Everyone has an opinion — especially when it comes to being in charge.
MBAs are no different. Since arriving on campus, they’ve studied and practiced leadership. In cases, they’ve weighed alternatives and tradeoffs. Every day, they’ve been trained to identify gaps and opportunities, to imagine, question, test, and contrast. In other words, they’ve honed the perfect skill set to evaluate their MBA experience — and improve upon it.
How much improvement? You won’t find MBAs amassing outside the dean’s office with pitchforks and torches. In Poets&Quants’ survey to “Best & Brightest” MBAs from the Class of 2017, respondents gave their alma maters a 9.16 score (with 10 being the highest mark). Not exactly a mandate to ransack — let alone reform — graduate business education.
That’s not to say MBAs aren’t looking to add new wrinkles to their programs. As part of the Best & Brightest nomination process, selected students were asked this question: “If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience?”After socking 12 to 21 months into their education, not to mention shouldering an average debt of $39,000, the Best & Brightest were happy to share how business schools could raise the bar.
BRINGING DEGREE PROGRAMS AND REGIONAL PLAYERS TOGETHER
Several students cited the need to connect outside class. This common theme was expressed in several different ways. Arizona State’s John Masline, for example, hoped to boost the number of classes that included both first- and second -ear students. To solve that, he suggests a required cross-departmental course that would mix these students, which are, in his opinion, in very places in their education and careers. “It can feel like we are in two separate programs,” he admits. “[It] would provide a great opportunity for cross-class learning and networking.”
In student government, Boston University’s Antonio Jimenez had the chance to interact with several part-time MBAs. In his experience, full-time MBAs are missing a huge opportunity by being separated from such students. “I would make an effort to redesign social events in a way that allows people from other programs to know each other more,” he shares. “One of the most important aspects of coming to business school is to expand your network and it makes no sense that full-time MBAs share so few with part-time MBAs or other graduate programs.”
Across town, Boston College’s Katie Philippi would take it a step further by pooling resources with other MBA programs in the region like Babson and Northeastern. “As a smaller MBA program, it is often difficult for us to fill events or attract larger companies to come to campus for only a few interested students,” she explains. “It would be great to partner with other programs to leverage each other’s resources, connections and collective size. We could collaborate for speaker events, networking, case competitions and company visits.”
The University of Toronto’s David St. Bernard takes a different tact to fostering a stronger community. As dean, St. Bernard would devote greater effort to better diversifying the classes and increasing mentorship to women and minorities in the program. “The business sector needs more diverse perspectives to be as innovative as possible to respond to the changing and diversifying needs of our increasingly interconnected world,” he points out.
DON’T FORGET THE LITTLE GUY
This theme carries over into the classroom too. At IMD, Andrea Michahelles Barreno would seek to increase the number of female students and speakers. In contrast, Washington University’s Markey Culver would push for more cases and discussions that address international and female-focused topics. Kevin Boldt subscribes to this global approach as well. However, the Georgia Tech grad would tackle the issue by purchasing an airline ticket voucher, good for one international trip, for every student.
The idea stems from absorbing Japanese culture during an international practicum with UPS. For Boldt, the benefits extend far beyond experiencing the global nature of business. “A common business school response in the classroom is “it depends,” he notes. “The opportunity for every student to spread his or her wings and to be exposed to the cultural nuances and business dynamics of a particular locale provides the context for students to see some of the factors that lead to the success or failure of strategy execution.”
MBAs need not trek overseas to gain an appreciation for where strategy flourishes or flounders. At the London Business School, Alana Digby gained similar insights from shadowing the same people who’ll ultimately be carrying out strategy. She would encourage fellow MBAs to do the same. “I would set up a programme for MBA students to spend a day working in retail, in a factory, shadowing a train driver, following a nurse or some role that we might never otherwise experience,” she offers. “As MBA students, we spend a lot of time aspiring to management roles, but equally we need to keep ourselves grounded and stay close to the experience of the people at the coal face of the organisations we lead.”
At the same time, Yale’s Katy Mixter would leverage the work experience of classmates from the get-go of every class if she were dean. “I would have each professor in the first year core begin the day by asking, “Has anyone in this class applied the concept that we are going to talk about today in their former job?” I think this conversation would be incredibly helpful for students who have no context for a new concept and do a great job of highlighting the practical expertise in the room.”
TREATING ENTREPRENEURSHIP AS A CORNERSTONE
Moving into the overall curriculum, several Best & Brightest graduates listed entrepreneurship as an area for adjustment. Northwestern’s Jared Scharen suggests tacking an introductory entrepreneurship course onto the core curriculum, particularly since most of his classmates planned to start their own companies someday. “Even if you don’t end up starting a business in your life, understanding the process is crucial to being innovative in any type of job,” he adds. “The whole idea of understanding the customer and testing to deliver a solution to a customer’s problem is fundamental to the success of any business.”
At the University of Michigan, Holly Price served as the Co-President of the Entrepreneur & Venture Club. Although she will start out at McKinsey, she credits her entrepreneurial background to being central to her career growth. “I think that all students, regardless of their career goals, would become more empowered managers, more innovative thinkers, and maybe even more empathetic problem solvers if they went through the motions of launching a business.” Like Price, Cornell’s Ziad Jarjouhi, who ran his PureSpinach startup during school, believes students should either launch or join a startup during school. “From my experience, there has been no better opportunity to implement what is being taught in classes than to apply it to a startup.