How Ohio State Is Reinventing The MBA

Fisher College of Business Dean Anil K. Makhija challenged the redesign committee to be bold


It was tempting, for example, for the committee to examine a more integrated approach to teaching the business basics, similar to the MBA curriculum at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business or Yale University’s School of Management. Instead of teaching core courses in disciplines, the committee explored the notion of teaching more theme-based modules in such fields as markets and environments, processes and execution, and products and consumers. “But we shied away from an integrated core because other schools that do it say it is really hard,” says Dial. “We have put things aside in the too-hard pile in the interests of doing things we are more certain will work.”

Instead, the group is exploring teaching the functional basics in the first year semester, Monday through Thursday and then to have an integrated, team-taught session on Friday as a prelude to the big experiential learning project in the second semester. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we become the best small MBA program in the world?,'” adds Dial. “It can’t be small merely because it just turns out that way. It has to be a benefit to students.”

That led to one big insight. Keeping the full-time MBA programt small meant the faculty could design a curriculum that would be even more personal and customized. The notion of having a trio of coaches from start to finish resonated, along with early leadership assessments that identified skill and talent gaps. “It’s extremely customized to a student’s development as a leader,” says Matta. “The group of three will help them participate in customized workshops and projects that fill existing gaps in their skills. It plays to our strength as an intimate program and the personalized nature of the experience.”


As Zinn puts it, “A student might get advice from a corporate coach but may not know hot to translate that into a set of courses and experiences to implement that advice. Having coaches and mentors from different worlds who steer you in the right direction can make a big difference.”

The corporate recruiters with whom Fisher has consulted agree. ““Companies that have brainstormed with us on these proposed ideas have strongly affirmed the emphasis on all-round development and business immersion, and are looking forward to sustained engagement with Fisher,” says Matta.

All this would start, according to the proposals, in a ‘launch phase’ just after a candidate gets a clear admit. “You would get an assessment based on multiple techniques,” says Matta. “You might spend a day at Amazon, get polished for eventual interviews, develop your elevator pitch, and we would then match you up with your three coaches and mentor. We will assign coaches to students based on their real needs. The way it would work is that someone who accepts an admit in March would take a battery of assessment tests. The coaches and mentor would then be assigned based on the results. They would get connected before students even show up on campus.”

The immersions would be the result of deep engagement with corporate sponsors. “You build the agility and the polish in people through all of these steps. It is less a clear individual goal. It is more a clear path toward problem solving. We know we can train you well in finance or supply chain management. But we also need to put more emphasis on problem-solving than that.”


Fisher wants to insure that the experiential learning with corporate partners is real and meaningful. “We want students to have the freedom to struggle and fail,” says Mona Makhija, a management professor and another member of the redesign committee. “This should not be a class project. A deeper immersion experience provides the freedom to fail and learn.”

“You can’t learn leadership from books,” maintains Tim Judge, another management professor who focuses leadership at Fisher. “It has to be experiential. Leadership is something you have to practice and experience.”

Among the ideas still being floated for the second year is to more deeply involve second-year MBA students in mentoring of first years and to link to other departments or schools in the wider university. “The university has lots of strong departments,” says Matta. “I can find an expert on nearly every major social challenge confronting the world, from climate change to inequality. So we are thinking of the idea to have a series which will address the big societal challenges of our time. We want our MBA program to reflect the big concerns and needs of society. It could take the form of a thought leadership seminar, a capstone before students graduate with their MBAs. Before they graduate, we want to inspire them for their lifetime.”

Ultimately, adds Dial, “It’s not about being better. It’s about being different. How do we create something that is distinctive and meaningful?”

Indeed. While it’s still not clear how far the faculty will go, the school is clearly on the way.

Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business