It’s 2009 again – in Melbourne and in Indian B-School campuses

2009

Like millions of others, I loved this year’s Australian Open final. Way back in 2009, watching a Federer:Nadal final, it was unthinkable that we would still be watching another such in 2017. Fact is, it was unthinkable even at the start of the Open this year. It feels like 2009 even on B-school campuses, much as in Melbourne except that it isn’t bringing any cheer with it.

I completed my 1 year MBA in April 2009, passing out into what was arguably the worst job market of all time, at par with the dot com bust of 2000 (incidentally, the year in which I completed my ACA!). Barring hypertension drug makers, everyone was reeling at the after effects of the 2008-09 financial crisis and there seemed no silver lining in sight at the beginning of 2009 when B-school placement season kicked off. It felt like Open Season with lots and lots of hungry hunters but no game in sight.

Sitting here 8 years later it feels like 2009 redux, though some would disagree. The intensity of the job drought may be lesser but it does feel like this year’s passouts have also been hard done in. A quick comparison of timelines for a student in 2008-09 vs 2016-17 in the run up to the Nov-Mar placement season:

Month

2008-09

2016-17

April

Bear Stearns collapses, opening the academic year on a dismal note E-commerce firms belatedly report severe stress, driven by lack of further VC investment

September

Lehman collapses, triggering a worldwide financial crisis that cripples banking and economic growth After effects of the now certain Brexit, Fed rate increases more certain, and growth rates moderating more surely in India and China

November

26/11 attacks and speculation of war with Pakistan compounding the effects of the financial crisis The Demonetisation shock puts activity, growth, and sentiment on the chopping block, albeit temporarily

December

Satyam scandal breaks, casting a shadow over Corporate India Trump’s clampdown on immigration and resultant uncertainty over IT business model

So we entered the current year’s placement season with severely curtailed E-commerce recruitment (barring Amazon) and demonetisation-strained industry and services sectors (especially Real Estate, Retail, Auto). All this in a world that had suddenly turned more insular. None of this makes for a job market ready to absorb all the aspiration-giddy management graduates.

Lessons from 2009?

Lesson 1:

The UPA victory in May’09 (and what it did for market sentiment) and the worldwide stimulus push created a 2 year boom that was exceeded in its impact only by the hubris seen in 2003-2007. Who would have thought this possible even as late as March 2009? So Lesson 1 is that ‘It is darkest before dawn’ may hold some truth.

Lesson 2:

UPA 2 turned out to be the most mocked and reviled administration due to the policy stasis and the corruption that marked its years. The worldwide stimulus fed a commodity and leverage boom that went on to cripple secular and sustainable growth. So Lesson 2 is ‘Be careful what you wish for’.

Most of all, these cycles make us humble. They play out on the back of mega-macro factors that no one can control and can have unforeseen and unintended positive or negative consequences in the years to come.

Perhaps the first step towards adjusting to these realities is developing a higher degree of circumstance acceptance as against blaming circumstance, other individuals, or oneself. 6 simple words in 2 of the deepest philosophies of all time help: ‘Shit Happens’ and ‘This Too Shall Pass’.

The next step is to position yourself as best as you can for the time when the cycle will turn (and turn it will). If you are lucky, it may be in a couple of months (and a sustainable one). If not, a tad longer.

–xx–

PS (to 2017 passouts): This wasn’t meant as advice, consolation, or a source of solace, much less as a way out of the current mess. All it tells you is that there were many before you who went through the same (and worse) and that there will be many more to come. Our misery or trying circumstance does not make us special; though how we respond to it can. 

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