Mr Vivek Joshi graduated from IIM Bombai in the year 1986, completed his MS from University of South Florida and then PGPX, 1 year full time MBA from IIM Ahmedabad in the year 2007. Currently he is an Advisor to A-Joshi Strategy Consultants Pvt Ltd, a Strategy Consulting firm.
Snippets of his conversation with mymbastory.com
1) Among the manifold career choices, what made you opt for an MBA at that point of time? In retrospect, how would you reflect on your decision?
An MBA was always an objective. In retrospect, I made a mistake by not taking one up when I was receiving scholarships from some B-schools after finishing my M.S.Ch.E in USA. I opted for gaining some experience instead, and then found that circumstances and life-style were preventing a return to student life. I worked in functional roles for quite some time, finally becoming manager of a business with top & bottom line responsibility. I found that I was developing some skills experientially, and needed to build a platform of formal business education to integrate the learnings, as well as develop additional skills. I could have continued my career in Supply Chain or Innovation. Instead I was keen on business related roles. I then decided to opt for an MBA. Since I had a lot of managerial experience by then, a 2 year program would have been superfluous, and the cost of lost opportunity would be high. Hence I chose a 1 year program.
2) What were the key aspects of your MBA exam preparation strategy, both for the written test as well as the personal interviews that follow?
Having taken the GRE and GMAT several years back, I was familiar with such examinations. These exams require preparation, familiarity with the exam pattern and actual practice. Taking exams while working full-time, and having a family, requires very good time management. I bought two guides, and downloaded about 5 past question papers. During the week I used to start studying from about 10 pm to 1 am for about three months. On weekends I studied about 6 hours on Saturday & Sunday. I took the diagnostic test in each guide first, under simulated exam conditions. For the fourth months I increased the study time on weekends. For an engineer the mathematics related sections require revision only, while other sections require some study. It is important to practice a lot of exams under simulated conditions. Familiarity with computer based tests is also important. Speed in the actual exam will be a little less than in the simulations. There will also be some errors due to carelessness, short-cuts and overconfidence, particularly in mathematics by engineers. The quality of the GMAT is seen from the fact that I got the same score 15 years apart.
Having taken several exams like the JEE, GRE, AGRE, GATE, GMAT, XAT, Licensing Exam in USA and CAT, my impression is that CAT is the most difficult. Indian exams will generally put a lot of unnecessary emphasis on speed. This is presumably to simulate working under stress in managerial life. I do not agree with this. It perhaps stems from the tendency in India to set very long question papers, rather than questions which require reflection and exercise of judgment, and perhaps due to the fact that very few of the academia who set the papers have actually worked hands-on as managers. I feel the GMAT is more representative.
Many of the questions in an interview can be anticipated. Starting with an analysis of my strengths, weaknesses, motivations, career ambitions, I made a short list of “FAQs”. I then wrote out short answers these. It is important to visit and revisit these answers, as they can be sharpened over time, without diluting their authenticity. I shared the refined list with a few select well-wishers who knew me well, were at least familiar with my work, and were themselves senior managers. Interaction with an experienced HR manager helps. After that I practiced one or two sessions of verbalizing the answers, without cramming them.
Some of the B-schools have group discussions. Despite having done well in most GDs I participated in, I am not in favor of these as a selection process, as they are shallow and do not really reflect skills required for managerial success. I found that American B-schools do not have GDs. My experience of the GDs is that it is best to speak 4-5 sentences at a time, and try to speak 3-4 times during the GD. Best to speak sense, though occasionally fairly nonsensical topics are assigned for discussion, like “Which is better – love marriage or arranged marriage”.
3) How does the MBA course life transform an individual?
The structured manner of the PGPX course sharpened my managerial skills in accounting, operations, strategy and management. The case study method of learning allowed to me deep dive into strategy concepts and sharpen my business intuition. I will summarize the transformation at various levels. Professionally it helped to knit together many of my experiential learnings. This is helpful in developing a holistic perspective of issues. I also “discovered” an area of deeper interest for me – Strategy. I have since been a consistent student of this field. The program has also helped to develop my personality in some unexpected ways. I am now give guest lectures in some area around Venture Capital & Strategy. I write & speak on some “high-level” perspectives on Economics, Venture Capital & Strategy, and without an MBA the content would not have been of interest to my audience. One of the unplanned benefits of the course is that my business intuition has become much sharper.
4) Can you please share an interesting experience in course of your post-MBA professional career?
There have been several. These include turnaround of a company, trying change management, acquisition integration and teaching. It is difficult to share experiences due to confidentiality. Suffice it to say that in several instances the MBA has helped.
5) In your view, what are factors a student must carefully consider before deciding to embark on the MBA journey? (Aptitude, career aspirations etc.)
The country has an excess of graduates, and even post-graduates. A second (higher) degree has become important, but is not a guarantee of good placements. A prospective student should be clear of the inputs which will be required in an MBA. These include commitment of time, significant financial outgo, cost of lost opportunity, and a lot of hard work. The hard work is more intense than in undergraduate programs. For a meaningful experience it is important to be selective about the institution as the quality of an MBA, and its perception is more institute dependent than in the case of engineering. Significant learning accrues from the cohort, so participation in cohort discussions is important. An MBA undertaken because a candidate is bored or facing a roadblock may not be the most appropriate basis. The degree will also not catapult a candidate into senior management or even into a management role straightaway. It is more about development of competencies, and hence the returns will accrue over a period of time. For students with significant experience it is important to keep in mind that bigger jumps will come by continuing in their industries and functions, particularly for positions in the value-chain. A change of industry will be accompanied with a loss of some years of experience, at least initially. However, for those wishing to change streams it can be a good break-point. A good MBA can be a potential door opener. Most MBA aspirants are engineers, who will struggle with courses like accounting and some of the softer aspects of management education. The learnings in an MBA from one of the top IIMs is as good as from any B-school in the world. However, the recognition accorded to an MBA degree from India is not on par with that accorded to the top 10-15 global B-schools, unlike in the case of the IITs. A foreign MBA can add additional value due to the higher diversity of the cohort, international faculty, networks and exposure. These MBAs are very expensive, scholarships are very few in number, and hence the candidate may need to live abroad for some time to ensure a decent ROI. It is also useful to keep in mind that an MBA from a top 10 global B-school will not necessarily be an advantage in India, at least during the initial part of the post MBA career. Some work experience before an MBA will be helpful, but it needs to be meaningful experience and for about 4 years at least.
6) In a nutshell, what would be your advice to future MBA aspirants?
It is a fruitful, exciting & rewarding journey, but certainly not easy and not the destination. Consider it as an important foundation and building block. Keep your feet grounded, and have high ambitions. What you get is in proportion to what you will put in. Rate of obsolescence is getting higher, so continuous learning is important.
Mr Vivek Joshi can be reached at www.expertstrat.com