The Favorite Courses Of MBAs

Every business school has that class. It is the stuff of legend, the one that fills up fast because it is worth the price of admission. In some cases, it forces MBAs to wade through uncomfortable topics and ambiguous options. Other times, it stirs their imaginations and nudges them towards a new trajectory. At best, these courses change how students approach problems and measure results. While most didn’t pull an A out of these classes, they gained some confidence and enjoyed some fun along the way.

At IESE Business School, one of these courses is the Executive Simulation. A second-year elective, the course follows the principle that you have to experience the decision-making process—and the expectations and pressures that go with it – to truly understand it. That means facing down experienced executives playing roles like board members to hone their presentation and negotiation skills.

“The course is a full-week business simulation in which, in teams of 5-6 people, you simulate being on the executive committee of a company,” explains David Boix Nebot, a ’23 IESE alum. “Each member of the team takes over a specific role (e.g. CEO, CFO, COO), managing its respective part of the business. This includes negotiating with real union representatives for labor conditions, negotiating with banks for financing, and reporting to a Board of Directors, which puts pressure on us, the executive team, to deliver. It is one of the most intense courses at IESE (from 8 am to 11pm from Sunday to Friday),1 but it serves as a capstone for the MBA learning experience.”

HEADING OUT TO THE HEARTLAND

At Columba Business School, Bridging the American Divides (BTAD) ranks among the most popular electives. Co-taught by Profs. Todd Jick and Bruce Usher, BTAD is a tour de force through the fissures winding through the American experience: rich vs. poor, urban vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative – and many more. Call it an exercise in dialogue – listening to people with very different views and recognizing their intentions and solutions aren’t as divergent as they might believe. The centerpiece of the course is a trip to rust belt Ohio, where students meet with political organizers and business owners to see how they are finding common ground.

“The course explores the causes and consequences of the “American Divides,” and how to address them as business leaders,” explains ’23 grad Sean Conley. “Spanning topics such as globalization, immigration, and job loss — as well as divides including race, income, geography, education, media, and politics – BTAD culminates in a week-long class trip to meet with business and community leaders working actively to ameliorate these issues. As MBA students in an era of popular polarization, we must learn to bridge these divides if we are to assume the mantle of leadership on the world stage.”

Of course, immersions rank among the most influential courses for MBAs. Picture heading overseas to meet with political, business, and non-profit leaders. Imagine learning negotiation from haggling with vendors at bustling fruit markets. That doesn’t count the once-in-a-lifetime sight-seeing, meals, and camaraderie. Such activities made a deep impression on Wharton grad Zoddy Imoisili during her South Africa Global Immersion.

“[It] was an amazing opportunity to learn from social innovators, government employees, company leaders, strategic entrepreneurs, and Wharton alumni. They helped us to understand the economic, cultural, and geo-political drivers behind the country’s integration into the global economy up close and in-person. Specifically, since South Africa has similarities to the United States, it was interesting to analyze the country post-apartheid and as an emerging market. I was also able to dive into old affiliations from my previous job and project what future career options in Africa could look like.”

Which courses were the most valuable and least forgettable to the MBA Class of 2023? This spring, we asked Best & Brightest MBA nominees to share their favorite classes and how they impacted them. Here are some of the responses that went beyond the generic to show P&Q readers what happens during those courses and what they learned from them.

 

“The Strategy course taught by Professor Uruppattur Rangan has been very valuable for me. I was previously working in a highly detail-oriented role in analytics, and it was challenging to take a step back and view things from a 360-degree perspective. This course has provided me with the tools and techniques to do just that. It has equipped me with the necessary skills for strategic planning, including analyzing internal and competition, assessing innovation, determining which projects to pursue, and developing frameworks for growth strategies. I am confident that these tools will be invaluable as I return to workplace and start applying what I’ve learned. This course has given me a fresh perspective and new approaches to problem-solving that I never considered before.”
Abhishek (Abby) Dudhankar, Babson College (Olin)

 

“My favorite class at BC was Negotiations by Professor Pilar Opazo. As someone who came to MBA school to further strengthen my soft skills, this class is exactly what I was looking for. Professor Pilar’s teaching approach is engaging and interactive. In each class we would start off by learning the conceptual frameworks of evaluating different negotiation situations and the second half of the class would be putting those skills into use through a practice-based approach. We would be given a case and had to role-play certain scenarios and work with our peers to explore, test, and refine our negotiating skills. In each class, we were forced to step out of our comfort zone which helped us determine what negotiation style works best for us. Our final case was a two-and-a-half-hour-long exercise in which we had multiple negotiation situations to overcome. Not only did this class teach me key negotiation frameworks but it further developed my emotional intelligence and helped me gain more confidence when put into different scenarios.”
Aashka Shah, Boston College (Carroll)

 

“Professor Jean-Pierre Dubé’s Pricing Strategies course is an absolute must regardless of one’s intended industry! Professor Dube is extremely passionate about pricing and the concepts taught in the course are insightful, yet practical and applicable to a range of careers given that pricing decisions directly affect the bottom line. The course leverages marketing analytic frameworks, marketing strategy, and microeconomic theory to identify actionable pricing strategies for goods and services. The frameworks and pricing structures taught in the course enables one to define and implement pricing decisions within the context of a brand’s broader marketing value proposition. During my summer at Molson Coors, I encountered many of the frameworks and pricing structures taught in the course in a real-world context.”
Saron Strait, University of Chicago (Booth)

 

 

“My favorite course was Management Presentations with Tom Estad. Despite being someone who already enjoyed public speaking, Management Presentations built up my public speaking toolkit in unexpected ways. It was also a ton of fun as a class in general, especially the sessions where we classmates, as audience members, were assigned roles like “heckler,” “dumb questions” and “distractor.” Overall, it was simultaneously a class where we got to practice and learn something incredibly useful while building strong bonds with classmates and having a great time.”
Veronique Falkovich, Cornell University (Johnson)

 

Business and Society with Professor Curtis Welling. This course was so impactful because we explored the intersection of business and society in such a way that it forced us to grapple with controversial topics. These were often ones that are considered taboo in the professional space, so we could imagine what sort of decisions we would make in our own future as business leaders. At what point should a CEO speak out with a stance on things such as abortion rights, racial injustices, or LGBTQ+ equality? Does business have a responsibility to better society, or should profits be the primary or only priority? I appreciated this course immensely because it reminded me that, whether we like it or not, business and society are inexorably connected and will continue to impact each other forevermore. As future business leaders, we must always be mindful of the ripple effects in either space and think proactively about the positions we will take and impacts we will make.”
Sam Haws, Dartmouth College (Tuck)

 

Entrepreneurial Private Equity. Being an entrepreneur, I was already inclined to take this course but it was also highly recommended by second-year students as well – and for good reason! It turned out to be an eye-opener! Professor Klaas Baks and Dr. David Panton were exceptional in explaining why closely-held businesses (such as mine) are great acquisition targets – and also explain the kind of mistakes that are made by them (essentially me). The course taught me to think smartly about fiscal prudence, deals, and how different value-creation drivers affect the profitability and value of a business. The key takeaway for me was that the fundamental growth levers of private equity can be adopted by any business, and they are not specific to private equity itself. Professor Baks and Dr. Panton not only taught us how to utilize money to maximize returns, but also shared tips on raising cash for your ventures! The speakers included C-suite leaders of top global private equity firms, accomplished serial entrepreneurs, including our own Goizueta alumni.”
Sukhreet Singh, Emory University (Goizueta)

 

Global Governance which was taught by Dr. Javier Solana (one of Spain’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs, and former Secretary General of NATO). It was a surprise to me that during an MBA I could focus on geopolitics, which ESADE teaches incredibly well. The power of this course came from Dr. Solana’s many years of experience, and access to his network of phenomenal speakers. We had the privilege of engaging in discussions with Dr. Ian Bremmer (Eurasia Group) on US politics and foreign policy, and Dr. Yu Jie (Chatham House) on China foreign policy, amongst many other terrific guests. I honestly believe that a solid grasp of key geopolitical issues will be what distinguishes genuinely great international business leaders from their peers.”
Melinda Keys, Esade Business School

 

“My favorite course in my MBA program is Environmentally Sustainable Operations and Business Models taught by Professor Vishal Agrawal. He did a phenomenal job breaking down new business models that utilize product and process innovation to enhance environmental and economic performance.  It was also an enlightening class. I became a more conscious consumer calculating my carbon footprint, evaluating if a company’s sustainability strategy is truly sustainable, and finding ways to reduce my footprint by doing simple things like drinking treated tap water which has a low carbon footprint of 1/1000 compared to bottled water.”
Esther Adusei, Georgetown University (McDonough)

 

B2B Marketing with Josh Gildea. Conversations on marketing are consumer marketing dominated. As such, I really had no clue about the B2B space and thought it was boring. By the end, I was thinking about jobs in the B2B space! This course did a great job of explaining the role B2B plays in every industry through recent examples with which we could connect. I recall the opening topic on what it took to build the new SoFi stadium in Los Angeles. Being from LA and watching it be built over the years, I truly didn’t know what went into it. Now, anytime I enter an arena, I will consider the different B2B partnerships required. My favorite topic was learning how planes are painted (a tedious process that had never occurred to me before). Something thought of as simple actually unearthed more lessons about the airplane industry I was unaware of. Ultimately, the course gave me insight into B2B partnerships that I think will be important when I work at Deloitte, which itself operates many B2B partnerships, and I never thought of it that way.”
Brittany Bolden, Indiana University (Kelley)

 

Insead Logo Horizontal

“We have amazing and passionate teachers at INSEAD. Therefore, it is not easy to choose, but I always enjoy classes with Ella Miron-Spektor, our professor for Organisational Behaviour in P1. This course centres on the impact of human psychology and theories that could, in other hands, seem very nebulous and hard to grasp, but she carefully creates immersive practical exercises for each class to role-play the theories in real life. We’ve done a virtual simulation of climbing Mount Everest as a team competition; negotiated with movie studio execs to produce a film; and negotiated for master’s scholarships using email only, just to give some examples.”
Rebecca Chandler, INSEAD

 

London business school LBS logo

Diversity Science for Leaders. I’ve never experienced a classroom environment where classmates are able to be so vulnerable in their reflections and respectful of other people’s opinions. The nature of the content is deeply personal and Aneeta guides us through challenging and important issues with a reverential yet constructive style, providing research-backed solutions and suggestions to what seems like every question a student could have. The class also gives students an opportunity to develop an initiative which could help marginalised groups at the school, with projects ranging from reducing the economic burden of MBA treks, to providing a medium for non-native-English speakers who are conscious about their proficiency to form a community.”
Cameron Martin, London Business School

Next Page: Top courses at MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, Virginia Darden, and Yale SOM.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.