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Olin Bets Big On Global Experience In An MBA Revamp

A relaunch of the MBA program at Washington University’s Olin Business School is announced

When Washington University’s Olin Business School recruited Dean Mark Taylor from the United Kingdom two years ago, everyone expected the school’s MBA program to take a major international turn.

Today (Sept. 4), after nearly a year and one-half of study, Olin announced sweeping changes to its MBA program, including an earlier program start date in June that will allow for a unique six-week global immersion for incoming students. “We aim to be the most international program in the world,” says Taylor. “Our outstanding faculty has really gotten behind this new program. I am absolutely certain it will be like nothing else in the world in terms of its quality and global reach. It involves innovation across all our programs.”

After a brief orientation at Olin’s St. Louis campus, students will then fly to Washington, D.C., and the Brookings Institution, the well-known public policy think-tank, and then to Barcelona for 14 days and Shanghai for 17 days. “That will become something of a boot camp for the MBA students,” adds Taylor. “They will work together and travel together and the international students in the cohort will naturally show their colleagues around in other parts of the world. In that time it will be more than academic tourism. It will be a chance to begin to understand doing business in Europe and Asia.”

OLIN WILL ALSO OFFER THE OPTION OF GETTING AN MBA IN AS LITTLE AS 14 MONTHS

Mark Taylor, Washington University (Olin)

Olin faculty will travel with the students to each of the three locales. Olin plans to partner with schools in Spain and China for classroom space and student accommodations. What’s more, the cost of accommodation and travel for students will be included in the program’s tuition and fees so that students will not have to pay additional charges for the experience. Currently, tuition and fees for Olin’s full-time MBA program come to $121,920.

While the international immersion is the single biggest change to the MBA program at Olin, it’s hardly the only alteration in what the school is billing a “relaunch of the MBA program.” Olin also is offering far more flexibility to prospective admits, allowing full-time students to complete the degree in as little as 14 months, or two years if a student would prefer a summer internship to make a career transition easier. An MBA student could also choose to get a dual degree, including a specialized master’s in global leadership or data analytics, in 18 to 26 months.

The changes, partially the result of a study by The Boston Consulting Group, are being put into effect for the class that enters next year. Olin’s MBA offering, ranked 28th in the U.S. by Poets&Quants, last year enrolled a class of 145 full-time students and received 1,175 applications. The revamp follows substantial organizational changes made by Dean Taylor, including the investment of more resources in both the school’s career management center and graduate support. Olin increased the staff of its career center by more than a third to 30 full-time equivalent staffers from 22, with corporate relationship staffers on the east and west coasts as well as Shanghai for the first time.

‘PROSPECTIVE MBA STUDENTS ARE SEARCHING FOR VALUE FOR MONEY’

“It’s no secret that the MBA market is a challenging one globally and we want to make sure we are positioned to remain among the leaders,” explains Taylor in an interview with Poets&Quants. “Prospective MBA students are searching for value for money. You are not just buying an MBA as a way to get you the next job. You have to really think about what you want. Some students will like the flexbility we now offer. We did a lot of market reserach and some people want to do an MBA in a condensed period because they know they want to stay in the same industry or company so their opportunity costs are minimized in the shorter 14-month program. For others who want to change their careers, they may want a two-year program which gives them time for deeper reflection and an internship.”

The recruitment of Taylor to become dean of Olin in December of 2016 was something of a harbinger of the change. Taylor, who had been dean of Warwick Business School in the United Kingdom, has a more global perspective by virtue of his background. He has taught finance in both the U.K. and France, worked in London for BlackRock and in Washington, D.C., for the International Monetary Fund. The global immersion he is making mandatory is an exceptionally bold move for an MBA program, particularly because it will engage students in consulting assignments and projects before they have even taken their core curriculum.

Many business schools, of course, have global immersions but they are often voluntary. And when they are a required part of the curriculum, they are more often than not no more than 10 days long. Olin’s global immersion is three times as long and also includes prep work on international business at the Brookings Institution. Harvard Business School’s global immersion called FIELD, for example, is all of eight days long and occurs before MBA students enter their second year of instruction. UVA Darden, which recently landed a gift to pay for its global immersions, boasts a portfolio of international journeys that generally last eight days each.

‘IT’S NOT JUST ACADEMIC TOURISM AND COMPANY VISITS’

“It’s not just academic tourism and company visits,” says Taylor of the time students will be in Europe and Asia. “They will do projects for organizations and small groups so there will be an experiential component of this as well. We are making this a key and integral part of the program.”

BCG’s involvement in the project occurred as a result of a dinner meeting in New York between Dean Taylor and an Olin alum, Sandeep Chugani, a senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group. Chugani, who has an MBA from Olin and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Washington University, has two daughters who are undergraduate students at the university. “He and I were having dinner in New York City and we were talking about ways to improve our career center,” recalls Taylor. “Once I heard his thoughts, I invited him to come to do that.”

Initially, Chugani managed the review of the business school’s graduate support and career center operations that led to increased investments in those areas. Then, he led the BCG team that did the study leading to the relaunch of Olin’s MBA. Taylor says feedback was sought from both alumni and corporate employers and BCG also did benchmarking of other business schools. The dean adds that BCG “did a fantastic job to help us on this as well,” even crediting the consulting firm with “co-designing” the new MBA program.

CHANGES ALSO IMPACT OTHER OLIN PROGRAMS

The changes impact other business programs at Olin as well. The school will be expanding global opportunities for all students: coursework, practicums, internships, travel experiences, exposure to businesses and leaders abroad, and so on. The school also is adding a new joint degree in Business and Computer Science, a collaboration between Olin and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a new minor in the Business of Arts, a similar effort combining Olin and Arts & Sciences.

“We have been thinking hard about this ever since I became dean at the end of 2016,” adds Taylor. “We spoke to a range of stakeholders to formulate a strategic plan. We gathered feedback from alumni and employers, and we changed the program to fit that. after they did the career center work.”