The term conjures up images of semester-long projects and real clients, deadlines and deliverables, and team-based learning where every member plays an indispensable role. Hands-on learning is also a major part of the full-time MBA curriculum at the Ivey Business School at Western University. After all, Ivey introduced Field Projects back in the 1950s. Since then, the school has partnered with more than 4,000 companies from AT&T to General Motors. However, Ivey’s goal extends beyond helping MBAs gain experience and reinforce lessons through projects. That’s why the school slaps a more expansive interpretation to ‘experiential learning’ – one where learning by doing also takes place in the classroom.
And it happens through the case method–a primary reason why many applicants choose the school for their MBA experience, as evidenced by the newest entering cohort: The Class of 2023.
Like Harvard, UVA Darden, and IESE Business School in Spain, Ivey leans heavily on case studies. In fact, students can expect to digest over 300 cases over their year in Ontario. The reason is simple, observes ’23 MBA Giustin MacLean, who paraphrases one of his professors: ‘The benefit of case learning is that you get to make mistakes in the classroom and learn from them so that you don’t make them in your career.’
CASE LEARNING IS EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
For many, case readings are the polar opposite of experiential learning. In reality, both require students to operate in teams, formulate strategies, and communicate effectively. They involve weighing variables, alternatives, and implications – all with data that’s often incomplete, conflicting, and unreliable. Even more, their solutions are hardly guaranteed to be successful. In some ways, the case methods amps up the demands. Averaging a case per class, MBAs must sift through a trove of data. Along the way, they must balance options and tradeoffs, recognizing what’s feasible in the moment. And MBAs complete this process through an array of organizations, industries, and scenarios in a short period – a far cry from experiential learning’s one company, one project approach that takes three months to finish.
Indeed, the case method deeply ingrains a consistent framework for solving problems and making decisions – a way of thinking that’s honed day-after-day until it is second nature. This repetition has enriched the learning of Jeff Smith, an underwriter who joined Ivey’s MBA Class of 2023 in March.
“It is one thing to understand a framework, but using that framework every day provides a whole new level of understanding,” he tells P&Q. “After a few months, nearly every new case we do has aspects that relate to a situation we have learned about in a previous class, and it really helps tie all our classes together. Outside of the classroom, it gives a whole new perspective on current events and industry trends. You will be shocked at how frequently you read something in the news and immediately relate it back to a case you learned about in class.”
MAKING THE TAKEAWAYS ALL TOO REAL
Don’t think repetition creates boredom. Rather, the case method fosters engagement by connecting narratives and lessons to current business news and challenges. “Instead of passively absorbing information from lectures, we extract knowledge from real-world examples that are much more memorable,” explains Tuan Nguyen. “For instance, if someone mentions lease accounting, my mind immediately relates to Starbucks, how the company relies on it, and how changing the regulations affected its business.”
At the same time, the case method can create a sense of discomfort – in the best possible way. That’s because case discussions become a collision of ideas, where MBAs must convey and defend their ideas. Or, in the words of Reilly Baggs, they are “forced to think outside of [their] own frame of reference and consider opposing viewpoints.” Not only does that instill humility, but it prepares Ivey graduates to create longer-lasting solutions that meet the needs of all constituencies.
“The case method has allowed me to think on my feet when analyzing a business strategy and to build on my peers’ ideas to drive the case analysis forward,” adds Yzah Macalintal. “It’s also interesting to hear everyone’s perspective from such a diverse geographical, industry, and functional backgrounds.”
A WIDE RANGE OF EXPERIENCES
Business cases are only as rich as the classmates participating in the discussions. At Ivey, the students are as diverse as they come. The Class of 2023, numbering 132 students, hail from 23 countries and speak 28 languages. In fact, more than half of the class was born outside Canada, including 27% from India and 10% from Africa. Academically, you’ll find class members who majored in areas other than Business and Engineering: Mining, Nursing, Philosophy, Nautical Sciences, Education, and Political Science. In their careers, they’ve held roles as different as investment banker, chief technology officer, non-profit manager, and music director, and project leader.
Looking for a case discussion on business ethics? That’s a passion for Beatriz Mariano Vasconcellos, a senior consultant at KPMG Brazil. Working in a nation rocked by organizations misusing government funds, Vasconcellos has been busy helping her clients guard against finding themselves in the headlines.
“I had the opportunity to work in the implementation and evaluation of Ethics and Integrity Programs for different companies across Brazil. I consider this to be one of my biggest accomplishments since I felt that I was helping my country fight against one of its major challenges: corruption.”
Looking for someone who can orchestrate complicated operations. Look no further than Giustin MacLean, a proverbial poet with leadership chops. “I’ve been blessed with a pretty incredible career, from working with Broadway actors, to conducting shows at some of Canada’s biggest theatres. It’s hard to hold up just one moment as “biggest”, but I will say something that sticks with me is one of the last gigs I got to do before the pandemic hit – playing keys for a PBS special.”
A CONFIDENCE BOOSTER
Before business school, Funmilayo Smart worked large M&A transactions in Africa. In contrast, Yzah Macalintal opened up manufacturing bottlenecks while reducing safety hazards. The Class of 2023’s quant cred is only enhanced by Gurnoor Singh Gandhi, who designed a website that boosted his employer’s web traffic by 40 times. Of course, every case discussion needs an entrepreneur who knows how to make things happen. At Ivey, that role is played by Tuan Nguyen, who left an 8-year corporate career to launch a data consultancy business.
“I knew going in that I would have to do everything, but I was still shocked by the amount of work when we first got started,” he admits. “I also realized that building a talented and diverse team is extremely difficult when you have a limited budget and zero reputation as a company. Despite that, we managed to build an amazing team of 30 people and served more than 20 clients globally within our first year of operation.”
The class has been equally productive over the past five months. Gurnoor Singh Gandhi is co-leading the Social Impact Committee, which coordinates student volunteer efforts in Ivey’s London digs. Kunle Adesoji and Yzah Macalintal were part of a team that finished among the finalists for the International Finance Corporation’s Impact Investing Challenge. For Reilly Baggs, the biggest MBA accomplishment has been overcoming a fear of failure.
“Being afraid of failing in high pressure situations has held me back in the past,” she admits. “The Ivey MBA program and case method learning are designed to push you outside of your comfort zone on a daily basis and that exposure has made me more comfortable with taking risks, failing and trying again.”
Next Page: An interview with Adam Fremeth, Faculty Director of the Ivey MBA program
Page 3: Profiles of 12 members of the Class of 2023