How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Forward March!

Here's the link to my new blog: The Generalist

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ending it all...

Today is the last day of my MBA course - the Convocation day. Preparations have been completed and only the last few finishing touches are being put into place. The campus is filled with people as parents and other relatives & friends of the graduating batch visit the place for the convocation.

With this must also come the end of this blog, which was meant specifically to capture some of the things that I experienced during my stay here, and occasionally, my views on them. I have found blogging to be a good way to relax and mull over things, and I plan to create a new, absolutely general (i.e. non-specific) blog soon. I will not delete this blog, since it might prove interesting to some people.

And that's that.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Placement season

The placement season has come and gone. The placements for our batch were successfully completed yesterday, a day ahead of schedule. Although I will not reveal the details here, the whole exercise was a lot less taxing than the summer placements had been. I do not have the numbers with me, but from the general reaction, it seems as if most people have got jobs in the field (and even sub-field) that they wanted. Whether this translates into less attrition (say, within the first year) from this first job remains to be seen. I did not have a personal stake in the process, having secured my position earlier. So I had a ringside view of the process and this was filled with a lot of different emotions, experienced vicariously - hope, despair, anger, frustration, humour. Finally, the curtain fell yesterday late at night, and as the tradition goes, a dholi beat his dhol all the way from the academic block to the mess, leading a procession of students. Euphoria overflowed in the mess in a half-hour of dancing amid splashes of water. An institute party followed, the last for our batch, and this lasted well into the morning today. Memories to cherish...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Last class

I just attended my last class of the course, and perhaps of all formal education. I say perhaps, because of the possibility that the organization(s) that will employ me might sponsor some or the other 'management development programme' or some such thing in the future :). There is no great feeling of exhilaration or relief or loss at passing this milestone though.

Friday, February 10, 2006

What's in an MBA? - V

Run-ins with administration

Our batch had a few run-ins with the administration here on various matters, giving the batch an unwarranted bad impression and leaving a bad taste in most people's mouths, on both sides. I am mentioning this here because this kind of thing seemed to happen unusually often with us.

Faculty & teaching

Having recounted some of the problems from the students' side, I have to note the problems we have had with some of the faculty and their teaching styles. Some of the faculty, including that in Operations, Finance, and Decision Sciences, have been really great to study under and I will remember these professors for a long time. However, it's a pity that the same can't be said of quite a few others. Either their
functional knowledge was not quite up to the mark, or their teaching style was too drab (with no attempt to make a subject interesting), or they couldn't handle case discussions very well, or they made really good subject outlines & topic lists but didn't cover them well, or their marking & grading schemes were inscrutable, etc., etc. Admitting that teaching is not an easy job, and the fact that at a time when the
economy is booming, it is difficult to retain good faculty, we are still in a less than desirable position.

Here I end this brief exposition on my MBA experience. These were opinions only, (although reasoned ones, I hope), and so I don't expect everyone, especially all of my batchmates to agree with me totally.

What's in an MBA? - IV

Grading pattern & emphasis on grades

Academic grading here, as perhaps in most other b-schools, depends a lot on term-end (and mid-term) exams. The exam question papers in most subjects were very disappointing - the same old descriptive questions where the length of the answer was important, and which failed entirely to make the respondent stop and think. The marking of the answers then caused quite a lot of grief from time to time, and the next stage - grading - was quite unpredictable as well, especially for those who had
middling marks. Add to that marks allotted to projects and term papers (see previous post), and that unfathomable variable - class participation, and you see why grades occupied most students' minds for a disproportionate amount of time. The number which came out of this process - the beast called CGPA - the number mentioned to top
recruiters on campus, then achieved mythical proportions. Relative Grading (RG) became a verb (to 'RG' someone is to do something that will take away some credit from the counterparty and/or gain valuable credit for oneself). Many people gave up and stopped giving much, or any, importance to grades, for various reasons. This further fueled the feeling among faculty and administration that this batch had hit
rock-bottom in terms of attitude towards academics.

So is there a better alternative? A grading system giving more emphasis on project work or similar non-exam components, combined with an evaluation process giving genuine importance to quality of work and, in case of group work, to share of work can be conceived with some effort. (yes, this is a 'process re-engineering solution' :) ). Accountability can be brought to academic work by making sure - by meeting students, by asking them pointed questions in presentations, etc. - that work done is genuine, well-understood, and containing some individual insight, however small. Subjectivity may not be removed completely, but the experience might be very satisfying for both students and faculty.


"We help deliver genuine business value to our customers by consulting them on improving their business processes" - a line many recruiters in the IT and consulting space parrot in PPTs. Well, to them I'll say, look at your own recruitment process first. Very few companies can boast of low attrition rates of fresh MBA hires, and apart from the employee's own attitude, the flaws in the recruitment process might be to blame.

Group discussions are a part of many recruitment processes. The problem is, these are not used for discovering any potential in the candidates, but more as an elimination mechanism when too many people have applied and have been shortlisted. When there is desperation to get a job during placement week, the quality of GDs is mostly pathetic. And then, many a times the selections made for the next round throw up surprises, as happened with me in case of a prominent IT company in the laterals process last month. I am not saying all this just because I am bad at GDs (which I am), but because the same kind of elimination can be achieved by more careful vetting of CVs by the recruiters and giving out a shorter shortlist (there's no redundancy here :) ).

Many companies also have more exotic formats - games, presentations, case interviews, etc. I am not saying that recruiters do not have a solid basis for having such components in the process, but all that a long-drawn out process can do for a candidate during those three days of placements is cause exhaustion. This also suggests that concentrating all placements in 3-4 days might not be the best way to do it.

What's in an MBA? - III

And now let's look at the unsavoury part. It's not a litany of woes but still the grievances are very significant. I am mentioning six prominent points here.

Work ethic (or the lack of it)

Over the last 1.5 years, my lingering memory in academics will remain one of trying to goad fellow project group members to do their share of work and document it appropriately. I am no saint, but I can say that I have acquitted myself well as far as effort in academic projects, term papers, assignments, etc. goes. The more we neared the end of the course, the less people were willing to work. There remain a handful of people who are dependable and do their work willingly, turning in a good performance. Projects and term papers were delayed until there hardly was any time before the deadline, and then of course, hasty work was hardly ever of good quality. I don't think I will ever understand why people failed to get enthusiastic about their work, even when they had chosen the subjects and project topics themselves. I sincerely hope this 'mutual shirking equilibrium' changes for the better when we step
out into the outside world.

Attitude toward learning

The popular perception of an MBA is that of a 'smart'-looking, jargon-spitting person, who may or may not understand what he/she means. While Dilbert's way of poking fun takes a rather extreme position on this, one would not tend to disagree totally with Scott Adams if one sat through b-school presentations (and gave a few
oneself, to be fair :) ). Project reports and term papers, examination answers, presentations - all of these generally have oodles of what we fondly call 'globe' (not counting the quantitative courses, of course). I don't really know the reason for this predilection with half-understood or misunderstood concepts and jargon - is it because a lot of subjects are packed into a relatively short time, is it because
students feel these are not really going to help them in the real business world, or, is it because students feel that whatever you actually do, it is how you package and present it that matters most? But this attitude meant that most people switched off mentally when project presentations were going on, not hearing what others had to
say, assuming that it wouldn't be something vitally important, and then went on stage, and said similar things themselves.

The corporate world did not help much in this area. Most people from the corporate world who come down to campus for pre-placement talks (PPTs) talk in similar mind-numbing jargon.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What's in an MBA - II

Continuing with the positives:


I am not a naturally gregarious person and so I do not know many people of my batch, and of my senior and junior batches, closely. However, irrespective of how many people I personally knew, I have learnt things, directly or indirectly, from a lot of people. This might seem like a 'global', and ultimately meaningless, statement. But it isn't. It's certainly not the first time I have been with people from all regions of India, but in terms of attitudes, behaviour and goals, the people I have met here form a much more varied bunch than that I met with during my engineering days.

I wouldn't count more than a dozen people here as my closest friends, but these people have been absolutely wonderful to be with. A very capable bunch of people who are also great fun to be with, and the shared experiences with them are memorable. Besides these close friends, the class I was in in the first year (Section D) has been a fairly close-knit group, with most people being comfortable being with each other. Overall, I have liked the variety of people I met here, and have liked observing their capabilities, idiosyncrasies, and attitudes.

Facilities & resources

I found the facilities and resources (the computer centre and network, the library, sports facilities, some essential services like banks & provision stores, the course material) to be very good overall. Of course, each one of the above has its own set of shortcomings, and have led to much heartburn at various times. But the services they have provided offset the difficulties, at least in my case. In fact, I have not made as great a use of the library as I would have liked to.

Quizzes, talks, etc.

I must make special mention of the great time I have had in quizzes here. I was fortunate that Samrat chose me for his quizzing partner, since that gave me the enjoyment of winning a lot of quizzes :). I was also fortunate that we had at least a dozen people in my batch who were very interested in quizzing, which made all quizzes very lively.

Many of the speakers from various industries that came to deliver talks during these 1.5 years gave me a lot to think about. I have written about each of the talks I have attended on this blog.

The 'etc.' part includes the fun, the treats and parties, tremendous additions to my movie, music, and reading material collection, the experience of the city of Lucknow, the walks around campus, and many other memories. Of course, this is not part of the MBA course, but I am considering my entire experience here, so these should be included.

What's in an MBA? - I

This is the last week of classes here, followed by three days of exams next week, then 3 more weeks before final placements and a further one week before the convocation. It's a good time to look back and see what one gained from the MBA programme, and also to consider the flip side,
what one liked least about it.

Some people claim that there is hardly anything to be gained from the course, and that there are so many shortcomings and problems - with the course, with the institute, with the people here - that they overshadow any positives completely. But I am not able to take such a cynical view. Firstly, I believe that what one considers as gain and what as loss is, by itself, a personal thing. Secondly, and more importantly, I firmly believe that what you get out of the course (and
indeed out of any endeavour) depends strongly on what you are willing to put in. If you have a positive attitude, try to do things that you think are good and of interest to you, there is a lot to be gained from the course.

With this background, I will start this short series of posts reflecting on my experiences in the past one and a half years. I hope to write another series taking a more humorous view of all that happens in a b-school.

First the positives, in no particular order.

Functional knowledge

I opted for elective subjects in Finance & Systems (where I have a major) and in Operations as well as Strategy. I must say that I have had an exhilarating experience studying these varied subjects, getting a conceptual as well as practical view on various aspects of business. I cannot speak for the areas to which I have had no special exposure here (namely, Marketing and HR), but in Finance, Operations and Strategy, learning has been an enriching experience. The faculty has not always been great, my own contribution to the study of each subject has not always been the best possible, yet there is a sense of satisfaction on having understood so much that was previously mysterious. Even greater is the happiness at having so many avenues for further exploration having been opened.

Now, interest is not the same as aptitude, and I must admit that although I have great interest in most of what I opted to study, my aptitude or expertise at much of this is of a rather mediocre level. In each of these areas, I know of several people in my batch who have excellent aptitude and knowledge. Many people who know me might think I am being deliberately self-deprecating, but I am stating this categorically, as a fact. I have always tried to compensate for lack of natural aptitude by having a keen sense of curiosity and putting in some effort, and I think that is why I feel whatever satisfaction I do.

Monday, January 30, 2006

'Rang de Basanti'

I watched this much-awaited and much-commented-upon film yesterday with the gang at Novelty theatre, Aliganj. Although much of the story was known to me thanks to a front-page story in the Times of India, I found the film to convey something more than can be captured in a telling of the story. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (who belongs to, what I have termed, the 'YACS Club' - Yet Another Curious Spelling, that is thriving in the entertainment industry these days), it conveys effectively the indecision in the minds of youth today, who, despite realizing that there is a need to do something to combat India's current problems, are not really sure of how to go about the task. This essence of the film is described well in this review by one of my batchmates.

Some of the more prominent issues in India today are lined up in the film - the moral police, communal hatred and distrust, politician-industrialist nexus, the irresponsible and callous politician, police atrocities. Urban youth, as represented by Aamir Khan (D.J. or Daljeet) and his gang, are shown to be cynical in their assessment of this country's prospects. That is, until a Britisher, ironically, inspires in them a sense of the value of the freedom that India got. Alice Patten (Sue) comes to India to shoot a documentary on Chandrashekhar Azad and other revolutionaries and casts this unruly group of friends in her film.

The device used to show the gradual transformation of the group into serious, thinking individuals is this: their actions, following an incident which brings them face to face with harsh reality, mirror those of their characters in the film. The path they choose to come to terms with the reality and to 'set things right' is one of violence, though the ending of the film is such as to preclude the conclusion that this is the only means left to solve our problems. It is this non-preachy nature of the film that actually makes it more effective by urging the viewer to think for himself/herself.

The performances are all very good, including that of Alice Patten (who does indeed speak nice Hindi). Aamir Khan, though not quite successful at looking young, infuses energy into his character of DJ, totally carefree initially and the angry young man later. Kunal Kapoor's performance as Aslam and Atul Kulkarni's as Laxman Pandey are essayed well. I am beginning to really like Atul Kulkarni's performances. Even Soha Ali Khan Pataudi (who resembles Tiger quite a lot, in some shots) impresses in the role of an optimistic young woman. Waheeda Rehman, as Madhavan's mother, does not have a major role, but carries it off with the dignity of an armed-forces-wife and mother.

A. R. Rahman's music is in keeping with the nature of the main characters and with the situations, and must be one of his most varied scores, though it is not really my favourite. Adman Prasoon Joshi's lyrics are quite remarkable, and it is clearly an inspired effort. A good description and review of the music can be found on J. Ramanand's blog here.