CANON OF MBA SUCCESS

Having taught multiple MBA formats across four continents, I am moved beyond conviction that MBA programs are akin to manufacturing or service industries; success does not correlate with processes (program content and delivery) nor output (quality of knowledge and skills).

The predictive power of MBA success tendencies relies on the psychological makeup and attitudinal states of the student.  Some of the differentiating attributes among MBA students that amply helps them succeed are listed below.

 

Preparing for Business School:

  • Dreams drive achievement.
  • Find a student mentor at the target b-school during application process.
  • Become proficient in spreadsheet and presentation software programs.
  • You cannot lead, motivate, inspire or sell, if you cannot communicate.
  • The creative MBA is the child who survived.

 

First-week Bootcamp:

  • Begin with end in mind.
  • There is no second chance in creating the first impression.
  • Find a senior MBA student to help you orient you through quagmire.
  • Be a member in three student groups and lead one.
  • Business school popularity is seldom fickle.

 

Studying MBA:

  • Be visibly attentive in the lecture hall.
  • Take advantage of your professor’s office hours.
  • Library is a gymnasium for the mind.  The librarian is your personal trainer.
  • Read more than what you have to.  Teach others about what you know.
  • Progress with singular focus over holidays between quarters and trimesters when others rest.

Relating with Other MBAs:

  • Find appropriate social outlet.
  • Befriend with classmates whom you suppose will be tomorrow’s leaders; not manager material.
  • Everything—including romance—moves much faster.
  • Look good and make others look good.
  • Help friends optimize for their strengths.

 

Life in Business School:

  • Enjoy b-school: this is the time of your life.
  • The early bird gets the worm.  Begin everything early.  You then have time to raise the bar until the deadline.
  • Do not lose touch with what is right.
  • You cannot succeed if you do not show initiative.
  • People in career management center can provide you with an irrational edge.

 

On-campus Interviewing:

  • Prepare for consulting interviews even if you want to target a corporate job.  Interview with at least one.
  • Key to interviewing success is using your network wisely.
  • Talent will let you in the door; character will keep in the room.
  • Invest in an expensive suit.  Perception is everything.
  • Don’t be better; be different.

 

Beyond MBA:

  • Real business education begins the day after you graduate from your MBA.
  • An MBA is not paid for labor, but for vision and leadership.
  • Leverage new knowledge and skills to attain career success.
  • Instill continuous learning ability.
  • Write a book or teach the next generation of business leaders.

 


TRUMPING AMERICA’S LIZARD

A neuro-exploration of the ever-present bluster of Trump brand, and how Donald Trump effectively used it as a shorthand for choice to the White House

Donald Trump tweeted that Barack Obama will go down as the worst POTUS.   President Obama quipped, “at least I will go down as a president” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”  The president was not alone.  Mitt Romney, who challenged President Obama in 2012, dismissed Mr. Trump as “phony and fraud.”  Several more high-profile Republicans denounced using apocalyptic language to warn others not to choose Trump as their nominee during the primaries or not to cast their ballots in the general election.  Prominent right-wing broadcasters from Glenn Beck to Washington Post columnist George Will to The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol asserted that Trump lacked character, values, and experience, and declared that he would put the country’s national security and well-being at redoubtable peril.  Left-wing media tried their best to expunge Trump by covering his faulty business records, failed deals, tax evasions, and his salacious past with super models and beauty queens.  More shockingly, newspapers that had no permanent address on the left-right scale also reclined in their opulent endorsement to Trump’s rivals both in the primaries and in the general election.  Editorial boards of conservative papers such as, the Arizona Republic, the San Diego Union-Tribune endorsed a Democrat for the first time in their century-long history.  The heavy reliance on big data journalism, survey and exit polls, powered by sophisticated modeling augured a massive Trump loss.

All along the rousing campaign speeches, Trump made extraordinary claims: mainstream media wants to surrender the constitution, American media is dishonest, media folks are scum, poll numbers do not present reality.  One of the handicaps of the twenty-first century postmodern thought is that most election pundits, like most market researchers, have the vaguest and biased notions of what constitutes a nation (or market); a nation (or market) is never made of monolith citizens (or customers).  Just as Indians of India do not have the same preferences, tastes, and choices, so do the Japanese of Japan or the Americans of the United States.

Hours after the polls closed, the New York Times reversed its anti-Trump stance when election results percolated early evening.  It declared Trump had 91% chances of winning the presidency.  The newscasters reporting the results did not know where to hide their numb faces.  Election analysts and pundits who based their estimates on their own subjective odds bit their fingernails, silently howled, and ran for cover.  After the results were announced, President Obama graciously asserted that all Americans root for Trump’s success to make America great again.  Romney sent his wishes, and so did the scores of defectors of the Donald Party.  Headlines screamed the day after “major upset,” “unexpected result,” “surprise victory.”

Beyond the presidential victory, the Republican Party secured a majority with fifty-one senators and retained its strong presence in the House of Representatives.  State-wide gubernatorial elections also established a Republican majority.  Trump’s win showed how little the electorate cared about media endorsements and opinion columns.  The barometers of opinion made obvious how they were out of tune with the great swathes of American feeling.

Feeling is an instinct—a conscious, subjective experience of emotion—that cannot be measured in survey forms, self-reports, mathematical modeling, and rational analyses.  Also, emotion can be evocative or suppressive; the latter, more oblique, and so more challenging to ascertain.  The Trump campaign actually retreated beyond the rational and the emotional.  In order to uncover unarticulated forces behind behavior, a new set of glasses are recommended to charter the recondite terrains of the ancient segment of our lizard brain.  A unique concoction of neurobiology, cultural anthropology, and cognitive psychology need to be employed to discover the hidden forces that pre-organize the way people behave.

Don MacLean first informed about the triune brain: reptilian complex (lizard), limbic system (monkey), and neocortex (human).  If trigonometry, descriptive statistics and polling numbers reside in the realm of neocortex (the new brain) and evocative emotions in the cortex (the middle brain) that we inherited from mammals, instincts, cherished beliefs, and reflexive decisions are governed in the lizard brain (the old brain).  The new brain thinks, the middle brain feels, and the old brain decides.  Though humans like to think they are rational beings, most times they have no awareness relating to nonconscious behavior, and the reason why they make the choices they make.  The more outspoken ones would rationalize their irrationality, but why people do what they do, and how they related with Trump’s no-policy campaign is pre-organized in the lizard code.

Having the richest experience in politics, spending millions in election campaigns, or conceptualizing the best policies to address nation’s problems does not guarantee that voters will vote.  Those address the monochrome rational brain.  Exciting findings in brain research inform that speaking to the old lizard brain in the simplest of language and in the most authentic means triggers passion, decision, and action.  In the book “How the Brain Works,” brain scientist Leslie Hart states, “much evidence now indicates that the old brain is the main switch in determining what input will go and what decisions will be accepted.”  Dr. Joseph LeDoux in “Emotional Brain,” points out that amygdala—located in the old brain—“has greater influence on the cortex than the cortex has on amygdala, allowing emotional arousal to dominate and control thinking and decision making.”  In other words, the lowly orders of our organism are in the loop of higher reason and cognition.

With all this scientific evidence, the challenge in sales, marketing, and branding is how to address a four-hundred million year-old brain.  While all candidates were debating various issues from national security to green energy and educating inner-city America, Trump was engaged in piloting an emotional movement; mesmerizing the American lizard.

Donald Trump couldn’t articulate his political stance though he ran on a Republican ticket.  He is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.  He has been a Democrat and also a Republican.  He has endorsed candidates or parties on both sides.  He threw his weight behind those on the right, like Mitt Romney, and on the left, like Bill Clinton.  Instead of appearing as a centrist, he chose to reconcile the right’s losing popularity at an unsatisfactory status quo with a grandiose positioning statement: Make America Great Again.  That was his best chance of winning, because the US had seen eight years of a liberal Obama.  Bernie Sanders widened the playing field, introducing a brew of socialism-inspired transformative policies that greatly weakened Trump’s rival, Ms. Hillary Clinton who had more things to worry throughout her campaign from deleting thirty-three thousand confidential e-mails to her slightly manufactured brand identity.  Trump was authentic.  He spoke his mind.  Though authentically dangerous most times in the campaign trail, he effortlessly earned the points for being more openly terrible than any of his rivals.  It’s considered authentic that he doesn’t speak from a teleprompter but just wings it.  When you’re not making a consilient argument or an elaborate policy, winging served Trump’s purpose.  As much it abundantly helped him get under opponent’s skin, it significantly thrills the lizard brain to be liked here and now.  The lizard loves such authenticity.  And that causes the intoxicated lizard to erupt in chants and cheers that you often witness in religious and liturgical traditions; giving one up to the communal ecstasy of making America great.

People have personalities.  Brands have personalities.  Nations have personalities.  For brands and nations, good maps for charting highways and byways are guided less by hyperrational charts of maximizing utility that economists, statisticians, and strategists believe.  In my excursions of practicing the alchemy that happens when brand truth meets consumer insight, I am moved beyond conviction that anthropologists and psychologists hold these charts in spades.

In Freud’s psychology, the ego does its best to mediate between the irrational urges of the id and the moralistic constraints of the superego.  Archetypal psychology builds up on Freudian psychology to promise a baroque set of charts to explore into the deeper dynamics of instincts as natural drivers and agents of feelings as they’re felt.  Carl Jung said that archetypes, a universally familiar character of unconscious origin, transcends time, place, culture, gender, and age.  This notion of collective unconscious that culture has created evolves over time.  This cultural unconscious offers a powerful imprint, a reference system that evokes imagery and story, produces meaning and feeling, engenders loyalty and advocacy.

America’s cultural adolescence informs Trump’s core market segment in a wide variety of ways; the very same theme showed up in nearly every American discovery session I have made in my brand consulting engagements.  Americans never had to kill an emperor; we only rebelled against one and shut the door on him.  Perhaps for this reason, our rebellion never terminated.  The US never produced a world-class classical composer, but we exported thousands of rock and rap artists.  We sold sugar and cola syrup in water, violent movies, fast food, high-energy sports and made more icons than anyone.  Our celebrities encapsulate this adolescence:  Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Elvis Presley, Tiger Woods, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton..the list is endless.  If Michael Jackson did not want to face the reality of his age that he boxed himself up in an oxygen chamber, Tom Cruise jumped around Oprah Winfrey’s set, hopped onto a couch, fell rapturously to one knee to profess his love for Katie Holmes (who are now divorced).  If we look at Trump’s supporters through this set of glasses we see the lizard’s trappings of deep-rooted adolescence.  Bill Clinton was a political genius, not for his understanding of world problems, but for his ability to resonate to with American cultural unconscious.  Donald Trump, like Bill Clinton, is the perfect adolescent president.  Trump’s adolescent rebellion showed in myriad ways:  1. I do not want money from special interest groups; 2. our political system is rigged; 3. the media people are dishonest; 4. immigrants can’t kill American people; 5. we make stupid trade deals with China.

Let’s ignore the illegal immigrants who have jumped the fence, even legal immigrants who have not been assimilated to American cultural unconscious wouldn’t understand Trump.  And, Trump did not need to embrace them in his target audience.  He was trying to fish from a pond that will supply him many fishes to outdo his opponent who was preaching “togetherness” in a culture that worships individualism, anti-authority, and freedom.  Now let’s look at his brand communication strategy.

Words have been around for forty-thousand years; prior to that, man’s communication was limited to grunts and gestures.  Written words have been around for ten-thousand years.  Old brain is thirty times older than written words.  In an era of one-hundred-forty-character tweets and ten-second TV sound bites, Trump’s fourth-grader language and colloquial vernacular resonated with a broader swath of voters than his highfalutin opponents.  His vocabulary was filled with simple words that impel divisive emotions like “huge,” “terrible,” “beautiful,” “stupid,” or punchy, direct phrases like “all talk, no action,” “low-energy,” “take their oil,” “build a wall,” or “she’s nasty.”  Though the educated may suppose a continued decline in the complexity of political speeches, the lizard brain doesn’t understand drawn-out exegesis nor was Trump targeting Ivy League professors.  He was persuading the Iowa corn farmer and the tattooed Milwaukee motorcycle gang member using unbridled emotion, not sagacious reason.  He was talking New York style; a type of language that can be perceived rude, offensive, or even dangerous.  For instance, a person from Seattle would say:  It looks like it may rain.  New Yorker:  Oh, shit!  As if I needed that goddamned rain on my noggin.  Trump’s New York speaking style was a mistake to speak outside New York, but soon the Midwesterner understood and Trump also toned down his brusque enunciation.  His short sentences began and ended with strong words almost like a perfect copywriter of a Fifth Avenue advertising agency.  Millions of people bought the Trump brand for what it said about themselves to others midway through the campaign.

Who are these millions of people?  As media ofttimes portrayed a rally pugilist or a white supremacist, the true Trump supporter comes out of conservative tradition but she is not a traditional Sunday church-goer.  She is the archetype American Trump coveted to fish.  She is inspired by Ronald Reagan, but does not get her news from Fox Broadcasting Company.  She is not wearing three-inch stilettos on the streets of Tribeca.  She is in her comfortable sneakers and lives in Topeka.  She is not listening to Beyonce’s contemporary R&B or Kurt Vile’s lo-fi brew of alternative country.  She loves the angst of hard rock or stuck with Appalachian folk of yore on her iPod.  She is not the one who will enthusiastically stand in line to participate in a survey or post a Facebook selfie update with a “nasty woman” hashtag.  She will rather go to the Trump rally in the Michigan cold.  She is not a jingoist, homophobe, or a dummy, though some are.  She is the slightly spoiled white girl who relates to experience rather than is not swayed by the lame-stream media.  She clearly does not want the government to shove her health insurance down her throat, for she loves autonomy, freedom, and individual choice.  She may not have the aptitude to go to graduate school.  She is a freewheeling country girl with abundance of attitude.  Let’s remember that attitude is more consequential than aptitude to bring about any change or progress.  She has been dubiously asking herself where American exceptionalism exited since the day President Obama was elected.  She recently woke up from an eight-year nightmare to miraculously believe that privilege and respect were two shakes of a lamb’s tail the day Trump sits on the throne.

Believing is a old brain task; seeking is the duty of the new brain.  Politics, like religion, belongs to the realm of belief.  Belief gives two hoots about evidence.  When the red-hot button of the lizard brain is switched on, Trump’s supporters can be tone-deaf to his unbounded vulgarity, knowledge-free authoritarianism, and ingrained misogyny.  A lawyer takes a side out of sheer belief, and then diligently seeks evidence to build the case.  On the contrary, a scientist diligently seeks evidence first, and then draws upon a thesis after multiple experimentations.  People vote like lawyers; not as scientists.  The chimera of the fiercely independent American everyman’s belief reigns supreme every four years.  Perhaps that’s also the reason why among the four-hundred-and-thirty-five members of the House of Representatives, we seldom find a microbiologist or a chemical engineer.

Captivated with the apparent logic of pithy observations as “it’s not media which matter, it is what men do with media,” Trump manipulated media the way media manipulates the public.  Instead of being the subject of the news, he became the news.  Trump, a salesman, above all, of Trump, singlehandedly turned media around; he did not require Lady Gaga to strike a note in Omaha nor Katy Perry to sing his praise in Montgomery.  When you are on your way of hypnotizing the cultural domain of the lizard brain, why bother splashing some culture with hip hop music in campaign rallies.  Most below-average brands do, and so did Trump’s rivals.

Hillary Clinton should know American Presidential campaigns are not about ideas; someone needed to remind her that she was not running against Jeb Bush.  Presidential campaigns are about the finding of a hero who incarnates the fantasy of the masses and finds a way to make it burgeon.  Though he might have seemed like a twisted caricature of every reflex of the right, Donald Trump addressed the prevalent pain of national decline in tweet-like prose to capture the cloak-and-dagger lizard of the millions of forgotten and anxious white people who leaned slightly right or left of the political spectrum.  Trump awakened something that Americans felt they did not have.  What thing?  As a street preacher would, Trump reconstructed their worldview that America was not as great as she could be, and peddled to them that he will make her great again.

Trump’s brand is a brand of bombast.  He says a lot in blunderbuss style.  “I built the greatest hotel, the greatest golf course, the greatest casino, and wrote the greatest business book.”  He believes what he says.  The paradox of Trump is that he knows “The Art of the Deal” was written by a ghostwriter, he does not own the greatest hotel or casino, but he says it the way he says because that’s just who he is.  Heroes are narcissists.  Heroes believe in themselves.  It is that enormous self-belief that makes others believe.  Trump believes.  It is that lizard-kicking belief that made scores of American believe.  Tell me seriously, if your money were at stake, wouldn’t you take Trump?  He’d come with an aggressive first offer:  deport all the illegal immigrants.  At the end of the negotiation, he’d make a more sane deal, but still win.

As a brand strategist, I am distinctly impressed how Trump positioned himself to trump America’s lizard.  I also understand the semantic tricks or techniques that were, in effect, supposed to demonstrate how the American voter was made to believe America was frail, fragile, and fatigued, and that he is the wall builder who will resolve the immigration plague; the superior dealmaker who will remedy America’s trade woes; the guardian angel who will revive the US.  The truth however is Trump is a blowhard billionaire with mixed-up political ideologies who funded his own campaign to seize power before an imminent collapse of the Republican Party; a pathologically impulsive salesman who fortuitously keyed in to the lizard’s vault.  As the president-elect, I wish he improves his short-attention span, begins speaking a language that of at least a sophomore of high school (definitely not as a New Yorker), and truly makes America united, prosperous, and more innovative.

As a postscript, I must announce I prefer free enterprise and favor deregulation and privatization.  After having lived in large metropolises such as Chicago, London, and now New York City, it should not surprise the reader that I am socially liberal.  I am neither left nor right, but all the better for it that you want to call the radical right-center.  Since neither of the candidates appealed to my political stance of true progressivism, I inform the reader of the objectivity of this piece.


ON WRITING WELL

Good writing is not a natural gift.  I believe it is an acquired talent.  One thing is certain:  good writers go far in their career and higher in life.  Here are five hints I learned about writing from reading.

 

On Writing Well


LEMMY KILMISTER: THE HEART OF ROCK N’ ROLL

12/28/2015.  Motörhead frontman, rock icon “Lemmy” dead at seventy the news channels screamed.  How could god die?

I saw Motörhead last in Madison Square Garden at the Gigantour 2012.  It was my fourth, and each time I’ve pleasantly impaired the natural performance of my ears.  His bronchial rasp, that lowered microphone, those majestic whiskers, the Marlboro reds which he abused between songs, his shiny Rickenbacker guitar remained intact.  Most millennials in the audience came to see Megadeth, the encore performance of the tour.  When Dave Mustaine (Megadeth frontman) took a minute after the show to profusely thank Lemmy and Motörhead, some of the millennials in the audience learned who the headmaster and the student of the rock n’ roll school were.

Even my date for that evening, a fan of the eighties/nineties speed/thrash bands, was blissfully ignorant of the innovator.  I had to explain an incident which took place in late seventies about a car that shadowed the Motörhead tour bus from San Diego, CA along the west coast.  It was in the state of Oregon that the bus driver notified Lemmy about the stalker, Lars Ulrich, a pimply-faced nineteen y/o zealot who was later appointed the President of the US Motörhead Fan Club.  He later went on to form Metallica that basically duplicated many of the attributes that Motörhead invented:  song structure and versing, attitude, raspy vocals, fast-paced rock to mention a few.  Many of the bands from Slayer to Sepultura and Anthrax to Death Angel aped Motörhead to become Billboard chart-topping rockstars who flew in private jets and slept with supermodels.  Motörhead was where Motörhead is.  Raw, passionate, authentic, and in-your-face.

Perhaps David Letterman should have introduced Motörhead with more deference or rather politeness to American audiences when they played a Chuck Berry classic in his Late Night show that only brought the beast out of his sidekick, Paul Shaffer.  Perhaps the jury in Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame needed to identify and honor true rock icons for their contribution and influence.  Perhaps Motörhead should’ve made flashy videos of leather-clad skinny girls for MTV audiences.  Perhaps news journalists could refrain portraying him solely as a boisterous party-animal, coarsely scurrilous at groupie extravaganzas in their short-sighted requiem.  In truth, these perhapses do not exist.

Ask most any music critic and he’ll tell you Lemmy Kilmister’s great artistic achievements from being Jimi Hendrix’s roadie to Hawkwind’s bassist to Motörhead’s frontman of forty years.  Ask rock aficionados about Lemmy Kilmister, and they’ll explain how he singularly laid the foundation for the gritty aesthetic of punk, new wave heavy metal, no wave, thrash metal, speed metal, alternative rock, grunge, and death metal.  Motörhead was not metal, but it was metal.  Motörhead was punk, before punk was a recognized genre.  For a musician ahead of the times and a key touchstone of the movements in rock music to follow, Lemmy had to develop his own ideology, his own myth and history; even his standard of greatness amply sited by fellow musicians from Ozzy Osbourne (of Black Sabbath) to Tracy Marrow (Ice-T) only recites a part of the story.

Lemmy Kilmister is a standard of human passion and perseverance.  One cannot put it any simpler than that.

Passion:  His passion is everywhere in his life, in the songs he wrote, in his keen intelligence of social and political issues, and in his amphetamine-fueled music; its attribution only raises your body temperature.  Lemmy’s passion means many things, encompassing psychedelic rock of Sam Gopal, space rock of Hawkwind, or the intense singularity and devotion of Motörhead’s proto-punk.  Unusual in the fields of heavy rock, we discover a philosopher and a thinker of great compassion; his antagonism towards religion (“Orgasmatron”), his hostility to any established authority (“Eat the Rich,” “March or Die”), his outrage to war (“1916,” “Get Back in Line”), his espoused bleakness to child abuse (“Don’t Let Daddy Kiss me”).

Perseverance:  Born as Ian Fraser Kilmister, he was three months old when his father, a clergyman, deserted the family.  He grew up at a time before rock music, listening to his mother’s Rosemary Clooney records.  He was nine when Ian decided to play the guitar.  When his mother remarried, he spent his teen years as a guitarist in obscure bands (Rainmakers, Motown Sect, Opal Butterfly, and the Rockin’ Vickers), short of money, eating when he can cadge a meal.  “Lemme borrow a fiver.”  Lemmy was baptized.  Neville Chesters, Jimi Hendrix Road Manager, whom I interviewed for my forthcoming book on “Icons” told me that if Lemmy could not play in other bands, he’d carry their guitars and equipment.  “He’s come in the hard way of persistence.”  Years later after he found himself in band, Hawkwind, he was only unceremoniously expelled from it in a foreign country without dime in his pocket.  Any ordinary human being facing such calamities and adversities from a fatherless childhood to frustrated adolescence and deep poverty would have imbued instant disdain to take a salaried employment as a security guard or a bus driver in England.  It takes a Lemmy Kilmister to disregard circumstances and create a destiny that imposes gigantic hope as an immutable ideal which motivates fans, inspires other rock musicians, spurs human imagination, and makes even Beavis and Butt-Head bow their heads in respect; the only musician they ever elicited regard in the animated sitcom of implied criticism.

Rock stars are decided in the Billboard chart hits and in the decision of the masses.  The masses are thrust upon to purchase what is publicized by the media that record labels and corporations pay money to publicize.  Marketing then decides the super stars.  But, there lies a difference between hero and legend, just as there lies a difference between talent and genius or brand and icon.  Unsupportive of millions in records sale, a multi-million dollar account in a Manhattan bank, or a number one position on the chart, if Motörhead is the most tattooed band in the world (my research on brand logo tattoos), and if Motörhead’s true fans are in other bands, it just asserts that we live in a world where an Elvis Presley lived in a Graceland, but a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in a hut.

“When I’m dead, we’ll sell millions, like Von Gogh, who couldn’t sell a painting while he was alive.  Some other follower of ours gets all the bread today.  I really do not mind one way or the other.  I never cared about money; I cared to do very good rock n’t roll, and I’ll go on doing creative music until it kills me, which won’t be very long.  I’ve been smoking since I was nine.”  — Lemmy Kilmister.

On a few occasions Lemmy roared, “I’m sorry—I can’t sing today.”  He covered his face.  The crowds gasped.  Throughout the past year, the bike engines phelgmily rumbled as if it were Motörhead’s last show.  How long can the forty-year-old Motörhead train keep steaming?

Lemmy’s bones ached; his voice shot.  The rags of age were upon him.  But, he kept going.  The older he got, the gnarlier he got.  Last three studio albums, Motorizer, Aftershock, and Bad Magic bear abundant evidence.  He was still there enduring the old age and defying death.

Denver show was cancelled.  In Austin, TX, Lemmy left after three songs.  The concert was empty: vacated seats of the arena and the cooling drum stool on stage.  But, the crowds honored his frailty.  Fans did not love him; they worshipped him.  He was their god.

The microphone that stood higher than his head for four decades was removed on 12/26 when doctors discovered an aggressive form of cancer.  Two days later, god disappeared from earth.  He took with him the shooting rage of his larynx, the grave-digger acumen, and his gnashing, distorted sounds of his bass guitar.  But, humanity’s middle finger left us with two lessons.  Passion and perseverance.

The heart symbolizes red hot passion.  The heart is also the most enduring bodily organ.  It keeps on beating the moment blood joins earth, and throughout life.  When it stops, we fall dead.  If rock n’ roll were a living, breathing creature, Lemmy Kilmister is its heart.  Made by passion and lived through perseverance.  Born to lose; live to win.


TO MBA OR NOT TO MBA

BEFORE GETTING UNDER WAY with this essay, a little background information seems in order.

First, as most friends and followers on Twitter and Tumblr know, I advise industrious business executives in the boardroom and teach enterprising MBAs in the classroom. Consequently, I get asked by many curious aspirants—some through known friends and extended family and others through social networking sites—about MBA programs, eligibility criteria, admission standards, success in program, which MBA program and where, etc. Though I objectively answer their questions via e-mail ping pong, I felt an essay encapsulating most of their queries would save my time and theirs, and also shed light to the many interested visitors to my blog site who seek information and help.

Second, many of the opinions put forward in this essay have emerged from my own experience as an MBA student and MBA alumni ambassador, as a management consultant recruiting star MBAs from top-tier business programs, and as a business school professor teaching at many premier MBA programs and formats. So, let me assure you that everything you find to be biassed or inadequate in this piece is entirely my shortcoming; although to be fair, I also claim responsibility for any parts which end up enlightening you.

Better known by the acronym, M.B.A. stands for Master of Business Administration. Since the beginning of the 1960s, the number of MBA degrees granted and the starting salaries of grantees have climbed steadily and sharply in the US, soon followed by rest of the world. Even in production-focused regions, the need for managerial education triggered a renewed concern to build business schools that today the MBA degree has become ubiquitous throughout the developing world as the degree of choice for business managers. For instance, the late 1990s witnessed mushrooming of business schools in every corner of the Indian subcontinent. While the altruistic—and usually academia—sides of the MBA story downplay the validity of some popular but crass MBA stereotypes, there is no dispute about MBAs being potent career and salty booster.

Despite the niggling reports, considerable ear-bashing criticisms and negative rumblings about the MBA which have emerged in business journals and magazines, the key findings of the Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual global survey of employers—which polled more than 500 employers from 44 countries, including 36 of the Fortune 100 companies—divulge that employer demand for MBAs is still on the rise today. Corporate recruiters in the GMAC survey indicated 72% new MBAs met expectations, 24% exceeded expectations, and 4% did not. The value of the MBA degree has been debated for years, yet company executives, recruiters, and human resource departments continue to view business programs as an effective way to develop talent in-house (via sponsoring employees to undertake part-time and executive MBA programs) or to hire new MBA graduates from business schools nation-wide as prospective business leaders. The findings also go to show that the value an MBA degree commands is often seen as a productive investment for employers in the context of managerial competencies:

1. Ability for linear, lateral, and creative thought;
2. Possess outstanding leadership potential;
3. Skill to minimize learning curve;
4. Capacity to bring the most out of individuals and teams;
5. Provide strategic, long-term focus.

I will revisit how business schools train MBAs in these competencies later in this composition.

Typology of Business Programs

All business programs are not equal. Owing to the immense popularity among recruiting business organizations and student communities, business schools have cleverly come up with alternative business programs, such as Master of Marketing Science, Master of Management, Master of Finance, Master of Accounting, etc., but none of these surrogate programs compare to the appeal, eminence, and value of the MBA program. Again, as a result of demand and esteem of the MBA program, business schools have devised many money-making opportunities by inventing myriad MBA programs: (1) Full-time MBA (which I refer as MBA); (2) Part-time MBA or Manager’s Program (which I refer as TMP, the Manager Program); (3) Executive MBA or EMBA; (4) Other corporate programs with glorified program titles.

All MBA programs are also not equal. TMP and EMBA programs are cash cows for the b-schools. Most TMP participants are between 30 and 45 years of age, and they juggle with their full-time work during day and attend classes in the evening/night or over weekends. EMBA program is targeted to those who have at least 4-5 years in a supervisory or a managerial role. As a result, EMBA students are typically between 35 and 50 years of age, with the average student in early 40s. Even though business schools claim admission requirements for TMP and EMBA programs include the same basic elements as those required of younger, more traditional full-time MBA students, the contrary is often true. Admission standards and eligibility criteria for full-time MBAs are more stringent owing to the demand. For instance, the average score on the GMAT for a part-time MBA admit at the Stern School is 660, where as the average is 710 for a full-time MBA. Prospects to the full-time MBA are screened by admission officers—those who have post-baccalaureate degrees in psychology, and hence the thaumaturgical know-how to magically evaluate business potential in candidates—through an excruciating personal evaluative interview. I recall attending a few hour-long interviews at neutral turfs (lobbies and conference halls of five-star hotels in downtown Chicago) and on-campus sites. Owing to flat economic growth, forgone salary for two years for the full-timers, and more importantly corporate sponsorship (seen as opportunity cost) for the TMP and EMBA programs, business schools find these programs the staple off late. So, business schools are trying different strategies to increase enrollment by establishing satellite campuses in urban centers.

Despite the part-time fever, the full-time MBA program remains the gold standard. Full-timers are deemed darlings; they receive the most budget while producing the least revenue to the b-school. Full-time MBA programs benefit from more financial aid; most tuition scholarships and graduate assistantships, if any, are offered solely to full-timers.

In a study conducted by Bruce (2006), “MBAs in full-time programs rated overall value of their program higher (n = 11,672; M = 3.8; SD = 1.1) than those in part-time programs (n = 3,388; M = 3.5; SD = 1.0) or EMBA programs (n = 1,002; M = 3.8; SD = 1.0). MBAs rated overall value outstanding at nearly twice the rate of those in part-time MBA programs.” Part-timers are caught between the hammer and anvil; their employment situation was not going to likely change, and they continue to prevail as an ignored lot by the full-timers. The b-schools covertly embrace their full-timers more tightly; after all it is the younger, more dynamic MBAs they bank to bring fame to the alma mater, not those who are halfway through their professional lives. Given a choice, recruiters also prefer the risk-taking trait of the full-time MBAs than the risk-averse part-timers. Consequently, part-timers are less attached than the blindly devoted patriots of the full-time MBA stream. It seems counterintuitive, but the more satisfied the part-time MBA and EMBA are with their current employment, the more they are content with their MBA program or proud of their alma mater.

To revisit the five points listed regarding the value derived from an MBA program, the total immersion experience students get in a full-time program allow them to create skills and get a depth of understanding that no other MBA program can amply deliver.

The learning outcomes are promoted by interactions among connective, critical, and personal thinking in the business decision-making process. The word “connective” introduces the idea of group-think. The full-time MBA program promotes better peer-to-peer learning, which helps to identify and question tacit mental models and compare them with others to examine, interpret, predict and perhaps transform their own thinking patterns. The emphasis on contribution rather than personal gain is a key insight into the evolving face of MBAs. Rather than a mechanism for high-thrusters to claw their way up corporate ladder, which by the way is still the chief motive for many, MBAs are increasingly playing a more nuanced role as contributing planks in a bid to build a more interconnected world.

The issue of diversity in the workplace is a major concern in the US and European economy. Increasing opportunities for women and racial minorities in the ranks of top management has become an important societal objective. We live in an interconnected, complex world with diverse people, firms, and governments whose behaviors aggregate to produce novel, unexpected phenomena: political insurgence, market crashes, and a perpetual array of social trends. Thus, diversity in the MBA student body is an explicit component of the AACSB accreditation standards; a more diverse student body is expected to yield richer educational experience for all students. The internationalization of both the curriculum and the student body has been focal point of contemporary business education that inevitably full-time MBA programs are better positioned for its heterogeneous credentials. The gender, racial, academic, and cultural diversity of the business program is more likely represented in its MBA student body than among TMP and EMBA communities. After all, TMP and EMBA programs tend to serve specific localities and regions, even though I have known a few sedulous executives fly a few thousand miles every week from their hometowns to b-schools to complete their MBA in three years. Although data are not subjected to stringent statistical testing, diversity measures appear to show that MBA programs are more diverse in comparing them with TMP and EMBA counterparts.

There are myriad student-led clubs, copious management-related activity outside the lecture halls, plenty of networking opportunities with corporate leaders and recruiters routinely held during day hours when part-timers and EMBAs are boiling the ocean at work. The friendships that a full-time MBA program permits are very significant both from a personal and professional standpoint. Given the opportunity, employed alums are the source of networking and placement opportunities. They also provide internship leads for their classmates seeking specific occupational or industry exposure in their post-MBA endeavors.

Business education is not only about business frameworks, case studies, and analytic orientation. It is a niche program that requires participants to be equipped with necessary knowledge to manage men, materials, and matters. Though critical issues of competing with people, problem-solving and implementation, and management and control of processes are best imparted across all MBA formats, amorphous matters such as imagination, creativity are best provided in a full-time immersion. Older executives do not stand for witchcraft, and such abstractive thought pattern seems more suited for younger men and women of the regular program. Also, learn-by-doing methods such as on-field work (participation observation techniques, ethnographic research), experiential learning methods, simulated games (in-the-classroom drama, brand battles, business war games, or computer-assisted simulations) are sometimes eschewed or ignored from programs for older adults. You may not be imprecise to declare that these so-called equivalent MBA programs are specialized in training in the functions of business, but not in path-breaking components of non linear thinking, innovation, and creative-thinking skills. All MBA participants are trained to be competent number crunchers, but full-time MBAs are provided more opportunities to get their hands dirty.

To develop rebranding strategies for a premier US-based business school, I conducted a research study to identify five factors why students enroll in an MBA program: (1) new career opportunities; (2) personal development and experience; (3) increased salary, (4) networking opportunities, and (5) change of career and/or industry. As you can recognize none of the factors really denote the students wanted to acquire business skills or business knowledge in their MBA program. The aspirant’s purpose to pursue a business program that best fits to address all of the five factors is championed by the touchstone of full-time, two-year MBA program. A part-timer or EMBA already holds employment and the employer sponsors tuition fee. Many organizations expect such students to sign a service agreement that they will continue their employment post-MBA. I’ve observed upward career mobility among this clan of graduates only when they work in a progressive-minded company, not in conventional outfits of old economy like insurance, engineering, manufacturing verticals. Changing industry is almost unprecedented. There may be networking opportunities should the part-timer or EMBA is willing to forego a few hours during the day when most of such events, workshop, guest lectures, etc. are organized on-campus. You decidedly lack a sense of social belonging.

I’ve taught full-time, part-time, and executive MBA programs for eight years across four continents. It is usually the same content I deliver across all MBA formats; most times, the same set of lame jokes. I can easily accommodate the part-time and EMBA programs with my full-time consulting engagements, because they’re more flexible; held usually in the evenings or weekends. Also, from a monetary point of view, part-time and executive MBA programs pay the faculty better. It should be a no-brainer from a faculty perspective to prefer these surrogate programs. You should know as a faculty I thrive on my audience energy and creativity. Since full-time MBAs are in their mid-20s to early-30s, they are often driven and dynamic, and know how to leverage my experience and knowledge. The more I challenge them, the more out-of-the-cube they are in their deliverable. They seldom disappoint. Also, I have come to believe that true measure of intelligence is the ability to change, which comes naturally to these MBAs owing to their age and attitude. Unmistakably, I have more fun teaching them. Even when I had consulting engagements, I would not mind taking a cut in my salary to be able to maintain my professorial role teaching the full-time MBAs.

Finally, there’s the MBA-on-steroids. Business schools invented the one-year, fast-track, full-time MBA program, again another money-making opportunity. As a word of caution, if it takes ten months to give birth to a baby, the MBA aspirant should know it takes two years to make an MBA.

The Ranking of MBA Programs

If the absolute values of factors listed in previous section are focused on, MBA applicants may fall into a trap such as a blind trust in b-school rankings. And, there are many: The Economist, Financial Times, US News and World Report, Business Week to name a few. Most regional business journals also conduct annual research on business programs to publish rankings within their region. Truth be told, ranking is based on data supplied by b-schools who therefore have teeming reasons to present data in the best possible light to wangle a better ranking. No independent audit. But, it’s always the same set of b-schools that get to play musical chairs. The MBA rankings published are never the same. The Gordian knot is that various publications weigh easily countable measures–average GMATs and GPAs, starting dollars and cents–contrastingly. Though these statistical measures are important, I believe it rarely constitutes other measures of qualia: teaching standards, strength of alumni network, or friendships forged. In order to help you save a dime from purchasing the latest ranking, a list of top business schools is organized alphabetically at the end of this section (those superscripted by asterisk superstruct the paragon of cool up on the elite bunch).

The MBA program is unlike any other program. The major function of MBA programs can be viewed as a learning intermediary institution that bridges or its students to their future dream careers. No other school in a university has career management centers to place its students in dream jobs. To expound this viewpoint allow me to use an analogy. Let’s suppose, an MBA is like suit you wear. You can purchase a suit at a retail store, at the shopping mall, or spend $1,000 on a designer suit. All suits make you look dapper. Similarly, all b-schools impart the same content, and are taught by equally competent professors whose resumes also look similar. But, people know what suit you wear by merely looking at the suit you are wearing. It’s just that stitch, style, and quality of a well-made suit that is easily discerned by the naked eye. Continuing with the suit analogy, top business programs boost an MBA’s confidence. Upon graduating, you never have to explain yourself. To put it in another way, you can say the dumbest of things, and still get away saying it. The top-tier MBA after your name fixes most profound mistakes, which is a rare luxury you get for life. MBA is a label; MBAs are branded by the school. Consequently, my simple advice to MBA aspirants is to target top-tier MBA programs. You will not only go to b-school with very intelligent and articulate fellow MBAs, but you will find most of them interesting, extraordinary, and cool.

I also believe that school reputation or brand name correlates with career advancement. If an MBA is an investment in yourself and that you should look to get the best return on that investment, you must massively increase your monthly paycheck compared with how much you’re defraying on tuition, living expenses, and absence of income for those two years. Why I place strong emphasis on school reputation is because a high-wattage name on an MBA’s resume offers significant leverage when seeking employment. The value of an MBA from a top-ranked program is perceived to be much higher than the value of an MBA in general. Boston Consulting or Bain would not interview an MBA from Penn State (Smeal), but would offer to recruit as many as thirty MBAs on-campus from U-Penn (Wharton). The general consensus is that it is less time-consuming to select new recruits who already bear the stamp of quality than finding the jewel in the haystack at non-ranked MBA programs. However, do not conveniently assume that if you graduate from an Ivy League you get to work in top management consulting firms by default. It’s just that your chances are brighter.

Top-tier business programs have developed a strong reputation in business education. For instance, Harvard Business School invented the case study method in the 1920s, which is imitated in every other b-school in every corner of the globe. Thunderbird invented international management soon after the second World War ended. Today, most business schools are fashioning themselves globally savvy and international in its outlook. Matriculating at a b-school that copies Harvard or Thunderbird is a horrendous idea for anyone keen in meeting the complex business challenges. B-schools imbibe their frailties, bereft of the benefits.

Top business programs attract the best talent. Smart companies want smart MBAs to work for them. So, top-tier business programs attract progressive-minded and innovative companies, top-four consulting/auditing firms, large VC firms, big-name agencies, visible brands etc.

Conversely, top-tier b-schools have identified unique characteristics of the incoming students to determine the outcome of their MBA programs. They do not accept those who do not have clear plan; you need to show that you have a propensity for some sort of leadership and that you need the degree to get where you want in that business. Permit me to change my hat; I write this section as an admission consultant to advice MBA aspirants.

1. 700-750 GMAT Score. Despite their limitations, standardized tests are objective measures of applicant’s proficiency in basic analytical, problem-solving, and comprehension skills. Education Testing Services (ETS) tinkers with the difficulty level of the standardized tests (both syllabus and format) they administer as upper percentiles get too dense. If you dig into the sample questions of the paper-based tests of 90s, you will not notice questions in permutations and combinations, probability, etc. in the quantitative section. In 2012, the GMAT included Integrated Reasoning in the Analytic Writing Assessment (AWA) section of the test. Since the tests became computer-adaptive in the new millennium, ETS is notorious for recalibrating its algorithm from time to time; penalize more for each wrong answer and/or deduct more points at the start of the test. Unlike its distant cousin, the GRE, the GMAT tests skills that are acquired over a longer period of time, which means your scores do not improve drastically with increased preparation time. Allot about 100 hours prep time and brace for questions that are a few notches more difficult than the ones contained in prep books. I recommend the latest edition of Kaplan’s GMAT 800. If you’re an Indian or Chinese aspirant to MBA programs in the US, expect to score at the 99th percentile in the quantitative section. It’s just that the competition among Indians and Chinese is more fierce in quant aspect of the GMAT. Importantly, you don’t want 770+ scores that may insinuate to the admission committee you’re a geek and not necessarily a prospective business leader–try PhD in business instead. Do know PhD programs are not branded by the school; they are branded by the adviser and research.

2. Application Essays. Most topics revolve around statement of purpose, leadership potential, short- and long-term goals. Essays are an opportunity to showcase applicant’s talents and interests; tell memorable stories and share them with target endorsers so that they can corroborate in their recommendation letters (see #3 below). Do not hire admission consultants to package your essays. If you can’t recite your story, nobody can. Since applicants compete more fiercely and hire professional writers to massage their stories, more top b-schools today have introduced video questions in addition to timed written response questions to hear the actual voice of the applicant than read a polished piece written by a seasoned writer. After completing the video questions, candidates receive a written response question and are given a preset time to draft an answer.

3. Letters of Recommendation. The word “recommendation” means to induce acceptance; it is not a fan letter enumerating a list of positives. Endorsers must identify managerial traits or perhaps leadership potential to convince the admission committee that the applicant is well-suited for the MBA program. The letter must connect past experience to future potential. An endorser, preferably a senior colleague at workplace, who appreciates the value of an MBA and has experience writing effective recommendation letters is a good bet. I was working at Johnson Controls, Inc., Chicago, IL when I targeted US-based MBA programs. Since I could not approach my direct supervisor for a recommendation (he’d be furious if he knew I had plans to quit), I had my client (Illinois MBA) as an anchor reference; most b-schools understand this predicament in a full-time MBA applicant.

4. Undergraduate GPA. Undergraduate transcript with a GPA preferably >3.50, amply indicates applicant’s orientation and focus in formal educational programs. MBA programs do not require or give any preference to students from any particular academic background. Because multiple paths lead to an MBA, I recommend high schoolers to find an industry that interests them to pursue their undergraduate degree. In any case, candidates are required to frame their undergraduate studies as a formative experience that contributed to their professional development and with their current goal of earning an MBA.

5. Volunteering Work. Experience as a volunteer to demonstrate you are a good samaritan and/or any extra curricular activity to establish you do have a life beyond home and work suitably help in conveying your personality. Community involvement declares that you have a larger view of the world. Business schools do not assess candidates’ extracurricular activities based on a numerical scale—five or more acts of demonstrated public selflessness certainly do not guarantee admission—but they’re a vital part of the MBA application process.

6. Networking (optional). I often recommend aspirants to take in MBA events, admission events, and workshops so that you get a chance to impress upon the admission officers, alumni ambassadors to convince them about your focus, seriousness, and determination. If you’re a bad cocktail conversationalist, you may need to quickly learn Schmoozing 101. Like an iceberg, the evidence of caliber and aptitude are below the surface. This is the true irony of your way to MBA success. To be a natural charmer and utter the magic words to attract people, you need to construct some sort of a 60-second commercial, better known as an elevator speech; five or six personal tidbits and intersperse them in your conversation. Negativity, discourtesy, and TMI need to be eschewed. Admission officers are scouting tooth and nail for talent; they remember aspirants whom they meet at such events (that’s what they’re paid for). Also, try to strike a rapport with a current student of the program; probably, someone who comes across as an introvert. Extroverts inflate reality.

7. Evaluative Interview. Top-tier schools engage psychology professionals as admission officers to find out: (1) applicant-school fit; (2) applicant-program fit; (3) authenticity of applicant’s story. As applications have risen, MBA programs have had to ration interview timeslots, so interviews are rarely at the candidate’s discretion. Your chances of being admitted after you turn down a request to interview is practically nullified. Alumni Ambassadors of b-schools often take the role of admission officers to interview, if you live at a place the admission officer can’t meet. As an interviewer, I often ask myself if I want the candidate to be a part of my tribe. The questions I ask: (1) Have you been promoted?; (2) Why do need an MBA?; (3) Describe me a time when you failed; (4) Why should I admit you?; (5) Do you have any questions (my favorite question). I allot as much time and as much value to the quality of questions posed by the candidate.

Truth be told, more b-schools are fishing for MBAs from the same applicant pool. To bring in the best catch, each b-school must position its boat carefully, cast a broad net, and offer more tempting bait on its hook. Consequently, Deans of b-schools and MBA program administrators feel the need to communicate effectively how their MBA program stands differentiated. From my experience of teaching in some of the premier business programs in both the US and around world, I have not found any such differentiation. All b-schools teach differentiation in the very first quarter or trimester, but seldom practice differentiation strategies. Students in the full-time MBA program are all bright, interesting, and fun. Since I teach advanced marketing courses that calls for creative and design assets, I find them to be original and creative like two peas in a pod. The infrastructure is also the same; provides the same set of features and academic quality and support from faculty, administrative quality, and identical supportive services (library, cafeteria). All business programs are accredited as AACSB member institution. Finally, most b-schools also obtain inconceivably vast sums of money (about $150K if you are targeting a top MBA program in the US) to cover tuition and living expenses. Like Tweedledum and Tweedledee–same of a sameness.

The scale I use to measure an MBA’s expectations from a b-school, consistent with five listed factors why students enroll in an MBA program, I believe aspirants should look at the following:

1. Finding employment in progressive-minded, innovative organizations;
2. Employment offered by management consulting firms;
3. Internship opportunities in summer or winter;
4. Starting salary range ($90K—$150K)
5. Effective career center (providing both opportunities and knowledge that contributes to finding a meaningful and rewarding job);
6. Number of C-suite executives of the alma mater;
7. Role of alumni with b-school and career center;
8. Number of participating organizations in on-campus career fairs.

To verify the reliability for each dimension, I assess using Cronbach’s alpha (vary from 0.7 to 0.94). All items were significantly related to their specified constructs, verifying the posited relationships among the indicators and constructs. Construct reliabilities range from 0.77 to 0.93, both exceeding the minimum recommended level of 0.60. A complementary measure is the average variance extracted, which directly shows the amount of variance that is captured by the construct in relation to the amount of variance due to measurement error. However, examination of career quality levels that help MBA aspirants understand satisfaction levels of business program offerings were restricted to those MBA programs in the United States (listed below). MBAs go by the name of the b-school, not by the name of the university, so accordingly, I’ve listed the top-tier MBA programs in alphabetic order and grouped them region-wise.

North America
Anderson School of Management
Booth School of Business*
Columbia Business School*
Darden School of Business
Fuqua School of Business
Goizueta Business School
Graduate School of Business (Stanford)*
Graduate School of Management (Yale)*
Harvard Business School*
Haas School of Business
INCAE
Johnson School of Business
Kellogg School of Management
Kenan-Flagler School of Business
Marshall School of Business
McCombs School of Business
Ross School of Business
Sauder School of Business
Schulich School of Business
Simon School of Business
Sloan School of Management
Stern School of Business
Thunderbird School of Global Management
Tuck School of Business*
Wharton School of Management*

Europe
Copenhagen Business School
ESADE Business School
ESCP Europe
HEC School of Management
IE Business School
IESE Business School
INSEAD*
IMD
Judge Business School
London Business School*
Rotterdam School of Management
Said Business School
SDA Bocconi

Indian Subcontinent
Department of Management Sciences (IIT-M)
Faculty of Management Studies
Great Lakes Institute of Management
Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, and Lucknow)
Indian School of Business
Jamlalal Bajaj Institute of Management
Loyola Institute of Business Administration
MICA
Norsee Monjee Institute of Management Sciences
Shailesh Mehta School of Management (IIT-B)
SP Jain Institute of Management and Research
Xavier Labor Research Institute

Asia-Pacific
Asian Institute of Management
Australian Graduate School of Management
CEIBS
Henley Business School
Hitotsubashi University
Hong Kong University of Science and technology
INSEAD (Singapore)
Macquarie Graduate School of Management
Mannheim Business School
Melbourne Business School
Nanyang Business School
National University of Singapore
University of Hong Kong
University of Queensland
Yonsei University

The mother tongue of business is the English language. This gives b-schools in Anglo cultures a clear leeway. The distinctive American approach to MBA education has only been duplicated in most other MBA programs around the globe. For this reason, since the turn of the new millennium, many of these non-US b-schools seek a guardian US b-school so that they can improve their educational environment or community concerned with the pursuit of scholarship and research. The robust brand image of the championing US b-school could rub on the substitute. This symbiotic partnership also permits student exchange programs.

Not only in business, but in other fields the US leads the world in original research. For instance, every faculty out of 245 professors at the Wharton School who teach 1,600 MBA students holds a PhD, and pursues cutting-edge research in their fields from finance to consumer behavior. The Economist attributes the hegemony of US business education to its size and history as among their advantages. “They help them achieve the financial clout to attract the best professors and students and to build the finest facilities.” Career services at U.S. b-schools continuously receive stellar marks from most survey respondents of leading international business journals. Despite carrying the highest price tag–something not as universally celebrated as an advantage–the brightest and the most creative students desire to study in American MBA programs. One can also argue that the huge endowments, which are often used to subsidize tuition, also help US programs attract the top of the crop.

The same is true of a professor teaching in an American b-school. I get a red carpet rolled where I go. The same cannot be said of a colleague teaching in an European or Asian b-school; practically irrealizable for a professor teaching in Europe or Asia to get a ticket to teach in American soil.

Harsh Realities

Let’s suppose the MBA aspirant meets the admission eligibility, secures admit at one of the listed top-tier programs, and successfully endured the academic rigor by turning in 20-page reports interpreting financial statements or presenting 20-slide presentations on market analyses of a startup. There are 50,000 MBAs graduating each year from these top-tier business schools looking to prove they’re a force for good in the world. I have found with my own MBA students in my professorial experience that many of these newly-minted MBAs stagnate in their post-MBA adventures. As a consultant, I find some MBAs become dissatisfied about consulting life in a few months, which was their dream job only a few months ago. Some of them even struggle finding the right employment, leave alone changing careers or switching industries.

It’s an onerous subscription to get propelled into adult life in an increasingly entropic world, especially when there’s no one telling you what’s right for you. You’ve been schooled for twenty years being told what to learn, how to think, and when to show up, and then you find yourself in a b-school to explore possibilities what you can become. In fact, b-school is the antithesis of such self-discovery. It’s acceptable to be lost in your teens and early tweens; it’s a time when everyone is figuring passion and purpose of life, unless of course you’re a sportsperson, model, or an actor. It is dimwitted to defray $150K to attend a b-school just to put off the hard knocks of figuring out where you belong in the competitive workforce.

As an armchair philosopher, I often find myself contemplating the attitudinal states of mind that influence successful business behavior and career choice. After all, cognitive psychology informs us that attitudes and personality types play a major role in learning, behavior, and information processing. Perhaps further research on these antecedents can shed light on reforming MBA education; with appropriate material, and better evaluation methods to discover if the material presented is consistent with such attitudinal states. Again, relying solely on my casual empirical observations, impediments to securing lucrative post-MBA employment does not entirely depend on positive academic experience, but correlates with attitude and personality conflict. Though the following underlying factors have no bearing in admission selection process nor in prospective job interviews, I believe the MBA aspirant needs to self-examine if the MBA program is right for him or her.

1. Do you tell remarkable stories to captivate audiences?
2. How engaged are you when you listen?
3. Can you build consensus, persuade individuals or groups of people?
4. Do you like solving problems?
5. What is your disposition to ambiguity and/or change?
6. Do you spark up a new conversation or idea?
7. Are you intellectually curious, passionate?

Despite all the buzz, hype, and random cynicism, not all of today’s CEOs and senior executives are armed with an MBA. In fact high school diploma and J.D. are popular terminal degrees among CEOs. Further, not all MBAs necessarily evolve into CEOs or senior executive positions. I have come to believe that specific and private ulterior motives on attitude and personality align more perfectly than in the spirit of higher business skills and management qualifications.

MBAs should not fit in; they should stand out. It’s not just your indelible footprints, but it’s the galvanizing footprints of those who follow the MBA. Is it in you? If it is, then toss your resignation letter after you have cinched admit at one of the aforementioned MBA programs. Should the stars align and you choose marketing electives in your MBA, I might teach Brands/Branding in your final trimester.

Cited References

1. Bruce, G.D. (2010). “Exploring the Value of MBA Degrees: Students’ Experiences in Full-Time, Part-Time, and Executive MBA Programs,” Journal of Education for Business, 85: 38-44.
2. Chang, I-C., Hwang, H-G., Liu, C-F., Siang, S-H. (2007). A Study of Career Anchors and Job Characteristic Preferences of IS Students. The Journal of Computer Information Systems, 47(3), 24-33.
3. Graduate Management Admission Council (2014). “Comprehensive Report MBA Alumni Perspectives Survey,” GMAC, Retrieved from http://www.gmac.com
4. Haksever, C. and Muragishi, Y. (1998). “Measuring Value in MBA Programs,” Education Economics, 6(1), 11-25.
5. Martell, K. (2007). “Assessing Student Learning: Are Business Schools Making the Grade?,” Journal of Education for Business, 82, 189-195.
6. Mintzberg, H. (2004). Managers, not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Development. San Francisco, CA: Barrett-Koehler.
7. Pfeffer, J. and Fong, C. (2002). “The End of Business Schools? Less Success than Meets the Eye,” Academy of Management Learning and Education, 1(1), 78-95.
8. Sulaiman, A. and Mohezar, S. (2006). “Student Success Factors: Identifying Key Predictors,” Journal of Education for Business, 81, 328-333.
9. Truell, A., Zhao, J., Alexander, M. and Hill, I. (2006). “Predicting Final Student Performance in a Graduate Business Program: The MBA,” Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 48, 144-152.
10. Zupan, M. (2005). “Angling for Applicants,” Biz Ed, 34-39.


WRITING ABOUT WRITING

Writing about Writing

Though not a voracious reader, I still prefer books over movies or television. I’ve always believed the little cinematographer in my head to be more capable than some hatchet-wielding director hell bent on robbing some poor author’s work of its finer bits. I’d like to cast the given script on my mental screen myself. In my college-going years, when I embarked on the obligatory quest for truth, non-fiction displaced fiction. Why would I want to waste my time reading someone’s hackneyed version of Jack and Jill going up the hill? You only get to engage in a few hours of cock-and-bull thrill, flipping through their twists in the tales: Jill came tumbling down the hill… pregnant, deciding to kill the heavy-handed Jack (ass); or Jill discovered atop a pleasant Michigan hill, her real soul-mate—Janet—who proposed and they lived happily ever after. And thus, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu dethroned Salman Rushdie and Ernest Hemingway, and their books have occupied the hallowed book shelves ever since.

Ten years ago, I was searching for a topic on which to write my dissertation. While I was people-watching at London Heathrow, I saw a man with a New York Yankees logo prominently tattooed on his neck. That poignant vision implored me to adopt the commoditization of corporate logo tattoos as my life’s purpose. Ten years perhaps is a long time, but that’s how long it took me to sufficiently understand human behavior: why do humans adorn themselves with brand logos, what transforms average fans to devotees, what causes or changes one’s beliefs? My research took me to Sturgis, SD and Daytona, FL where, among other things, I immersed myself into Harley tribe subculture. I’ve conducted ethnographic interviews with blindly devoted patriots of iconic brands such as, Google, Nike, Apple, et al. At one time, tattoo artists dominated my Facebook friends. I’ve even cheekily infiltrated religious cult groups for weeks at a time just to examine their brainwashing techniques. To sum, my research has been compiled during the years that saw America elect a black man as its President, get their revenge against Osama Laden, and completely lose their shit over deflated footballs. Who knew all this work would pale in comparison to the work that lies beyond the horizon?

Ideating and researching, though significant, form only a small portion of the writing process. Writing is bloody hard work. When the writer puts ink to paper, he sits as a cat stranded on a hot tin roof. I’ve seen vapors emanate from my ears. A clear sentence is never an accident. Think about writing as stringing together a few sentences to transfer worthwhile thought from one head to another. As a debuting author anxious to reach a wider audience, I understand that you can never knock at the doors of creativity and expect an answer. Writers wait for creativity to hunt them down, hoping their meticulous application of scents and well-practiced calls will attract it to within striking distance, only to accidentally run it over on the way home. How succulent is literary road kill!

Writers hang in there during moments of despair by myriad bizarre ways that resemble a deranged person in a funny farm. Personally, banging my head against a wall when no one is looking has proven efficacious, as has gnawing pencils like a graphic zombie well past the midnight hour into the dawn of morrow. More recently, I’ve discovered a healthier tactic; I reread the written, and I’ve mercilessly transformed into a murderer, hacking away at every sentence to find its cleanest form. Every word that serves no function deserves no place in the book. The superior writer is empathetic, knowing the focus should be placed on the the reader, not on himself. By the way, did you realize your brain did not recognize the second “the” in the previous sentence? Perhaps this also explains why proof-reading one’s own copy often drives writers to the impact-wall or chew on nonfood objects like the pencil-gum. Same hopeless result.

Even after successfully completing the footnotes and tables, constructing bibliographies, listing indexes, illustrating frameworks, and designing the cover, a writer’s destination is still not in sight. In fact, after the hard work of getting everything on paper, writers have to take a back seat. The book proposal needs to seduce a literary agent who must then sell the work to the editor of a reputable publishing house before the book hits the stand. Even then, readers have to be convinced to adopt their screaming child, and post a five-star review on Amazon. In these times of electronic diffusion and social media, authors are required to elicit direct sales. Instead of spiritlessly brooding about how I can’t be a J. K. Rowling, like every other writer in the world, I am crawling by the inch, word by word, and forcing a more reductionist view of the ominous mountain ranges to be scaled, to lure an agent or an editor into selling my ten-years worth of work.

Authors of nonfiction relay specialized knowledge. They can hide behind the wall of science or research. On the contrary, fiction writers have no scaffolding with which to brace themselves; they just stand there with naked words. The characters of fictional work need to be created; their personalities sculpted; their environment crafted; their story developed. Emotion needs to be aroused through these characters and their interactions, in their environs, and in the profound impact of their adventures.

Recently, while incubating a Jersey park bench that overlooks Manhattan’s impossible skyline, I realized I’ve been disrespectful to the works of fiction, to the men and women who have shared many memorable stories with the world. I got back home a changed man. The thought of the extra pain the fiction writers endure gives me renewed vigor as I try to make the words shine and pop in my own manuscript of vade mecum. No wonder that since the time of the Akkadians, storytelling has always been attributed to divine sources. Even this sentence is a goddamn miracle.


SEMIOTICS OF BRAND BUILDING

Smoke signifies fire.  Thus the saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  Similarly, facial micro expressions often manifest unseen emotions.  Even words (or letters) which are only sounds carry meaning to communicate and also persuade.  Like signs and symbols, brands are also imaginative signposts, signifying sign-object relation, and connecting specific signs to definite objects.  Take for instance the “golden arches”.  Kids scream for a Happy Meal at the very sight of it.  For children, McDonalds’ becomes a clear representation of food and fun, while for adults golden arches symbolizes many other meanings, such as: fast food, quick consistent service, clean bathrooms, which are instrumental brand identity markers in impressing the image of American food in consumers’ consciousness.

Semiotics, the scientific domain of study that explores actions of sign systems, lays out fertile territory how brands assimilate to provide meanings and representations in the consumer ecosystem.  Though brand owners and custodians create identities, consumers actively involve in the process of signification, thereby constructing brand meaning and related brand connotations.  To mine the insights that can unlock the sheaves of meanings, consumer behaviorists and market researchers can turn to semiotics to explore the transient or enduring collections of mental associations, perceptions, and expectations.  Because every time consumer groups decide to use and recognize a sign as a vehicle to interpret vessels of other intangible qualities, in another vein, brand managers can also actively employ semiotic elements to define or aggregate brand referents.  Since a brand is a system of sensory signs that incites consumers in a symbolic process, which then contributes to tangible value, semiotics is the keystone of brand building.

Although interest in signs has a long, celebrated history starting from Hippocrates to Plato, modern semiotic analysis can be said to have begun with Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) and the incomparable American pragmatist and polymath Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914).  Important theoretical and applied work were uniquely reinvigorated throughout the 20th. century via Claude Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco, and several other distinguished semioticians.  In today’s entropic world of consumerism and instantaneous worldwide communication, principles of semiotics can be an effective strategic tool for marketers to compare brand intention with consumer interpretation, to robustly align brand identity with brand image.

Unlike conventional research approaches, Peircean semiotic resources are emergent approaches that emphasize determining referents by interpretants to further develop brands as dynamic symbolic entities.  When we consider the semiotics of music culture, the iPod was an inspired outcome that not only leveraged culture, but also changed pop culture.  Nintendo Wii transformed the symbolized culture of laziness in gaming to human interaction and activity; so did Starbucks a decade earlier, and the Muthoot Group in gold-loaning business.

Although branding is by far the most visible application area, semiotic techniques can also be employed to formulate brand elements from logo to packaging design, marketing mix, promotions, and advertising, etc.  In this context, author’s slide deck, “Semiotics of Brand Building” embedded in this article below, is worth exploring.  The presentation consists of three sections: 1. Why semiotics, 2. philosophic historicity of semiotics, and 3. semiotics in the context of brand building.  The case of the Muthoot brand lends credence to the structural semiotic concept of “bricolage” that not only offers an innovative framework to understand both narrative and dialectical process of branding, but also formulates memorable visual, indelible verbal, and experiential identities, and effectively manage those discursive structures of the brand.

Brands, at root, is a metaphor, but the nature of metaphorical thinking is entirely a distinctive aspect of human behavior of his civilizations.  As a culturally determined activity, brands are a totality than the arithmetic sum of a group of identity markers from name, logo, strap line, advertisement, endorser, or whatever.  The object of symbolism is the enhancement of the significance of a brand that is symbolized.   Consequently, brands are privileged doublets, born out of the materiality of “messages on bottles” and resides as organic states of mind with which consumers can directly form consociation.  You only need to think of myriad bottled water brands named with imagined properties associated with pristine water sources.  For instance, bottled water brands, Yosemite Waters and Alaskan Falls are packaged using municipal water sources in the industrial suburbs of Corpus Christi, TX and Dayton, OH respectively.

Though it seems mystical at first blush, brands are also symbolic expressions of meanings that can augment regimented mental associations and emotional attachments of the consumer.  Brands add emotion to instinct and afford a foothold for reason by its delineation of the particular instinct it expresses.  The expression of symbolic brand meaning is a distinctive type of communication:  narrative, picture, enactment, and re-enactment, and yet somehow separate from them as ever-present components of consumption culture.  The effect of symbolic meaning formation is primarily the formulation of perceptual experience, conscious, non conscious and unconscious, which constantly reinforces and/or reformulates conceptual frames.

Analogous to a jigsaw puzzle-solver, a semiotician can figure out how the bits of signs and pieces of concepts cohere into larger patterns.  After all, people buy things not only for what things can do, but also for what things stand for.  Brand meaning mediates between products and consumer motivation; semiology can amply help in deciphering those meanings.