A Head Start Program For B-Schoolers

When Devi Vallabhaneni was accepted to Harvard Business School in the third round, she had no reason to think she wouldn’t sail through the MBA program. After all, she was a quant—a facile-with-numbers CPA who had spent four years working for Arthur Andersen in Chicago, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The daughter of an academic entrepreneur who had four master’s degrees on his resume, Vallabhaneni had moved to Chicago from Hyderabad, India, as a child and took an early interest in business. By the time she was 14, she had excelled in Junior Achievement, helping to develop a device that indicates when houseplants need watering, and her father had mapped out her educational and career path from high school to MBA on a chalkboard in the family kitchen.

Yet, soon after plunging into Harvard’s MBA program in Boston, Vallabhaneni sensed that she was adrift, often befuddled by words, ideas, and concepts. “I felt that I didn’t have the core building blocks to take full advantage of the curriculum,” she recalls. “I did well in accounting and finance, but the first few operations classes were like another language.” Terms like “queuing theory” and “cycle time” assaulted her like hailstones, and she scrambled to catch up.

She often found herself working “two to three times” as hard as other classmates to keep up with the engineers in her operations management class and with the Procter & Gamble brand managers in her marketing class. Of course, she got through it, graduating in 1997 and quickly embarking on a career with The Gap and as a dot-com entrepreneur in the boom years of the Internet.


But those early struggles at the Harvard Business School stayed with her. Realizing that many other MBA students, even those who studied business as undergrads and had solid work experience, lacked fluency outside the scope of their particular specialties, Devi and her father, Rao Vallabhaneni, an author of textbooks on accounting and auditing, began devising a program to strengthen students’ overall business acumen.

In 2009, Wiley published Devi’s book What’s Your MBA IQ? and in 2011, with the help of Rao and her business partner and fellow HBS alumna Melissa Hayes, she launched MBA IQ, an interactive online curriculum designed to give students baseline knowledge in 12 core areas of business before they embark on their graduate degrees. (Read an excerpt from the book on conflict resolution here)

For poets, those aspiring business types who know more history and English than accounting and finance, MBA IQ’s academic prep work allows them to enter the classroom with a level of comfort that would otherwise be elusive. For quants, students already used to more rigorous study and work with numbers and equations, the book and online curriculum remedy their lack of knowledge in strategy, marketing, and most core business concepts.


It works like this: For a fee of $195 per person, enrollees receive 60 days’ use of MBAIQ.com. There, they can take quizzes to determine their own MBA IQ scores– quantitative figures demonstrating an overall knowledge of business as well as individual scores for each of the dozen areas, or “modules.”

Once they’ve identified their weaknesses (“Yikes, I’ve never heard of ‘blue-ocean theory’”), they can avail themselves of content on the site to fill the gaps, learning such things as the difference between static budgets and continuous budgets, the finer points of penetration testing, and how to calculate weighted-average cost of capital.

In addition, they get various other self-assessment quizzes, 134 reading assignments, 1,000 E-flashcards, short daily lessons (example: “What is a Type I error?”), and a physical copy of Devi’s book—all in all, a rather daunting array of information. Devi says it takes 8 to 12 hours of cumulative online effort to complete all the coursework.