Turning Management into a Profession: Devi Vallabhaneni

Lawyers take the bar exam. Physicians take the board exam. Accountants take the CPA exam. Devi Vallabhaneni is working to get business managers to take the Certified Business Manager (CBM) exam. As President and CEO of the Association of Professionals in Business Management (APBM), Devi, 37, is trying to make business management a profession, with its own certification, code of ethics, and continuing education requirements. APBM designed the CBM credential, a master’s-level certification based on an MBA curriculum. It consists of a four-part, 16-hour exam that measures mastery of business management knowledge and skills. It can be taken during, after, or in lieu of an MBA. In a world with great variability in the education provided by MBA programs, a CBM certification lets employers know that a person has acquired a standard knowledge base and set of management skills, as measured by an independent organization. Check out what Devi is doing to turn business management into a profession with this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.

About the non-profit

APBM’s mission is to make business management a profession – similar to law, medicine, engineering, and accounting – through the CBM and CABM certifications, continuing education, and a code of professional ethics.

APBM’s vision is to become the leading global professional organization that provides business management certifications and supports the business management profession.

To accomplish its mission and vision, the APBM has formulated its strategy as follows:

  • Develop a framework with a standardized curriculum using a Common Body of Knowledge for Business (CBKB) for uniform validation of knowledge for all practitioners and academicians in the business management community throughout the world.
  • Develop comprehensive certification exams that demonstrate intense academic preparation and rigorous testing of business management knowledge.
  • Develop a uniform criterion for entry into the profession and exit from the profession of business management.
  • Require continuing education for life for all certification holders to ensure continuous learning and recertification.
  • Develop a Code of Professional Ethics to follow and abide by all certification holders.


What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

As a true general manager, I am responsible for all areas of our organization. On a daily basis, I work with all functional areas – marketing/sales, finance, operations, and strategy and planning.

Most notable milestones

June 2000
APBM was founded

July 2000
Released the CBM Exam curriculum (the CBKB) with three-part exam based on a MBA curriculum

July 2002
Partnered with Thomson Learning to develop CBM Exam Preparation Guides for the three-part CBM Exam

January 2003
Partnered with the Chauncey Group, Division of Educational Testing Service (ETS) for CBM test validation services

All of 2003
Released the six-volume CBM Exam Preparation Guides and the three-part CBM Exam.

May 2004
Released the CABM Exam curriculum, which is based on a pre-MBA curriculum.

July 2004
Completed beta-testing of all three parts of the CBM Exam.

July 2005
Released both volumes of the CABM Exam Preparation Guides.

February 2006
Began CBM Corporate Pilot Program with IBM and Avaya Communications.

March 2006
Release of Harvard Business School case of the APBM, the CBM, and the need for business management to act as a profession.

May 2006
Received approval from the American Council on Education (ACE) for the CBM Exam to qualify for nine semester hours towards a graduate degree in business administration at participating US universities.

What’s the niche?

The Certified Business Manager (CBM) credential is the only masters-level professional certification based on an MBA curriculum. It can be earned:

  • During an MBA program
  • After earning an MBA degree
  • In lieu of an MBA degree

The CBM Exam is a four-part, 16-hour exam that tests the following content areas:
General Management and Organization
Operations Management
Marketing Management
Quality and Process Management
Human Resources Management
Information Technology
International Business
Corporate Control and Governance
International Business


What’s the biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is increasing awareness as to the use and relevancy of the CBM within a corporate environment.

What’s in store for the future?

The future is very bright for APBM. In the near term, we will be adding several large public corporations and professional services firms to the list of organizations participating in the CBM Pilot Program.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

Have a superior product. Invest everything you have to make sure the product stands head and shoulders above competitive and even complementary products. People know and respond to quality when they see it.

Guiding principle in life

One-and-done approach: do it right the first time so that you don’t have to do it again. Doing something right means that you’re committed. When you’re committed to something, I believe the universe meets you more than half way towards fulfilling that goal.

Yardstick of success

When I meet someone and they ask me what I do professionally, it takes a couple of minutes to fully explain our company. I’m looking forward to the day where I can say, “I work for the organization that sponsors the Certified Business Manager (CBM) credential.” Everyone knows what the CPA is, and I can’t wait until the CBM has at least the same level of recognition. I believe this is several years away.

Goal yet to be achieved

To have CBMs in every public corporation from every major job function.

Best practical advice

One of my previous bosses used to say, “Keep your eye on the prize.” You need to be good at determining which events are distractions and which events actually move you forward toward your goal. When you work backwards from your goal, it is easy to figure out the distractions.


I don’t have a mentor per se. I think it’s important to learn from a variety of people, sources, situations, etc. Looking back, I have learned from great bosses but probably learned more from the not-so-great bosses.

Learning how not to be is often more important than understanding what characteristics to emulate. Also, don’t underestimate what you can learn from peers and from those you manage.

What motivated you to get started?

It was the sheer brilliance of the CBM credential. It solves many issues:

  • Companies are looking for a standardized management development program.
  • Too much variability and proliferation in the MBA degree.
  • Management needs to act like a profession, just like law, medicine, accounting, etc

Like best about what you do?

I can create a product that hasn’t existed.

Like least about what you do?

We constantly face “source credibility,” which I’m slowly understanding is an important factor in human nature. We encounter enough individuals who dismiss an idea simply because they haven’t heard of it before.

However, things are changing; our recent feature in the February issue of Fast Company, for example, is helping us to spread the word in a huge way—and we’re getting more calls than ever.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I first wanted to be a pediatrician, and then I fell off my bike and scraped my knee badly. I didn’t think I would be a good doctor when I couldn’t stand looking at blood, so I later considered business.

What was your first job?

In high school, I was a salesperson at Marshall Fields in Chicago. It didn’t seem like work because it was so much fun interacting with such a variety of people. I firmly believe that if you want a successful career, at some point in your life, you should either work in retail or in hospitality. You learn so much about human nature.

Biggest pastime outside of work

I love to create things from scratch, so baking, cooking, knitting, needlepointing. I need to work with my hands. I find that the more I create things outside of work, the more creative I am at work.

Person most interested in meeting?

There isn’t one person per se. I’m always curious when I meet accomplished individuals in person because I want to see how down-to-earth they are.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. They have inspired and educated millions. What they have achieved in one lifetime is simply remarkable.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. I am lucky enough to inherit a photographic memory, so remembering phone numbers, names, faces, dates, etc. comes very easy. My father and his mother are the same way.
  2. I talk to myself constantly – sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish or French, and sometimes in Telugu.
  3. I learned how to swim in my 30s, so it’s never too late to learn something new for yourself.

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. Principled
  2. Intuitive
  3. Creative

Three greatest passions

  1. Friends and family
  2. Anything I can create with my hands
  3. Anything French

Favorite book

I don’t have one favorite book. These days I read a lot of magazines. I subscribe to about ten magazines a month, so by the time I finish reading them all, it’s the next month already.

Favorite cause

Anything that promotes literacy or preserves artisanal techniques. In the rush to live in the modern world, it bothers me that so many artisanal techniques around the world aren’t being maintained.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Organizations that are looking for a standardized management development program that can be implemented across an organization.