New Manager

Managers by qualification … and practice

R. Devarajan | Updated on January 10, 2011 Published on January 10, 2011

Are management graduates coming out of business schools professionally qualified? The answer is ‘yes' and ‘no', says our columnist.

The expression “professional management” has acquired a permanent niche in the business lexicon. What is “professional management”? Is it a fact or a fallacy?

If “management” per se is the “profession” of a person, the implication is that on account of his specialist knowledge, skill and attitude that person will be able to deliver the goods as a manager in an industrial or commercial or other situation, irrespective of any other requirement such as prior knowledge or previous experience in that field.

The management professional today

The advent of liberalisation in the 1990s accelerated the lateral movement of managerial manpower and competent persons shifting from one job to another became commonplace. Another major factor triggering this shift has been the astronomical escalation in remuneration packages available to new entrants in employment.

Job hopping has always been accompanied by an increase in salary. It is a typical chicken-and-egg phenomenon: Is an urge for employee retention driving companies to increase salary levels; or is the increase in salary levels luring executives to move from one job to another? Maybe it is both.

While the entry of foreign firms into the country may have spurred this factor further, there have been other contributing factors such as scarcity of manpower for key and critical jobs and the Government removing the ceiling on remuneration to management personnel.

Moreover, value systems have undergone a sea change. Loyalty to employer and pride in length of service carry no conviction with young managers. In fact, a long innings in a single company is deemed to be a definite discount in the current employment market.

The evaluation of an aspirant for a managerial vacancy turns the searchlight on the variety of situations and opportunities in which his previous successes have been achieved. An executive selector is more comfortable employing candidates with experience in different companies.

When a person is appointed to a managerial position in a company, the expectation is that he will perform in that job with the same efficiency and effectiveness he has shown in his earlier assignments. It is the actual and factual track record of past performance that commends a candidate for a new assignment.

The display of a diploma on the office wall is only a decorative piece rather than a document declaring the credentials of a manager. Perhaps, the adage “the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it” is far more pertinent to the managerial cuisine than to any other professional palate.

That is why executive selectors often don the robe of psychologists so as to get the measure of the man and gain entry into his intrinsic personality — information that cannot be gleaned from his resume. There is always more to it than meets the eye. The selector looks beyond the bio-data to assess the candidate's attitude, traits, and philosophy of life. He has to be sure the aspirant will suit the environment, mesh with the turf, and harmonise with the population that he will inherit in the new campus.

Anyone who manifests a distinct propensity to perform is gambled upon with the hope and trust that he is likely to deliver the goods. It is not possible to judge him until the results are obtained. Management is the relentless pursuit of excellence in which promise is seldom equal to performance.

The interpersonal skills of a person are shaped at an early age. They are part and parcel of his personality and are difficult to change. Since different problem situations may warrant different styles of management for resolution, it follows that management success is not unique to any particular set of attributes or qualities.


Of course, there are exemplary managers who bring to bear a stamp of their own personal acumen and culture on the tasks entrusted to them. Their mere presence creates an auspicious, congenial, and enabling environment, which enhances the chances of completing the task successfully.

V. Krishnamurthy is one such, who did it time and again — BHEL, SAIL, and Maruti Suzuki — every time with the same aplomb and excellence. Russi Modi of Tata Steel is yet another brilliant manager who was worshipped by his employees. Unfortunately, such stalwarts are few and far between.

Second, their success cannot be attributed to a learnable competence. It is their charisma, their personality, their winning style of management, and to a large extent their ability to glide into a new situation and identify themselves completely with the task on hand that has led them to repeated triumph and victory.

When looking at the majority of managers, however, it must be admitted that there is no protean performer, who spells success wherever he goes. The genius is always exceptional and not universal.

Does this analysis, then and therefore, imply that management graduates coming out of business schools in this country and elsewhere, are not professionally qualified; or, that they have not qualified for a profession?

The answer is yes and no. The school can teach a student about “management”. But it cannot teach him “management”.

The principles of management can be taught to a student. But the practice of management has to be experienced by him. The basic principles can be imparted as knowledge. But the skill, attitude, and competence have to be earned and acquired by sheer application and assiduous practice.

It is like swimming. Sitting in a classroom and studying the methodology will not help a person to swim. He will learn to swim only by entering the water. An average successful manager will be adept at bending and not breaking his individual style of management to suit different problem situations.

From this point of view, therefore, he may be considered a professional manager. In this respect, he is like any other professional — a lawyer, or a doctor, or a chartered accountant.

(The writer, a former HR director of an auto components group, is a management consultant.)

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Published on January 10, 2011

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