Let me tell you about why I think a general management degree worked for me and why it should work for you too. Growing up, there wasn’t one subject that I was passionate about. I liked math and history but didn’t see myself pursuing a professional career in either of the courses. I had varied interests — dancing, painting, studying — and wanted to be able to do it all. This helped me realize I wanted to use my left and right brain in whatever I did. After specializing in Math and Computer Science in college (due to peer pressure), I definitely knew I did not want to be an expert in one thing. I liked solving problems, working with people and critical thinking.
After doing investment banking I went to B school to make an industry switch and I decided not to specialize. While everybody else was specializing in finance of marketing I stayed away. I chose a mix of courses in all disciplines including entrepreneurial studies and actually majored in it. What my major taught me was how to create something from scratch, how to think outside in and how crucial it was to get the right team together.
After graduation I did my own search for a job and got picked up by Lucent Technologies just when it was coming out of AT&T. I got lucky and went into their Global Leadership program where I rotated through strategy, product management, supply chain, business development and marketing. This is exactly what I had wanted! I found out that given my skills I could just about do any function and be part of any business unit. And if you ask me what skills were they – it was the ability to ask the right questions, think outside in, work with all kinds of people – engineers to sales people. So was I using my MBA skills? But of course! An MBA program makes you think on your feet, apply frameworks, think strategically, work in teams – all of which I walked away with. Did I need to know how to be a product manager of a voice mail system or how to sell telecom systems to European providers – NO. That I would in any case learn on the job. But I did need to know the 4Ps and how to think about competition, pricing and promoting value, which my MBA had taught me.
Since then I have worked at an ITes company and at an infrastructure company in roles ranging from sales to operations head to Head of CSR and Head of HR. Once again it was new industries, new roles, and new environment! But what I carried along with me wherever I went was my ability to jump in and make it happen, asking the right questions, learning about the industry, the customers and being able to analyse using SWOTs and ROI’s.
Recently, I have jumped into the Education sector and am heading a couple of MBA programs from admissions to placement to creating the curriculum and engaging faculty. After getting a great college education and MBA, somewhere along the way I had decided I wanted to be involved with providing a quality education to others. Once again new territory with new responsibilities but the core skills always come handy. So I guess what I am propagating from my own experience is that one does not need to specialize in a particular field to be successful in life. Being comfortable to jump in and learn also works. Of course, hats off to those who specialize in one particular area since they know what they want. For rest of us who don’t find one area of passion, being a general manager is the way to go.
Deepa Kapoor has done her MBA from Wharton School of Business, University of Pennslyvania and is currently the Dean at Centre of Leadership, NorthCap University and at Crescent School of Business.