Why Queen’s Revamped Its MBA

Queen's School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, Canada

How have you seen outside perceptions of the MBA change, specifically from employers?

If you read the press, then it’s all over the place. Every five or ten years its either bad or it’s the greatest thing in the world. Sometimes the MBA has had a bad rap. But the quality of the students, when you look at them as individuals, they are almost all great candidates. The schools that help students get well rounded are the ones doing a good job. There are also business schools all around the world that are open to see how much money they can make. But if you ask the employers–and we talked to Corporate Canada when we were restructuring our program–we learned that they want those MBAs. They want the values and skills the MBA provides.

When we were going through the restructuring of our MBA program, there were a few things we learned that Corporate Canada wanted to see in MBAs. In no specific order, they wanted better communication and presentation skills and an ability to synthesize information. They wanted to see graduates who knew how to integrate across functions and how a decision in one area affects other areas. They like leadership in teams and the ability to motivate folks. They need to be able to lead, not just manage, and be able to deal with ambiguity, being able to make decisions based on little information. The more senior you get, the less data is out there. They want to see skills at making calculated risks with little information.

Why did Queen’s decide to restructure the program?

It was time for a change. It hadn’t been totally restructured since 1994. It used to be the MBA for science and technology. But about every seven years we do a major revamp. We ask is the program still relevant. We look to the job market of Corporate Canada to make those tweaks.

What changes were made and how have the applicant and job markets received them?

The biggest change is we shortened the program and moved the start date from May to January. Looking at Corporate Canada, the majority of hiring is in first and third quarter. And we were putting them out in the second quarter. On campus recruiting happens in September. Our students were in class from May, trying to get through the core subjects while doing mock interviews and working with career services to be ready for recruiting in September. It was a lot to ask for anybody.

By starting them in January, they have more core courses behind them than any other program does in September. They have time to polish up with careers services folks for interviews. And then when they finish in December, it is just in time for a lot of organizations hiring. We also found many were receiving offers in February but unable to accept because of the May graduation. When they enter the job market in December, new budgets are out and more hiring is happening.

Both the applicant market and job market can see the changes and benefits. The placement numbers for on campus recruiting more than doubled right away. The students were much more prepared and didn’t have as much stress during the recruiting process. I think the quality of the students are the same; it was just before you had six courses and trying to prepare for interviews. Now we have a career service course going on through out the year. They now have time to digest the material in that course. We also have more experiential learning. They are doing consulting and projects with real companies. And they can talk about those experiences in job interviews instead of just theory they learned in class.

There is a new project course where they are giving advice in their teams to a company in real time within the first six months of the program. I run the course and I don’t even know what’s going to happen from day to day. They will come in with problems like their biggest competitor just got bought out and they want to know what they should do. All of that stuff has been helping our students prepare for the job market.

Have you seen changes in what students expect from an MBA education?

Off the top of my head, I think the answer is no. I think there’s some change in terms of specialization. They are looking to be more specialized. But I’m not sure people understand what it really means to be specialized in an area. Mainly they are looking for certain skill sets to move their careers forward. The curriculum, especially in the core courses, is not that different in terms of subject matter.

Students do seem to be looking for nebulous fit more. They are asking, ‘Is this the school where I feel part of the family? And what is the underlying culture of the school?’

Have you noticed any trends in students who apply and then enroll at Queens?

We are unique because we run a team-based program. As soon as they are on campus, we put the teams together and they have to live with that team for six months. The people that enroll, they understand teams make better decisions than individuals and business is run by teams. They learn the soft skills that go with that mindset throughout a career. Those with a more individualistic mindset, they tend to not enroll.

In terms of background, they are all over the place. The MBA was first designed for people who do not come from traditional business degrees in undergrad. Recently, we’ve had a physicist and a magician.

Do you see the MBA market changing in the next five to 10 years?

I have no idea what will happen in the next five to 10 years. That’s too far out. But what we are seeing is more applications and interest coming from non-traditional parts of world. Traditionally we’ve seen applicants coming from the U.S., Canada, Europe, India and China. Now we are seeing more from Africa and South America. As countries on those continents start to move up the line to industrialized economies, we are seeing more interest in management. It has been fascinating to watch applicants come in from those places and Southeast Asia. There is starting to be a shift away from the traditional markets.

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