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IS “SPECIALIZED” TRULY SPECIAL??

An Article on Specialized MBA Programme

Hardik Doshi
Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies
Batch of 2009

I noticed a few queries on this forum about the "Specialized" MBA programmes on offer these days and couldn’t refrain from commenting about them. The intent is to warn aspiring students against taking decisive steps their career, with a myopic view and without long term thought.

Firstly, as a Business Management aspirant, don’t miss the essence of a core MBA (be it with in Marketing / Finance / Operations etc.). Trust me, 70% of students don’t know what they want to do specifically, before they join B-Skools. Once you enter a B-Skool, you witness a plethora of opportunities out there in various sectors (which may not interest to you right now). You go through about one and a half year of learning (including 2 months internships in the industry) before final placements come up; which means you have ample time plus opportunities to speak to various people, read, observe and decide what kind of jobs/companies/profiles you’d like to apply to.

Contrary to this phenomenon, the Specialized programmes are absolutely sector specific (MBA in Retail, Pharma, Telecom or Hospital Mgmt.) The issue mainly is - you really do not want to limit your career options to 1 or 2 sectors at the time of joining. What if your expected something different and you have to repent your decision? Or if growth in that industry or sector starts dipping? Owing to business cycles, a sector doing well today may not do well tomorrow. For eg. MBA in Capital Markets may not offer you those plum jobs anymore, if the current scenario with capital markets worsens as the year progresses. Till last year, it was the most lucrative option.  You can grumble and groan then; but the fact is – you are stuck!

A general MBA with Specialization in a function like Marketing / Finance etc. leaves the sectors open for you. You can choose to specialize in a function only, that too in the second year. Even 5 years down the line, the basics remain the same. Your base is in a function and in management; but not in a Sector. Shifting organizations across various domains is easier, with a functional background. Also, contrary to popular beliefs, a Marketing student always needs to know Finance and vice-versa. If you are marketing an FMCG product, you need to know how a new Marketing strategy would impact costs and other financial ratios, how a pricing strategy would impact margins, net sales and the EBIDTA, how to budget your future strategy to see that they do not suck up your reserves etc. You need to regularly sit down with the Balance sheets and Profit/Loss accounts of the Brand! On similar lines, a Finance graduate working in an Investment Bank also needs to understand his clients and their overall business. A company may with the best Financial Statements looks very healthy on paper, but only a business understanding will tell the I-Banker why the company is not able to do business. And without good Marketing skills, he won’t be able to consult his clients about the same. Without business understanding, you will only be a mechanical or a technical person. Like an accountant or a CA.

Secondly, these specialized programmes are either money-making tactics to woo students who are crazy to do MBA or company strategies to train students according to their requirements. MBA in Retail is the best example here. And it is an easy option for many. You plan a course for your organization, tie-up with institutes and coaching classes and start wooing students. Buy a few article space in the media wherein their top honchos give 'interviews' explaining how their sector is the in-thing and the most booming sector today. How tough is that! (Companies, politicians and even B-skools do it regularly as promotions. One of the most important things a good b-skool teaches you is NOT to believe the media.) On the other side, students, out of desperation to do MBA and under the influence of hype, take rash decisions about their careers with a truckload of expectations and enroll for such programmes. (The adage goes as “When in doubt about your career, do an MBA.”)

This may have worked in favour of a few students, who are in a better-than-yesterday position after their specialized MBA. And in case you too are mad for MBA, you can consider such options. Note that not all companies look for such “specialized” courses. I recollect Pfizer, the most sought after Pharmaceuticals Company, mentioning that they are not happy with the specialized MBA courses from where they did recruit once or twice. They’d rather employ students from Core MBA programmes, who do well in the long run.

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