Blazing A Trail: Four Ingredients To London Business School’s Best Classes

The London Business School’s London Campus in the winter months.

It was the 11th of December and London had just put on the first signs of winter. Most of my friends had already headed home for the holiday break. Only a few hardy souls remained on campus to attend the final block week of the year (a full-term class condensed into 5 days of 8-hour lectures). Despite my alarm going off at an ungodly hour each morning, it was the most keyed into a lecture I’d felt during my time at LBS.

The class I attended that particular week was my favourite so far: ‘Digital Investing’, which is taught by Alastair Lawrence. Coming from a broad strategy background, I was a relative novice in the more technical aspects of finance. Many of the finance classes I’d taken in the past felt more theoretical and harder to apply in a non-finance-focused career. Digital Strategy turned this on its head; the class essentially provided an insight into how to evaluate and invest in digital stocks – hugely applicable, even for a personal investor who might play with stocks casually. I was hooked!

While on the London Business School MBA programme, I’ve been lucky to have had some fantastic classes, taught by world-class faculty. Several that stand out include ‘Pathways to Start-up Success’, taught by Gary Dushnitsky; ‘Negotiation and Bargaining’, taught by Gillian Ku; and ‘Digital Strategy’, taught by Keyvan Vakili.

It takes a lot of work to absorb the full value of the lectures while in the midst of an MBA term. I’d be taking multiple classes at once while dividing the rest of my time between my studies, my start-up, recruitment, and campus clubs. Assignments and exams gave some small windows for review, but nowhere near long enough for anything to stick. It’s only in times like the December break, when I’ve had the chance to reflect on my most impactful in-classroom experiences.

I’d love to share four ingredients that are common threads across the best classes I’ve taken at LBS.

London Business School, MBA Orientation

1. Practical insights from faculty who’ve walked the talk

In my opinion, there is nothing more compelling than listening to advice from those who’ve actually done the things they’re teaching you about. Our Digital Strategy professor, Keyvan Vakili, had founded his own gaming production company (which was then acquired by Samsung). In contrast, our Digital Investing professor is a prolific investor in digital businesses in his own right. Being at the coalface of an industry and being able to convey the nuance of how theory and practice crossover delivers some valuable learnings. These included insights into Alistair’s personal investing thought process when evaluating a digital business. He also shared key ratios and metrics to look out for (for example, the importance of ‘RPO’ in SAAS businesses – Remaining Performance Obligations provide a sense of unbilled revenue and a window into future growth).

2. Lecture styles that are well suited to the professor, the topic and the class

All lecturers have their own unique style of engaging with a classroom and a topic. I’ve seen everything from theatrical to challenging, from using slides to structure a session to not turning the projector on at all. From a learner’s point of view, any one of these styles can be extremely effective if the lecturer is in tune with the needs of the class and the value of the topic.

In Digital Investing, Alistair barely used slides. Instead, he framed sessions around exploring historical price ratio charts of the various stocks being discussed, allowing the class detailed questions to guide the conversation. Conversely, in Pathways to Start-Up Success, Gary unleashed his characteristically exuberant style with some very effective slides. These slides navigated our class through the wide range of topics he wanted to discuss, such as providing a framework for deciding whether taking the entrepreneurial plunge is right for you. Both contrasting methods were perfect when considering the topic being taught.

Gary Dushnitsky

3. Up-to-date, relevant insights

There are many ‘classic cases’ that business schools have been teaching for decades (such as Honda (A) and Honda (B) in the strategy space, presenting two viewpoints of Honda’s expansion into the American motorcycle market. While these more established cases are valuable and continue to impart important lessons, I’ve found students are most engaged when lecturers who can distil present-day business scenarios into relevant insights for the classroom.

In Pathways to Start-Up Success, Gary bought insights from the still-evolving OpenAI/Sam Altman sacking controversy to our in-class discussion on founders engaging with boards and other important stakeholders – such as people at the top of fast-scaling companies sometimes being out of touch with sentiment on the ground. In my opinion, discussing insights from situations that we’ve only just seen in the news really adds to my ability to apply learnings from my courses to the fast-moving world of modern-day business.

4. Engaged, contributing learners

This final ingredient is both a result of and an amplifier to the best classes at LBS. So much of the most valuable learnings I’ve had have come when my fellow students have asked interesting questions, tried to relate learnings to their own experiences, or even outright challenged professors on the content we were being taught. For example, in ‘Paths to Power’, my classmates bought up their experience dealing with powerful people in other parts of the world, bringing many useful cultural nuances to Richard Jolly’s assertions.

I believe a vocal and contributing classroom often delivers as many learnings as the professors themselves!

One of LBS’ key strengths is the diversity of its cohort. While the diversity in geographic and career backgrounds are well-known, I’ve also found real value in being in the same elective classes as students from other programmes. For example, there were several Masters in Finance students in my Digital Investing class, most of whom had far more finance working experience than many in the MBA cohort had. Their probing, technical questions pushed my understanding of the subject matter even further – for example, bringing up the Rule of 40 in software businesses (a great software company’s combined revenue growth rate and profit margin should equal or exceed 40%).

Sharvan Pethe

Writing this column has been a welcome moment to take a breath and truly reflect on the valuable academic experience the LBS MBA programme has been. Second year is going by in a flash and I’m excited to see what my remaining classes have in store!

Feel free to flick me a message on Linkedin if any of this column has tickled your fancy.

Until next time!

Sharvan is a former strategy consultant and LBS scholarship recipient from Auckland, New Zealand. He spent four years working on important problems across a variety of industries, including helping to establish New Zealand’s national COVID-19 contact tracing service.

Sharvan comes to London Business School with an interest in ventures and technology. During his time at LBS, he’ll be busy validating his own entrepreneurial idea in the media space. In his spare time, Sharvan enjoys hiking, writing and comedy – hobbies he’ll continue to cultivate during his MBA experience.

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