The Theory of the Business Schools

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The Theory of the Business Schools

Every business school, has a theory of its own

Many of those who join MBA program look at different domains to specialize in. Most make that choice pretty early owing to the summer internship recruitments and previous experiences. These domains generally include: marketing, finance, strategy, operations, or human resource management. Each is a powerful domain. Most of these domains are designed primarily to gain in depth knowledge about that particular domain and if required, sufficient overview of other domains. Since the decision of “what to do” is taken at initial stage, during the course the students try to focus on the next step i.e. “how to do”.

Yet “what to do” is increasingly becoming central challenge especially for the students who are not very sure. Story is a familiar one: a student who was a successful engineer and had a promising career, left it for the sake of curiosity. The curiosity of what is happening around: in the organization, in the society, and within him. And he finally joins an MBA program to find himself specialize again.

At XLRI, a premier B-school in India, during the alumni homecoming of 2014 we saw some different personalities. These were not typical MDs or CXOs. They had taken a different path: a road less travelled.  Most of them admitted that textbooks and MBA course dint help them much in their careers as did the environment of the institute which influenced them. So, question arises, what then actually happens which shapes a B-school student?

Every business school, has a theory of its own. Indeed, that theory is extraordinarily powerful. It has three parts. First there are assumptions about the society, the industry needs, and the economy. Second, there are assumptions about specific mission of the organization. Third, there are assumption about the core competencies, the domains the institute is famous for. XLRI, for example, the oldest business school in India, was founded by Fr. Quinn Enright in 1949. Father Enright visualized XLRI to be a partner in the liberation and development journey of the independent India with a vision of “renewing the face of the earth”. Over many years XLRI has developed its own identity- and is famous worldwide for its human resource management program.

The vital aspect of the theory lies in its validity checks. The assumptions of the theory must fit each other and the reality. The theory should be known and understood throughout the school. And finally, it has to be tested constantly. Built, into the theory must be the ability to change itself.

People think that MBAs only turn out be consultants or investment bankers. But the reality is we have people who work in non-profits, social enterprises and in small businesses. And this is what society expect from MBAs: leaders who can contribute in different types of organizations.

The “culture” in a business school helps the spread of the assumptions of the theory from one batch to another. But the “culture” is no substitute for discipline and the Theory of the Business School is a discipline. It begins to pursue what is expedient rather than what is right. It stops thinking. Solution to this can be found in XLRI’s curriculum where a rural exposure is compulsory in the first term. Such programs help students realize the assumptions and the mission of the institute. It also helps institute to convey the responsibilities and its underlying vision to the new batch of students.

Finally, the Theory of the Business School is a hypothesis. It needs to be tested in constant flux of changing environment and society needs. The underlying theory which forms XLRI, enables students to think beyond the set norms. It has constantly evolved over time. The institute has successfully acquired new core competencies in business management.

It also offers satellite programs for different domains. Though such a medium of information transfer is useful in spreading subject knowledge, it is bound to experience some serious challenges. These would be challenges in creating awareness about the assumptions and the mission of the school to its online students.

An enterprising and pioneering spirit can be witnessed among the students of XLRI, both past and present. Thus it is the Theory of the Business School and its ability to evolve, which helps shape and decide the “what to do” for a student.


– By

Gagandeep Singh is a 1st year student of XLRI (BM) and is a member of Academic Committee. He loves adventure sports and is fond of meeting new people. In social sphere, Gagandeep stands for Child rights protection.

(The author reserves his opinion. This article has been inspired and written in line with Peter Drucker’s HBR article on The Theory of the Business, September 1994 issue available for free view on as on 29 Dec, 2014)

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