10 Business Schools To Watch In 2021

Rowling Hall and UT Tower

University of Texas (McCombs School of Business)

Silicon Halls.

Startup City.

The Live Music Capital of the World.

Austin, Texas, has earned many nicknames. Some label it a laid back Hippie Haven – personified by the tagline, “Keep Austin Weird.” By weird, however, they mean outside-the-box, original, and inspired. Austin is where the creative and commercial merge. Here, people are still neighbors and invested in their communities. In business, they are partners, focused on ground-breaking models over tired tropes and long-term investments over and quick bucks.

For every person who leaves Austin, 1.53 people move there. They are drawn by low tax rates, bare-bones regulations, and a glut of technical expertise. Talent draws talent – as does the promise of making a difference. In River City, home to the world-famous bridge bats, you’ll find large footprints from tech giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Dell. Apple is building a campus for its 7,000 employees. At the same time, Tesla has broken ground on a new factory. In December, Oracle announced that it was moving its headquarters to Austin. Elon Musk even intends to make the city his home!

And it’s not just Austin drawing companies from the valley to the prairie. 150 miles away, Houston was basking in Hewlett Packard’s decision to re-locate there (joining another 22 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Space City).

Tina Mabley, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program, calls Austin a magnet for “talent, progress, and innovation.” It is a place, she says, that boasts momentum – a place where you can build something…and become the person you aspire to be.

“People love it because it is still a welcoming community that is both vibrant and future-focused, as well as accessible and inclusive,” explains Mabley in a 2021 interview with P&Q. “Austin has always been an innovative and startup-friendly environment, and now we see tech giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard, Tesla, and Oracle opening hubs or moving headquarters here. I love this recent quote from Josh Baer, CEO and Founder of Capital Factory about Austin’s Secret Sauce: “Austin is the aspirational city. It’s a city that other cities want to be when they grow up. It’s a place where people go when they aspire for more.” As a top place to live and do business, it’s no surprise that we are seeing strong interest from both companies and prospective students.”

Tina Mabley, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program at UT’s McCombs School

That interest extends to the McCombs School, where applications are up 20% against last year at this time for its full-time MBA program. When Musk closes on a home, you can bet that McCombs will be among the first to welcome him to the neighborhood. For one, the school is known for its “famously friendly” students. For another, McCombs offers exactly what these Silicon Valley colonists need: graduates who are tested, versatile, imaginative, and proactive.

“At McCombs, we continue to see our business community as a live, ever-evolving laboratory for our students and find myriad ways to connect with longstanding Austin partners, along with companies and organizations who are new to our market,” Mabley observes. “From the very start of the program, students are constantly engaging with local companies in formal and informal ways through everything from MBA+ Consulting Projects and McCombs Fellows programs to student-sourced projects through alumni or local networking. For example, our Venture Fellows program, which was established in 1999, provides students the unique opportunity to work with venture capital and private equity firms in Austin through a two-semester internship experience. Austin has attracted so many investors, that there are now more VC firms than we have Venture Fellows. We have seen these partnerships turn into deep connections that often extend into new opportunities.”

Experience matters. Delivering it is where McCombs excels. The school describes its programming as “project-rich.” That starts with MBA+, where student teams conduct consulting projects with corporate royalty like Whole Foods, ExxonMobil, and Dell. The program comes with intensive coaching study tours and skill-building seminars. However, MBA+ sets itself apart by volume: students can complete as many projects as they want, says Deidra Stephens, the director of the MBA+ program.

“We allow students to participate in these co-curricular projects at any time in their program, including their first semester,” Stephens told P&Q in a 2020 interview. “This has proven to be a game-changer for our Full-Time students who are often career switchers. Students appreciate the ability to signal interest in a different career to recruiters early in their program. They also appreciate early access to the type of work they would be doing to make sure they really like it before making a longer-term commitment to an internship.”

The tech and startup sectors follow a simple rule: Don’t standstill. Certainly, the McCombs School has taken this dictum to heart. During the 2019-2020 school year, for example, the program piloted a Microsoft Teams environment, according to Mabley, to expose students to managing remote teams – an enviable skill in a virtual, post-COVID world that will likely operate off Zoom or Canvas. To bolster leadership skills, McCombs also introduced a two-year-long capstone course called Leading for Impact. Think of it as a mix of hands-on experience, introspection, research-based teaching, and coaching from faculty and mentors. The program culminates with students applying these leadership lessons to helping a non-profit or startup develop and execute a business plan.

“These projects “highlight resource-constrained and mission-driven environments that challenge leaders to demonstrate sensitivity to the contexts as they help organizations and their employees to realize their full potential,” Mabley points out. “Students experience what we believe is the primary purpose of an MBA – to create value for society. Putting the skills and expertise that students have learned in classes to work in a holistic manner is the vision for the class and the capstone projects.”

Certainly, McCombs boasts some formidable advantages. Its career services team ranks among the best. The school’s curriculum ranks among the 20 best in nearly every specialization. Last year, the program achieved a STEM certification in 14 of its 22 concentrations. At the same time, the program is housed in Rowling Hall, a 497,500 square foot marvel that’s just 10 blocks from the heart of downtown Austin. In 2018, Mabley described it as a “live and vibrant business laboratory” – one where the MBA program and top employers feed off of each other. And that is a recipe for success in the coming years.

“The University of Texas and the city of Austin have grown and evolved together,” Mabley adds. “We appreciate a synergistic relationship with the city, which enhances the experiential applications and interactions we can offer our students every day. Being a major hub for tech, healthcare, energy, and a variety of other industries, we continue to find ways to bring these elements into our curriculum and community.”

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