Ten years ago, the late USC Marshall School professor Warren Bennis and James O’Toole, now a senior fellow in business ethics at Marshall, tore a strip off U.S. business schools for their heavy focus on faculty research. Bennis and O’Toole didn’t mince words.
“Employers are noticing that freshly minted MBAs, even those from the best schools—in some cases, especially those from the best schools—lack skills their organizations need,” they wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “At first, employers were confused about the source of this problem, but they seem to be realizing that the people who taught their new hires had spent little time in organizations as managers or consultants and that younger faculty members may not even know many businesspeople.
“At many schools, the road to tenure does not run through field work in businesses. Today it is possible to find tenured professors of management who have never set foot inside a real business, except as customers.”
Clearly, buying a Chinese-made wading pool at Wal-Mart while on a break from a serious research initiative does not qualify a person to teach supply chain management in an MBA program. Yet, at business schools, research is vital, both for building collective knowledge in the business world, and for advancing business education by contributing new knowledge and ideas.
BRINGING IN THE RINGERS
So what’s a B-school to do when many teachers lack real-world experience in business? Increasingly, they’re bringing in ringers: experienced professionals – often alumni – who can provide to students what many professors cannot. This executives-in-residence solution is not new. Columbia Business School was among the first to create such a program, some 40 years ago – and this year brought on former Deloitte CEO Barry Salzberg to run it, and expand it. “Business school in particular is trying to connect theory with practice, and more and more the students are seeking that out and wanting to have that kind of practical experience,” Salzberg says. “One of the advantages of the executives-in-residence program is that it accomplishes that pretty directly.”
The University of Chicago Booth School launched an execs-in-residence program in 2009. Northwestern’s Kellogg School unveiled one in 2012.
Such programs vary in format. Some are based on small-group sessions. In others, execs deliver most of their knowledge via one-on-one coaching. Some execs-in-residence give lectures, seminars, or workshops. What unites all such programs is their purpose of filling a gap by putting successful businesspeople, and not just academics, in front of students.
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