When the economy collapsed in 2007-2008, during the darkest days of the Great Recession, Mark Taylor found himself in the midst of one of his biggest professional challenges. Then, the manager of a $10 billion hedge fund in London, he had to layoff scores of people due to the financial crisis and eliminate the lucrative bonuses that are common in the world of high finance.
Shakespeare came in handy. At an all-hands meeting, Taylor stood before his surviving staffers and took a cue from Shakespeare’s Henry V, delivering the Agincourt speech, one of the great motivational speeches in English literature.
“Henry and his men are facing overwhelming odds, outnumbered by the French,” recalls Taylor, now dean of Washington University’s Olin School of Business. “It looked as if all was lost, and Henry says all we have to think of is our honor. and we have to think not only about ourselves but about others. That really resonated during the financial crisis. I had to get people to think about how we were managing other people’s money.”
A STRATEGIC REFRESH AT OLIN
Taylor asked pension trustees who were invested in his fund to bring along imminent retirees to engage with his employees. “I wanted some of my staff to meet them face to face so that when they were sitting back at their desks, staring at their screens, the numbers weren’t just figures on a screen but there were names and stories that connected them with people.”
Ten years later, in a much less stressful time, Taylor would stand on a stage dress in black and perform the same speech in front of students, faculty and staff as part of the school’s 100th anniversary in April. At the Olin School, there is no crisis or turnaround to lead, no demoralized employees to manage. But Taylor, a Shakespeare enthusiast who became dean in December of last year, thought it would be an ideal way to celebrate the school’s anniversary with a festival devoted to the Bard.
Taylor is leading what he terms “a strategic refresh and a curriculum review” that could very well result in a new one-year accelerated MBA program, a fuller portfolio of specialized master’s degrees in business, more enhancements to what is already one of the best undergraduate business experiences in the world, and an update to the school’s intimate full-time MBA program that takes in 145 students a year. He has also decided to wind down the school’s executive MBA programs in Kansas City and Denver.
CONSIDERING A ONE-YEAR, ACCELERATED MBA PROGRAM
“We are looking at maintaining and enhancing our research performance that is relevant to business needs,” says Taylor, who arrived in St. Louis after a six-year run as dean of the Warwick Business School at Britain’s University of Warwick. “We are thinking about ways to enhance and improve our undergraduate program. We are thinkng about ways to enhance and restructure our MBA program and introduce new master’s programs for pre-experience students with science and arts backgrounds.”
The big news, of course, would be the consideration of a one-year MBA option, a mainstay of the European business school scene but much less common among prestige U.S. schools. So far, the only big brand schools with one-year MBAs in the U.S. are Northwestern Kellogg, Cornell Johnson, Emory Goizueta, and Notre Dame Mendoza. But Taylor believes an accelerated MBA fits with an increasing desire for greater flexibility among would-be applicants and could allow Olin to compete more directly with higher-ranked schools.
“I think there is an opportunity for thinking about flexibility in the MBA program,” he says. “The MBA has to shift in terms of what it offers,” he says. “If you look at the trend of returns to MBAs, they have been declining while the costs have been increasing. So people are thinking hard about the value proposition of a traditional MBA. The degree isn’t thought of anymore by employers as a screening device. Companies are asking what value does it add?”
CAREER ACCELERATORS VS. CAREER CHANGERS
A one-year MBA offering, much less expensive than a two-year option, is one solution, thinks Taylor. But the shorter timeframe also would allow some students to take another master’s in a specialized area and graduate with two advanced degrees rather than one in the same time it would take to do a traditional MBA program.
“One way of thinking about MBA candidates and students is as career accelerators and career changers. Some students know exactly what career they want to be in and they are already in it. They really want to accelerate their career, get the human capital that an MBA imparts, perhaps increase their network of contacts, and do the MBA as fast as possible. Career changers would rather take a couple of years to see a business education in the ground and perhaps do one or more internships and really ponder about which way they want to take their career. We have to cater to both of those audiences here.”
To Taylor, it’s less about offering a shorter and a longer version of the full-time MBA program but more about providing the flexiblity to customize the learning to an individual’s needs and wants. “If you want to do the 12-month MBA perhaps you can use the second year to get some applied experience in an extended internship in a company with a data-rich environment and then some online learning that could provide a second master’s degree in data analytics,” he adds. “So after your two years you could have a lot of experience, an MBA and a master’s in data analytics. I think that would be very attractive to some people.”