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Why Don’t More MBAs Go Into Sales?

Dean Kenneth Freeman of Boston University's School of Management

Dean Kenneth Freeman of Boston University’s School of Management

To Build A Better Business School, Treat The Student Like A Customer

 

Speaking of sales…

Kenneth W. Freeman, Dean of Boston University’s School of Management, recently shared an anecdote in Bloomberg Businessweek:

“After leaving the for-profit world three years ago…I observed to one of my new colleagues that our students are our customers. “No,” he said, “they are our products.”

Ouch! Talk about an industrial revolution mindset. Somewhere, Montgomery Burns is nodding in agreement.

Unfortunately, some employers have grown disenchanted with “products” coming out of business schools. And even some students are wondering if their “product” will end up on the island of misfit toys. In Freeman’s words: “Business schools increasingly face the same powerful forces that have confronted law schools in recent years: application drops, employers questioning the utility of the degree, alternative education models, and doubts about the return on investment as tuition rises in a weak economy.”

Well, few will argue about what ails business schools. Question is, how do you fix them? Here, Freeman is turning Boston University’s MBA program into a laboratory. And the first piece of the formula is a student-centric approach driven by “customer experience.”

What does Freeman mean by that? He starts with the concept of “engagement” inherent to change initiatives. Before reaching out to students, educators must review their own organization, to create “a memorable mission and translate it into an actionable strategy.” What’s more, he warns that “schools should not only respond to market forces; they should respond in ways that matter far beyond the narrow interests of their own institutions.” In layman’s terms, that means professors must break down silos, build a consensus, and work collectively.

And why would they do this (aside from fear of becoming irrelevant and losing their jobs)? That’s easy, according to Freeman. No one enters teaching for the money. Ultimately, professors want to “make a difference in the world and to have an impact on students.” And transforming their curriculum with that end in mind will unify them.

Sure, this sounds like mushy ivory tower talk, but Freeman is putting his mission – “to create value to the world” – into practice. And he’s doing it in two ways. First, he is pushing the school to become leaders in the areas of health and life sciences, digital technology, and social enterprise and sustainability. Why? It fits the mission: “All three are innovation-driven domains critical for the future well-being of the world and its people. And as these domains continue to grow in the coming years, they will provide graduates with opportunities to make a real difference.”

Second, Freeman is implementing a cross-curricular approach, so all courses will “integrate understanding of the management disciplines, strengthen foundations in finance and analytics, and introduce a global perspective throughout. In addition, he is incorporating ethics into every course, to prepare students to incorporate this into decision-making.

Freeman admits that his curriculum is still a work-in-progress. But one dimension will always guide its development: It must place the student at the center. Customers can make-or-break any business. They reveal their opinions with their pocketbooks. They can leave at any time. And students are really no different. Freeman knows this all too well. Question is, who else is picking up on this?

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek