Business professionals working at research organizations such as McKinsey Knowledge Center (McKC), Bain Capability Center (BCC), Boston Consulting Group Research (BCG Research), The Smart Cube, Analysys Mason, and Corporate Executive Board (CEB) often start to consider an MBA after 3-4 years in their roles. Many of them have met with strong success in the past, getting to top global programs like Wharton, Kellogg, and Tuck, while others have made it to top Asian and Indian schools like ISB, IIM Ahmedabad (PGPX), and NUS Singapore. What strengths can business professionals leverage?
The MBA for business research professionals – recommended
Business research and Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) jobs are often seen to be the younger cousins of more glamorous and prestigious consulting positions. That need not necessarily be the right picture. Some time back, many business research units were soon only as back-office support for main business units within organizations. Today, they have come into their own, and are being valued as strategic entities providing valuable research and services to both internal and external clients. Some research firms are, and have always been, independent research houses, and provide quasi-consulting services to their clients. The value of business research is more understood now than it has ever been.
Business research positions can provide excellent training on business and strategic analysis, and in some cases financial analysis too. Some of the core skills that are prized at consulting firms (indeed, many business research firms are consulting firms or offshoots of consulting firms themselves) are developed in business research positions. This is what makes the MBA program in general such a good fit with business research backgrounds too. MBA programs can often help sharpen these skills so that many such professionals can go on to career in consulting, advisory, or even investment research. This fit is not always there – for example, the skills one gains in an engineering job may not have great synergies with what one would learn during an MBA program. Business research and KPO professionals should know that this is a strength they bring in.
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Apart from this, such professionals also generally tend to develop good insight into client management and solution creation skills. While these skills are not as deep as one might expect from a management consultant, often the ability to conduct business research, analyze business problems, and gain familiarity with common frameworks can help. Indeed, some professionals from these positions also go on to become consultants through the organic route. For example, research professionals from Bain Capability Center often go on to positions as Associate Consultants with Bain (in the management consulting arm).
Post-MBA possibilities and careers in business research and outside
While a career in management consulting seems like an obvious post-MBA choice, the landscape for post-MBA opportunities is much wider. These include, but are not limited to:
– Roles in Corporate Strategy or Business Intelligence in the industry. A rising number of startups value people with business analysis experience, and some excellent roles are on offer.
– Business Analyst or Executive Assistant (to CXO – a much sought after post-MBA position) roles in industry. Again, the ability to understand an industry broadly and to be able to bring in problem-solving skills to the role are widely valued.
– Opportunities in managing operations or business development for startups. Already, many such growing startups such as Zomato, Housing.com, and Flipkart (not quite a startup now, but still) are offering exciting opportunities to create an impact early in your career
– Roles in Equity Research and Investment Research with niche financial research firms as well as with well-known Investment Banks and Financial Services firms
Returning to a post-MBA career in business research
This too remains a possibility, assuming of course that one would want to do so. Some of the reasons why many MBA graduates generally don’t consider such positions post-MBA are the lack of the same prestige as mainstream consulting, not as much recognition or pay for having a top MBA as in other industries or roles, and a fear that this would sacrifice the boost that an MBA could provide in terms of growth. These are actually fair things to consider – in some situations, they may even be true. However, a career in business research can also have its advantages:
– You may have the opportunity to move from a core ‘research’ role (pre-MBA) to a more strategic or management-oriented role post-MBA (often with opportunities to lead projects in Europe or the US).
– For those who want to stay associated with business advisory / quasi-consulting roles but without the extensive travel involved in consulting, research can provide a less travel-intensive alternative to consulting. In fact, many management consultants who wish to cut down on their travel and time away from home sometimes take up roles in business research for exactly this reason.
– With many consulting firms looking to develop deeper research capabilities, opportunities in the sector will continue to be strong. There could (depending on the firm you choose) also be opportunities to get onto the consulting bandwagon later in your career.
The MBA for business research – some case studies
GyanOne works with tens of business research professionals looking to put their career on the fast-growth trajectory. Here are two case studies that can provide some insight into how others have planned:
– Ashwin P came from a McKinsey research background. He had a bachelor’s in biology (that a lot of people would call not suitable to a career in business) but he leveraged that beautifully to do excellent work in the Healthcare practice at McKinsey Knowledge Center. Took the GMAT thrice, with increasing scores each time, and ended up with an NUS admit, and later, an INSEAD admit.
– Akshat S had an excellent career at Grail Research, but felt that he had a drawback in a sub-700 score as a reapplicant to ISB, which has a mean GMAT score of 711. He worked with us on the strengths of his profile and on his interviewing skills, and was able to showcase his skills in business research to win an admit to ISB in late 2014 (ISB class of 2016).