The Indian Economist interviews two faculty members from EU Business School – Mr Vijay Kochar and Dr Suddha Chakravartti – regarding the role business schools play in inculcating an innovative mindset amongst MBA students.
Mr Vijay Kochar is a lecturer in marketing and business strategy at EU Business School Munich. He has worked extensively in the fields of international marketing, business development and general management at major companies such as Intel Corporation; building and empowering diverse, geographically distributed teams for breakthrough results in mature and emerging markets. Multilingual, widely traveled and internationally mobile, he has been based in India, Australia, the US, Belgium, France, Germany and the UK.
Dr. Suddha Chakravartti is a professor in international relations and law, and research and dissertations coordinator at EU Business School Switzerland. Dr Chakravartti has previously worked as a researcher for a Commonwealth Secretariat project in Geneva, and at CUTS, Geneva Resource Centre, focusing on international trade, development, governance and security issues.
TIE: What are your views on the perception towards a business degree undergoing a massive change in the previous 2-3 decades? Do you believe people still aspire for an MBA course as much they did before?
Suddha Chakravartti: MBA degrees are still the most sought-after pathways. The bigger change, however, lies with those signing up for it. There is no more “classic” or “typical” MBA student profile. Students can pursue several MBAs; or opt for an MBA, even after a doctorate degree. Why? Because we have definitely moved away from degrees or courses as a finite goal. Education has morphed into life-long learning whereby the skill-sets required by the industry are constantly being revised. And a sound MBA degree does provide you adequate transfer skills. There has been a tectonic shift in how we understand education per se, particularly business education. We live in a society whereby knowledge creation, knowledge advancement, and knowledge sharing is paramount to creating “new value.” The business education industry is no exception. The future success of MBA courses would depend on assimilating the above; changing how teaching and learning take place and integrating classroom learning and course content with the market.
Vijay Kochar: Yes, increasing uncertainty, shorter business cycles, ongoing disruption, radical transparency, and 24/7 accountability are the new normal. The traditional “rules-plus-analytics” model of management education is increasingly giving way to a “principles-plus-implementation” focus, starting with fundamental questions as to why a business exists and analysis of how it builds and deploys wealth. In contrast to a world view wherein the rules governing corporate behavior — whether imposed by regulation, by competitors, or by one’s own management — are simply constraints to be overcome for the sake of winning the most immediate competitive game, this emerging way of thinking places emphasis on the individual’s acceptance of professional responsibility and a wider commitment to the public good. Millennials, with their open-mindedness, focus on better work-life balance and meaningful work that does more than pay the bills, are embracing and driving this evolution in business education.
The Financial Times reported in September 2016, that the percentage of business schools worldwide reporting growth in applications declined for the third straight year, from 61 percent in 2014, to 57 percent in 2015, to 43 percent in 2016. Within these overall numbers, there seems to be a “flight to quality”, with top-tier schools and specialised courses seeing an increase in demand.
An MBA is still one of – if not the – most sought-after master’s degree worldwide. Intense competition for the seemingly ever-decreasing number of quality jobs, and increasing insecurity amongst those fortunate enough to secure one is driving focus on the opportunity cost of the traditional two-year full-time MBA program. At the same time, the increasing availability of alternatives – online, part-time, blended – presents aspiring students with return-on-investment educational options tailored made to suit their specific needs.
TIE: How are MBA students showing relevance in a world where companies can be built in a dorm room with a laptop and an internet connection? What are the critical avenues within a business setup where MBAs can still create significant value?
Suddha Chakravartti: In the disruptive global economy that we now live in, the advantage is that it has a democratic effect whereby anyone with a “good story to tell” can stand toe-to-toe with established businesses. Technology, particularly its proliferation and the reduction in price has created this harmonization. However, the risk is that a good majority of startups do fail in their initial stage. The role of a quality MBA education is to prepare the students to understand and be exposed to these challenges. At EU Business School, for example, we employ “gamification” through business simulations and other blended learning tools that allow the students to test their ideas and creativity in a monitored and mentored environment. This makes learning more exciting, interactive, and collaborative, where they receive direct feedback from professionals (not only academics). Finally, an MBA is not only what you learn, but also whom you learn from – your professors, global peers, industry experts, and the networks you create. This makes for a holistic education finely attuned to market realities.
Vijay Kochar: By definition, an entrepreneur is one who takes risks. Successful entrepreneurship requires self-confidence, a passionate, obsessive, driving belief in an idea and an ability to communicate, enthuse and enroll others in the pursuit of shared goals. These skills are innate, but they can and should be complemented by learning gleaned from years of business experience, helping the entrepreneur to avoid expensive missteps and/or accelerate his/her growth trajectory. It is this distilled wisdom that a quality MBA program can provide. MBA programs can provide future entrepreneurs with valuable tools to help them mitigate risk and increase the probability of success. Examples include strategic thinking, alternative financing models, marketing analysis, the design of effective compensation/incentive plans, the use of management controls, and – perhaps most important – managing growth.
TIE: What role do you think institutions can play in making the students think and act innovatively? What are the tenets of an MBA program that fosters innovation and first-principle thinking among students?
Suddha Chakravartti: Academia means a setting that allows you to think freely, to challenge and push the existing norms. By default, academic institutions must have innovation in mind, i.e. encourage students to take risks and challenge the existing rules. We have to think about management differently from how we thought about it a few decades ago. Today’s generation has all of the tools at their disposal – technology, information, social media, etc., and are very adept in their usage. Thus, today’s MBA courses should focus on providing students with direction, leadership, and inspiration, which allow students the space to test their boundaries and not remain in a dogmatic bubble.
Vijay Kochar: A growing body of literature and practice now suggests that innovation does not have to be limited to inspirational, unpredictable flashes of creativity. It can, instead, be a rational management process with its own distinct set of processes, practices, and tools. In fact, research shows that this type of systematic innovation in an organization typically yields much more productive, scalable, and sustainable ideas over time. Educational institutions can foster innovative thinking in their student body by developing a culture that – for instance – encourages and rewards cross-functional collaboration, team diversity, constant challenging of the status quo, a willingness to fail, to learn from failures, and to iterate towards success.
TIE: Can leadership attributes be really ‘taught’ or are they actually developed by real, extensive experience in the field?
Vijay Kochar: When it comes to leadership attributes – integrity, passion, respect, empathy, and humility would be my top five contenders. Leadership is about creating a compelling vision and positively influencing people so that they want to follow that vision. In my experience, leaders possess a combination of native traits, learned skills, and circumstance all honed in the crucible of real-world experience. So yes, leadership can be taught, but there has to be a natural capacity to lead too.
TIE: Mr. Kochar – You worked in the corporate sector for over three decades before entering academics. What was the motivation behind making this switch at this stage of your career? And what specifically about EU Business School helped you make the decision?
Vijay Kochar: For some time prior to making the transition, I had been looking for an opportunity to “give back”, while not straying too far from my intellectual passions. Teaching at EU Business School has given me the opportunity to “sharpen the saw” and deliver state of the art management education enriched by years of accumulated real-world experience to a diverse and motivated set of students from around the world. EU Business School was a natural fit given its focus on pragmatic business and management education, the diversity and quality of the student body, and the academic freedom within a framework of high standards demanded of both staff and students.
TIE: Dr. Suddha – You have been dealing with myriad areas ranging from business law and international relations to poverty reduction and food security, while always being in an academic setup. What has been the motivation behind pursuing such varied areas academically? And what specifically about EU Business School do you admire the most?
Suddha Chakravartti: I love being in academia. It allows me the freedom and independence to think and act, which I have always cherished. Plus, I get to work with young learners who challenge my own assumptions and worldview every single day. Every class is different – never monotonous! Eventually, the soft and critical thinking skills that I want my students to take home are the same whether they use them in a business or a diplomatic setting. Teaching at EU Business School for the last five years has been a pleasure. Although I focus mostly on international relations and development studies, we at EU Business School strive to integrate our teachings to the current global realities. Business by default does not exist in a vacuum. It needs to navigate the myriad complexities of the world we live in which involve political, social, technological, environmental, and ethical challenges. Furthermore, the collegiality between the students and the faculty makes for a great learning and working environment.
TIE: With the deluge of user data available to companies, what do you think marketing is going to look like, and what level of personalization in brand marketing and communications is achievable in the next 2-3 years?
Vijay Kochar: We are at the outset of a whole new way of thinking that has the potential to permanently transform our approach to marketing. Free computing, communications and data storage make it possible and economically feasible for marketers to reach individual consumers with tailored messages, rather than the traditional one-size-fits-all of yesteryear. This means we can subtly tailor executions based on demographics, interest, location, purchase history, or even situational context, reaching millions of prospects each with something personally relevant and interesting. Coca-Cola, for instance, with its 2014 Super Bowl advert reached different groups of the US Facebook population with the same video but a different thumbnail and copy tailored to their interests and demographics. There is a flipside to all this, of course – no one wants to live in a world like in the film Minority Report. There is a fine line between being personally relevant and being invasive. Given the right privacy checks and balances, though, there is tremendous potential for creative marketers to add resonant value.
TIE: Dr. Suddha – You have taught both undergraduate and graduate level students. What are some very specific things you keep in mind when it comes to the difference in the teaching approach required at both levels?
Suddha Chakravartti: At the undergraduate level, students need a higher level of attention since many find themselves in a completely new environment. They require a more personalized approach to mentoring and counseling. Graduate students are comparatively more goal-oriented and focused towards their objectives. Ultimately, teaching as a “performance art” finally depends on the classroom setting and its dynamics.
TIE: Do you think the role of subjects like Business law in business degrees is under appreciated?
Suddha Chakravartti: Of course, being a law graduate myself – I find teaching business law in business degrees to be a necessary evil. Although our students are not aspiring to be eventual lawyers, the technical skills they learn in subjects such as business law are foundational. They are crucial as they build the basis for the students to understand the wider legal and societal context in which business exists. Therefore, the teaching of business law is integrated into a business curriculum whereby we try to at least provide students with a peripheral knowledge of the subject.
TIE: Do you have anything specific to say to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Vijay Kochar: Follow your dream, whatever be your idea or your passion. If it is something you really believe in, you will figure out a way. Don’t listen to the people who tell you it can’t be done. Surround yourself with the best people you can find; this multiplies your probability of success and makes the journey a lot more enjoyable.
This interview has been compiled in collaboration with EU Business School (EU). Established in 1973, EU is a triple-accredited, multi-campus and international business school with campuses in Barcelona, Munich, Geneva, Montreux, and Online.
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