To Generalise or Specialise with a Niche MBA?

Generally Specialised
As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, India has made enormous strides in economic and social development in the past two decades. The strong economic indicators in India can be attributed to its strengths in today’s knowledge-based global economy. India already has a vast pool of highly educated and vocationally qualified people who are making their mark, domestically and globally, in science, engineering, information technology (IT) and research and development (R&D). To cater to the increasing opportunities generated by the booming economy, MBA professionals are much sought after today.

India has witnessed immense growth in various sectors in the recent past. It has also observed phenomenal growth of the service sector in recent decades. Under its broad tag, we have business services, communication services, financial services, community services, hotels and restaurants and trade services. Undoubtedly, the dynamics of the services sector is infusing new growth impulses and thus stimulating investment, income, consumption and employment.

Demand-Supply and Education
The skilled labour force in India has the advantage of receiving work opportunities from all over the globe. India’s domestic growth is taking off, creating unprecedented demand for workers with the right leadership and technical skills. The “push” from employers demanding relevant skills and the “pull” from employees seeking better jobs has created a fertile growth environment for economic development.

As the sectors of work widen, the demand for managers with specialised skills is also on the rise. To meet this demand, quite a few B-Schools have designed MBA courses offering ‘sectoral’ specialisations, apart from the conventional functional specialisations. For example, now one could be an MBA in Retail Management with a specialisation in finance. NMIMS and MDI are two of the B-Schools that offer such courses.

Sectorwise Wise, General Wiser?
The sudden change in market dynamics has allowed little time for educational institutes in India to metamorphose themselves to meet the growing demand for the skilled knowledge workers. Though this has resulted in mushrooming of several B-Schools, it is only recently that they are adapting to and reflecting changes in the industry. Dr. Kondap, Dean, NMIMS, Mumbai opines that sectoral specialisations in MBA are a natural progression. The MBA started as a Diploma, then moved on from being a PG diploma to the current status when it has become one of the most coveted Masters degrees.

He goes on to say: “Primarily, MBA is a general management degree that prepares a person to handle general administration. But current sectoral growths in aviation, hospitality industry, banking and such other sectors have created a demand for specific concentrations in the MBA course.” With the natural progression and evolution of both industry and business education, sectoral specialisations seem to be the future of the MBA course. Dr. Kondap draws an analogy with the developments in the medical sector. The specialisations in the medical sector are increasingly becoming niche. This is because such specialisations amount to complete mastery and comprehension of a particular area. People prefer to approach a master rather than a generalist. The same trend seems to be catching up in the management sector as well.

More recently, the generalist MBA has come in for some criticism, because it provides insufficient focus on particular business sectors. Prof. Ashok Kapoor, Chairman of Post Graduate Programmes, MDI, Gurgaon says, “The growth of service industries has impacted the design of MBA programmes. In designing these specialist MBAs, we have sought to achieve a compromise that imparts both the generic business knowledge skills of an MBA, together with specific knowledge of a particular field or area.”

The specialisation does not end with choosing the sector. Rather it begins there. Within the sector specialisation, you would also need to select a functional speciality. That means you select a specialisation in a niche sector. Making such a choice would imply that you also make a conscious choice of not focussing on any other sector. The pros and cons of the situation are for you to study and weigh.

What the industry wants
The fact that such specialised courses do exist and are favoured in the international arena should be enough to encourage you if you are contemplating such a course. Again, the fact that such courses are now being offered by B-Schools in India reflects the ground reality that there exists serious demand for specialised MBAs. Pantaloon Retail, India’s largest discount retailer, funds a two-year retail-management courses at two colleges in Mumbai and is planning to set up its own retail school soon. Mr. Krishnan. S, PR Manager, ING Vyasa Bank opines that, “If we had an option between an MBA in Banking or Finance and a general MBA specialising in finance, we would certainly select the former.” He also adds, “It does take time and effort to train the current lot of MBAs in the mainstream banking business. By the time the training process is done with, job hopping sets in.”

Apart from the private sector, PSUs could also be a major employer of specialised MBAs. Mr.S.K.Patra, General Manager, NABARD is of the opinion that public sector organisations would definitely prefer sectorally specialised MBAs, since that would save some investment in training recruits for the sector. NABARD would welcome MBAs trained in agriculture management.”

The pros and cons
“Generalist” degree programmes provide broad, analytical and integrated study of business and management. The “specialist” programmes, on the other hand, are expected to prepare you for the specific nuances of business in a particular sector within the context of the broad field of business and management. It is a fact that only a small proportion of working professionals really end up switching sectors. For instance, if one has worked in banking for a few years, one is more likely to continue within the same sector rather than suddenly switch to, say, pharmaceuticals or FMCG. Even job hopping would happen within the same sector. Given that fact, it seems logical to arm yourself with a sector- specific degree.

Final decisions should, of course, take into account the risk factors involved. Even though the future of the service sector looks bright today, there is always a chance of the sector getting saturated or stagnating. In such a situation, those with specialised MBA degrees would face difficulties in finding alternative employment. The big advantage of a general MBA degree is that it provides a qualification that will never lose relevance.

Final Say
There could be an endless debate on whether it would be wiser to opt for a sectoral specialisation or the general MBA course. Brainstorming is a prerequisite for making an informed decision. Going by the current trends, a niche MBA definitely seems to be the next big thing. The final decision rests on your interest in the field and a clear vision of where you want to be.