Mumbai: Stephen Hodges, chairman of the board and president of Hult International Business School, said business school, or B-school, students are good when it comes to theory but lack so-called soft skills, or attributes that help them get along with others in the workplace. Hodges said in an interview that it was important for B-schools to meet employer expectations and explained how this could be achieved. Edited excerpts:
Where does India figure on Hult’s map?
We have 800 full-time MBA students, of which 15% are Indians. In our master’s programmes, we have 1,300 students and Indians comprise 5%. India is the world’s largest education market. But I am not looking out for a partner in India nor am I planning to set up a campus here. Instead, I am planning to drive a part of our education with an awareness of India. So, we will certainly open up our campus rotation to India to teach foreigners about doing business in India. We will also start writing cases with an Indian perspective and help teach people how to do business in India through our programmes.
What should business schools do to stay relevant during an economic slowdown?
All business schools, including Hult, (ranked 21 in the US and 31 in the world by the Economist in 2012, and 57 in the world by the Financial Times this year) fail to produce graduates who are excellent employees. They fail to teach students soft skills—how to be a good communicator, team player and leader. We will radically change our curriculum to try and provide students with many more opportunities to practice soft skills. That is what the employers are asking for.
We just finished a study of top MBA employers around the world, including India, to understand what strengths and weaknesses business school graduates have with a view to changing the curriculum globally. The feedback from employers did not vary massively. By and large, they are not happy with the aim of business schools. They think business graduates know the theory but do not have soft skills that make the difference between success and failure in careers.
What trends are you seeing in terms of courses and job preferences?
The preference pattern among students is reflective of hiring trends. Students, especially from emerging markets, want to go back home and work shortly after graduation.
Around 5-10 years back, Indian and Chinese students wanted to work in the US. Now, they want to work in their own country thinking they will make more money.
In areas of study, there is less focus on financial services and a lot more focus on courses such as entrepreneurship and marketing, again reflecting where the jobs are.
Do you think placements are entitlements for B-schools graduates or do they need to think beyond it?
Placement is a wrong word for the practice. In reality, the students are entering a job market and all business schools do is facilitate introducing companies that could be interested in hiring students.
My advice to all students in an economic downturn is to play to their resume strength. So, I think you can change geography or you can change industry but you cannot change both. So if you are an information technology professional coming out of India and would like to go to marketing, it is fine, but in a downturn, look for a marketing job in India, not in the US.
You can expect employment statistics to go down when the economic environment worsens. Students have to look beyond their first salary because it is true that MBA is an investment for the rest of their career. There is less demand for full-time programmes and people are switching to part-time programmes where they can keep their job while studying. Applications for this year’s executive MBA programmes have increased by 40% whereas full-time MBA is only up by about 5%.
At a time when companies are being accused of being too greedy and fingers are being pointed at B-schools for propagating such attitudes, how do you view and address the issue?
It is a topic of live debate now. The number one issue that came out from the employer’s survey is integrity.
So, every single chief executive said he or she saw an issue with business school graduates’ integrity. By that, they meant a tendency to look at shortcuts in all opportunities.
We teach ethics like any other business school ever since the financial crisis.
I think we have to go further. Business schools can create awareness among students about the implications of negative behaviours.