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Considering doing an MBA? You might not need it to succeed

A comedian, a photographer, an executive and a businessman tell you if having a business degree really matters

education Updated: Apr 05, 2017 16:08 IST
Antara Sengupta
MBA

(Illustration: Shrikrishna Patkar)

‘I think I should do an MBA.” Counselling psychologist Anuradha Prabhudesai, director of Mumbai’s Disha Counselling Center, says this is probably the sentence she hears most during admission season.

“About 80% of the students who come to me ask if they should pursue a degree in business administration,” she says. “Most students think it will improve their prospects, no matter which career they choose.”

This idea seems to have gained even more popularity in the past two years as the economic slowdown has made breaking into and advancing in jobs more challenging.

MBA applications have risen sharply across the state since 2015. Data from the Directorate of Technical Education in Maharashtra shows an overwhelming 94,300 applications for the Common Entrance Test for MBA and MMS (Masters in Management Studies) in this year, up from 60,000 two years ago.

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Education counsellor Shireen Ardeshir says the MBA is an overrated degree. “Most students don’t know what to do after their first degree,” she explains. “They should understand that it is a generalised programme, and that there are several specialised and cheaper courses they could do instead.”

MY MBA ISN’T USEFUL IN MY ADVERTISING JOB

Pragya M (Name changed on request), 25, has what she called her dream job – an account planner with an advertising firm.

“It is a challenging but very fulfilling profile,” she says. “I work with clients to research, build strategy and produce briefs that ensure the advertising campaigns reach the right audience.”

In 2012, back when she had just got a BCom degree, she wasn’t sure she would ever make it into the advertising world. “My parents wanted me to get a Masters. I wanted to start my career. I was sure I did not want to get into the finance sector, so we compromised and I got an MBA,” she says.

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Pragya specialised in Communications, but “it didn’t give me an edge,” she says. “Most of what I know, I’ve learnt on the job.”

What her MBA degree did give her is a chance to meet people she wouldn’t have otherwise. “I’ve found that in my field, experience is more important.”

FROM MBA TO STAND-UP COMEDY: NO JOKE

“Like everyone else, I studied engineering but knew that I didn’t want to be a coder,” says Rahul Subramanian, 31, a stand-up comedian. So after working as a sales manager in an internet marketing firm for two years, he did an MBA in marketing. It eventually landed him a job as a brand manager in a multinational company. “I did not dislike my job but I didn’t like it either,” he recalls. It’s probably why he found himself being increasingly frustrated and took to stand-up comedy to let off steam. “By 2016, I realised I cannot do justice to both and quit my job to do comedy full-time,” he says. The degree, now unused, is good for a few jokes. “It is okay to be confused, but that shouldn’t come in the way of discovering what you really like to do,” Subramanian says. “My MBA did not teach me to be happy, my pursuit of comedy did and that to me is more important than a so called ‘successful career’.”

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MY MBA DIDN’T CLICK WITH PHOTOGRAPHY

The shutterbug bit Paritosh Panchal, 25, while he was still in college, getting a degree in Commerce.

“I joined a bunch of photography clubs in my final year,” he says. “I loved photographing — anything and everything.”

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But he followed the usual MBA-after-BCom path anyway. He headed his college photography club while pursuing the business degree, but after that, he gave it up for a career in equity research.

It was a cushy job, but Panchal missed his camera.

He quit in November 2015 and a month later he and his friend, offered to do a free shoot for a food company. “We told them to pay us only if they liked the pictures,” Panchal says. Business took off from there.

Today, Panchal is a promising food photographer and social media manager. Restaurants hire him to shoot their food, and his drool-worthy snapshots are plastered all over Zomato, Swiggy and social media platforms.

His message: Do what you love, and figure out how to sell it. You don’t necessarily need an MBA for that. And remember, it’s never too late to take a chance.

NOT EVERY VENTURE NEEDS A BIZ DEGREE

Salil Agrawal, 29, has a degree in IT engineering. But he has spent seven years running businesses without an MBA.

He started his own firm in 2012, a grocery delivery service called GoPeppers.

“We had a good two-year run with an annual turnover of Rs 15 crore,” he says. He then worked with Rocket Internet, which helped build and invest in internet companies and ZoRooms, a competitor to OYO Rooms, the hotel services company. He now runs Ziffy Homes, which helps bachelors find furnished rental homes in Indian cities.

Read: IIM disconnect: What’s keeping women away from India’s premium B-schools?

“It is important to understand the market, I’ve learned from experience,” he says. “The only thing an MBA might have given me is a network of contacts, but I made those in the industry anyway.”

His next enterprise? An initiative that will help aspiring entrepreneurs understand business without ever doing an MBA. “I will soon formalise it into a new vertical,” Agrawal says.