Wanted: MBA Students Who Are Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

by Bruce Konviser on

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In shopping for an MBA program, Maeve Quigley says, “My main goal is I want to go and work in economic development in emerging markets. So my main focus is working with people in poverty and poverty alleviation.”

But when she told this seemingly paradoxical – if not heretical – concept to administrators at some MBA programs in the U.S., Quigley says she was often met with a blank stare.  “’Oh, you should go into NGO management,’” she recalls being told. Or they would suggest she redefine her goals to fit a pre-existing study platforms.MBA program.

Quigley, however, was steadfast. “‘I don’t actually aspire to be in the NGO world, let me make that clear,”’ she said. “‘I want to leverage the tools of the private sector for the poor… Essentially make ‘doing good,’ good for business.’”

When she presented her concept to the administrators at the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University, rather than trying to shoe-horn her into a more standard MBA experience, they embraced the uniqueness of her idea, and encouraged her to pursue it.

‘STUDENTS SHOULD BE COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE’

It’s a logical conclusion for a school that revels in its diversity, and not just in tack points on a map but in ideas. “Students should be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” says Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, the director of marketing and admissions. “At Rotterdam, you’re surrounded by people with different nationalities, cultural and business backgrounds.”

Indeed, 98% of the school’s MBA students here are from outside the Netherlands. Little more than 10% of the students come from North America. Nearly 40% are European, with the rest coming from around the globe. It helps that the RSM MBA is recognized by the Dutch Government as a qualifying degree for a one year post-study job search visa and knowledge migrant residency permit.

Near or far the school requires students have a minimum of two years work experience, and Luijendijk-Steenkamp says members of the current class have an average of six years experience.

“We do value people with solid work experience,” says Luijendijk-Steenkamp, explaining, “What you bring to the table, and how you will add value to the classroom discussions matters.”

SUSTAINABILITY IS NOT WINDOW DRESSING BUT A CORE THEME IN THE MBA CURRICULUM

Quigley, for example, is a Madison, Wisconsin native, who returned home after completing a dual major in economics and policy studies at Rice University. Upon her return, she co-founded two NGO’s; subsequently joined the Peace Corps in Thailand; then came back to the U.S. to take a job with a consulting company that focused on international development and management. She worked there for four and one-half years before applying to Rotterdam, one of the best business schools in Europe.

Poets&Quants ranks the 12-month MBA experience 19th among the best non-U.S. schools and 16th best in Europe. The Financial Times recently ranked RSM 33rd on its global MBA list. Rotterdam’s highest ranking comes from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which in 2012 placed the school 17th on its international list of the top full-time MBA programs. The magazine’s survey of recent graduates shows that they value the school for its emphasis on sustainability–a theme woven into the majority of classes in the MBA curriculum–and the small yet remarkably diverse collection of students.

The school has smartly differentiated itself on the basis of sustainability and the environment. “It’s not window dressing,” insists Luijendijk-Steenkamp. “We really do look at sustainability. We look at a lot more than the bottom line, while still looking at the bottom line. So it’s not about teaching charity It’s really looking at whether what you’re learning today is relevant to you today and tomorrow–and relevant for those around you.”

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