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Profit, planet and people

Rasheeda Bhagat
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MICA's Nagesh Rao believes that great companies are run not just by number crunching but on the back of strong communication skills

Nagesh Rao, MICA’s President and Director, is amazed to find that the conversation around how crucial communication skills are in any business or other organisation, hasn’t changed much. Greater focus on finance, marketing, production and their recognition as “essential management skills” continue. This is largely so because communication is taken-for-granted for both personal needs and career goals. The assumption then, as now, was that you either have it or don’t. “Even today, the conversation around communication as a soft skill is a little surprising, and I laugh about it because it is one of the harder skills to really master. But the field of communication itself is relatively new,” he says. If management literature is about 100 years old then communication literature is only 50 years old, he adds.

Hard-to-measure

The other problem is seeing a direct connection between communication and profit, either financial or human capital. So its value is hard to measure. Rao, who returned to India after exploring the specialty of communication in the US, to first teach communication at IIM-A, recalls a student telling him candidly: “When we join an organisation like the IIM-A for an MBA, finance is at the top, because we want to get into a Goldman Sachs and so on. Then come operations and marketing. And if organisation behaviour is like a step child, communication is like an illegitimate child.” Recalling this story Rao adds, “The funny, or not so funny, thing is that every recruiter who comes to MICA or any of the IIMs, if you ask them for the top three important things they look for while recruiting, communication is at the top.” So it’s an interesting paradox that while at one level corporates understand its value, the absence of specific tools to measure its actual impact tends to lessen its value.

But the recognition of communication graduates is better in the US, Europe or Australia… the awareness is higher as more alumni with communication backgrounds from business schools have taken top positions. And when they hire, communication gets much more importance, says Rao.

At MICA, his mission is to make communication and its importance a way of life.  In its initial avatar, MICA created leaders in the advertising industry.  Today, the two-year flagship program has specialisations in brand management, research and analytics, advertising management and account planning.  This year, MICA became the first institute in South Asia to offer a specialisation in digital communication management.  The curriculum focus is on profit, planet and people — as Rao emphasises, “You cannot teach ethics in a class; it is an attitude and needs to become a way of life.”  

Placement

Coming to placement, its students get 100 per cent campus placement with 40 per cent getting into the communication industry… major print media companies hire its graduates on the management side as do other electronic media companies. “And now, because we have focussed on marketing and brand management, about 30 per cent of the recruiters come from FMCG companies like Procter and Gamble, Nestle and L’Oreal.”

But in the last two years, says Rao, MICA has seen IT and technology companies such as Wipro, Cognizant and more recently Amazon , Google and Facebook coming for campus recruitment “because of their realisation that we do focus on the business space quite a bit.” In one year, recruitment from digital/e-commerce companies has gone by 40 per cent, he adds.

The pay package averages around Rs. 9 lakh; “the IIMs and IITs are still ahead of us primarily because we combine strategic marketing and communication, people outside do not see us as a traditional B-school and in one way we’re happy about it.” Last year the highest salary offered was by Amazon ( Rs. 20 lakh), with HT Media snapping at its heels with Rs. 19 lakh. Rao says that while cracking the CAT is the first requirement for admission, what makes “MICA unique is that we look for somebody with not only strong analytical but simultaneously strong creative skills as well. And it’s a myth to think if you have one you can’t have the other.You can’t run great companies by just number crunching and associated tasks, you also need strong communication skills. I won’t say she has to be a slick communicator. We all bring different communication capabilities and styles, but what is required is an edge”.

Skills and strategy

Another essential for a communication expert is a not only great skills but also strategy. “In terms of what are the best arguments, or given this audience before me, what is the best message I can get across and how.” He warns that domain knowledge is an integral part in the success of any communication professional; so a communication person also needs expertise in management, education, journalismand so on. “A pure communication expert can cut across multiple domain functions within an organisation, but if he or she has an expertise in a particular area that combination is ideal.”

Rao is certain that the leaders of tomorrow need to have strong task and relational competencies - strong IQ and EQ.  To build thought leadership, MICA introduced a doctoral program  — Fellow Programme in Management (Communication) four years ago.  The first graduate recently took up a faculty position in a prestigious institute. 

At the end of the day, his dream is to turn out students focused not only on the “practical” aspect of his education — the pay packet. “We are striving all the time to see how we can send out contributing citizens who will add value not only to corporates, but the community and the planet. That will happen not only when you use both sides of your brain but also your mind, body, heart and soul in whatever you do.”

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 23, 2014)
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