An Interview With Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard

Dean Hubbard

I teach an elective called Entrepreneurial Finance, which is a very popular class. When I teach, I always have some evening sessions where I, or one of the TAs, will drill people in problem sets that we don’t do in class. But I also know that students need some time to really understand an evaluation tool and a methodology. I don’t want to take class time to do that because I really want to talk about business when we’re in class. In the new curriculum, some of that can be done online. It doesn’t require that I show up on a Tuesday night with each of them buying a sandwich. We can do that more efficiently online. So I think this is going to be very disruptive.

So you think it would allow for a deeper, more engaged level of teaching?

What will make online successful is assessment. Being able to pause, check and assess and then have contact with the guy or gal on the screen. All of this stuff is really going to change some schools even more. You are going to see the emergence of wraparound shorter programs. For example, why would you go to a third-tier school if you could buy the online curriculum from a handful of top schools and your local school would wrap it’s specialty are around that.

If you think about why do you want to go to business school, it’s about three things. One, the ideas of the faculty. Two, the talent of your fellow students, and three, the alumni network. There are lots of other less important reasons but they kind of boil down to those three. In a world where online is available, I’m not sure a school that doesn’t have those three things really has a two-year product. I don’t see it. A wise consumer wouldn’t do that.

I also could see a time when top schools do some trading. For example, Bruce Greenwald, one of my (highly popular finance) colleagues, is unique. There is just nobody else like him. So I could see the students at one of our peer schools saying, ‘You know, I love it here. I just wish I could take Bruce Greenwald.’ Just as I could see some of my students say, ‘Clay Christensen (of the Harvard Business School) is amazing. We don’t have him.’ Isn’t it possible that even at elite schools we could imagine some trading here that gives students access to the best faculty in the world regardless of which school they are studying at?

This is early days, but this is going to be a big deal. And it really has helped us as we rethought our core curriculum.

What are some of the other important changes that will occur when the new MBA curriculum debuts this fall?

Integration. Two years ago, we introduced an integrated case on General Motors. When I told the faculty I wanted to do General Motors, they looked at me like ‘Huh? This is Columbia. This is New York. You are talking about GM?’

‘Well I’ll tell you why,’ I said. ‘General Motors is a 25-year train wreck. It took that long for General Motors to go off the rails. There were many points at which several boards and CEOs did not connect the dots. Why can’t we take a series of cases and make them go across the core in every core class. And the teaching of the cases would be done by multiple faculty. So it isn’t just about me and my marketing class.’

In the new core, we need to think of many more examples for that kind of integration. If I were to offer gentle criticism of most top business schools it is that the students are functionally good. They know their areas. They have high IQ. But when you throw out a business problem, they struggle a little. They struggle to get their arms around it. We could do a much better job with this. And if we really want to create leaders, you have to do it.

The guy who sits at the head of the table is probably not an expert. That’s not why he or she is there. They know how to look at that complicated picture and know which questions to ask and how to get that information. That’s why I want to do more integrated cases. I believe this is a teachable skill with students but not the way we are currently running MBA programs.

That’s probably easier said than done.

The hard part about this is faculty. Once you talk about team teaching and integration, the first response is usually a statement like, ‘Well I can’t give up 60 minutes of class time because the dean has some idea’. It’s not about the dean. Why are students here? I am selling an integrated product that is called an MBA. I am not selling economics, finance, or operations. I am selling an MBA. It’s like a car. When you sell a car you don’t buy the steering wheel and the tires.

When you think about how we are trained, I am trained in a discipline as an economist. And I am trained to believe that the more time I can spend with you on economics, the better your life will be. That’s really not true for an MBA. What an MBA really needs is a skill set and knowledge on how to think about problems. So that requires us as faculty to change as well. I really think the hurdle is us. The students come hungry for this. That’s why they came to business school. They want these big problems. They are frustrated when they feel like they learned finance and operations but never how they fit together.

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