Dr R Sugant, Chairman – Career Services, SDM Institute for Management Development

During his illustrious career of over 32 years, Dr. Sugant has held diverse responsibilities – as an entrepreneur, corporate leader and as an academic leader. On completion of his graduate degree in mechanical engineering and MBA in marketing, Dr. Sugant started his career in sales and subsequently moved to handle logistics and commercial responsibilities in Wipro, where he spent over 7 years. Subsequent to his stint in Wipro, he went on to become an entrepreneur and launched a start-up in the area of technology training and retail aggregation. Post dot com bust, he moved to Jain University where he went onto lead the MBA program that was then affiliated to VTU. 
Prior to joining SDMIMD in 2014, Dr. Sugant was with HCL for over 7 years in varied roles in Bangalore and Noida. In HCL, he was instrumental in setting and scaling up different business lines in their education vertical. When he left HCL, he was Business Head at HCL Learning, an Rs.600 million division of HCL Infosystems Ltd. 
As a professor of marketing in SDMIMD, he handles International Business, B2B marketing, Services Marketing and Marketing of High Technology Products – subjects on which he brings in considerable industry experience. Dr. Sugant also teaches at Universidad de Montevideo, Uruguay, South America, As part of the faculty exchange program of SDMIMD. For the past three years, he is also leading the placements at the Institute as Chairman – Career Services. During these three years, the institution has reached its pinnacle in placements by achieving 100% placements.

Dr. Sugant believes in the power of students and is of the firm view that once inspired, they can reach great heights. His avowed mission is to “inspire students to achieve”.

Management education at a crossroads

There are over 4400 management institutes and universities across India churning out over 5.5 lakh MBA graduates every year. However, the faculty quality, infrastructure and students who pursue MBAs in these institutes vary widely. On the one hand there are top-notch IIMs, specifically IIM – A, B & C that can boast of the best of students who are comparable to those in Harvard or MIT and on the other hand, we have scores of institutes that run with minimal infrastructure and poor quality of faculty. Consequently, they also attract students of dubious quality.

Also, a major chunk of these 4400 management institutions either do not have any entry criteria or entry criteria is just the basic minimum. For ex., AICTE prescribes the entry qualification as 50% marks in any discipline in the graduate degree. There is no requirement for work experience. While most of the students take one or the other competitive exams like CAT, XAT or MAT, most of the institutes consider the scores only as a hygiene factor and do not have/ specify any cut-off for admission.

Barring the top 5% of the students, perhaps numbering about 25 – 30,000 who join the top-ranked MBA institutions, the rest struggle to get a job. Even if they get a job, these jobs do not befit an MBA and they cannot build their career. It takes at least 3-5 years for them to get into a job and a role in which they can build their career.

The key challenge all MBAs face today is how to stay relevant in a world that is changing fast. The industry and most of the countries in the world are facing paradoxical challenges. On the one hand, countries and regimes are becoming more nationalistic, protectionist and inward-looking and at the same time, technology is opening up newer possibilities and vistas to the people like never before. Today’s management professionals need to not only manage these contradictions but should also thrive and grow in this complex environment.

How can an MBA future-proof her career?

While there are so many factors that determine the success of the MBA’s, can we pick up the top five that will help an MBA survive and grow in this tumultuous world?

1. Love thy numbers: For long, non-finance management professionals, especially at entry-level loathe to work with numbers. Executives working in sales, marketing, HR, systems, etc. generally tended to avoid numbers – be it finance, or analytics related – till they reach mid-management level. Beyond mid-management, when an executive was considered for senior management roles or profit center responsibility, the companies used to train/ re-train them with finance and other analytics skills.

But this will not be the case anymore. Executives, even at entry-level are expected to be savvy handling numbers – be it in sales or marketing, where the executives are expected to keep a tab on gross margins, profitability, yield, productivity, pricing, etc. or in HR where the executive is expected to use predictive analytics to anticipate attrition, performance assessment, training management and needs analysis, etc.

If one is looking forward to growing in any function in the organization, managing numbers – finance or analytics is becoming key. Developing a love for numbers is one of the key factors to a future-proof management career.

2. Thou shalt covet technology: I have known heads of large family-owned enterprises who have managed to run and scale up to large businesses without personally using technology. Their enterprises may be using technology. But they continue to remain tech illiterate. Possibly in their time, they did manage to get away without using technology. But not anymore.

Even at the entry-level – whatever be the function – being tech-savvy is a pre-requisite. Being tech-savvy doesn’t stop using social media or using MS Office. Knowledge of these is a given. What the organization expects is to go one or two notches above. A few areas could be – how to use social media for promoting products/ organization or how you can use social media for customer/ employee engagement or how one can use MS Excel for analytics or can you effectively use ERP tools or CRM tools like Salesforce. Can you use these tools to improve your/ your team’s productivity?

Technology is a game-changer. Taming technology can help an MBA future proof her career.

3. Thou shalt not forget transferable skills: In the nineteenth-century industrial revolution resulted in machines taking away dirty and hazardous jobs that humans used to do. Whereas in the twentieth century, machines took away dull, boring and repetitive jobs. In the twenty-first century, machines are expected to take away jobs that involve decision making as well. Artificial intelligence and machine language will make choices and decisions faster and reliably than humans.

But what cannot be replaced by machines are soft skills. Some of these include the ability to communicate with purpose and clarity, responsible leadership, creativity and innovation, managing teams – specifically diverse teams, adaptable to change and manage/ lead change, resilient in the face of adversity, the tenacity of purpose, etc.

These skills are transferable across functions, across companies, and industries. And these are skills that cannot be replaced by machines and very difficult to replicate.

Acquiring and constantly honing these skills can act as a key differentiator and a sure-shot way of a future-proofing management career.

4. Thou shalt engage in lifelong learning: There was a time when lifelong learning was limited to only a few professions – like medicine, teaching or professionals working in STEM areas. But the scenario is different now. It is said that 50% of the occupations that exist today may not exist 10 years from now.

We are witnessing scenarios where several jobs are combined into one, multi-tasking is becoming mainstream, work is performed where it makes the most sense and work units are changing from functional departments to process teams and managers are expected to be coaches than supervisors.

To survive in this complex environment, it is essential to learn, unlearn, relearn continuously, right through the lifetime. Stopping learning is a sure-shot way to decay. Lifelong learning is a de rigueur for a future-proofing management career.

5. Thou shalt network, network, network: Successful people have two things in common – motivation and how they approach their interactions with other people. One cannot say that the lack of networking will break careers, but one can emphatically say that networking can make careers. Networking allows you to help others. And what one gives others always comes back multifold.

Networking opens doors to new opportunities and makes you visible to others in your ecosystem. It can help one introspect, reassess his/ her qualification and can help in improving intellectual capability. In today’s work environment, where employee’s roles are moving from ‘controlled’ to ‘empowered’, an executive must stretch his sphere of influence.

With social media, networking has become much easier. But the flip side is connecting has become so easy that one takes it for granted. It is good to network over social media, but the crux is in using it judiciously along with person-to-person networking. Effective networking is a key skill one should possess to ensure future-proofing of careers.

With businesses facing big challenges like exploding data, changing technology, shifting regulatory mechanisms, pressures on sustainability, focus on ethics and integrity, there can be many more factors that can help future-proof management careers. However, I would treat the above five as critical and as “The Five Commandments for future-proofing an MBA career”.

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