A General Counsel talks executive MBA - Meet Alok Shah!
Updated: Jul 18, 2020
“Should I go for a 1 year or a 2 year MBA? Should I go for an MBA if I plan on staying in the legal field? I want to become a General Counsel. Does an MBA add value?”
We get these questions more times than you can imagine!
So we did what we do best, and reached out to Alok Shah, a Telecom, Media & Tech lawyer presently enrolled in the PGPpro course at ISB (2019-20).
The PGPpro course is an Executive MBA equivalent programme for working professionals with 5 to 12 years of work experience. It is an 18-month executive program having 8-hour classroom sessions every alternative weekend which includes campus lectures.
To give you some background, Alok graduated from Mumbai University in 2010 and is presently engaged as the General Counsel of OML Entertainment Private Limited. Prior to his role here, Alok worked with IndiaCast Media (“JV of Viacom18 and TV18) as an Associate Director - Legal.
In this post, Alok sheds light on the value add an MBA offers as well and talks about his decision-making process in detail. His advice has tremendous value to any young lawyer dreaming of GC roles or trying to test waters in the TMT law domain.
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Without digressing further, let’s just jump into it!
1. How did you decide that you wanted to do an MBA? How did an MBA from ISB add value to you?
I started my career by working in law firms and gradually shifted to an in-house role of a media and entertainment company after 6 years.
As an in-house counsel, my role was not only to assist in legal matters but also to understand the nuances of the ever-changing and increasingly complex business landscape. I started my role in a company as an assistant manager in an MNC and gradually moved up the ladder and started independently handling the entire international business media distribution vertical of the organization.
I finally quit the company as an Associate Director and moved to a young new age media company as a General Counsel during which I enrolled myself in B-school. I felt the need to move from ‘execution’ to ‘Strategy and Decision Making’ and that’s where my decision to join ISB’s program stemmed from.
Since I am at the fag-end of the program, I can confidently say that it has helped me in getting the necessary business and leadership skills that can enable me to be a catalyst in the success of the company. Through the curriculum, I also attended leadership discussions around solving complex problems. My background also gives me the capacity for broad and fearless thinking that is needed to meet the challenges of the entertainment industry’s shifting landscape
2. Any specific reasons for choosing the 18-month PGPpro executive MBA course at ISB vs the traditional 2-year programme?
With almost 10 years of work experience, I thought that a one-year break would put me in a disadvantageous position. With a decent trajectory growth in my career, I wanted to get into academics without compromising my present career prospects. Also, a full-time MBA for me wasn’t an option since that would mean rebooting my career from the start which wasn’t my intention in the first place.
In short, if someone doesn’t want to change his vertical, then an executive MBA would be prudent as compared to a full-time program. In contrast, if a student wants to completely change his vertical i.e. from legal to some other field, then a 2-year full-time MBA program would be the best fit. Hence it is important for all students to first analyse their reason for an MBA before enrolling for the program.
3. How do lawyers fare in B-school? What should we work on compared to our engineering peers? Do math-heavy subjects pose an extra challenge?
Well, I wouldn’t say that it was an easy ride. Definitely, engineers have an advantage when it comes to quant and statistics-based subjects. However, having said that, since the institution requires diversity in the classroom, they are aware of different academic backgrounds of students.
Hence, the faculty ensures that the teaching is done in such a manner that all students are able to grasp the basic understanding of the subject irrespective of the background. The rest would depend on self-study and assignments. However, top B schools in the world including ISB look for diversity to ensure that each industry and vertical are equally represented. From a radio jockey to an investment banker, my current batch has students from different industries reflecting diversity in the classroom. This brings about different perspectives in class discussions and case studies.
4. What are the prospects of a lawyer at ISB in case he/she wishes to transition to a non-legal role?
There has never been a time more suitable than today for lawyers to join business school!
To all the budding lawyers who are confused about the next step - my advice to them is that they should not be satisfied with only becoming a better attorney but go a step ahead and get a perspective of the business world. It is exciting, fast-paced, and dynamic just like the present generation.
There is no age limit for academic centric goals since we are in a field where one has to keep abreast with day to day developments in their respective area of practice. The key to the next few decades of business operations (Indian or International) rests in the hands of the lawyers of today, they only have to realize their pivotal role.
Lawyers who are working as in-house counsel would acknowledge that over time, the role of a legal department in a company has transformed from merely being a support function in an organization to a full-fledged in-house counsel, which means that we are advisors to the senior management.
The CEO’s and business managers are now more than willing to rely on people with a legal background for complex issues.
In the USA, there are many managers and business leaders especially in the media and entertainment sector who have their origin in the legal industry. In India too, the trend is changing – lawyers have been given roles as business managers since they have the dual advantage of understanding and assessing the risk as well as ensuring maximum profit for the company.
5. What are the challenges (if any) you faced while working during the MBA programme?
One has to be very disciplined when it comes to time management since work responsibilities coupled with class lectures, projects, and exams can be taxing. This may include sacrificing social life, family dinners, and get-togethers. However, at the end of it, you will definitely feel - it was worth it.
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