Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Why not Peter Orszag move to citigroup…?

December 23, 2010

Courtesy author, blogger and friend Ben Casnocha, I read this piece by James Kwak on Peter Orszag moving to Citigroup after resigning as Budget Director under Obama administration and the rant goes like this.

“This is the mindset of the ambitious educational elite: You go to Harvard (or Stanford), maybe to Oxford (or Cambridge) for a Rhodes (or Marshall), then to Goldman (or McKinsey, or TFA), then to Harvard Business School (or Yale Law School), then back to Goldman (or Google), and on and on. You keep doing the thing that is more prestigious, opens more doors, has more (supposed) impact on the world, and eventually will make you more and more famous and powerful. Money is something that happens along the way, but it’s not your primary motivation. Then you get to Peter Orszag’s position, where you can do anything, and you want to go work for Citigroup? Why do our society and culture shape high-achieving people so they want to be executives at big, big companies that are decades past their prime? Why is that the thing people aspire to? Orszag wanting to work at a megabank — instead of starting a new company, or joining a foundation, or joining an NGO, or becoming an executive at a struggling manufacturing company that makes things, or even being a consultant to countries with sovereign debt problems — is the same as an engineer from a top school going to Goldman instead of a real company. It’s not his fault, but it’s a symptom of something that’s bad for our country.”

Here’s my take –

Terrible cliche. I see it as way too presumptuous of the squeaky critics that ordain a simplistic linear transition from domain knowledge to industry vertical, depriving the candidate of the range of options before him.

If it’s the creative mind of the engineer that is being seen as having been manipulated by the lure of a fatter wall street pay check, it’s the very original creativity of that mind choosing with little external prompt to apply its potential in a disparate dimension to experience a radically innovative if not a revolutionary outcome. After the meltdown, perhaps it’s a bit too off-putting to recognize the contributions of financial engineers in developing exotic derivative products like the ABS, CDS and so on, but let’s not forget that what caused the crisis was not the genus of these products, but its specie that got grossly misunderstood, misapplied and miscarried. Not in the least when the very products helped raise a significant portion of the billions of dollars for funding scientific and industrial research by the world’s major corporations that sustained several manufacturing innovations.

It’s ok to trim the flab, but don’t chop off the muscle that holds it together.

Straight from the (Yale) Dean’s mouth

April 28, 2008


My constant carping on the irrelevance of traditional B-School education found a great ally in none other than Joel M Podolny, Dean and William S Beinecke Professor of Management, Yale School of Management.  Money quote –


“… The Internet, the 24-hour news cycle, the popularity of social networking, and almost instantaneous ‘on-demand’ access to knowledge have all contributed to a significant shift in the mindset and the learning process for the 20-somethings now entering our MBA programmes…..New methodologies and new approaches to MBA pedagogy that more accurately reflect the demands of the contemporary work environment and the realities of the current MBA student population are urgently needed.”


My line of business brings me face to face with several CEOs, COOs and all CXOs – all B-School grads – but most of them lose interest if the presentation is innovative or even slightly deviating from the template they’re used to.  I give them a simple ratio analysis or a balance sheet projection (the old stuff) together with post event capital structure, they are doubly happy to cut my check.  I try to give a bit of ancillary industry comparison or a new revenue line, they lose the picture.  Recently it happened with a NLS/AI startup focusing on Mobile Apps. I found use for AI in web analytics being developed by a CRM client of mine, they kinda’ gave a cold response. Perhaps, they marked it “off-priority”.  Well, I am happy for the check part. But I want to do more justice, make clients see hidden opportunities – but they won’t let me.  Just do so much types.


The world didn’t sit up when I cried out.  Now the Dean of Yale says it, I hope some of them will 🙂



Fixing B-school models

February 24, 2008

Akkshay Mehta, an IIM-A graduate says “There is hardly anything in the B-school curriculum that prepares students for such rapid change.”  I say Amen.

If anything, they are good at *brownnosing* their way to the top.  They almost follow it as a dictum – more you rub nose with influential rumps, higher you go in the organizational ladder. They call it tact. Could they have learnt it at B-School? 

I’ve always held leadership can never be taught. You become a leader when your thoughts are so refined and others `get it’ better in its light than on their own. The prescriptive structural model followed by B-Schools motivates folks to score straight A’s than stimulating their creativity.  What it ignores? Capturing attributes like drive, curiosity and intuitiveness in the future leader.  I don’t think any evaluation process to be complete without sizing up those. That can’t be figured out by tests either. You’ve got to see them in real action where they are. Current institutional and tutorial models are easier on the faculty, allowing them to get away doing a shoddy job. Recast it with one of self-learning and heuristics.  Just watch how they perform at work and you’ll see how many still manage straight A’s. Begin with Wall Street and see their warped intelligence busily pulling down banks with utmost ease.  If that’s difficult, just check out authors of subprime debacle. It will be a tell all.

Update :  Here’s what Subhiksha CEO R.Subramonian, IIM-A graduate (1989) has to say on B-school model.



Do grades reward talent…?

October 28, 2007

Ben Casnocha asks

“So do college students get spoiled by the constant information delivery and assessments that’s part of structured education? Is there a risk that such an explicit reward system will retard a student’s ability to be intrinsically motivated? Will a student, upon graduation, be able to apply consistent effort without receiving a decisive “A” or “B” for each of his tasks?”

I react –

Looking at it from the side of College management, there’s a business angle to it. If students (or their parents that fund them) are not constantly reminded through their scores / grades that *you are improving*, many might as well drop out midway realizing that it’s been a big mistake. [My money is down the drain, It won’t get me there!]. The college stands to lose out on the tuition / other fee revenue for the rest of the session and it’s hard to get another sitting duck midway to recoup the lost fees. Indian students that can’t make it through stiff IIT entrance, but can afford the mind boggling fees of foreign universities, easily manage to secure admission to expensive colleges in US and Europe – all for emitting a signal at the end of the term by waving a degree that’s not much. At the workplace, their emptiness is exposed and the enormity of their foolishness allows them a silent grief, though a few have admitted it aloud later.

From the student perspective, most creative and entrepreneurial minds find structured curriculum dull and would like to fit into something on their own. They get into college with an expectation of refining their traits / skills with high quality external inputs to power their own heuristics. The periodic grades in most structured systems instill an illusory sense of accomplishment and the average student passes out, enters the real world to find that it’s not helping him much. That’s exactly why Harvard MBAs spend their first two years running errands to copiers at Goldman Sachs and pull more charts out than doing meaningful analysis that track down multibagger investment ideas. That’s their way of retraining with real life systems.

Till they learn how to take out a good copy, in the process unlearn all their Harvard illusions and distil down to brass tacks, the fund managers don’t let them get within a mile of a client account. If and when they are allowed a violation and let in as green horns without these filters, you get LTCM, Bear Stearns like meltdowns.

What do you think…? 


“It’s just something you gotta do”

September 1, 2007

A guy called James Somers, student of Ross School of Business at U/Michigan, Ann Arbor convincingly takes B-Schools apart by a telling post. Excerpts –

“…..It was clear from the first few minutes of lecture that the business school got what it asked for: friendly, busy kids with mediocre math skills. The accounting class was like any other, though it crawled along, and exams were simple rearrangements of the practice tests;

We learned what took 45 minutes in my Econometrics class in an entire semester. We spent three weeks discovering that flipping heads with a fair coin three times in a row has a probability 1/8.

There was no rigor – for instance, when we learned the basics of optimization we were told to visually solve problems by moving a sloped line away from the origin and note where it hit the other lines, rather than tackle a system of equations or (aha!) do simple calculus. All the while we were told that what we were doing related to business through oversimplified case studies where we served as consultants to Firm A. Using the word “Science” in this course’s title is insulting.

If you’re rigorous, answering not just the how but the why, you can get even remedial kids to do great things; if you only hit the surface level, if you only teach procedures, you make everyone a monkey.”

I’ve read this bookWhat they don’t teach you at Harvard” by Mark McCormack… But Mark just stopped at filling some of the gaps – the gaps between a business school education and the street knowledge that comes from day-to-day experience of running a business and managing people. 

I know Mark’s been a lawyer and did not go to Harvard.  Good that he didn’t.  If he had, he would still be writing….