Importance of an MBA in a political economy

Wednesday, 18 December 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Last week I was invited to address the MBA batch of a top university in Sri Lanka on the subject ‘Markets and Strategy’. The first thought that came to my mind is how useful an MBA is in today’s world, when there is a political economy at play, which means that decisions are made on a political agenda rather than for pure economic benefit. A point that must be noted is that working in a political economy is a Harvard curriculum given that it’s a challenge for the global executive of tomorrow and not confined to a specific country. Given this development and the Sri Lankan economy’s thrust towards a 100 billion dollar economy, the key reasons why an MBA is required for an executive of tomorrow to my mind are as follows: 1) Right to be heard When I was appointed as Category Head for Health and Personal Care Products at a multinational organisation some years back, I found that apart from my area of specialisation in marketing, I had to engage with specialists from other disciplines like IT, finance, marketing, procurement, HR, production or quality assurance and this called for a good understanding of how each of these disciplines work. If one does not have a technical knowledge on each of these functions, it is virtually impossible to be heard. This is all the more important when interactions happen under severe pressure of meeting stringent deadlines which adds to the complexity of the situation in an economy like Sri Lanka where legislation and policies tend to change at closer intervals. This is why an MBA degree comes to your help because a typical MBA program gives you an insight to how each of the functional work areas and its connectivity to the overall business and the political economy, which differs from being armed from a foreign professional qualification that one can earn on a specific discipline, be it marketing or accounts 2) Top 100 I remember once I was reporting to a Managing Director of Irish origin who used to leave all the work aside and attend a weekly Rotary luncheon meeting on Thursdays. Once I inquired why he does this at work time and the answer was very logical. He said, if one knows the top 100 people in this country, anything can be done. When I go back to the MBA that I graduated, this same ethos held true as a top notch MBA program normally has the cream of talent in a country. Hence, if you are in this network, as time goes on you will find yourself in a very influential network that sure can get things done. This is the benefit of getting into a top notch MBA program and working in effective networking at the program. 3) Behaviour change Whenever I ask a person why they embark on a MBA program, the first comment they make is ‘I do an MBA so that I can get more knowledge of business’. But to me what I experienced of doing a typical MBA was the soft skill exposure and learning that I got at a very mature level. The logic being a good structured MBA program includes group work, visits to organisations and practical assignments , presentations in class which includes a strong critique, self study by using the global WWW, parallel learnings from movies that is now the in thing on modern MBAs, and tweet communications that forces one to change behaviour during the MBA program of study. This kind of behaviour change that happens of a executive is what a strong MBA offers to a prospective global leader that many do not understand. Hence, it is paramount that you do not select a MBA just because the duration of the program is short but make sure opportunities to make space for a change of behaviours is provided for. This is where MBAs from the traditional universities like PIM (University of Jayewardenepura) or Colombo University cut through the clutter. This is what will create the difference in you. 4) MBA brand selection Once you move through middle management and want to move to a higher position in the corporate ladder, you find it easier to qualify yourself in front of an interview panel when you say you are from ‘A’ university where you read for the MBA. It’s almost like a life currency when you are armed with an MBA from a high profile (branded) university. It indicates to a potential employer that you have the maturity and the right skill set to shoulder a top notch job in the changing business world like Sri Lanka where we will be a hundred billion dollar economy where we will see many mergers and acquisitions in the financial and telecom sector, not forgetting the 2,000 new rooms that will come to play in the booming tourism industry. 5) Power of balance Sometimes I wonder how I made it in the MBA program at that time as I was on two South Asian category brand teams for leading power brands which were market leaders, I was sitting on two Government boards as a Director whilst also being a visiting faculty member for the Chartered Institute of Marketing whilst also being into competitive sports at mercantile levels whilst pursuing martial art training at a higher level. Hence the challenge was, at what point do you cut loose from just working or studying and balancing all these life elements without dropping the ball on any one of them? This is exactly a key skill that a MBA forces you to master and make it a way of life. Today, when I look back, it is this task/role life balance that has helped me work in multi-dimensional be it the private, public or global public sector organisations. Hence, a key thing to remember is that when one is deciding to read for an MBA, it should be done without having to cut back on other activities that you pursued before. The MBA gives you training to balance your life and you must master this key skill that is the most important discipline in today’s demanding work routines, especially when traditional companies are investing in new sectors that they never thought of venturing into. The best case in point is the John Keells Group, which is targeting the property development industry of Sri Lanka. 6) New skills A typical MBA also gives an opportunity for one to learn a skill set which cannot be taught at graduate school. Namely, in the digital marketing space. Some MBA programs have online lectures and exams that force you to move out of the traditional examination procedures which can have cultural implications too. Hence, now MBA programs are not confined to class room situations but also extend to a 24-hour template that one needs to be ready change to. This requires calls for maturity, being tech savvy and balance that an MBA makes you practice. This kind of rigorous training cannot be picked up unless one does an MBA program and focuses on a total learning experience. It’s not about just passing an exam but getting exposed to these new learning conditions, which includes digital learning. 7) Moving faster It’s a very interesting concept but most who enrol to an MBA are people who are in senior management and are comfortable in their current pace of work. But, once they get into the program, it’s virtually a roller coaster ride when you are hanging on to dear life to survive one’s work responsibilities, social roles, family commitments and wanting to be physically fit. Those who complete a typical two-year routine successfully suddenly find themselves not being stretched in their life like it was during the MBA program. This makes one want to change careers to a fast paced job or they demand a promotion at their current place of work given the new work pace that their body has got used to. In other words an MBA pushes you to high gear without your knowledge. This in turn fast tracks your career path. Conclusion The above are only a few thoughts on how an MBA has helped me in my career. Maybe there are more such life skills that I have not captured. Thus, the essence is, don’t think too much about if one can survive a strenuous MBA program. Just get on to one and enjoy the experience and make the best of the situation. Just one piece of advice: until one has at least two to three years of post degree experience, do not read for an MBA as you will not get the best out of the program. The logic being, be a specialist first and then a general manager. (The author is a recipient of an Outstanding Leadership Award from the Association Global Business in Singapore for 2012 whilst also being a Board Director who serves the private, public and international public sector of Sri Lanka. The thoughts are strictly his personal views and not the views of the organisation he serves in Sri Lanka or globally.)

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