Arts to the fore

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By Do arts students make better managers? Prithvijit Mitra finds out
  • Published 10.11.04

It is said CAT is as much about those who take the test as about those who shy away from it in fear of crunching numbers. But contrary to popular belief, management is not only about technical competence and analytical ability. Experts say that the profession has more to do with interpersonal skills, leadership, communication, teamwork and plain common sense than anything else. On the job, these are what you need to fall back on rather than computing speed or technical wizardry.

In fact, at the hallowed IIM campuses, there has been a three per cent rise in the number of arts students getting in and the trend is expected to grow. So don?t stop nurturing your dream of making it as a corporate honcho if you are a student of, say, political science. Chances are you will make a better manager than your engineering compatriots.

Just look at the management syllabus at IIM Calcutta. In the second year, you have as many as 16 optionals on subjects like environment, regional development and organisational behaviour. Most of these have got nothing to do with the functional area of management.

An MBA, points out Dr Leena Chatterjee of IIM Calcutta, is supposed to be a generalist. ?We are really trying to create generalists. It is just for the sake of placements that students specialise in this or that area,? she says.

For despite its obsession with optimisation techniques and information technology, management studies essentially remain a ?social science?. It deals with people, teams, organisations and social and economic institutions. Which is why the study of modern social and economic history, and social structure is compulsory at the best B-schools. It is because most bright students in India head for pure sciences and technology that this is reflected in the composition of those who ace the CAT.

?There is no reason for students from social sciences to feel they can?t make it, or that B-schools discriminate against them,? says Chatterjee. ?B-schools are always keen to get bright students.?

Increasingly, numerical and analytical skills based on mathematical analysis are required in all fields, including social sciences and management studies,? adds Chatterjee. ?The CAT and subsequently, the MBA programme only reflect these trends.?

So how do generalists score in managerial ranks? In several different ways, even if you go by management texts. This is what management author Patricia M. Buhler has to say in an article on industrial management: ?Today, employers crave for managers with the critical soft skills. ... Topping the list for most American businesses are skills such as communication skills, interpersonal skills, team player skills, ethics, creativity, an ability to value diversity, responsiveness and a willingness to change.?

Higher EQ

And, of course, it is universally accepted that non-technical students have an edge in these areas. Says Sharbari Basu, HR head, eastern region, Reliance Petrochemicals, who was an English (hons) student at Presidency College, ?Be it planning, coordination or leadership, humanities students do much better than their science or engineering counterparts. They are miles ahead in communication and presentation skills which gives them a definite edge in any managerial position. Arts students make more efficient managers because they have a higher emotional quotient (EQ) as well.?

Another area where non-technical managers score is interpersonal skills. Employees must be able to get along with others. An engineering course doesn?t necessarily teach you this skill. ?My education would have been incomplete had I not studied English along with accounting,? says Jaffer Nayeem, vice-president of Srei International. ?Remember, management is a selfish course. It teaches you to survive, not to get along with your colleagues or see things from their perspective.?

Creativity is the key

Modern management thrives on creative ideas and on breaking stereotypes. Today?s changing environment requires companies to employ people who can ?think out of the box?. As Nayeem points out, ?It?s just for their creative edge that we need more humanities students in management. There?s an overdose of technical inputs at the moment?

But it won?t be right to generalise, says D. Bose, director of Quest Consultants. ?I would look at innate competence and attitude. Hindustan Lever has succeeded with technical people at senior managerial ranks. But Tata Steel took long strides under someone like Russi Mody who was a history student,? he says.

So, if you are an arts student but able to think beyond the theories, give management a shot. You could end up doing better than the number crunchers who may be more precise but less creative when the going gets tough.