Sunday, January 18, 2015

On Campus: Always Adapting

Emory Dean Erika James
Business schools evolve and adjust to a rapidly changing business environment.  They adapt and overhaul to prepare another generation of managers, leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, advisers, consultants, teachers and bankers.

Some schools turn themselves inside out to make themselves relevant to the complexities of business today. Most align with other programs (medicine, journalism, engineering and law, e.g.) and consider altering the structure and timetable of degree offerings. Many now require overseas study (usually in the student's second year) and combine courses like finance, marketing and operations to show prospective employers that MBA graduates have depth across disciplines and functions. Sure, they continue to have required content. Students cannot avoid a core curriculum of economics, statistics, marketing, accounting, operations, policy, and finance.

Yet today's MBA students must squeeze in coursework in ethics, entrepreneurship, digital advertising, risk management, social media, derivatives markets, private equity, crisis management and global politics. Business schools offer courses in these areas, but must support scholarship and academic research in the same by hiring the right professors and organizing rigorous curricula.

It's all inevitable. It's normal for business schools to introduce new disciplines, programs and initiatives every year to keep up and stay relevant.  The sample below tells what's going on at many Consortium schools in early 2015.

David Thomas, dean of the Consortium's newest school Georgetown-McDonough, told an audience at a special forum led by Washington, D.C.-area business schools last fall that MBA students today are not going to school to select employers. This post-crisis period is characterized by electronic commerce, digital communications, and innovation.  New industries, products and start-ups emerge every week.

Students, too, still haven't forgotten about how the predictable, safe careers paths of their elders were derailed in the late 2000's. MBA graduates, Thomas said, are choosing "meaning and purpose" in what they want to do. Sometimes what they want to do is not doing what they can to secure a spot at Morgan Stanley or McKinsey.

Last fall, the school hosted a case competition for students to find business solutions for non-profit 
organizations.  Students made presentations on behalf of a foundation that supports families in Nicaragua and made recommendations for improvements in health care and education.

Like many top schools, Georgetown encourages and helps arrange international experience.  It sponsors a "Global Business Experience" program, where students are assigned to a company in a foreign "client" country and recommend solutions in finance, operations and organization structure. 

Students at Dartmouth-Tuck late last year formed a consulting team that worked with the U.S. Olympics Committee to assist in Boston's bid to be chosen as the site of the 2024 Olympic Games. Their project wasn't an academic exercise; it was a real business case, requiring analysis, study, recommendations, implementation and presentation. Boston is still in the running, and the Tuck team's contribution could make a long-term difference. 

The entrepreneurial bug has bitten everywhere, not just among venture capitalists on the West Coast. Major business schools have had programs and courses in entrepreneurship for decades now. For years, they offered a handful of courses, and there were always related student clubs and forums that invited prominent entrepreneurs.

Today, entrepreneurship (via academic study, special institutes, coursework, and student groups) is a major concentration at most schools. They offer a long slate of courses and invite successful alumni  regularly to explain their start-up stories to eager students. Students devote time to start-up ideas or legitimate business plans, and schools arrange for venture funding, sponsor competitions, and organize alumni networks to help students take signficant steps to execute their plans.

USC-Marshall now offers a master's degree in entrepreneurship and innovation. Cornell-Johnson sponsors its version of the "Shark Tank" television program, where students present their ideas and detailed plans to panels of professionals.  (A "Shark Tank" on its campus is scheduled for Feb. 15.)

At the senior levels and in diversity, business schools have begun to walk the walk, while talking the talk.  Some Consortium schools have appointed deans who are women or from under-represented minority groups. The dean at Georgetown (Thomas), for example, is African-American. Emory-Goizueta's dean, Erika James, who starts her second year in 2015, is an African-American woman. 

James, for many years, held senior positions at another Consortium school, Virginia-Darden, before Emory offered her the deanship.  She also has a Ph.D. in organization psychology at yet another Consortium school, Michigan-Ross.

En route to Emory, she and others have done interesting research on women as CEO's of major companies.  They examined what happens to the stock price of a public company when it announces it has appointed a woman CEO.  Research shows that in many cases (all other factors being controlled or acknowledged), the stock price declines.  They tried to explain the cause. Often, the decline might be caused by the market's lack of confidence in the selection or by a perception that investors force women heads to prove themselves before share prices catch up. 

James arrived in Atlanta just in time to help shepherd Emory to the top of a list of schools with the highest rates of offers among MBA graduates last year. Both Emory and Consortium school Dartmouth-Tuck reported offering rates of 98% (through August, for a recent graduating class), along with graduates of Chicago and Penn-Wharton.  Offering rates, the statistics themselves, imply many factors could be in play:  

(a) The schools are doing exceptional jobs in helping graduates find employment by attracting major recruiters and preparing students for the process.

(b) The schools are in regions or have relationships with companies, sponsors, or firms where there are historic pipelines to financially stable employers. (General Motors and General Mills, for example, will consistently turn to Michigan-Ross when it needs to hire financial-management MBA's. Coca-Cola will likely approach Emory year after year to recruit MBA's in marketing and international management, especially since vast contributions of Coca-Cola stock explain much of the university's high endowment.)

(c) Yet offering rates at some schools will be affected by a portion of students who are pursuing non-traditional careers or are contemplating start-ups or small companies, where offers are not timely or formal or offers don't exist. A few graduating students withdraw from the process, while exploring a different kind of opportunity.

Michigan-Ross, in the past year or so, has introduced new research studies called "Positive Business" and "Open-book Finance," based on recent work from some professors.  Open-book finance would aligns the finance function with business-unit management and human resources.  It encourages companies to share details of corporate performance (revenues, costs, profits, profit objectives, growth goals, etc.) with all employees, not just business-unit managers or those working in finance.

Researchers indicate employees are more productive and more committed to job functions when they understand their impact on bottom-line performance and understand what the company must do to reach revenue-profit goals. 

Last month, an opening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba was proclaimed in headlines everywhere. Now even business schools are following the coattails of the major news story. Virginia-Darden didn't wait to find a way for MBA students to have a business experience in the country . This month, 26 second-year students spent a week in Havana studying the culture, politics and history, monitoring a training center for entrepreneurs and visiting other small businesses.

Financial engineering and quantitative finance are disciplines not far removed from the MBA core. In most cases, they are divisions within a business school, an attachment to or an advanced offering in the finance discipline.  Students can take related courses or earn a master's degree in quantitative finance.  Some MBA graduates in years past have specialized in quantitative finance or earned separate degrees. 

Carnegie Mellon-Tepper is widely known to have one of the best programs in quantitative finance. At the business school, students can earn a master's in computational finance. Many of them are preparing for careers in asset management, hedge funds, capital markets and financial products, or academic careers in finance. 

At Tepper, students take familiar business-school courses in accounting and economics, but veer immediately into coursework that will include options pricing, derivatives, risk management, arbitrage, data analytics, asset pricing, and advanced statistics. Tepper likes to distinguish itself from other schools with this special offering and permits MBA students with some interest in these courses to pursue them, if they wish.

Yale School Management ("SOM") moved into its sparkling new quarters, Evans Hall, a year ago, after vowing to follow other schools in building architecturally appealing, state-of-the-art facilities. Yale's large glass structure with blue hues and adorable courtyards is already a popular destination for other schools on campus by hosting events, symposia and conferences. You won't hear anymore a Yale SOM student disparage about having to scamper from old building to old building to attend classes or participate in case-study groups.

In the past year, Yale MBA students launched a group, "RevYale," that encourages MBA students to act as mentors to undergraduate students, particularly those that lead student groups and those interested in starting organizations on campus.  More experienced MBA students act as partners and mentors to undergraduates, whether they are interested in art, music, politics, sciences, or business.

The Yale MBA students provide guidance in leadership, finance, and organization management, based on their experiences and studies. The undergraduates get to have an MBA "big brother or sister" in their midst and learn something about the value of graduate business education. Yale SOM gets to steer smart minds toward an eventual Yale MBA.

Tracy Williams

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