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MBA Will Continue To Be Relevant

In this interview with Outlook Business, Dr. Raman Ramachandran, Director & Dean, K J Somaiya Institute of Management, Mumbai addresses questions pertaining to the relevance of an MBA degree in today’s corporate environment.

Dr. Raman Ramachandran, Director & Dean, K J Somaiya Institute of Management, Mumbai
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Dr. Raman Ramachandran, PhD is the Director & Dean at K J Somaiya Institute of Management, Mumbai. In this interview with Outlook Business, he addresses questions pertaining to the relevance of an MBA degree in today’s corporate environment.

In today’s business landscape, how do you perceive the MBA degree’s relevance?

Technological disruptions have always been there, but the principles of management have not really changed. A business school teaches the principles of management along with all the various new technologies that are coming up and disrupting businesses. So, the relevance of MBA will continue. But it must evolve from the way it was taught 30-40 years ago, where what was taught in the classrooms helped the business graduate to navigate the next 10-15 or 20 years. Today, what is learnt in the class is probably irrelevant by the time the student graduates. What this means is that institutions need to change the way subjects are taught. One of the key differentiators of a successful student will be his/her ability to learn competencies and capabilities like resilience which will help him/her to bounce back from a setback? How are they going to adapt very quickly? How are they going to learn to work in teams and not individually? These are the capabilities that will help students navigate work in the future. The emphasis on these kinds of aspects of human capabilities has got to be much higher. So yes, the short answer is that MBA is going to continue to be relevant, but what you learn in MBA is going to be very different from what you learnt in the past.

K J Somaiya Institute of Management
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With corporate recruiters scaling back or postponing hiring MBA graduates, concerns have arisen over the implications for students and educational institutions. Is this downturn indicative of a lasting shift or merely a transient phase?

My own hypothesis is that there are several geopolitical and other disruptions currently happening leaving organizations and individuals worried about the future. It’s all a bit unpredictable, whether it is the Palestine-Israel conflict, the Ukraine-Russian crisis or the advent of generative AI which could take away jobs. All these are areas of concern if you are the CEO of a company and the instinct is to play safe when it comes to hiring people. What we are currently seeing is the response to geo-political and other technological disruptions. I think this is just a blip, particularly in a country like India which wants to grow rapidly. There’s only so much wealth that you can create using automation and technology. You need people to drive the GDP. There will be a lot more entrepreneurship required so jobs will be created. I’m very bullish about India and so, jobs will be created. The world needs talented young people.

Leveraging insights from your 22-year tenure at BASF, how do you integrate corporate learnings to enhance educational outcomes at the institute? For example, how do you teach students resilience?

When you teach students, it could be a simple thing like changing the rules of the game in the middle of a simulated exercise. The students must then think about how to deal with these new sets of rules. Some students cope with these situations better than others. We explain to them that this is something they will be dealing with in real life and at work. Imagine you are working on a project for eight months and then something happens, and it gets canned. Now it calls for a lot of resilience to come out of the situation because it’s eight months of your sweat and blood gone. But we explain to the students that this is not the end of the world. We also have an initiative called “Careers & Conversations”, where every month we bring CEOs, CXOs and very successful entrepreneurs to the  campus. It is essentially a walk through their career delving into topics like; where did they fail? How did they bounce back? What kind of  leadership philosophy do they adopt? Students get to hear real life people who are successful, who talk about some of the failures in their life. For example, one of our alumni, Vikram Bhatt who runs Enrich Salon, talked about how he failed in one year. But he bounced back and secured his MBA degree and became a successful entrepreneur. I think such stories help students to understand the concept of resilience.

K J Somaiya Institute of Management Milestones
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Reflecting on recent years what notable transformations have occurred in management education at K J Somaiya Institute of Management, particularly with the integration of technology like Gen AI, the AI powered editor?

We know from research like the one by Deloitte that there are seven human capabilities and competencies that current and future organizations are going to be looking for. And these are resilience, adaptability, ethics, values, analytics, being creative and being able to work in a team. So, one of the things we do now is when students join us we try to understand their capabilities. We have contracted this task to a very well-established global organization which administers psychometric tools to gauge these capacities. And we give each student a report which tells him/her which of the seven capacities are their individual strong points and which require improvement. And then we have a suitable curriculum and outside curriculum activities which will help them to develop or improve those competencies. As for Gen AI, if you asked us six months ago, we were all worried about its impact. The faculty thought that any question paper or project it sets, the students will use Gen AI and answer it. That concern has now been overcome. And there is an acceptance that we can use AI tools positively. What we are now Trying to do is see how students can understand the power of using AI as an efficiency improving tool.

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