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A ‘Generalist’ or a ‘specialist’ who performs better?

In Uncategorized on July 14, 2013 at 5:53 am

A Generalist is the person who has worked in almost each area and then become an overall expert like Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company while a specialist is the person who excels in particular area and get professional qualification and experience in the same area over the period of time like Chief Risk Officer (CRO). A few days back, I travelled  to attend ‘World Entrepreneur Forum’ held at Hotel Trident, Mumbai which gave me an opportunity to discuss the debate with Mr Chandrashekaran at General Insurance Council (GIC). 

The debate started when a generalist can do almost all the work eg; 90% of work with good efficiency why we need specialist? The other aspect of debate is about specialist which emphasize upon the excellence that provides so called last 10% of quality assurance which a generalist is not able to provide. The problem arise where there are limited funds available or during the financial crisis when organization wants to cut the cost – who should be sacrificed on altar at such situation? Is it worthwhile to keep expert in each area in comparison to cost involved? For example: Salary of CEO is almost equivalent to CRO however, most of the job can be done by CEO.

If we observe the recent financial crisis, the insolvencies of the companies are not due to bad credit rating, not even not following regular procedures rather due to bad risk management or due to ignorance of care of rest 10% factors which were overlooked by the generalist management. It can be seen that generalist provides the good product/service but to get the best out of it, specialist services are needed.

  1. I am copying the comments from linkedin

    P Kumar CEO at MRIBS Ltd, Insurance Broking Co Ltd

    I feel a generalist can perform well
    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 8 months ago

    Sampangi Chalapathi Srinivasan, FIII,
    Chief Executive Officer at Driesassur Middle East Insurance Brokers-DMCC Dubai

    Quite a interesting debate…..

    I am a generalist and I always had a edge over the specialists within my career. As rightly put by Ruchi, specialists create a niche by acquiring qualifications and becoming a expert in their respective fields whereas Generalist would have acquired certain field qualities which can be used in all activities and gives a multidimensional angle to the Specialist dominated areas and becomes a operational expert.

    It can also be summed as – Generalists are Techno-commercial and Specialists are conventional experts.

    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 8 months ago

    Eranna Mankar
    Shriram General Insurance Co Ltd Manager – Operations & Training

    Both Generalist and Specialist are the two pillars of the Organisation for accomplishment of its goals in their own respective assigned responsibilities depending upon their calibre, qualifications and technical skills. Hence we cannot overlook specialists thinking that generalists can do all the work. Of course depending upon the size of the Organisation, technicalities required therein the matter of considering the services of Spcialist can be decided and decisions can be taken suitably therein.
    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 8 months ago

    Dr. George E Thomas

    Associate Professor (Non-Life) at Insurance Institute of India

    It is neither being generalist or specialist that matters.
    I have seen great performers from both streams – and non-performers too 🙂

    I feel performance is related to one’s attitude towards work and commitment level.
    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 8 months ago


    In general, a Generalist.
    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 8 months ago
    Gurdeep Singh Batra

    Ass. Vice President at Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Ltd.

    Both are important, but a self driven generalist with varied experience has an edge in todays time.
    Like Reply privately Flag as inappropriate 1 day ago

  2. I would like to add few more points based on discussion with MBA students and CEO, chairman of the companies expectation.

    Some senior management would like to hire fresh talent of domain experts which can bring new ideas in the companies and contribute for growth of the companies while simultaneously would like to hire people who can do multi-tasking in many domain.

    It is said by one of the chairman of the company ” We expect an MBA student to be domain expert( eg: finance, HR, Marketing) but should have generic knowledge of all subjects”.

    Specialist’ is the area of expertise for which company is known for in the market while generalist run the company.

    Other Group Risk Director of a company in the UK mentioned that ” Domain expertise and fresh talent in critical areas like Enterprise Risk Management are also used as bench marking. ”

    So, they suggest right combination of ‘Generalist’ and ‘Specialist’ from new generation of MBA and PhD students.

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