iMahal Interview Series:
Srikant Datar
May 24, 2000

iMahal: How is the MBA education here different from India?
Srikant: There is much more research in economics and business done in the US relative to India. There is also much more course development and case writing done in the US than in India. Of course, these research and course development efforts have a more global focus, with a somewhat greater emphasis on US companies. The focus of the MBA programs in India is on the Indian context with some emphasis on globalization. Therefore, the choice of whether to do an MBA in India versus the US really boils down to where the individual wants to work. If the individual is interested in working in the US or at least outside India, then doing an MBA in the US is the way to go. If the individual is interested in working in India, then doing an MBA in India is probably a superior choice. I would qualify these remarks in two important ways. First, as I mentioned when responding to one of your earlier questions, more and more companies from the US are recruiting directly from the best management schools in India, so doing an MBA in India does open up opportunities to work anywhere in the world. Second, quite apart from job and career considerations, doing an MBA in the US exposes students to a broader cross-section of students and perspectives from across the world. In today's increasingly global environment this can be quite valuable.

iMahal: Top managers and business leaders possess traits such as leadership and foresight. Do business students have these characteristics in a latent state, and refine them in a business program or can they be cultivated from "scratch"? What techniques do business schools employ to develop these skills?
Srikant: This is a deep and difficult question, one to which you will probably get as many answers as the number of people you ask. In my view, different individuals are endowed with different amounts of leadership and foresight skills. Some have such strong qualities of leadership and foresight that they do not need to go to a business school to further develop them. Of course, they might find business school helpful in developing some other skills that they lack. But for most of the others, I believe leadership skills can be refined or even developed from "scratch." I think business schools clearly recognize that management is different from leadership. They have therefore given a lot of attention to the development of leadership as well as management skills. Leadership skills are developed in many ways----through courses on leadership, project work, team-building skills, and outward-bound programs. More importantly, however, leading people and change is an important part of many courses.

iMahal: What can a business education provide that a genuine corporate environment cannot?
Srikant: I think there are three important differences. First, a business education allows students to gain a better understanding of the various aspects of business (for example, operations, marketing, finance, organization behavior, strategy and general management) that would be very hard to get through working in a corporation, certainly over a short period of time. Second, it exposes students to business issues in different countries and industries that would be hard to replicate by working in a corporation. This broader knowledge is valuable in its own right but it also deepens a student's understanding of why certain practices exist in certain industries and countries and how these practices might change in the future. Best practices are not the domain of a single company, industry or country. Third, it allows for a systematic study of business issues often guided by the latest research. So, whereas my first two comments focused on breadth, my third comment is really about depth. Business education helps managers to develop conceptual frameworks and lenses that enable them to analyze issues more rigorously. Of course, the corporate environment helps to sharpen all these skills in very important ways. After all, no matter how many concepts and cases a student has studied, it is the experience of exercising judgment and making decisions that is critical for the development of management skills.

iMahal: What common characteristics do successful business students possess?
Srikant: I think successful business students have a commitment to business and the practice of management. They are adept at making decisions when faced with uncertainty. They have expertise in the various functional areas of management and are comfortable working in teams and leading and inspiring others. Management is a challenging but exciting task.

iMahal: In wrapping up this section, do the MBA schools in general offer financial assistance to the US and foreign students?
Srikant: In general, MBA schools offer almost no financial assistance to students. US students can avail of student loans that MBA schools can help them obtain but foreign students are very much on their own. There is a long history of this. I suspect it arose from the fact that the job prospects of MBA students have been so wonderful that there was no need to offer financial aid to make the MBA program attractive to students.

iMahal: Does HBS have Indian or foreign student associations?
Srikant: Yes HBS like most other major business schools has Indian and foreign student associations. These associations generally foster interaction among the students and faculty form the regions, often in the form of lectures, seminars or discussions on matters of mutual interest. I think these associations also form a very important support group for students, particularly incoming students. The better managed student associations will often arrange to have new students picked up at the airport when they arrive and help them to work through their early days at the university.

iMahal: Is there an Indian community, somewhat organized, in the Cambridge/Boston area?
Srikant: As in most major metropolitan areas, there is a well-organized Indian community in the Boston/Cambridge area. There are many social organizations organized around the particular states and regions of India. Religious holidays are regularly celebrated at the Hindu temple. The Indus Entrepreneur (TIE) is an organization of Indian businessmen and entrepreneurs who meet regularly to discuss business opportunities in both the US and in India. Many successful members of TIE have also become angel investors and venture capitalists, providing seed capital and financing for other Indian entrepreneurs.

iMahal: Thanks so much Srikant. I would like the readers to know that you have been generous enough to answer questions that they may have - in response to this interview, or otherwise. To facilitate that, we have set up a discussion forum where they can follow up.
Srikant: I have enjoyed chatting with you and would be happy to follow up on this interview. Good luck to you.

iMahal: Thank you, it has been a pleasure.


(Note: Professor Datar's interview was conducted by Joe Judge, who has known Srikant for several years as a teacher, professional peer and friend.)


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