions and teams in the organization, helping you dig deep to get the desired results. This shift is extremely helpful in building you as a business leader. In terms of uncertainty, there are few concerns, but it is a remarkable time to pursue an MBA. The business world is doing well regardless of companies hitting new market caps and trillion-dollar marks. If stock markets are indicators of how markets are, there has never been a better time!”

MBA and Career Transitions

On the subject of how an MBA helps while one transitions from one organisation to another, Sivakumar emphasised on how PGP proved a game-changer in his career. “Before ISB, I was an engineer by profession and had a narrow set of skills and abilities. I benefitted a lot from PGP where I went through courses such as operations and management. Though the course was rigorous, the learnings from the programme helped me immensely while I was working with Amazon, in leading operations and working on the pricing. When I moved the Facebook, I managed trust and safety operations. Now at Google, I manage a mix of product management, program management & operations. I circle back my ability to juggle through various roles and bring results managing different sets of things to ISB. The confidence the programme provides is beyond measure.”

Consulting as a career after MBA

Sharing her experience as a seasoned consultant in a Top Consulting firm in the world, Pallavi mentioned how PGP helped her prepare well for her career. “For a successful career in consulting one needs to ability to think in a structured manner. One should be able to solve a diverse set of problems and go beyond the areas of expertise to bring a well-rounded solution that clients value. One also needs a wide network to leverage opportunities and client relationships. PGP provides a substantiative value in all these aspects. The course is rigorous and highly diverse, cutting across all the subjects and topics in business management. It gives the varied view in a very structured way, automatically imbibing the rigorous-structured thinking ability. The diverse peer network and the larger alumni network give you an additional head-start while starting your career as a consultant. The top-tier consulting firms hire from top-tier management schools. ISB helps you signal the world your dedication to upgrade your skillsets and access to the consulting world.”

Future of Business Management & Relevance of MBA

Stressing upon the new-age realities, the shift in business models and the future of MBA, Sivakumar said, “Most CEOs in the world including mine (at Google) today are MBA graduates. So, the relevance of an MBA is strong and keeps growing in the coming years. In the technology sector, one needs to be a techno-manager rather than be a technologist for career progression. While one needs to have a deep understanding of technology, one also needs to develop general management skills in terms of strategy, marketing, finance and leadership. This helps you become a well-rounded manager, propelling you up the management ladder. Most companies today rely on their senior executives to run independent businesses within the organisation. PGP definitely arms you these skills in a much more structured way and confidence to realise the desired results.”

Adding from her experience, Pallavi added, “MBA will actually be more relevant in near future. The kind of profiles consulting as well other companies are currently recruiting indicates the need for more managerial talent to take on contemporary problems and aspirations the organisations have. Even after we come out of this pandemic, the opportunities which come up will certainly raise the demand for MBA graduates & managerial talent.”

The Right Time to Pursue MBA

When asked about the right time to pursue MBA, Pallavi mentioned,” Though it is a hard one to pin-point, the right time for MBA comes when you feel stagnant in your career, or you need to change your career trajectory. In order to grow in your profession or change it, one needs to pick up suitable skills and learn about diverse fields of business management. PGP helps you to upskill and gain positive momentum in your career trajectory. Learning is a lifetime opportunity and one year at ISB is totally worth it in a grander scheme of things.”

Sivakumar added, “In my opinion, the right time to pursue PGP from ISB is when you are out of your early job cycle. The richness of the course is realised not only by what you learn but what you bring to the table. Every student in ISB is a co-faculty, bringing in the experience, expertise and learnings from the diverse field. I recommend PGP at a 4 to 5-year mark of career, which is when the required experience has been successfully achieved.”

Lastly, Sameer concluded the topic with the range of experience a PGP class has. “There is never a right time to go for education or re-education. Be it in the early 20s or late 40s, education always helps grow more in your life. ISB helps you spur the insights to see education more holistically. The median for PGP is 4-5years but investing one year in education is something one should strive for. It is never too late (be it whiter or lesser hair) to go back for education.”

-Author: Paritosh Garlyal, Consultant, AFA