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Could ‘Growth’ Become A New Business School Discipline?

The Kellogg School of Management has carved out a unique discipline of study: How to pursue business growth

The Kellogg School of Management has carved out a unique discipline of study: How to pursue business growth

Francisco Ochagavia arrived at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management from a family business in his home country of Chile. The 30-year-old, who graduated with his MBA in June, says that one of his more memorable courses focused on the growth challenges of mid-sized companies. It helped to prepare him for the CEO role at his family’s fruit-growing export company that he is looking to scale into a more global operation.

“Normally,” he says, “business school doesn’t cover these kinds of companies. Yet, our family business is a mid-sized company like the ones we studied in class. During the class we really got to understand the challenges you face when industry marketshare is shrinking and the competition is increasing.”

The course he took, Strategies for Growth, is one of seven new offerings at the Kellogg School that attempt to train students on how to successfully scale a business. Arguably the ultimate general management challenge, achieving growth has certainly been a part of every business school’s core and elective MBA curriculum. But Kellogg has carved out an unusual niche in the growth and scaling space from both a curricular and thought leadership perspective. The school has rolled out seven different courses on the topic since the spring of 2014 (see below table). The school also is considering a capstone course or experience to what it calls a “pathway,” or set of cohesive courses that help students develop a specific set of skills.

CREATING A GROWTH CURRICULUM AT KELLOGG WAS A RESPONSE TO MARKET DEMAND

Professor Ben Jones is the brainchild behind the growth and scaling initiative at Kellogg

Professor Ben Jones is the brainchild behind the growth and scaling initiative at Kellogg

Developing the initiative has turned the more typical way courses are developed at a business school on its head. For years, academics in narrow disciplines largely constructed theories of business education in the abstract, hoping that their outcomes would eventually line up with market needs. In crafting a curriculum around growth, Kellogg went to the market first, asked business leaders what challenges they faced, and came up with a series of courses to teach the required skills.

The brainchild for carving out the growth specialty is a Kellogg strategy professor, Ben Jones, who also serves as faculty director of the school’s innovation and entrepreneurship initiative. Jones explains that the idea for it came out of engaging different leaders and alumni. “We heard a lot about the kinds of leaders people in the community are looking for and generally it was people who can take a business and grow it to the next level,” says Jones.

“We were told that is a skill set that is cross functional,” he adds. “You need someone who understands strategy and finance, but who also knows how to manage an organization for change. The market demand for this kind of leader really syncs with us because we see ourselves as a cross functional school. We took the market message back to the school and the good news is we had a number of thought leaders who were thinking about this same issue.”

AN INITIATIVE WITH SPECIAL APPEAL TO THE PRIVATE EQUITY CROWD

The courses are being taught by Kellogg faculty from such varied disciplines as marketing, strategy, managerial economics, and entrepreneurship. Gad Allon, a professor in the managerial economics and decision sciences, is teaching Scaling Operations, a class that focuses on the five important stages of operations that present growth opportunities. Julie Hennessy, a clinical marketing prof, is teaching Generating Profitable Growth. William Ocasio, a management professor, is weighing in with Managing Organizations for Growth.

Mike Mazzeo, a management and strategy professor at Kellogg, taught the first of these courses, Strategies for Growth, in the spring of 2014. The course was immediately oversubscribed, with 160 students vying to win one of the 60 classroom seats. In the elective offering, students study small and middle-market companies while learning the strategic fundamentals and frameworks that underpin profitable growth. Instead of Fortune 500 companies, the case studies center on such firms as Alabama-based Key Firehose, the largest maker of fire hoses in the U.S., Washington-based TiLite, a maker of titanium customized wheel chairs, and Georgia-based Prodew, the largest producer of misting systems for supermarket produce sections.

  • M7grad

    The former MMM Program was focused on operations management, not scaling operations (different disciplines). Its new focus is design innovation, not entrepreuership. Finally, the article is about growth, which isn’t only driven by scaling operations (volume) but also price (price), revenue (price x revenue) and quality. Hope you didn’t get your MBA at Sloan ’cause it wouldn’t speak very well of the school.

  • fidel305

    for scaling / operations there is Sloan’s LGO program

    formerly Kellogg’s dual degree, its MMM program, covered this; but it now appears to be more entrepreneurship oriented. they are now going back into operations from a different angle.

    the present dean is a bit of a hot mess, but the school is succeeding despite her..

  • PEsVeryOwn

    Not a current student but PE is seen as a hidden gem @ Kellogg. They placed 5% of students of their 2013 class into PE – just behind Wharton (11%), Stanford (11%) and HBS (9%). Plus Chicago is a hotbed for MM PE.

    C Taylor, it will still be very very tough for people to “cross into PE” w/out PE exp even with the PE opportunities at Kellogg — candidates who have a solid banking background and transaction exp have a shot, but thats where the line ends. Also, Kellogg may give the impression they’re not a quant school and I’m sure you can get away without being a quant jock in some instances, but at the end of the day they’re still an M7 school and their GMAT avg being around 720 is intense…to average that kind of score I’d imagine there are quite a few quant jocks over there

  • PEsVeryOwn

    Never mentioned anything about stealing any mantle from Kellogg. Just think they have a unique opportunity to cater interesting curricula towards their PE students.

  • C. Taylor

    Raising average salaries of graduates would reflect positively on Kellogg.

    Regarding PE: would be interesting to see the PE candidate response to this as well as the success rate of others attempting to cross into PE.

    In general, raising the quant bar at Kellogg wouldn’t hurt–assuming the growth tack accomplishes that–and the growth tack plays to its strengths.

    I will follow with interest.

  • Yeah

    It will take forever to steal Marketing mantle from Kellogg.

  • Yeah

    Kinda gimmicky. Their old “leafership” thing did not work vs hbs because hbs is abandoning it as its now a weak differentiator, so they are going after stanford and Michigan this time.

  • Claudio Marcus

    The Growth focus strikes me as motivated by wanting to raise average salaries of Kellogg graduates (highest salaries for MBAs going to PE firms, and the role of salaries in the MBA school rankings). With Kellogg’s rich Marketing education heritage (and many alumni in senior Marketing roles), along with the accelerated evolution of the Marketing function, I would think that defending the Marketing mantle would be more of a priority. Wharton, Emory and others are pursuing data-driven Marketing as the means to better serve companies of all sorts.

  • PEsVeryOwn

    Phenomenal idea. Would be great if a class (or classes) come from this, that mix Growth curriculum closer to LBO/M&A analyses for the more PE-minded students.