The Most Interesting New MBA Courses At B-Schools This Year

Class is in session at Harvard Business School and all the rest of the top 25 schools, where nearly 180 new courses are on offer to MBA students this fall, winter, and spring. File photo

What a time to be in B-school. Professors at the top 25 full-time MBA programs in the United States have crafted a fascinating slate of new offerings for the fall, winter, and spring — 182 new courses in all, in marketing, finance, operations, analytics, entrepreneurship, and much more. The range of subjects and the promise of robust debate are striking, making it a fun exercise to peruse the course summaries and imagine how the school year — now in its opening weeks — will unfold.

At Harvard Business School, Alison Wood Brooks will help students learn How to Talk Gooder in Business and Life, making a departure from the case method to focus on improvement in everything “from pitching ideas to giving feedback, brainstorming and making strategic decisions, from interviewing to firing.” At Stanford Graduate School of Business, Steve Westly will guide a discussion of The Policy, Politics, and Economics for Solving Global Warming, exploring “how the next generation of leaders can use a combination of forward-looking public policy, political power, and financing new technologies to solve this vexing challenge.” It is one of a few cases across the country where B-schools are tackling what many in business and graduate management education consider the most important issue of our time; NYU Stern‘s Climate Science: Realities & Risks of a Changing Climate, taught by Steve Koonin, is another. And at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where the school is touting a suite of new leadership courses focused on the individual student’s development as a leader, Alyssa Rapp is leading a new course titled Women As Entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists, and Private Equity Executives, examining the rarefied world of VC/PE “from the fresh and contemporary lens and perspective of women.” The course’s goal? To provide “candid insight and purview into the personal and professional lives of leading women entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and private equity executives, what has helped catapult or has hampered their ability to lead organizations worldwide.”

Further down the rankings, the new MBA courses don’t get any less interesting. The lone new course at USC’s Marshall School of Business is one of five new AI-focused courses, Artificial Intelligence for Business, taught by Yingying Fan. It examines how AI and deep learning technologies “have been used in almost every aspect of all kinds of businesses, for example, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Uber, and many more,” and how the effects of AI and deep learning “will be even further magnified in the near future, as manufacturing, retailing, transportation, health care, entertainment, education, and virtually every other industry are transforming their core processes and business models to take advantage of them.” It’s a theme that has been picked up at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, where “Artificial Intelligence in Business,” taught by Alex Lopes, aims to prepare students to create organizational solutions involving AI; and “Business Applications of Machine Learning,” taught by Owen Wu, emphasizes the application of various machine learning techniques for managerial decision making.

NEW TWISTS ON ‘AI’ AND OTHER FAMILIAR SUBJECTS 

Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks will teach How to Talk Gooder in Business and Life, about the ability to interact with others in a wide array of everyday conversations. Harvard Magazine photo

The last time we published this story, in the fall of 2017, 21 of the top 25 schools offered 132 new MBA courses. Then as now, the offerings were intriguing and even groundbreaking. Analytics, at the time still the brand-new darling of business education, was the foundation for 18 courses, while “new economy” subjects —  fintech, disruption, e-commerce, innovation, and others — accounted for 15. Fintech itself was the subject of six courses, ranging from Columbia Business School’s primer on “idea validation, lean user research, iterative and rapid prototyping, and user testing” to Cornell Johnson’s spring intensive of four courses. Elsewhere, 14 courses were dedicated to some element of leadership, while nine had a global element. In a drop-off from 2016, when it was the subject of 19 new courses, there were only 11 new marketing courses at the leading schools in 2017.

Twelve courses in 2017 were devoted to some aspect or other of the startup world — the same number given to social responsibility/impact investment, considered another rising star in the biz ed universe. Disciplines with healthy representation in the newest courses of that year included strategy, with seven courses, and healthcare, with six.

In 2019, all of the top 25 schools responded to Poets&Quants‘ request for new course data. Altogether they have 182 new courses this year. It’s instructive to break them down into disciplines and subjects.

Let’s look first at tech. How many new courses have “data” in the title? Eight, including Nancy Qian’s Managing Decisions with Big Data at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Michael Antonoff’s Creating the Data-Driven Business at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. How many courses cover “analytics”? Twelve, including Matthew Bidwell’s People Analytics at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Lindsey Leininger’s Health Care Analytics and Society at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

AI seems to be a more popular course subject this year, with five courses explicitly focused on it, including Kathryn Shaw’s The Impact of AI on Productivity and Personal Performance at Stanford GSB and AI Strategy and Applications by Cornell Johnson’s Soumitra Dutta. Similarly, there are four courses that tackle machine learning, including one by Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business’ Zachary Chase Lipton. And there is one course that has both AI and machine learning in the title: Machine Learning and AI by Todd Holloway at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP OFFERINGS REMAIN POPULAR

Chicago Booth’s Mary Ittelson. Courtesy photo

“Leadership” is always a strong presence in B-school curricula, but as always, there’s nothing familiar about how B-schools are examining the subject. There are nine leadership courses this year, including James Hackett’s Moral Leadership in Economic Entrepreneurship at Rice Jones and Mary Ittelson’s Arts Leadership: Best Practices and Radical Strategies in Nonprofit Arts Organizations at Chicago Booth. In the latter course, Ittelson argues that “successful strategies of the past are no longer sufficient” and that much is to be learned from not-for-profit arts institutions, many of which “are burdened by unsustainable financial structures, outmoded managerial practices and the responsibility to serve larger, more demanding, and diverse audiences.”

As important as B-schools say diversity is to their MBA programs, only one course out of 179 explicitly addresses the topic: Stephanie Murphy’s Managing a Diverse Workforce at the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business. How about “equity” (not the private kind)? Also just one course: Ella Bell’s Reconceiving Representation: Gender Equity in Management and Society at Dartmouth Tuck.

There are eight courses with entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial in their name, including Foundations of Entrepreneurship by Damon Phillips at Columbia Business School; Bay Area Innovation and Entrepreneurship by Sara Beckman of UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; and Entrepreneurial Failure by Harvard’s Tom Eisenmann. The latter course points out that “about three-quarters of venture capital investments do not earn a positive return” and explores “why startups fail; what entrepreneurs can do to avoid failure; and if they do fail, what founders can do to ‘fail well’ — in ways that leave their relationships and integrity intact, facilitate learning from the experience, and position them for their next career move.” Overall, 12 new courses were classified under an entrepreneurship discipline.

How many courses in each of the other disciplines? The biggest is management, with 22 courses in either Management, General Management, or Management & Organizations; followed by 21 that are some form of “Operations”; 20 in Marketing, 20 in Strategy or Strategic Management, 18 in Finance, 12 in Organizational Behavior, and 10 that are some form of “Tech”. Interestingly, there are only four new courses in Accounting, six in Economics, and three in Real Estate.

NINE SCHOOLS WITH AT LEAST 10 NEW COURSES IN 2019

In 2017, the school with the most new courses overall was Chicago Booth with 18. Among the most prolific schools with 10 or more new offerings each were USC Marshall (15), Stanford (12), and Northwestern Kellogg (11). Two years later, the knowledge wealth is spread much more evenly, with nine schools boasting at least 10 new courses. Harvard and Dartmouth Tuck lead all with 13 new courses each, followed by Columbia and Rice’s 12 courses, 11 at Texas McCombs, and 10 at each of five schools: Michigan Ross, Yale SOM, NYU Stern, Chicago Booth, and Stanford.

In addition to three project-based courses that allow students to work on real business challenges under faculty guidance, Stanford also has one of the biggest celebrity courses on offer this year. Building Strategic Competence: Observations from Battlegrounds Overseas and in Washington, D.C., will be taught by H.R. McMaster, former three-star general and assistant to President Trump for national security affairs. The course “addresses the issues faced in assuming executive responsibility, developing clear visions and missions, understanding complex problem sets, building teams, and developing strategies to overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities.” Political journalists may want to eavesdrop on the off chance that McMaster breaks the silence he has kept about the workings of the Trump White House since leaving it in April 2018.

But the fascinating subject matter doesn’t end there. At Wharton, MBA students can take a pair of real estate courses that promise to disrupt students’ conceptions of the field: Real Estate Disruptions by Gilles Duranton, which examines how “technology is changing in many facets (all) of the industry” and addresses how it “has already changed the demand for real estate, how it will likely change in the future the way real estate is used, designed, developed, constructed, managed, leased, maintained and financed”; and Global Real Estate: Risk, Politics and Culture by Michael Wong, an introductory course that focuses on “the basics of valuation and risk management, emphasizing concepts that are salient in the global context, including political risk, currency risk, property rights, and culture.” And at Harvard, Deepak Malhotra will lead a course called War & Peace: The Lessons of History for Leadership, Strategy & Humanity, which examines and debates “the lessons of over 2,500 years of history in which human beings have sought to avert, instigate, wage, win & end wars.” The course is designed with a single primary objective: “to take the long history of war and peace and weave it together in a way that fundamentally challenges and changes our understanding of the human condition — as well as our approach to leadership, strategy, negotiation and policy.”

See the next pages for a complete list of the 182 new courses at the top 25 U.S. business schools, as well as some highlighted courses at select schools.

DON’T MISS ALL THE NEW FACULTY AT THE TOP 25 SCHOOLS and APPS TO MAJOR U.S. PROGRAMS PLUNGE AGAIN