1-On-1 With Notre Dame’s Martijn Cremers

Students from the Notre Dame Mendoza Business on the Frontlines class travel around the world to examine the impact of business in societies affected by extreme poverty and conflict. Mendoza photo

What might “business as a force for good” look like at Mendoza?

One example of what this would look like: one of the best things that I think we do in our MBA program is a 6-credit course called Business on the Frontlines. I think it’s exemplary of our vision to uphold these three broad trends. It’s a course where students serve as consultants to partners who are mostly nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations all over the world. So our students go to Guatemala, Columbia, Tunisia, Egypt. Over the 11 years that this program has run, we’ve been to many different countries around the world, but we work with those partners to serve people in need and to come up with sustainable business ideas to help vulnerable populations on the frontlines.

The essential part of this is a two-week immersion experience where our students live with people that they are trying to serve. It’s a consulting class based on rigorous analysis, analytics, data problem solving, and it’s also experiential, very team-based, very collaborative. Those teams are five to six students with the faculty and alumni assistance. And it’s about business, of course, for good — actually serving people. It requires decision making in situations that are very ambiguous, complicated, complex. Our students have not been in situations where there’s that level of challenge. We’ve typically had about 25 students in the past 11 years, so this is one of our most popular classes.

It’s somewhat difficult to get in, and our students are extremely enthusiastic about this course. The alumni are people who have gone through this course, and this is also amazing — they keep in touch, they stay involved, they help out in many different ways. We have an amazing, fantastic alumni community.

What I’ve been proposing is to make this Frontlines course an integral part of the program. Make it a differentiator, if you like — make it an essential part of the Notre Dame MBA. And that means giving many more students access to this course. So next year we’re going from 25 to 50. So I think the Frontlines as a differentiator will be making something that is very special. It is one of the best things that we do. I want to see if we can make it kind of an integral part of earning an MBA here.

I would like to get your thoughts about the overall health of your MBA program, and then if you wouldn’t mind, your comments on the health of MBAs in general. There’s a lot of talk, as I’m sure you’re aware, about the difficulties faced by these programs particularly in the second tier of U.S. programs, and I’m wondering what you think about that.

Martijn Cremers. Mendoza photo

For us, we have a small program and I think our main challenge is about making sure that we are distinctive enough in terms of mission and offerings. But also, we are small and we can’t compete against the biggest schools. So I’m hoping that by reinventing our MBA and making it more distinctive, using the Frontlines course as a prime example, at least we’re committing as a school to that.

And then we need to reinvest as well. This year we’ve been trying to spend more time in trying to tell our story better, and so far the level of increase of applications for our MBA program this year looks better than the last couple of years. We are up in applications and I am definitely hopeful about our prospects. It’s a very competitive, challenging environment.

It’s about being distinctive, innovating, offering prospective students a very compelling value proposition. We’re doing very well in the graduate program.

There are really three different things that are related that I’m thinking about. My goal is: elevate, cooperate, and integrate.

For elevate, we would like to offer more courses that challenge students more. With cooperate, it’s cooperating with the departments and also cooperating with the other colleges on campus. That means cooperating with our other colleges but it also means basic classroom environment. To get more non-business majors taking classes and more advanced electives for non-business majors. And then finally integration, which is trying to integrate computer science with business, for example, or teaching the history of business. And again also integrating the data and analytics within all of the disciplines: consultancy analytics, marketing analytics. Often these three things are combined, we started, for example, a minor in business marketing which quickly has become popular. We started a new minor in real estate, a minor in innovation available to all Notre Dame students.


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