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An MBA Is a Pathway to Career Opportunities in Emerging Markets

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Starting your post-MBA career in a frontier or emerging market is an excellent move for any young professional.

After a tumultuous 2016, the horizon seems bright for emerging markets. The Institution of International Finance reports that the average GDP of emerging markets has risen by an estimated 4.7 percent in the first two-quarters of this year1, significantly higher than that in the previous year. Liquidity conditions in emerging economies are also the strongest they have been in five years, according to CrossBorder Capital, a London-based financial research firm2. Despite setbacks such as capital outflow and profitability concerns, the outlook for these markets continues to remain positive because of a steady uptick in spending by middle-class consumers. The effects of recent demonetization in India are minor blips and the economy is poised to grow at a healthy pace over the long term.

Emerging markets are the darling of venture capitalists for three notable reasons:

  • They are still mostly un-penetrated and therefore, VCs get the first look at hot new startups.
  • They have the largest pool of young, talented and trained professionals.
  • They are innovative and low-risk for VCs; infrastructure is still a challenge in these markets, therefore the most promising new ideas are digital.

China and India have led the way, with 28 firms from China and 16 from India making it to BCG’s list of emerging market “challenger” companies that are offering serious competition to their more mature counterparts.3

What Does this Mean for MBA Grads?

Executives who have spent a long time working in established markets get to work in frontier markets rather late in their career. By this time, their perspectives and worldview would have been more or less established and it becomes difficult for them to understand and tackle the unique set of problems that newer, growing markets bring.

An HBR article4 published last year underscores this point by sharing an anecdote from Zimbabwe-born Strive Masiyiwa, one of Fortune magazine’s 50 Great Leaders of the World. Masiyiwa was interviewing candidates for the position of CEO of a Nigeria telecoms venture led by Econet Group, which Masiyiwa founded and chairs. “We recruited globally, and this candidate was absolutely top flight,” he said. But when he got to Nigeria, he asked, “Where are the stores? We’ll need stores to sell airtime.” I told him that we needed no stores, that we were in Lagos, the world’s largest supermarket. I took him to the window at the back of the office and said, “See down there. The rows of women selling vegetables. The groups of young men selling fresh meat. This city has some of the world’s most effective sales teams if you know what you’re looking for. And that’s how we’ll sell airtime, the same way.”

Starting your post-MBA career in a frontier or emerging market is an excellent move for any young professional. There will be plenty of opportunities to broaden your horizons, create and build from the grassroots level, make decisions even in the absence of data, think laterally to solve problems when the infrastructure and systems don’t support it, and so on.

What’s more, emerging markets offer plenty of opportunities for MBA graduates and recruiters and are poised to overtake the US and Europe as top employers of MBAs. There has been an 11 percent increase in MBA hiring by APAC employers, especially banks, IT, professional services firms, automotives, and electronics companies5.

Drilling down into the job function of marketing offers an illuminating example. Marketing to a nascent, yet thriving and potential-rich population poses a completely different challenge from marketing in mature economies. Take FMCG and retail for instance. Everything from the channels to media is different and marketing strategies have to be planned accordingly. Rural populations now have access to mobile phones and connectivity but online consumption of information is still unheard of. Marketing of services, especially in fragmented, unconsolidated fields is another challenge. Brand building through unconventional means is yet another.

Conversely, the consumption of luxury and up-market goods is on the rise in urban areas, and there are many opportunities to be explored here. Not to mention the social sector, in which there’s plenty of scope in healthcare, education, and technology. On the whole, there is no better time than now to work in an emerging market. The lessons learned here will stand you in good stead for the rest of your career.

Consider an MBA Program that Focuses on the Global Economy

If you’re contemplating an MBA and interested in career opportunities in an emerging market, then consider a program that focuses on the global economy. ISB, for example, is a member of the Initiative for Emerging Market Studies (IEMS), a global network of academic institutions located in emerging markets. IEMS aims to provide incisive insights on emerging markets to leaders, policy makers and practitioners and drive thought leadership in this area.

Our Centre for Learning and Management Practice (CLMP) is focused on a broad range of activities in the area of teaching, learning, and management practice. It supports the writing of India-specific and emerging market based business cases and enables the dissemination of these cases to the global classroom. ISB aspires to be the ‘sabbatical capital’ of the world, engaging with managers and executives to bring the corporate perspective to ISB’s programs, and to facilitate the flow of fresh research ideas from emerging markets to ISB’s faculty.

The curriculum at ISB has also been designed recognizing the major role that emerging markets will play in the fortunes of the world economy. There is an array of futuristic electives to choose from, including Strategies for the Digital Economy, Marketing Communication Strategy, Customer-focused Product Planning, Infrastructure and the Private Sector, and so on. There are also practicum courses such as the Experiential Learning Program and the Faculty-Initiated Research Program, which give you practical exposure to these markets.


1 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/3/d9cba7b4-3c75-11e6-8716-a4a71e8140b0.html#axzz4HwNX5CJj
2 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/3/d9be6e5e-3f9b-11e6-9f2c-36b487ebd80a.html#axzz4HwNX5CJj
3 http://www.bcg.com.cn/export/sites/default/en/files/publications/reports_pdf/2016_BCG_Global_Challengers_2016_ENG.pdf
4 https://hbr.org/2015/04/new-mbas-should-start-their-careers-in-frontier-markets