(The following article is written in an Indian context.)
Along with “Tell me about yourself”, “Why MBA?” and “What after MBA?” are notoriously known to be interviewer favourites in every B-school process out there.
Among the plethora of options available to answer these open-ended questions, many aspiring candidates opt to go down a similar path - one that most interviewers are tired of: “I see myself heading my own company within 20 years, Ma’am”.
Another common yet contrasting statement that makes the rounds when MBA & entrepreneurship are being discussed is “X is not a business school graduate after all!”. X here, as you might have guessed already from Déjà vu, is any successful businessman; Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg being red-hot favourites. These commonplace schools of thought are both made to sound obvious but are in complete contrast to one other.
Which one is true then?
Advocates of MBA (a population primarily consisting of MBA holders themselves!) are quick to point out how business schools encompass more or less exhaustive (no, not MECE in case you are wondering) streams including finance, marketing, HR, strategy and so on. Their point is that all aspects of a business are covered in considerable depth, which is a prerequisite to starting one’s own firm. It is crucial to however understand that entrepreneurship has one critical component that an MBA fails to teach – risk taking. In fact, an MBA reduces one’s risk-taking appetite if anything!
Conventional thinking leads to another commonplace thought – an MBA is a ‘backup’ or a ‘Plan B’ in case of failure in entrepreneurship. Although this seems like logical and sensible thinking, it again diminishes risk-taking ability in individuals. The MBA degree is equivalent to a rope portrayed aptly in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman: The Dark Night Returns’ – when Bruce Wayne is hopelessly stuck in a depressing underground prison, he realises that he can make the jump to escape only if he lets go of the safety rope he is tied to.
Without the rope (MBA), the desire to escape (entrepreneurship) increases as there is no other option. Desire, much like risk-taking ability, is essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
An atmosphere conducive for learning is necessary to inculcate entrepreneurial abilities. In a business school, however, the ultimate truth is (unfortunately?) placements. Everything points at training to become ‘employable’ in the ever-increasingly-competitive industry. Business schools are fundamentally designed to create ‘managers’, not ‘entrepreneurs’. A harsh judgement often heard is that joining a business school is equivalent to paying a hefty amount to take part in the rat race. Another claim that self-claimed experts frequently make is the importance of the ‘brand’ associated with the MBA tag. An entrepreneur is likely to face more slack if he’s a ‘mere graduate’. This is an unfortunate yet unavoidable practice and is true although it should ideally not be the case. Only an MBA degree holder is deemed smart/qualified enough to run his/her own business. The lakhs and millions of successful entrepreneurs that have walked the sands of time, without the recently popularized MBA degrees, have conveniently been forgotten.
Once enrolled in a business school, does it even make sense to become an entrepreneur? Would not the two-year time, and many-lakhs of money investments have rather been invested in the company if that were the ultimate objective? How does one get an adequate Return on Investment without taking one of the coveted campus offers?
All in all, the MBA vs. (or ‘and’?) Entrepreneurship argument is one to stay. After all, not everything is black or white. While we have the Jobs’ and the Zuckerbergs who are tycoons without having slogged their way through a business school, there is also a multitude of successful businessmen who are MBA holders. One way to think of it (although again, this is not the universal truth) would be that MBA-clad entrepreneurs are more in number, but aren’t the very well-known business tycoons owing to their subdued risk-taking nature. MBA-bereft entrepreneurs on the other hand, rarer as they may be, are grander owing to their ability to put it all on the line. It is all entirely up to the individual, type of business and numerous other parameters – luck, even!
With more measures such as start-up incubation centres, entrepreneurship-centred courses, etc. being taken, it would be tremendous if the blaring gap between MBA and entrepreneurship is bridged in the near future.
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