10 Business Schools To Watch In 2021

2020 Ross MBA MAP Reveal

University of Michigan (Ross School of Business)

When the going gets tough…you call in the alumni.

And the Ross School alumni proved ready for the challenge.

That should come as no surprise, of course. After all, the school’s alumni network ranks among the best in the world according to The Economist, where an “act local and think global” mindset is ingrained early on. When employers began to cancel internships in response to COVID, Ross established the Business Consulting Corps. Working with long-time project sponsors and alumni, the school provided summer work for over 120 MBAs and undergraduate business majors. Funded with $5,000-per-student stipends, MBAs gained experience with firms ranging from Microsoft and Riot Games to Uber and United Healthcare. Call it a win-win for everyone: MBAs gained experience while employers gained expertise at no cost

“The Michigan Ross Business Consultant Corps program allowed students to work directly with executives from sponsoring organizations on projects related to business strategy, digital transformation, marketing, and operations, among others,” explains Soojin Kwon, managing director of the full-time MBA admissions and program at Ross, in a 2020 interview. “In addition to the typical summer internship work experience, the new program included weekly workshops led by Ross faculty, with additional mentoring and professional development support from faculty and alumni.”

Indeed, you could say that Ross alumni not only showed up but truly stepped up – and in ways that extended far beyond the majority of Business Consulting Corps projects that were driven by alumni. “We also saw alumni really step up and posting jobs,” adds Heather Byrne, managing director of Michigan Ross’s Career Development Office, in a 2020 interview with P&Q. “So you put the word out and they really rise to the occasion. That’s the great part about being at Ross with such a large alumni network — not only Ross, but the University of Michigan. When you go asking, they answer. And that was really great. That’s how it always is. But I think this year, everybody really showed up because they knew what the students needed and they really wanted to help.”

Michigan Ross’ Scott DeRue. Ross photo

Alumni weren’t the only ones who elevated their game. Each spring, Ross students also complete MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Projects) projects across the world. As COVID forced the world indoors and behind masks, Ross administration was able to salvage students’ chances to partner with top companies and gain experience in their chosen field respectively. “At the time we moved to virtual in March it was the exact point in time that we launch MAP,” explains Dean DeRue in an interview with P&Q. “In 48 hours, we moved everything virtual: 83 projects that were initially intended to be in person with travel around the world were moved online. It was a real team collective effort. The experience was remarkable. The feedback we got from students and our partners has all been really positive and tremendous.”

That’s critical to a program like Ross, where one differentiating feature is a robust portfolio of action-based, interdisciplinary projects and programming. This fall, for example, the school enhanced its +Impact Studio, with programming devoted to addressing the social and economic impact of the pandemic, particularly on businesses owned by women and minorities (as well as nonprofits). The +Impact Studio is part of the REAL (Ross Experiences in Action-Based Learning) platform, a place Kwon says provides students with the “chance to start, advise, invest in, and lead real businesses and projects with real companies while in business school.” Aside from MAP projects, the action-based portfolio includes the Living Business Leadership Experience (LBLE) course, where MBAs run a division of a sponsoring company (and each student runs a different function, including operations, marketing, finance, and general management). Ross also maintains seven student-run investment funds. The school even holds an annual Leadership Crisis Challenge. Here, student teams spend a weekend simulating a business emergency, such as a product recall, and must quickly develop strategies to address concerns from constituencies like customers, shareholders, regulators, and the media. One of the most popular programs at Ross, however, is the Story Lab. Stepping back from the real world, Ross MBAs craft and present their personal story through workshops and coaching.

Ebrar Derya Erdem, a Ross second-year, considers MAP to be one of the defining experiences of her Ross MBA. Partnering with Microsoft, her team updated manufacturing processes and training – something that made the lessons from the core all the more real.

“Personally, my engagement and interest increases when I work on real projects rather than hypothetical business cases or business cases from the 1980s,” Erdem writes. “Besides learning more effectively, while working on a real project, we do not have specific roles. Therefore, we have the chance to experience different things, such as how to be a project manager or researcher. This freedom provides us safe space to develop our skill gaps or experience different functions without long commitments. In MAP, I was responsible for client management, as I wanted to experience it for the first time. Also, I was responsible for the topics I wanted to learn more about, such as sustainability and long-term vision for manufacturers.”

Alas, action-based isn’t the only space where Ross stayed busy in 2020. In diversity, equity, and inclusion, for example, the school unveiled a commitment to action to foster greater social justice. The plan, Kwon explains, includes greater scholarship support and a DEI Curriculum Taskforce to identify areas to develop MBA programming. Over the summer, the school rolled out Allyship 101, which Kwon describes as “a series of workshops that provide a framework for students to thoughtfully engage, learn, practice, and plan what it means to actively pursue social justice on a daily basis.” In November, Ross announced that it would make 2020-2021 MBA admissions test-optional – a bow to the reality where, as one applicant notes, “your internet might go out at any minute.”

“Even though test centers have reopened, getting to one and feeling safe in one is another story,” Kwon tells P&Q. “And even though students can take the online test, taking a standardized test at home is challenging because some students are being disrupted by friends or family or have had internet connections slow down. So it is hard to perform best in those conditions.”

Yes, Ross is positioned well for 2021, with a surge in applications and a class that boasts a 45% share of women. More than that, Ross’ hands-on approach is amplified by a multidisciplinary approach – one that combines both the business school’s academic heft but also the larger university’s thought leadership. The result: it brings out the best in everyone.

“The nature of work is becoming increasingly cross-functional and recruiters are looking for more versatile talent who can work with multiple teams effectively,” Kwon adds. “We’ve seen through experience that interdisciplinary teams perform better by being able to tap into the individual skills of each member.”

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