Monash Business School, in Melbourne, Australia, is taking a fresh approach to its MBA programs. “We are moving beyond traditional core subjects,” says professor and MBA Director Patrick Butler.
In 2015, Monash brought in a new team of directors and launched a top-to-bottom review of the program. Now the B-school has re-launched the MBA program, and Butler says the result is something truly distinctive.
“Many management programs teach theory grounded in industrial-era problems, like standardization and replication,” he says. “These are not 21st-century issues. Issues today are about digital capability, agility, resilience, and creativity.”
The Monash MBA redesign brings business strategy and next-generation problems to the forefront. Traditionally, Butler says, business strategy is introduced later in an MBA program. But at Monash, it will be the first course students take.
“Our MBAs have an average of five to seven years of business experience. They’re battle-hardened,” he says. “They understand that business models are changing, and they’re here at business school because they want to learn about that. We meet them at the door and help them make sense of the changes they are experiencing.”
The school also brings in professors from other faculties to help MBAs develop a working knowledge of topics like artificial intelligence, material science, and nanotechnology, among many others.
“We know what yesterday’s problems were, and we know what tomorrow’s are, and we teach about tomorrow’s,” Butler says.
MODELED ON MEDICAL SCHOOL
One new feature of Monash’s rebooted MBA: consulting projects that are ongoing throughout the program. In rethinking the MBA, Butler says, the school looked closely at how medical schools train doctors. “You can’t just place a doctor in the classroom, and then send them out to clinics and hospital wards at the end of their study,” he says. “Throughout the learning process, medical schools alternate between lecture and practice, lecture and practice.”
The Monash MBA will be structured similarly, with several modules, each on a different topic — including business strategy, the commercialization of technology, new venture startups, and international business.
Integrated business subjects are followed by a practice module, where students work on a consulting project for real companies, to use what they learned in a business setting. At the end of the two-year MBA, students will have a portfolio of consulting projects they’ve worked on, Butler says.
“We want students to be able to show that they’ve worked on business problems of tomorrow, and can demonstrate a portfolio of proven practice,” he says.
PROJECTS IN TECH, LOGISTICS, AND MORE
What might a Monash consulting project look like? Butler says students currently are working with a major Australian bank to look into the impact of artificial intelligence on the financial services workforce.
The bank is implementing AI automation, and we’re trying to understand the effect the ‘robots’ will have,” he says. “Our MBAs understand that AI will change business models, and are studying the implications for the bank and bank clients. They’re answering the question: How does a bank take advantage of AI, without losing personability?”
In another project, Monash MBAs are working with a major international logistics company, Butler says, and looking into “out of stock,” or OOS, issues in “the last 50 meters.”
“We often think of logistics as macro problems,” he says. “But the logistics of the last 50 meters — where the consumer shops — has a huge impact on the consumer. For example, if you’re out of stock, a consumer might switch to a different product, and might not come back.”
And in another project, MBAs are looking at the impact Amazon will have on retail when it lands in Australia. “Amazon dominates in logistics, so we’re working with retailers in Australia to try to match Amazon standards,” Butler says. “When Amazon starts up, everything changes, so it’s a fabulous problem for our students to work on.”
‘DIVERSITY IS A BIG DEAL TO US’
What does it take to get into the Monash MBA program? Butler says the school is looking for applications from high-performing young managers who have a minimum of three years’ work experience. The average for a Monash MBA right now is six years.
The Monash MBA team, Butler says, specifically wants applicants who really understand what they’re doing. “Do you get that what we’re doing is distinctive, and different?” he says of the question all potential Monash MBAs must answer. “The projects are central to the program, and we want people who are hungry for new experiences. What we don’t want is someone who wants to sit in a lecture hall and take notes.”
The business school also prides itself on its diversity. Butler says that each year Monash admits two cohorts of 50 students each; about 20 of each cohort are international students. “It’s a very mixed group, it looks like the United Nations in there,” he says. Last year, he says, there were 21 international students from 20 different countries.
Meanwhile, Monash’s 2017 class comprises 50% women, which Butler says is not an accident. “We want to get the gender balance right,” he says. “Diversity is a big deal for us.”
‘THE PROJECT-BASED MODULES REALLY HELP’
Concerning careers post-MBA, Butler says Monash has a specific MBA Career Advancement Program, and does a huge amount of work to leverage students’ work experience to help them meet their goals. He adds that the project-based modules really help students in this area.
“We’re placing students into at least four companies during our program, to work on live consulting projects. That has a huge impact,” he says.
“They can say that they’ve worked in all these areas, and they have the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of potential employers.”