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MBAs Face No-Nonsense Hurdles At Fort Benning

Goizueta MBA students plan their strategy for an exercise at Fort Benning Photo by

Goizueta MBA students plan their strategy for an exercise at Fort Benning (Photo by Ann Borden)


It’s not unusual for newbie MBAs at a business school to be tossed into a bootcamp for a day of team-building exercises. But Emory University’s Goizueta Business School has a twist on the old ropes course routine of challenging outdoor personal development.

"0071201-14AB"Emory’s MBA students literally head for the barracks—the U.S. Army barracks that is. The day-long outing is part of the one-year MBA “Leader’s Reaction” course where students work together to conquer military-style obstacles.

The location: The historic Fort Benning military base about 90 minutes south of Emory in Columbus, Georgia, where the U.S. Army helps to prepare combat-ready troops.

The mission: Gain and apply leadership skills via nine military obstacles, some of the very same grueling hurdles that are used to train the brave men and women of the United States Army.


Addressing some 50 MBA students lined up like new recruits in basic training, Army Lieutenant General Ken Keen told them that the day’s exercises would not only test their physical strength but more importantly their mental toughness as well.

“There’s a good chance you’ll get wet today.” quipped Keen, humorously alluding to the makeshift moats that they were destined to plummet into at least once. “If not, we can accommodate that for you.”

Keen’s gentle joshing belies his record of commanding elite military units, including units in Special Forces, and leading soldiers on missions in Pakistan, Central America, South America, and Haiti. Keen, who joined the business school in 2013 as Goizueta’s associate dean of leadership development, spent 38 years serving in the U.S. Army.


His personal mission at Goizueta has been to prepare students for leadership at all levels through curricular and experiential learning. As a long-time Army commander, he was influential in getting Fort Benning to open its gates and lend helping hands to further the leadership development of students from Emory’s business school.

As the temperatures approach 92 degrees under a blistering sun at Fort Benning this past Saturday, the students–all recent arrivals for Goizueta’s accelerated one-year MBA program–divided themselves into teams according to the study groups they share in the classroom. And then they were off.

In nine groupings of about five to eight students each, the teams rotated between nine “lanes” which were separated by cinder block walls so the other teams couldn’t see what lie ahead in the next rotation. At each lane, a different student served as the team leader, receiving mission instructions from an Army facilitator. Once those instructions were given, it was up to the team leader to communicate the task to the rest of the group then lead them to complete the mission in 30 minutes or less.

Not exactly what this MBA student expected when applying to Goizueta (Photo by Ann Borden)

Not exactly what this MBA student expected when applying to Goizueta (Photo by Ann Borden)