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Firms give B-school students lessons in the real world of biz

Firms give B-school students lessons in the real world of biz
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First Published: Wed, Sep 16 2009. 08 57 PM IST

 Theoretical knowledge? Students at IIM Indore. Companies are finding that B-school students are unprepared to make the leap from textbook learning and don’t have exposure to many areas of business.
Theoretical knowledge? Students at IIM Indore. Companies are finding that B-school students are unprepared to make the leap from textbook learning and don’t have exposure to many areas of business.
Updated: Wed, Sep 16 2009. 08 57 PM IST
New Delhi: When Bobby Agarwal, executive director and chief operations officer of Godrej Hershey Ltd, came calling at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indore, in February to recruit “very good students”, he realized that many of them were unprepared to make the leap from textbook learning to doing business in the real world. He found they hadn’t had “exposure to many areas of business”.
Theoretical knowledge? Students at IIM Indore. Companies are finding that B-school students are unprepared to make the leap from textbook learning and don’t have exposure to many areas of business.
So Agarwal, who pursued an MBA from the University of Cincinnati, US, decided to help bridge this gap. He, along with two colleagues, held a one-day workshop last month at IIM Indore to discuss marketing strategies for a new chocolate brand. The session was followed by an exercise in which the class of 60 was divided into groups and made to compete on strategies backed by real-world data.
Student Bhavin Shah, 24, whose team won the competition, says the workshop helped in “thinking on your feet”. It also helped “to study this kind of industry—chocolates—which you will not explore otherwise”.
Agarwal is not the only one who is visiting B-schools to add to the curriculum. Other companies—and chief executives—are pitching in too. 141 Sercon, a digital marketing agency, held a one-day workshop at the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi University, while Altais Advisors Pvt. Ltd, which manages money for private investors in India and abroad, taught students about value investing for a day.
Some campuses have gone a step further. IIM Ahmedabad has asked companies to offer projects where students, helped by faculty members, will work as consultants. The work will involve company executives coming to the campus and explaining their business to students who will compete for the project.
Company-sponsored workshops, sprinkled with live case studies, offer more: Students learn how businesses operate. Also, the ideas they throw up can help the firm. “Sometimes, it is good to get different perspectives,” says Agarwal of Godrej Hershey, in which US-based chocolate maker Hershey Co. has a majority stake.
There are other benefits as well. “Five years down the line, these students will be my clients or working with us,” says Vijay Singh, managing director and chief executive of 141 Sercon, whose workshop at FMS taught students about digital marketing. He says the workshop was to “have students spend time with us, work on a brand”.
“Most of the teachers have theoretical knowledge, they do not manage money,” says Saurabh Basrar, one of the founders of Altais Advisors, explaining the rationale behind holding these workshops. “People who manage money are too busy (to teach).”
Basrar, an alumnus of Delhi University’s Shri Ram College of Commerce and a chartered accountant, says it took him 10 years to understand the intricacies of investments and markets. Now, he wants to share this knowledge. “At the academic level, change is slow,” says Singh. He says that while most of his clients are aware that customers are moving away from traditional media such as TV to emerging ones such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, students in a classroom may not know this.
Students agree they get a peek into the real world of business through these workshops. “They would ask us to go out in the field and implement, come back with our findings,” says Piyoosh Hemnani, 24, an FMS student who participated in a once-a-week workshop on retail marketing spanning four weeks by an executive of Times OOH, a part of the media company Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL).
BCCL publishes The Economic Times, which competes with Mint, published by HT Media Ltd.
IIM Ahmedabad student Thahir N.M., who heads the B-school’s forum that pitches to companies for work, is already working on getting more live projects for his peers. While last year IIM Ahmedabad got 13 projects for students to work on, this academic year it has already managed 28 projects and hopes to end with 70.
Thahir says companies such as Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd and Amazon.com Inc. had offered projects to students, but declined to disclose any details. Projects have also come from the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organization that works with women and village communities.
Companies say recruitment is not the goal when they spend time teaching real-life business situations to students, but agree that such workshops increase their visibility on campus. “Yes, of course, we have created a big buzz about the company,” says Godrej Hershey’s Agarwal. It helps the company get ahead of other employers, but according to Agarwal, “that wasn’t the intention”.
Others agree. Altais Advisors, for instance, says it’s a small team and doesn’t have plans to hire at FMS though Singh says he would welcome interns from the school.
Students also feel these workshops are not a way of recruitment. Shah of IIM Indore says he still plans to join “a tech-related industry” when he graduates next year. At the same time, they all value the experience of being taught by a CEO.
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First Published: Wed, Sep 16 2009. 08 57 PM IST