Inside The Online MBA: Inside The Experience

A global immersion trip in Cuba by Kelley Direct students

Byrne: How important is the diversity of your classmates in those work sessions?

Spenser: It’s huge. I have met the most diverse group of students, and I love it. I think peoples’ backgrounds bring such a richness to the program. Like in my Kelley Connect Week, I was in with someone who was a graphic artist and someone who was a dentist and someone who was ex-military. Those are not people I get to work with every day. In my small groups, I really try to reach people who are different than me. I don’t want somebody who has an undergrad business degree as I do. I want someone who brings a different perspective.

Holt: Absolutely. Having that diversity of groups is incredibly helpful because it doesn’t matter if you’re doing a marketing assignment. You need to figure out how to take an idea all the way through implementation and how you’re going to bring it to market. Having someone with a finance background is going to be much more beneficial to our team than someone who has just taken a finance class. I’d say that one of the negatives of having diversity is timezones. We just need to be cognizant that people on the west coast get off at work at 5 p.m. just like people on the east coast do, but 5 p.m. for them is not 5 p.m. for us. So being okay with doing late night sessions is important.

I’ve had teams that wanted to meet super early in the morning because we had people over in Europe, and that’s just something that we deal with and we try and spread the pain around. It’s the real world. I think that’s just the global economy that we live in today.

Byrne: Exactly. What did you find the most difficult about doing the program so far? Was it balancing your professional and personal life with your education?

Holt: Well, we both have jobs that require significantly more than 40 hours a week already. We’re here because we want to improve ourselves. We want to continue to grow and that means that we already put in the extra effort with the jobs that we have. For me personally, it definitely has been the time commitment. There are some classes that will require 10 to 12 hours of work a week, and there are other classes that require four to five. It really just depends on what you’re learning, what your background in, and how easily you’re able to absorb the information.

Spenser: Every class is different. Some have discussion forums that take a little bit more time to engage in an online discussion. Some have group projects. Some have papers that you need to do. I think it also depends on your professional background so when I took the basic finance course, I’d been in finance for six years, and so I just did the formulas and moved on. It didn’t take a lot of studying time, but then when I took a class that was harder for me like organizational design, that took a lot of time for me to study and remember. I took a lot of notes and watched the videos two to three times to really feel like I had a good understanding.

Byrne: But it’s not an MBA lite.

Holt: There’s nothing easy about it.

Spenser: No, it’s the same content you get in the residential program.

Byrne: One of the features in the Kelley Direct program is the accessibility of one-on-one coaching. Did either of you take advantage of that?

Spenser: Kelley assigned you a career coach that you had the opportunity to reach out to, and I didn’t do it that way because at the time I didn’t want to move careers, but I did leverage the professors as mentors, and so once I found the professors who had worked in the fields that I wanted to work in, I set a time with them and I met one-on-one with them to learn about their careers and their progression. They were really accessible. It really surprised me. Some of the professors would give out their mobile cellphone numbers and say, ‘Just text me when you want to talk.’

Holt: I did take the formal career counseling services. Many people go in with a strong idea of what they’re wanting to get out of it and they can come out successful. I was in a role that I really love, and I love what we as a firm are doing.  What I got out of it most was the realization that I needed to figure out what I wanted to be able to get the feedback that they are so gifted in giving. If I’m wanting to move to the business side, that’s a very specific goal.  I made a strategic decision for myself of where I thought I wanted to go, and they were able to help me through that.

Byrne: Will, how do you reach out to students outside of the classroom? Do you actually have office hours in an online environment?

Geoghagen: Yes. I started with office hours, and ironically, no one was showing up. So I’ve just opened up my Outlook calendar and I’ve segmented time where I’ll make sure that I’m available pretty much for an hour or two every day. I have a rule of thumb that I’ll always make time within 24 hours. I think the expectancy within the student body of Kelley Direct is that they’re very busy people. If they can make 15 minutes, then I should be able to make 15 minutes.

The way in which I’ve connected with students on a more deeper level, whether it’s through sitting in some of their breakout groups in the Zoom session, or the Kelley Connect Week, is very important. I’ve been heavily involved in two Kelley Connect Weeks, and when I got here, I thought that it was the most ludicrous thing in the world. I said, ‘you guys write four case studies a year, four different case studies and we never repeat them. Then I found myself writing a case study just last summer and being heavily involved.

The payoff is huge. The first case study I co-wrote was on the Riley Children’s Hospital, which is the fundraising body for a hospital. To see some of the recommendations getting implemented, and boosting revenue for Riley was something that was really awesome and motivating. During Kelley Connect Week, we work pretty hard. We will work one-on-one with teams every day towards fulfilling the recommendations that can add value to the client. I was also involved in one Agile, the immersive international experience.

Byrne: Brooke, you took a global immersion in India. How was that experience?

Spenser: I knew I had space in my schedule and I wanted to do one of the international immersion courses, and so I looked at places that I thought were interesting markets and working at Wal-Mart, we’ve just invested in India, and so I knew I’d want to know the Indian consumer better and understand the market forces at work there.

The first couple of sessions that Will conducted, we learned about the background of the country, some of the business models that were in place, some of the cultural forces that weigh on everyday business decisions. Ramesh, our dean, went with us to India, so he had amazing business connections and he allowed us to visit some companies, and we had access to their executives. It was great because we were exposed to a broad swath of companies from GE’s research division to

Deloitte Consulting. We saw a startup named Swiggy. We went to an NGO school, so we saw a little bit of everything. I think Ramesh’s underlying push was that he wanted to show us that India is more than just a place you can put call centers, and we definitely walked away knowing that there are some real human capital capabilities there that we as a global company could leverage.

Byrne: Tripp, I know you did the Washington immersion, right? Describe that for us.

Holt: The Washington class was absolutely amazing. The best part about it is with today’s political climate, they took a very divisive situation in DC and on the hill and made it as apolitical as possible. That doesn’t mean that the speakers didn’t voice their own personal agendas. It meant that almost every time there was a liberal speaker, there was a conservative speaker. There’s a lot of things that are working about the government that the media just doesn’t pick up because that’s not gonna sell more papers. So much of what we do in corporate America is influenced by policy and regulation set by the executive branch and the legislative branch of the government, and if you’re not involved with public affairs, if you’re not aware of what’s going on, or maybe you don’t have the budget for that, maybe you’re a small startup firm, how can you get an advocacy group to lobby on your behalf? How does your corporate strategy need to play into how those two branches of government are moving forward?

Byrne: Let’s talk a little bit about the advantages and disadvantages of going online. Obviously, the number one advantage is flexibility, but another big advantage which I’d like both of you to speak to is the fact that you can literally apply some of what you learn in class immediately on the job.

Spenser: Every time I take a strategy course, there’s a piece of it that I have to bring back to work to our strategy group and I have to say, “This is something we could be doing.” In a consulting course I’m taking right now, you learn both how the process works on the consulting side and also from the client side, so for me at Wal-Mart being on the client side, it’s helpful to gain that insight into what consultants are thinking and how the frameworks work and what their ultimate mission is.

We’re studying the history of consulting as an industry and we’re reading about Boston Consulting, BCG, and how they created this growth matrix framework and the evolution of it. As I was reading about it, they’re talking about the pieces of data they used to evolve it and I thought, “I have those.” I have all of those pieces of data from my company in all of my business segments, so why can’t I build a matrix for us and evolve it in the way that they did? So I literally took it to work the next morning and I talked to my team and I said, ‘What do you guys think about this?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ so we’re working on it right now.

Holt: I’ve got two good examples. Right now I’m in a corporate entrepreneurship and innovation class, and the majority of the firms that are in the S&P 500 today won’t be there in 20 years. This is just what history is teaching us over the last 50 years. Firms are not able to innovate as quickly as they need to. As we think about how to be more innovative, what are the structures that we can put in place? What are the changes that we can do culturally to have people actually think about being more innovative at work and what’s the benefit going to be to them? How do you impact change management? How do you actually get to people’s emotions and get them to want to change? Because if they don’t want to change, they’re not going to change even if they know it’s good for them. That’s incredibly impactful just as we’re working through change at work.

The second piece was while I was taking Will’s strategy class. We had a new vice president come in who was asking us to do different things in different ways than anything we had ever done before, and the engineering team was really struggling with how do I go do this when I don’t really know what you’re asking me for and I don’t really understand the why behind what you’re asking us for. I was able to leverage a lot of the things that I was learning in Will’s class to start asking different questions, and the questions I was asking lead to that VP turning around and saying, ‘Will you come to work for me? Because you are asking the questions that nobody else is, and that’s what we’re missing here.’ He’s a visionary. He’s trying to push the vision forward. He needs someone in the middle that can translate that vision into something that the rest of the organization can understand.

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