Devi Vallabhaneni believes that business managers are not true professionals. And she wants to change that.
Vallabhaneni, a 37-year-old CPA and Harvard MBA, quit her business-development job in 2001 to found the Association of Professionals in Business Management, which has created two separate tests (and 34 pounds' worth of related study materials) to verify what businesspeople know about things like marketing, manufacturing, operations, and human resources.
"Medicine, law, accounting, engineering—they're all set up as professions, with certain predefined sets of knowledge," Vallabhaneni says. She thinks the four-part, 16-hour Certified Business Manager test will become the business world's equivalent of the bar exam or the medical boards—something new MBA grads will have to pass to prove their competency. The CBM (which requires at least an undergrad degree and four years' work experience) is comprised of 400 multiple-choice questions plus a written case-study analysis. There's also the Certified Associate Business Manager test, which has no prereqs.
Vallabhaneni may be ahead of the curve: Only 3,000 people have become certified in the two years the test has been available. But last year, IBM started 38 members of a 500-person internal audit group on the path toward gaining a Certified Business Manager grade; Avaya put 9 members of its global managed-services division through the first part of the exam.
Vallabhaneni says time is on her side. Her organization is self-sustaining—the test costs $1,600, plus up to $675 for study materials. She says the number of people taking the test is growing in the 30% to 40% range annually (between 45% and 50% pass on the first try).
Besides, she says, "my experience at Harvard made me think this was important."
Sample questions from the CBM:
If the forecast for January was 120 units, and actual demand was 135 units, using exponential smoothing technique, what would be the forecast for February if the smoothing constant is 0.10?
- 25.5 units
- 121.5 units
- 127.5 units
- 229.5 units
In cross-cultural communication, high-context cultures:
- Value expertise and performance
- Make agreements on the basis of general trust
- Like efficient negotiations
- Like to get down to business right away
A version of this article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.