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

Columbia Business School director of strategic networks and partnerships Khalid Azim - Ethan Baron photo

Columbia Business School director of strategic curricular networks and partnerships Khalid Azim – Ethan Baron photo

The immersion seminars are intended to link Columbia’s intellectual capital with industry practitioners, Azim says. “The professors here are incredibly talented and thoughtful and thought provoking,” Azim says. “My role is to connect those two elements together in a way that informs how we think about our curriculum, our classes. These immersion classes are a manifestation of that vision.

“All these classes are built around academic content. This is not corporate tourism. (These classes are) about teaching, and allowing students to look at a future of an industry and get some insights into that.”

As the students get high-level access to major companies, those companies are getting a chance to look over the soon-to-be MBAs. “It is a career showcase,” Azim says. “Employers want access to our students. Our students want an opportunity to see if they want to pursue a career in luxury brands, or something like that. It gives them a test run.”


The six inaugural seminars were in luxury brands, data analytics, financial services, management consulting, entrepreneurship, tech disruption (which included a trip to Google in New York City), and brand cultures. On the calendar for spring semester 2016 are seminars in most of those areas, plus more: media and media tech, activist investing, branding in the arts, leadership, and internet innovation,

During the luxury brands course last spring, when students visited Laurent-Perrier, the company was in the process of ramping up its presence in the U.S., where it had not been a major Champagne player. “The distribution channels which are part of the sales of Champagne and alcohol into this market are very convoluted. There are state regulations, there are federal regulations. You can’t just go directly and sell your champagne,” Azim says. “We sat down with the president of Laurent-Perrier and asked how they plan to do that.”

According to the seminars’ structure, the students had, in advance of the visit, gathered public information on the company, studied the industry it operates in, examined distribution channels and challenges. When the students sat down with the company’s president, she talked extensively about the company’s brand-building operations over the past decade. She discussed profit and overhead and the U.S. expansion. “It was a relevant academic business problem,” Azim says. “It allowed our students to roll up their sleeves and use their minds and test their tools.” The MBA candidates gave presentations on how Laurent-Perrier could build its U.S presence. “I have to say our students did a really bang-up job,” Azim says. “That’s not something you can get on a piece of paper in the class, or in a case. That’s the kind of experience you really get in that kind of setting: very intimate and very personal. We actually ended that class with a Champagne tasting.”


In addition to providing networking opportunities for students, the courses broaden and deepen the school’s contacts with industry, helpful for writing cases, providing research opportunities, and “making other connections for other classes,” Azim says. “The very act of creating one of these classes is a relationship-building exercise. It’s not kind of a one-on-one binary type of engagement. It is opening avenues for other types of opportunities for intellectual discourse between ourselves and others in industry.”

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