Book Review: The mess that is ‘MBA at 16’

Last Updated: Mon, Apr 30, 2012 20:01 hrs

 Name: MBA at 16

 Author: Subroto Bagchi

 Publisher: Penguin Books India

 Price: Rs 199.00

 Pages: 157

 Format: Paperback

 ...They went to grab a cold coffee that's only a block away....

 India does not have blocks. It has streets, roads, nagars, palyas, sectors, gallis, main roads and many more.
 But no 'blocks'.

 So why does that phrase appear in a book about business and Indian teenagers?

 That 'block', similar bad phrasing, cringe inducing prose, a saccharine soaked 'plot' and several horrible similes'    
 amid some sober business advice is the meat of the strange mishmash chutney that is ‘MBA at 16’.

Where even to begin?

The complete absence of any Indian influence whatsoever? The wholesale blanketing of American trends and stereotypes? The paper-thin characters? The abrupt jumps between thick business talk and frothy teenage fluff?

The insertions of the book (yes, the book you are reading appears in the book itself) and the author's company MindTree (described as the company that proves the power of entrepreneurial initiative to deliver lasting value to society)?

The ghosts? The talking dog?

Lets just start with the most obvious question - Who is this book written for?

Well, if you are the idle young of the rich upper middle class in India who suddenly developed a deep and fanatical interest in supply chain management and market branding, then this book is possibly about you.

It seems to be written for those who want an MBA to become you.

For the rest, you are on your own.

The main 'plot' of the book features teenagers, who are American stereotypes with Indian names, all of whom suddenly develop an intense desire to learn about business.

Buy this book - MBA at 16

Despite the title - MBA at 16 - the book is not about these kids getting MBAs. No, it's just about them being enthralled with 'Business Administration' and thereby 'learning' about the various aspects of a business through plot-convenient explanations from plot-conveniently helpful and qualified adults.

We are really told a lot about these kids. Their relationship with their parents, friends, teachers, principal, classmates and crushes. We are told about their pets, their hobbies, their tastes, their special skills, their projects, their homework and on and on and on.

And all of that packed into about roughly 70 pages, divided among around twenty students. So roughly about four lines per problem, situation, victory, or reaction.

Therefore, these kids have no personality and no depth. Their stories begin from nowhere and go nowhere with no growth or closure. It would be difficult for Mother Teresa to care about them.

All you get are gems like -

"Like all teenagers she was unsure if she looked pretty or horrible" and "I want to do an MBA, she said in rather grown-up voice" and "like puppies let loose on a spring day".

(P.S: India does not have spring as a season, only summer, winter and monsoons. So wherever you were releasing puppies, Mr. Bagchi, it wasn't here.)

In middle of that mess, the remaining 80 pages or so are lengthy expositions on business concepts, shoehorned in with all the finesse of a train wreck.

In the end, the teenagers end up being a severe irritant if you are trying to understand something about the world of business.

In fact, the book reads as a sober summary of the business world ONLY if you skip all the parts about the kids and just read the expositions.

The publishers seem to know that as well. They have given us a handy symbol - *** - to separate the point from the pointless.

Although sometimes the book just goes of the rails completely.

At one point, an explanation about supply chains is given to a teenager  by a dog. No kidding. A talking dog expounds the virtues of supply chain management.

How exactly can this dog talk? Magic I presume, because it's not really explained. A golden hawk and a bear also appear earlier but at least they are explained as ghosts and dreams. Here the dog just talks.

And how does this dog know anything about supply chains? You see, he was chewing on an MBA book on the subject.

Oh har de har de har.

But the biggest oddities in the book have to be the anecdotes.

At certain points in the book, there are random anecdotes. Like one about the coach who got into trouble for using Facebook.

These page fillers have nothing to do with business, nothing to do with the kids and are not connected to anything. They just seem to be something that the kids told Mr. Bagchi at some point, which he found hilarious enough to put into the book.

And that about sums up the whole book really.

It feels like Mr Bagchi met some kids who were interested in business during his 'Business with Bagchi' sessions. They talked about their lives and he shared his wisdom with them.

Some time later, he decided that it would be a really good idea to document that experience along with some lectures on business into a book and no one at Penguin apparently felt he needed to be told anything or given any editorial advice. 

The resultant mess is 'MBA at 16'.

Read if you want a brief summary of some business concepts but are willing to skip a lot of pages to get to aforementioned summaries and willing to pay 200 rupees for the experience.