[PaGaLGuY Interview] All about getting into AIM, Manila

Adhering to the case study method in its pure form makes W. SyCip Graduate Sschool of Business, Asian Institute of Management, Manila different from other top business schools in Asia, says Associate Dean Ricardo A Lim. According to him, the c…

Adhering to the case study method in its pure form makes W. SyCip Graduate Sschool of Business, Asian Institute of Management, Manila different from other top business schools in Asia, says Associate Dean Ricardo A Lim. According to him, the current worldwide financial crisis will take a toll on glamorous jobs available after MBA. Read more about AIM Manila admissions and placements in an interview with Mr Lim.

What is unique about AIM Manila's MBA in contrast with peer b-schools?

AIMs uniqueness among Asian B-schools is case-based learning. Few schools in the world practice the case method in pure form: AIM, HBS, Darden, Ivey are probably the ones left. In Asia we continue to be its main proponent. AIM is one of Southeast Asias few AACSB-accredited schools, and other schools in the region such as HKUST, Tsinghua, and NUS will acknowledge AIM as the leader in case education.

We feel that other styles, especially heavy framework and theory-based ones, may be too rigid and linear. The case method is the opposite: robust, flexible, and quite capable of handling complex, circular problems. In the case method students tune in more to the present and look forward, are more responsive in ambiguous situations. Such ambiguity is the hallmark of todays interconnected worldsee how rapidly the subprime meltdown happened! This was not at all a linear event.

Finally our minimum criteria for acceptance is therefore two years for the MBA, and six years for the MM. AIM believes that its experienced MBA and MM students gain knowledge and skills best with participant-based learning methods in discussion, simulation, game, and field exercise mode.

What is the difference between the MBA and MM degrees? How does an applicant decide which one to apply for?

The MM is a mid-career program for managers with at least six years experience. The MM concentrates on building the students leadership capabilities and strategic formulation and execution skills. The median age is about 35, typically married with young kids. Some younger students with requisite experience do opt for the MM, with its more strategic levels of discussion. The median age, however, is much higher, so students should factor this in their decision making.

The MBA meanwhile is for younger, but not fresher, students with two years experience. The average incoming batch age is about 25. The MBA focuses on building functional area skills such as finance, marketing, operations, communications, accounting, enterprise development, strategy and ethics, and other sundry skill areas. Some older students with highly technical, non-management backgrounds may to learn about other management functions, also the MBA.

The AIM website claims the MBA program to be 'participative' and conforming to Henry Mintzberg's beliefs on MBA programs. Please give 3 examples that illustrate this, contrasting them against how those 3 situations would be handled in a regular MBA program in other b-schools.

In the MM and MBA we make students do a walkabout. This is based on the Australian aborigine custom of sending young men into the bush, to fend for themselves. In the AIM version we send students out on a mission of self-discovery. They stay away for a few weeks on projects of their choicethe professor should not interfere in this choice, nor are there pushed to do a corporate internship. Instead we ask students do something risky, very challenging, something they have not done before. The experience must be transformational. Students can build a well for a poor Filipino village, or start a reading library for a local community; one student decided to take dancing lessons, not having the experience in his entire life: he became quite a competent tango dancer! The lessons learned are not at all textbook, but in Mintzbergian fashion, the student learns from visceral experience, which makes learning sticky and permanent.

Mintzberg also wrote about how managers spend time kibitzing, walking around, communicating, and not necessarily thinking and planning. This is the way we learn, the way we make sense of the world. That describes the day of an AIM student: a continuous building and creative destroying learning cycle of evening discussion with can groups, the learning team of buddies that catch each other;
the next days round of cases, typically 3 per day, 1.5 hour sessions of intense communicating, exchanging. There could be field work, group presentations, mock board room scenes, role plays, improvisational exercises.

Mintzberg believed that a true MBA student was international. Compared to our Asian competitors, we are probably more heterogeneous in class composition. AIM has active bilateral exchange programs with about 35 schools each year, in the US, Europe, and Asia. Our students get a chance to see other cultures for one semester, and AIM students in Manila interact with non-Asians as well: this semester 35 students, about 1/3 AIMs total student body, came from Europe, South America, and Asia to enroll at AIM.

What differentiates the AIM MBA from that in NUS Singapore and ISB Hyderabad (India) ?

You ask an unfair question, because I cannot answer without seeming to be trite or envious. Both schools have tremendous research, and better, an illustrious history of faculty members. I cannot also claim to know about the latest innovations of these two good schools, which are surely plentiful. I do know that the profile of our MM class matches more closely to ISB, with its short 1 year duration; NUSs MBA corresponds more closely to our MBA.

Where do we differ? I once again invoke the case method, which I am sure both NUS and ISB practice, but in limited fashion. Another difference is we have been around since 1968, much longer than either school. The result is that we have wider business and alumni networks. We have practitioners on the ground in virtually all Asian countries, as well as Europe and the Americans. It is a very
tight, helping network that takes great pride in the AIM brand.

Please explain briefly the admission procedure for the AIM MBA and MM for an Indian applicant.

Do browse our website for specifics, but in short, we accept a GMAT or XAT or AIMAT entrance scores. Applicants must have the minimum number of years experience, 2 for the MBA and 6 for the MM; must answer the four or five essay questions; submit one recommendation each from work and from school; marksheets from college; a CV. We shortlist Indians beginning December, and we conduct face-to-face interviews in India in February and May.

Is AIMAT different from the GMAT as an exam? Why did AIM choose to have its own admission test when GMAT is already an internationally accepted standard?

We offered AIMAT as a lower cost alternative to the GMAT in the eighties, and in countries where the GMAT was not as accessible. Accessibility is no longer a large issue, and indeed GMAT is an international standard. AIM does accept GMAT scores.

Can Indians apply using GMAT?

Yes. In addition since January 2008 we have also accepted the XAT, per agreement with XLRI. We are hoping to also take CAT scores in the near future.

Does an AIMAT application have advantages over a GMAT application?

None. The two are highly correlated.

If a candidate's GMAT score is better than his AIMAT performance, can he apply using the GMAT only?

If a student takes the AIMAT, we automatically count the score in the application. Yes, if the AIMAT score is bad, we do see it; one cannot withhold it, unlike a GMAT. Having said that, one could submit a good GMAT score after taking a bad AIMAT. We recognize that people will sometimes take a bad test, and submitting more than one score may actually help.

Note that while test scores test scores are important for breaking ties, say, for equivalent candidates they make up only 20 pc of total candidate scoring. The remaining 80 pc is based on undergraduate mark sheets and school performance, applicant recommendations, the quality of answers to our essay questions, and our face to face interviews in India, typically in February and May.

How many applications did you receive for each of your August and December MBA intakes last year? How many of them were Indians? How many Indians got shortlisted and how many made it to the MBA batch? How much is the intake in each of the two months?

We are a small program. Each year we plan to take about 130 - 160 students only, spread 2/3 1/3 over our September and May batches. Last year we received a total of about 500 applicants for our August and May (not December) batches last year. About 250 were Indians. Of the 250, about 160 were shortlisted for interviews. We ultimately accepted about 120 Indians, of which about 20 appeared in May 2008, and another 84 appeared in September 2008.

Which countries do most of your students come from? Is there a quota for each country?

Filipinos used to be the majority (about 50% of the student body, but now about about 65 pc of our MBA student body and 35% of our MMs come from India. We have no quota, though we do try to consciously get a balance of different countries in our mix.

There seems to be a clear and open focus to attract more Indian students at AIM, given that your website mentions India frequently and has separate India sections for loans. How do you limit the class from becoming 'too Indian'?

India is far too large a market to ignore: we share a common language, English. (We only hope we can get the type of interest in AIM in China as we do in India, but language is a problem; China also does not offer the same generous financing as Indian banks). We both put tremendous value on good education. The Philippines itself is becoming a major business partner with India, eg its common interests in trade and services such as the BPO industry.

The limits is a tough question. We do not consciously limit the number of Indians, though we may try to push applicants to a different cohort (in our case, we have a May offering) to balance the load. We also filter out students who are less experienced by telling them to work some more, and defer them to future batches.

Our Indian students also vary greatly by location. Unlike Indian applicants of 20 years ago, our current applicants are far more world-traveled and savvy. About a fifth of our students were actually deployed to the US and Europe in their jobs.

So far we like the results: we have developed a strong, loyal cadre of alumni all over the world. They are our best brand ambassadors, especially given their current stature in Indian management.

How much does the MBA and MM cost including all expenses?

We estimate MBA, total tuition, fees, dorm, and extra living expenses should come to about $ 36,000 for the 16 months. This allows for air travel and entertainment. The MM program of 11 months will cost a total of about $ 30,000.

Which countries do your Indian students end up working at after MBA? How much is their average percentage jump in post-MBA salary compared to pre-MBA?

Most Indian students end up working in India, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia. We don't have records of the salary range of the students before their MBA. Though the salary range of MBA Indian students after AIM is US$ 24,000 - 84,000 per annum.

In term of the sector percentage, consulting companies hire 7 pc, Consumer Products 3 pc, Financial Services 23 pc, Manufacturing 3 pc, Media/Entertainment 5 pc, Petroleum/Energy 2 pc, Real Estate 2 pc and Technology 37 pc.
How do you see the job market shaping up for AIM MBA students in view of the current economic crisis? It is said that South East Asia will be in focus for some time now. What steps is AIM taking to cash in on the wave?

It will be tough. And the bad days are not over. From what we hear, this subprime crisis might only be a prelude to a bigger and badder consumer credit crisis. If this should happen, we hope it will be when market confidence and liquidity will have been restored.

The first industry hit are of course financial institutions. It is early days as we try to sort out what happened in the last two weeks, but we might redirect, deflect the career plans of graduates slightly. Rather than travel down normal corporate or investment banking jobs, we might re-route them to, say, risk management. Since 2006 we have built in the FRM as an alternative to the CFA. We might spur them to be flexible, to take non-bank jobs that may initially be only tangential to real finance, e.g. project management, brand management, analysis and research. All these accrue in any case to future finance jobs.

All other industries will be hurt across the board, of course: services like BPO and consulting will probably take a short term hit and slow hiring; the recession may mean fewer marketing positions available.

If our students can stay patient, they will win. What may be missing are the glamorous consulting and investment banking jobs for now. But there are many other jobs to do in this crisis: new product development, outsourcing, restructurings, reengineering (in a good sense of the word), organization development and training: all need savvy MBAs.

There is some light even at this early stages of the crisis. Ive spoken to AIM grads in Finance positions, CFOs and Treasurers and analysts alike. They believe that while Southeast and South Asia are not immune to the global recession, we might be more resilient than the Westerners think. Because of the 1997 Asian crisis many Asian governments were better conditioned. In retrospect Asian central banks like the RBI may have at first seemed regulatory-happy, but now it turns out they were more prudent. Asian economies have put in more risk safeguards than run-and-gun Western economies. Our use of credit is strict, our savings rates are good, and our consumption is still in control. We continue produce our goods and services more efficiently than Western firms, and our quality is getting better. Asia may actually have a quicker turnaround to recovery than one might think.