At Columbia Business School, Up Close & Personal Means C-Suite Access

Columbia Business School MBA candidates Roberta Donzelli and Matt Austin - Ethan Baron photo

Columbia Business School MBA candidates Roberta Donzelli and Matt Austin – Ethan Baron photo

It’s not an ordinary business school class that ends with a Champagne tasting. Then again, it’s not an ordinary B-school class that puts MBA candidates in front of C-suite execs from world-leading companies and a former U.S. treasury secretary, and allows the students to question the decision-making of the high and mighty. But when your school is located at the Epicenter of Almost Everything, out-of-the-ordinary educational and career-development opportunities are all around.

“We have such a breadth of industry – entrepreneurial, technology, luxury brands, health care, you name it, there is something here for everyone,” says Columbia Business School director of strategic curricular networks and partnerships Khalid Azim. “How do we take advantage of that and live up to the academic ideals of our institution?”

The New York City business school’s new immersion seminars provide one answer to that question, Azim says. Starting last spring, the school’s MBA candidates have been able to choose from among a number of courses intended as capstones to a curricular core that equips students with tools for solving business problems. “These immersion classes are our first opportunities to actually take people into industry and allow them to tinker with those tools in a very intellectually interesting way, under the auspices of a professor,” Azim says.


Columbia MBA student Roberta Donzelli had spent four years as a consultant and associate for management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, then come to Columbia to pivot into retail luxury goods. Donnelley, who has a BA in economics and social sciences, and a master’s in science, both from the University Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan, Italy, last spring took the school’s inaugural immersion course in luxury goods, to study company cultures, luxury brands and sectors, and to build up her network of contacts in the industry.

“The luxury companies that we visited were very different,” says Donzelli, 30. “We went from beauty to apparel to Champagne. I managed to understand the different dimensions of luxury.”

Although Donzelli is co-president of the Retail and Luxury Goods Club at Columbia, she notes that the immersion class provided closer access to the industry than that which students can usually offer through club events. “It’s hard even from the club point of view to organize structured and comprehensive visits that give you ability to speak with people from a variety of roles. The school has incredible connections that we as students don’t have,” Donzelli says. “That class gave me an opportunity to talk to the whole spectrum of the luxury industry in New York.”


For companies, the seminars are a chance to meet some Ivy League MBA candidates, many of them ripe for recruiting, and hear their ideas on particular business problems. The students get experiential learning at the hands of practitioners, combined with academic learning from leading faculty. Also, students and company representatives build their networks.

“All the executives were very happy to share contact information with us, for educational purposes, and also for networking,” Donzelli says.

During the luxury immersion, students visited Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, Champagne maker Laurent-Perrier, and other firms. At Tiffany, the students discussed with executives the company’s relaunch of a men’s watch when the company is most well-known for women’s luxury products. “The beauty of this class is it’s like doing a business case, but you have the protagonist of the case in front of you,” Donzelli says. “If you were to do the same case in class, the professor might not be able to answer with the same level of detail.”

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