An Online MBA For The Renaissance Manager

William & Mary's Mason School of Business

William & Mary’s Mason School of Business

Ten years ago, Professor Jim Olver sat in a room full of other business educators at a conference hosted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council. The keynote speaker was Sun Microsystems Co-founder and CEO Scott McNealy.

“He spent about the first 15 minutes of his presentation making fun of us,” Olver recalls. “He said he went to Stanford for his MBA but didn’t go to class after the first year because he was too busy meeting smart people and trying to start a business. He said it was more helpful than the classroom.”

A seed was planted for Olver, a professor at the William & Mary Raymond A. Mason School of Business. Now, 10 years later, Olver and the Mason School have an answer to those comments. And it’s in the form of a new online MBA program with a curriculum shift. The program is based around a Jeffersonian theme of “renaissance thinker, revolutionary leader.”

William & Mary is the third business school in the past month to announce a new online MBA program. Not much more than a week ago, the business schools at the University of Southern California and American University in Washington, D.C., unveiled plans for online degree programs that will begin this fall (see USC Marshall Is Latest To Offer Online MBA — The Pricetag: $93,502).


“We got together as a faculty and looked for the disconnect between the traditional MBA and what’s required of leaders in the 21st Century,” Olver explains. “The traditional MBA skills like finance, marketing, operations and others are still important, but they are table stakes. If you look at research from IBM Global or what Deloitte and McKinsey are doing, you see what’s also needed is training in seeing around corners, taking intelligent risks and embracing complexity and ambiguity.”

Dean Larry Pulley says Olver and the 12-member faculty team has been thrilled to put the new curriculum and program together. “We presented them with a blank canvas,” Pulley says. “It’s hard to make fundamental changes in a program. But they had brainstorming meetings about the kinds of integration and collaboration thinking about what the program should be and they got excited about it. They were truly excited about this from the get-go.”

The result is a 49-credit hour curriculum that will take students two years to complete. The first course all students take is called Renaissance Manager. Students are expected to enter the program with a complex business problem they are currently experiencing.

“We will be looking at some wicked complex problems,” Olver says. “They will continue to work through the individualized and personal problems throughout the program and will do personal reflections on them.”


After the first course, students will take the standard MBA coursework like financial and managerial accounting, business operations, marketing, strategy and others. At the same time, they will be applying concepts in those classes to solving the problem they brought into the program.

“We continue that common thread throughout the coursework and then finish with a capstone course,” says Olver.

The capstone course is called Revolutionary Leader. According to Olver, it will do more than help students solve complex problems—it will help them “tackle” the problems.

“Most managers are, frankly, ill-equipped to handle the challenges and opportunities of the ambiguity and complexity in the 21st Century,” Olver says. “There is a lot of dramatic change happening now and if you can come to those complexities with a willingness and know-how to take intelligent risks, you will be better off.”