He could not answer that question. In fact, when I thought about my ‘Top five’ business personalities, neither could I.
There is a trend among MBAs to identify themselves as functional specialists — whether as a marketing expert, a finance expert or an HR specialist and so on. Why? Finance, marketing, operations — these are simply departments in a company where one starts one’s career.
Granted that a specialist MBA is more skilled at the function he starts in than a non-specialist. But is that all two years of business school boil down to — an entry ticket? I don’t believe so.
For the letters MBA to have meaning, an MBA holder has to be able to solve business problems. These problems do not fall into clear-cut baskets that can be labelled as ‘Finance’, ‘HR’, ‘Legal’, etc. Therefore, the skills required to tackle a business problem are usually multi-functional and multi-specialty. Also, a lot of the work done in organisations does not fall clearly into any one functional silo. Sometimes, the very fact that these silos exist is the source of the problem!
Having said that, it’s also true that within the environs of a business school, functional specialisation provides some comfort. At least if you are a specialist in something, you have an idea of the kind of job you are looking for. After all, whether you want to be a CEO or a chief strategist or just a very rich person, you have to start somewhere. Right?
I spent a lot of time thinking about this at IIM Bangalore. Not choosing a specialisation is more challenging than choosing one — you have to pick electives that are balanced and provide a good coverage of all aspects of business, rather than simply of one. And the question, “Where will you start your career?” was still difficult to answer.
So I decided to seek the advice of a person whose professionalism I respect the most — my mother.
My mother graduated from IIT Kharagpur with a MSc in Physics. However, she has spent her entire career in the field of information technology. How did she end up in this field? Because of her first job.
In 1979, my mother joined Tata Consultancy Services and was with them till 1984. Those initial five years shaped the professional she has become and set her on the path for the next twenty years in the industry. Today, as she runs her own IT company, she still draws upon the lessons she learnt there.
This bit of knowledge made me think that the best place to start my career would be with the Tata Group.
With this decision, everything fell into place. In February 2006, when the TAS team visited our campus for their preplacement talk, I was already convinced that this was where I wanted to work. This conviction has been further reinforced by my experiences over the past year, as I’ve worked in three different Tata companies.
I believe that I have learnt a lot. I still believe that to solve business problems a multi-functional approach is required.
And I still don’t know what are the functional specialisations of my ‘Top five’ leaders…