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 DEMANDDeveloping 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.