To Expand Its Economy, India Needs MBA Talent

New Delhi Market

Can the waves of MBAs now graduating from the country’s Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), or returning to their home country, make a difference to Indian economic growth?

In the summer of 2008, Goldman Sachs produced a report arguing that India could be 40 times bigger by 2050. The authors of the paper, “Ten Things for India to Achieve Its 2050 Potential,” pointed out that by the end of the decade the country would add to the workforce the equivalent of the combined working population of France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K.

But right now the country is falling behind its Chinese rival, with GDP growth at its lowest point in nine years. If the government has missed opportunities to fix the economy, can the waves of MBAs now graduating from the country’s Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), or returning to their home country, make a difference?

A number of areas undermine India’s ability to achieve its enormous potential. Better governance, stronger fiscal policy, increased trade and productivity, and improved infrastructure and environmental quality all need to be addressed. The authors of the report also insist that India needs to improve its education standards, both for basic education and at the university level.

But while many international business schools will confirm there is no shortage of Indian applicants to their MBA programs, this is again an area where India might be falling behind its Chinese neighbor. Figures from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) of registration volume for the GMAT show that while Indian test takers have decreased by 17.1 percent in the past two years, Chinese figures show a 70.1 percent increase over the same period. As a consequence there are now more than three Chinese GMAT test takers for every two from India.

Why does this matter? In a country that is drowning in bureaucratic red tape and political paralysis, I believe it is the country’s entrepreneurs, innovators, and skilled managers who will help India fulfill its extraordinary potential. And with more of India’s companies now competing aggressively on the world stage, they will need a continued pipeline of globally minded managers and creative engineers to achieve their goals.

As Nirmalya Kumar, professor of marketing at London Business School, discovered when researching his recent book, India Inside, at such Silicon Valley companies as Google, Microsoft, and Intel, an Indian was the head of the company’s innovation center. And the influence of Indian faculty at the world’s leading business schools continues to grow. The late C.K. Prahalad, management guru and professor at the University of  Michigan’s Ross School of Business was voted No. 1 in the annual Thinkers 50 ranking for four years straight, while the likes of Vijay Govindarajan at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Pankat Ghemawat at IESE Business School, and Rakesh Khurana at the Harvard Business School are helping to rethink the world of strategy and leadership.

Without forgetting, of course, the deans at Chicago,Cornell, Harvard, and INSEAD, to name but a few. As , the first female Indian dean of a top U.S. business school, explained on taking the position at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in March, “There were a lot of students from the very best Indian schools who came to the U.S. to do their PhDs in the ’70s and ’80s. What you are seeing now is their coming of age, if you will.”

We’re already seeing the Indian economy come of age, but to sustain the goals for growth by 2050, they’ll need all the talent, energy, and optimism in the corridors and classrooms of today’s business schools to make it.

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