Washington University at St. Louis Olin Business School made one major change to its MBA program — but it was so radical, and so popular, that the move earned Washington Olin 2019 Poets&Quants Program of the Year honors. At the heart of the reimagined Olin MBA is a required global immersion that takes the entire class of newly arrived students on a 38-day, round-the-world learning experience to Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Spain, and Shanghai, China. To pull it off, the school required some faculty and all the students to show up for the program a semester early in late June. What’s more, Olin did not increase its MBA tuition to pay for the immersion or the extra semester. Instead, the school ate all the costs, flying students to the three locales, putting them up in hotels, feeding them, and arranging meaningful coursework, assignments and projects in each location.
Olin’s global immersion comes at the very start before the core courses are taught, setting the tone for the program and providing immediate insights into how business is done across different cultures, countries, and economies. “They are on the road for eight weeks, 24-7, traveling together and working together on tough deadlines,” Olin Dean Mark Taylor told P&Q earlier this year. “The dynamics of the group change. At some point, everyone is in a foreign country and that changes the leadership dynamics of the group. In China, the Chinese became the leaders and then it turned back when we came back to the U.S.”
Washington Olin’s huge overhaul will obviously be curtailed by coronavirus in 2020; but expect the experiential odyssey to return as soon as the pandemic ends. And watch for other B-schools to imitate the Olin model.
If you want to have a truly unusual global MBA experience, the Asia School of Business is a sure bet. The school, a partnership between MIT Sloan and Bank Negara Malaysia, the country’s central bank, can rightly claim to have one of the most innovative MBA programs in the world today — as it has since its creation six years ago.
The architect of this program is MIT Professor Charles Fine, who was asked to lead the creation of Asia School of Business in 2014. As president and dean of the school, Fine was able to build a new and highly creative program from scratch, with no academic legacy or bureaucratic politics. “We felt that action learning, clinical work, and interaction with companies was central to where business education was going,” Fine told P&Q in 2019.
“And the Sloan School does a lot of action learning projects. But by being able to take a clean sheet of paper, we were able to design a curriculum around action learning right from the start. So we built our curriculum around MIT courses and projects with companies in Southeast Asia every semester.”
Roughly a third of the 20-month MBA curriculum at the Asia School of Business is comprised of required experiential learning. Every MBA candidate has four team-based projects, one each semester, plus an individual project in the summer. That’s five major projects in five different countries with five different companies. Meanwhile, most of the fundamental coursework in such business basics as accounting, finance, and marketing is done in intense one- or two-week modules to make it easier for visiting MIT professors to fly into Malaysia, teach, and then return to the U.S. And the emphasis on project learning — together with a six-week trip to the U.S. — has meant there is no room for electives at all. In ten years, Fine said in 2019, the Asia School of Business will be a vibrant intellectual community turning out exceptional global business leaders for the region on a regular basis.
“I hope it will be a vibrant center of business thinking,” he said. “To some extent, we are attracting students who want to do good in the world. I hope we build a reputation for having students who want to do something better for the world.”
Another P&Q Program of the Year makes an appearance on this list (and a third will show up presently), as the one-year MBA at Cornell Tech, honored in 2017, joins the one-year Andre Koo Technology and Entrepreneurship MBA at NYU Stern School of Business. Business schools all over the world have been innovating new ways to teach business skills to young professionals, modernizing traditional MBA programs, and launching new, more specialized degrees in such fields as data analytics and chain supply management — but Cornell Tech’s unique approach, the creativity of its curriculum, and the devotion of faculty and staff stood out, earning the degree P&Q‘s first annual program award.
Cornell Tech’s MBA program, based on the school’s Roosevelt Island campus in New York City, was creatively designed to deliver on what the blooming tech industry sorely needs: ambitious and intelligent young professionals adept in product management skills. It is a program of and for the digital economy, where technology is transforming every facet of how the world lives, works and plays. No student leaves this MBA program without a highly valuable toolkit in turning ideas into real product and services, a core MBA function in many of the world’s leading tech companies from Amazon and Apple to Google and Microsoft.
Stern’s Andre Koo MBA, meanwhile, like Cornell’s program and a handful of others (more are sure to follow), is a reflection of the widely shared belief that two years is too long to be out of the workforce, and that B-school curricula needed major modernization. “People are less willing to take two years off,” Raghu Sundaram, NYU Stern dean, told P&Q last year. “They worry what they could lose in two years in a tight labor market. So I think that is one factor that is undoubtedly leading to a decline in applications in the last two years. The second is the international factor. It’s not only a fact that we have regrettably become more hostile to foreign talent; it’s also that other countries have now copied the U.S. model and have their own MBA programs. So the competition is increasing. I also think as business school deans we have to face up to a third factor: The cost-benefit ratio is not what it used to be. So we need to look into that at much greater depth.”
Coronavirus undoubtedly throws Sundaram’s calculations into disarray, but only temporarily. He thinks B-schools need to provide more options to students, including one-year models, specialty master’s degrees, and certificates. “The MBA is in need of some fine-tuning for the times,” he said in 2019. “But it is a program designed particularly well for people who are looking to change careers. It’s a wonderful model, and I think the MBA will remain a very important degree in the years to come. But it’s perhaps time to move from a one-size-fits-all world to multiple models.”