I shamelessly used it in my interview. And so did, I am sure, the vast majority of people who have interviewed with business school admission panels. Many of us, I suppose, even parrot out the same statements a year or two later when we appear for our final placements:
“I want to work for a few years, get a sense of how this industry works, and then become an entrepreneur when I have the experience and seed capital in place. Also I can price options in my head using Vedic Mathematics.”
Thing is, in my experience few people really mean this. And hardly anybody ever follows this up.
One reason for parroting out this canard over and over again is the embarrassment of admitting the truth: that most MBA aspirants only really want lucrative jobs. Most of us don’t want to change the world, unleash entrepreneurial vigour, be all that we can be, or achieve Maslow-ian levels of self-actualization.
We just want a three-bedroom apartment—I’ve included one for the parents—somewhere near the centre of a major metropolitan city, one imported trophy car, one local diesel car and a reasonably photogenic family.
But somehow this is anathema in interviews. So everyone lies about wanting to become an entrepreneur.
As for the slim minority that actually mean it, the comforting, predictable mediocrity of salaried employment quickly muffles all entrepreneurial impulses.
Which is just as well. Because I am increasingly beginning to realize that an MBA from a top-flight Indian business school is the worst possible foundation for an aspiring entrepreneur.
I graduated from a good Indian business school eight years ago. Our graduating class had a strength of approximately 300 people. Of which, estimating optimistically, a dozen or so may have dabbled in any kind of entrepreneurial activity.
Per se this ratio doesn’t surprise me. India may be one of the fastest growing economies in the world with plenty of low-hanging entrepreneurial fruit. But it is still one of the hardest places in the world to do business in. In the International Finance Corporation’s latest Ease of Doing Business index, India’s ranked 132. We ranked below entrepreneurial hotspots such as Ghana and Bangladesh.
But even when a young Indian MBA gets past all these obstacles—the lure of a job, and the agonies of our business environment—he has to deal with perhaps his greatest hurdle: his MBA education.
By virtue of the fact that I work for a business newspaper, I often get a chance to talk to ambitious young MBAs eager to work on start-ups. Many of them have interesting ideas that they have nurtured for years.
But then they begin to tell me what they’re working on next: almost always this is business modelling and cash flow analysis. I have nothing against these dark arts. But when I see an aspiring entrepreneur hunched over a laptop at a Costa Coffee massaging a spreadsheet I want to hit him over the head with a biscotti.
For instance, I once met someone who wanted to do something in the area of sports facilities for children. His laptop was full of magnificent spreadsheets that enumerated the number of children in Delhi, the number of playgrounds, the minutes per day the average middle-class Delhi child played and so on. He even had a detailed mock-up of the online sporting social network he would use to supplement his real world sporting efforts. (I am being deliberately vague here.)
Very good, I said. So how many parents, children or teachers have you spoken to? How many of them feel they need more time or place for physical activity?
He hadn’t spoken to even one. But he had spent several months modelling cash flows. Because, he said, the first thing he needed was venture capital.
The next breed of MBA entrepreneur I meet is the one who has an idea that has proven to be a bad one, but will simply refuse to accept failure. The loss of face, it seems, is too great to bear. And then there is that terrible thing: a bruised sense of entitlement. I came 8th in my class! How can I goof up business strategy!
And then, finally, there is the entrepreneur who has accepted failure, but has then learnt all the wrong lessons. This is the most unfortunate group. Because they are the most educated. Most entrepreneurship is, after all, failure.
The problem, I think, is the manner in which top-flight business school courses are structured. I can’t help wondering if they produce graduates armed with one primary skill: problem modelling and solving.
And when the only tool you have is a spreadsheet, every problem is a profit and loss statement. Work the numbers hard enough, it seems, and suddenly an Infosys or Google will pop out.
Instead, why don’t business school simply have courses on “Failed Entrepreneurship in India” with lectures by failed entrepreneurs? (Please, no academics.)
Or whatever else it will take.
Because right now few other countries in the world offers the combination of cheap education and large economic opportunity that India does. It will be a pity if our finest graduates let it pass.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at pleasures and perils of corporate life.
To read Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/cubiclenama