04 Jul 2005  What Do YOU Think?

How Can Business Schools Be Made More Relevant?

Are business schools overemphasizing research at the expense of practical experience in the classroom? Are they preparing graduates in useful ways for careers in management?

 

Summing Up

Business school relevance is an issue, judging from the predominance of responses to this month's column. The ways of increasing relevance were advanced, but the question of whether, in the current academic context, they can be implemented remains.

Sources of concern centered around business school faculty, curricula, and research. Chuck Drobny commented, "If the institution places research-focused faculty or graduate students in front of students, and the students lack any perspective gained through experience, the outcome will do little to enhance the managerial skill sets of the graduates." Lisa Marks Dolan, a business school dean, feels that much of the problem lies in the way teachers are trained. She writes, "We're being asked to produce graduates who can integrate, adapt, manage global diversity, work in teams, and bring out the best in others, yet these are not the skills that most doctoral candidates are asked to master as part of their training." Leonard Lane reinforces this view in saying that "Relevancy requires that the MBA-level instructor be a true practitioner-scholar who has . . . run or been a key part of a global business and has an advanced degree." As an alternative way of achieving this objective, Bobby Mackie suggests that faculty development "could include more two-way movement of staff, building communication links, and networking between academia and employing organizations."

As for curricula and research, Paula Thornton commented that "trying to get professors to pick up studies that are needed by the business community has been frustrating." Arthur Fullerton includes on his list of today's curricular inadequacies: "The ability to gather and mobilize resources...industry specific knowledge," and emphasis on "more variables [that] enter into people's choices than just value maximizing." Don Cameron thinks that "The problem with research is not the research itself, but what is researched. Let's have less esoteric research on topics that will not make a difference. . . ."

Fernando das Neves Gomes suggests that "If ways are found . . . in the classroom . . . [to address issues such as] how to win real clients, how to deal with competition—then the courses will become closer to the real world." According to Snehil Sinha, an alternative solution to bringing practical focus into the curriculum is "a year-long on-the-job exposure" for students after the first year of the MBA curriculum as well as "mandatory association with industry projects." "One solution [to concerns about the irrelevance of much research], according to Kent Byus, might be "to require academic research to pass through a practitioner review process prior to publication."

If we see the challenge and provide suggestions, Paula Thornton asks, ". . . what are the barriers [to useful change]"? Clearly, there are substantial costs to faculty and institutions alike in fostering any changes as basic as these. Costs include large investments of time and money as well as risk of personal and institutional reputation (at least in the "academy"). Which among traditional business schools would be willing to incur the costs? Or will alternative types of institutions, already mushrooming in enrollment, have to fill the need for greater relevance in management education? What do you think?

Original Article

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Warren Bennis and James O'Toole raised questions about whether business schools in general have lost their relevance by following "the scientific model" of graduate schools of arts and science as opposed to "the professional model" of medical and law schools. The professional model combines practice and theory and presumes that most or all teachers will have some practical experience.

Jeffrey Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management, said in a recent New York Times interview, "The real question is how to be relevant. . . . I was an investment banker for fifteen years. I was in four presidential administrations. But this job has been the most difficult of all." These questions are perhaps made more significant by the fact that the leadership of both Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management will change soon.

Why are questions regarding the relevance of today's business schools being raised? Bennis and O'Toole trace origins of the argument back many years, but point especially to two studies in 1959 supported by the Ford and Carnegie Foundations. These studies suggested greater emphasis on the study, research, and application of the underpinnings of a management "discipline"—mathematics, economics, sociology, and psychology, among others.

These recommendations were received warmly by business schools seeking to improve their reputations and acceptance in the academic community. Many believe they led directly to the resulting triumph of science over practice in the selection and promotion of business school faculty and hence the topics they have chosen to examine. One important outcome for those studying to be managers is a greater emphasis that many business schools place on research as opposed to teaching. This has led, some feel, to a significant and increasing disconnect between the world of management practice, for which most business school students are being prepared, and the world of the "academy" in which faculty members who teach and research management issues are being prepared, hired, and promoted.

For those who feel this way, the question is what to do about it? Jeffrey Garten has put forth some suggestions as he departs his job. Among them are such things as "some real-world experience" as a requirement for faculty promotion, a "two-track faculty" with the second track comprised of "clinical faculty" who might not have the academic qualifications for tenure, and "mergers between American schools and schools abroad" as a way of encouraging a global outlook among teachers, researchers, and students.

Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves a number of questions. First, have business schools in general lost their relevance? Are they preparing graduates in useful ways for careers in management? If there is room for improvement, can it be achieved within the "academy," where business schools seem to be caught in a tug-of-war between the "scientific" and "professional" models? Or will it increasingly be achieved in the institutions created and run by large business enterprises to train not only their own employees but those of other organizations as well? What do you think?

To learn more:

Warren G. Bennis and James O'Toole, "How Business Schools Lost Their Way," Harvard Business Review, May 2005, pp. 96-104.

William J. Holstein, "Are Business Schools Failing the World?" The New York Times, June 19, 2005, p.BU13.

Comments

    • Lisa Marks Dolin (HBS MBA '85)
    • Dean, School of Management, Capital University

    As an HBS graduate and former Fortune 20 executive now serving as dean of a business school, I spend a lot of time thinking about these questions. Based on our recent interviews with dozens of local executives, it seems they do too. They told us that too many of the MBAs they see these days have great analytical skills and plenty of confidence, but lack the insight, adaptability, and humility required to manage and lead well.

    Like other schools, we're addressing this on many fronts, like bringing in executives as professors, sending students out on consulting projects with local companies, and integrating courses across the disciplines so students can better learn how to solve complex, multi-dimensional and cross-functional problems—just like in real life.

    But there's another piece of the puzzle: how many business school professors are trained. We're being asked to produce graduates who can integrate, adapt, manage global diversity, work in teams, and bring out the best in others, yet these are not the skills that most doctoral candidates are asked to master as part of their training. They get their doctorates at research-oriented institutions (these are the only schools with the means to fund doctoral programs). While there, they dive into finance or marketing or operations management, learning everything knowable about their chosen disciplines (no integration here). It's been described to me as a very solitary experience, one that ultimately pits the candidate against a sometimes adversarial dissertation committee (compared to the creative collaborations required for success with colleagues, customers, and suppliers in practice). Their advisors often discourage them from taking positions at teaching institutions like mine because research institutions are more prestigious. And to top it all off, there's very little formal teaching about teaching, unless you want to include the rather hit-or-miss proposition of serving as a teaching assistant.

    Those of us training the business leaders of the future must continue to seek ways to eliminate the false barriers between the academy and the practice we serve. At the same time, we might be well served to revisit the training of business school faculty to make sure it's consistent with the expectations of performance they'll face. Otherwise, it's do as I say, not as I do.

     
     
     
    • Ashutosh Tiwari
    • Consultant, SEDF-International Finance Corporation

    Business schools have not lost their relevance. If anything, what they teach about management, finance, operations, and strategy have greatly influenced how formerly non-business-like fields such as nonprofits, the arts, politics, and even international relations function today.

    Today, business schools appear to be preparing their graduates for broader career paths than ever before. Students are not shoehorned into corporate management positions per se. As such, they enjoy a wider menu of career choices (which were previously unthinkable) to pick from or move into.

    To mature and strategic students, it seems possible in most top-tier two-year programs to master the nuts and bolts (i.e. the scientific tools) in the first year, while learning profession-related skills in the second year. As such, so long as students are clear about what they want to get out of their business school experience, I see the scientific model actually complementing the professional model in a business school, which often has some combination of the two anyway.

    My concern about corporate schools is that they are biased in serving their parent companies' goals—and that's fine. But they do not necessarily address society's goals of having a pool of capable young leaders to solve some of the most pressing public problems.

     
     
     
    • David Keaveney
    • President & CEO, MotorSports Emporium, Inc.

    We mustn't forget that graduate schools don't hand out how-to manuals. Though they provide complex insights to business know-how, B-schools don't provide real-world experience. Once you receive an MBA or PhD, you still need training to function in a society that relies on you for answers.

     
     
     
    • Fernando das Neves Gomes
    • Independent consultant

    In business schools and specifically in MBA programs we are taught to lead, but in the real world this is made through decisions: the best decision about outsourcing, about insourcing, about what to say in a meeting, about whatever—topics we don't cover in the classroom. If ways are found to put this leadership into practice in the classroom—how to win real clients, how to deal with competition—then the courses will become closer to the real world. Technical and scientific tools help us do whatever we have to do when we get to work, but success requires tools too.

     
     
     
    • Jane Finley
    • Associate Professor, Belmont University

    I spent twenty-five years in the "real" world before getting a PhD so I could become a professor. I can assure you that my experience in the real world is much more valuable in the classroom than my academic training and research. I believe that more interaction with the clinical side of the fence would benefit our students and our faculty!

     
     
     
    • Chuck Drobny
    • Faculty Member and Consultant, University of Phoenix; American Intercontinental University

    The change must come in the classroom and begin with those who are present. The combination of practitioner faculty and working students creates a dynamic that transforms theory into practical application. If the institution places research-focused faculty or graduate students in front of students, and the students lack any perspective gained through experience, the outcome will do little to enhance the managerial skill sets of the graduates.

    Case study formats and analysis of contemporary issues are hollow if the participants can only bring newly absorbed theory to the discussion. Bring experience into the classroom and apply the theory and research results in an interactive and properly guided curriculum.

    For many institutions, this means extending graduate program enrollment more toward the working professional and away from the newly minted undergraduate who has never even apprenticed in his or her chosen field.

     
     
     
    • Mark Montgomery
    • Managing Partner, Initium Venture Capital

    I have reviewed thousands of resumes from MBA graduates in the past few years, many of them from top schools. And I consider myself to be friends and peers with many leaders in academia, and virtually everyone I deal with has advanced degrees from top universities. But that is primarily due to individual achievers seeking the best education than it is a statement on the value of that education.

    The primary comfort to me in an MBA is that we can speak with professors who might refer a top student, or we may have a relationship with another student who happened to be in that class who speaks highly of an individual. So there is value in the opinions/measurement of the individual, provided it can be confirmed by a trusted source.

    The value from a top program is in the prospective relationships far more than in the education. The reality is that today the most advanced students can learn at their own pace using this medium in conjunction with one-on-one mentoring.

    I wish it were not so, but an advanced degree really is not as important as experience and evidence of having learned from that experience. This is true both for student and professor.

    It seems to me that society has swallowed a sophisticated sales message on business degrees that doesn't hold up to careful scrutiny. The more they hard sell, the less credibility they have. I think the sector is in trouble, and I believe that we have a major opportunity for others outside of academia to fill the growing need.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    After many years as a corporate senior executive and an unofficial management trainer and coach, I am now (amongst other things) an associate tutor at the School of Management at my local College of Further Education. I run management development programs on-site for local companies who are ecstatic to have someone with an enviable career track record and a few scars to prove it to lead their managers through change and innovation.

    The university business schools, however, have been less welcoming because a BA in Business and plenty of experience plus a gift for reaching people are obviously no match for a PhD who couldn't run for a bus, let alone run a business. This kind of elitism has got to go as that kind of attitude rubs off on the students who then don't know how to lead real people in the real world of work. There must be a way for both breeds of tutor/lecturer to co-exist.

     
     
     
    • Bill Cooke
    • Faculty Member, Manchester Business School

    I think the division between "science" and "practice" is false. When I look at natural and social science colleagues outside the B-school, I see all levels of engagement with real world practice. We can't blame science (although I would prefer to use the term rigor).

    Perhaps we should look to serve "the managed," rather than managers. So our responsibilities would be to the workforce, environment, community, and so on. While the way we do that would still be through management education and research, I believe that such a broader mission would actually enable us to demonstrate how we add value to the world. It would remove us from being permanently in a second-guessing-response, what-does-business-want-next mode; and, I think ironically, would give us more status and value in the eyes of the practitioners we seek to help now. We should claim to make them better and more effective in the world that they are in.

     
     
     
    • Robert E. Dratwa
    • Lead Core Faculty-Area Chair, University of Phoenix, Graduate School of Business Management

    Business school MBA programs can certainly be more relevant by instilling core values in learners other than simply profit motivation and sustaining competitive advantage.

    One could easily apply PBL (Problem-Based Learning) as the collaborative teaching dialogue of choice to instill the missing ingredient to the successful Rx prescription needed; more student self-directed learning, less teaching!

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    I'm an adjunct at several Boston-area colleges teaching various finance courses. I like teaching. I'm having fun. I'm interested in course development. I've developed the three courses that I teach at Berklee College of Music from scratch: Financial Management for Musicians (personal finance), Investments, and Managerial Finance. Music business is the largest major at Berklee. I teach professional musicians but at the same time my courses could not fit into a business program.

    Lack of a terminal degree prevents me from becoming a permanent tenure track professional, but my additional course work has practical, real-world relevant information.

     
     
     
    • Srinivas Rao
    • Consultant, Yogakshema Consulting

    The business school's primary purpose has become one of generating an inexpensive shortlist of minimally qualified candidates for risk-averse Human Resource departments.

    Faint contours of a caste system are emerging in business academia with the knowledge generators (academics and practitioners) as the "Boston Brahmins"; the alliance brokers (global and domestic) and boundary spanners the next in hierarchy; program and course administrators as the next in line; and the system and programming technicians at the lowest level. The rankings game also reinforces this hierarchy. The corporate university systems have not been part of this socialization and effectively remain insulated from making a visible contribution or dent.

     
     
     
    • Dr. Bobby Mackie
    • Associate Dean, Undergraduate Programmes, Caledonian Business School, Glasgow Caledonian University

    I agree that business schools should be more in touch with the needs of public and private sector organizations. A business school, by its very nature, is mandated to educate people in order to enhance their knowledge, skills, and competencies, thus preparing them for managerial roles.

    Ways of doing this could include more two-way movement of staff, building communication links, and networking between academia and employing organizations. For example, academic staff could work on organizational project teams, thus involving them in real decision making. There should also be opportunities for managers and academics to engage in joint curriculum development, research, and teaching at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. This would be of tremendous benefit particularly to those students who have limited employment experience.

    The end result would be a business school that is constantly in touch with the needs of organizations and, as a consequence, adapts the learning experience of its students to ensure their "fitness for purpose" as managerial decision makers.

     
     
     
    • Maureen Brown, CPCU
    • Senior Product Analyst, American Reinsurance

    Having recently returned to college to complete my undergraduate studies, I posed this question to myself last semester. I am majoring in Economics and found myself questioning some of my economics professor's views as not being indicative of real-world situations.

    Since many graduate students are working while completing their graduate degree, I feel it is extremely important that the professors have a basic understanding of the "real world." Although theory is important, the ability to apply the theory to real-life situations is equally important. In my opinion, not having practical exposure limits a person's ability to provide ways to implement theory.

     
     
     
    • Susan Nedza, MD
    • Chief Medical Officer, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

    It is imperative that graduates of business schools recognize their responsibility to stay connected and that schools fully utilize their alumni to develop curriculum that meets the need of the market.

    It is difficult for any organization to develop models of education without the type of environmental sensing that an engaged alumni network can provide.

    As a physician, I am fully aware of the issues of relevancy of knowledge and the need to adapt the rigid education model to prepare graduates to meet the needs of the market. As an MBA alumnus who is still engaging actively with the faculty at Kellogg, I hope to provide the kind of feedback that can impact not only curriculum but also help them educate graduates who understand the challenges of the world that they will enter post-graduation.

    The relevance of the MBA experience is dependent on both types of preparation.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    What really matters is to be properly trained to keep learning how to learn, no matter what business you are in.

     
     
     
    • Sunil Bedekar
    • Chief Medical Officer, Director

    Having lectured extensively in prime management training institutes across India, I have discovered that certain topics, like the legal aspects of management and international trade law (including the World Trade Organization), can best be understood through group discussions with specific reference to actual reported cases. Many of the issues are ultimately handed for resolution to courts of law. Moreover, the relevance of the World Trade Organization at the domestic level is still conspicuously lacking, and seminars are still not being focused on specific issues, such as technical standards. The relevance of the World Trade Organization needs to be harnessed in a sharper perspective.

     
     
     
    • Sandeep
    • Asst. Vice President, Marketing, Orios Ltd

    Last month I interviewed more than a hundred candidates from the top fifty business schools and a few from the best. My astonishing observation was that most of them are very successful working in a definite framework, but when it comes to building a framework and adding value to the organization not many have done it! This is a task that requires a more practical approach and out-of-the-box thinking.

    Only practitioners would be able to explain the premise and most importantly how to implement it.

     
     
     
    • Manav Garg

    A lot more should be required from actual companies in terms of thinking about ways to impart operational experience to the students. Students need to learn what it is like to get a customer and how they would feel when a customer says no. Thinking of strategy in a classroom is different from its execution in real life.

     
     
     
    • Ayan Bhattacharya
    • MBA Student, Georgetown University

    One of the difficulties in addressing this issue is the broad age range and career interests of B-school students, thus the subsequent challenge in addressing their specific needs. Someone like myself has benefited greatly from engaging in business case competitions, where I have represented Georgetown and had the opportunity to interact with students from other top-tier MBA programs and receive guidance and feedback from industry professionals (in my case, venture capitalists).

    As a student, I value those professors who have engaged in developing business partnerships or consulting engagements while teaching. Unlike undergraduate and PhD programs where faculty are offered tenure for conducting research and getting published, the criteria for promotion in B-schools needs to be more objective. It should include a weighted opinion of student feedback, peer reviews, the ability to work in teams/partner with faculty from other institutions, and the progress of research projects.

     
     
     
    • Pallavi Marathe
    • Application Programmer, IBM Global Services India

    Business schools can definitely be made more relevant by adopting a more practical approach towards issues. The main aim should be to teach the students how to become good managers. The selection criteria should probably emphasize more the aptitude of the student than the degrees he or she has attained in life prior to applying for admission to business school.

     
     
     
    • Lawrence Nwaru
    • Quality/Special Projects Manager, United Parcel Service Nigeria

    Our universities here in this part of the world [Nigeria] have only succeeded in creating a cult-world for their members' self-aggrandizement--making it difficult if not impossible for others to learn. So many restrictions on learning have caused a scarcity of professional teaching staff in our universities. Perhaps this is the consequence of a poor selection process for candidates. When you classify a degree as terminal, you indirectly create an artificial scarcity not only in the level of professional manpower but also in the quality of experienced resource persons from the business world.

    How then can we avail ourselves of the opportunity to learn from experienced managers who are not allowed to further their studies to the PhD level simply because they cannot be admitted to the academic world with an MBA?

     
     
     
    • Matt Burskey
    • Chief Marketing Officer, Annuitech Consulting Group

    Don't you think that part of the problem is in how business schools are selecting their students? I was just recently accepted into the Executive MBA program at the University of Michigan. The EMBA's curriculum is in line with the hard disciplines that I need. But I come to the school with strengths in the soft skills of management. The major measurement in my acceptance was my strong experience and professionalism. If I were to have applied to the day program at Michigan I most likely would not have been accepted. My experience is strong but my GMAT score wouldn't have been 750. I think business schools have to develop a stronger application process to try and attract individuals with the soft skills. If they build the hard skills on the foundation of soft skills the problem improves dramatically.

     
     
     
    • Paula Thornton
    • Experience Design Strategist

    I was shocked recently to discover what appears to be a rampant disconnect among key professors in their inability/unwillingness to direct the work of their students to "practical application."

    Indeed, the vast majority of students will be applying their education in the real world, and yet trying to get professors to pick up studies that are needed by the business community has been frustrating.

    That's not to say there aren't exceptions….

    My question is, what are the barriers and what can we do to break them down, soften them, or do an end-run around them to get directly to the students who clearly would have the desire to participate?

     
     
     
    • Dan Hays
    • Principal, PRTM Management Consulting

    Business schools would certainly benefit from taking a less academic approach to business education. While the case study method is a great compromise between the academic and the practical, most of the time it still fails to connect with the reality of the situation. Furthermore, there needs to be a greater alignment between the methodologies being taught and those that can be used in practice. Many techniques, particularly those in use in the finance and marketing communities, seem impractical in real business environments, where resistance to change and a lack of managerial education can hinder the use of moderately complex tools and approaches.

    Perhaps the question we should be asking is not just, "Are business schools teaching practical things?" but the joint question, which adds, "Should management require continuing education and/or certification to stay relevant?"

     
     
     
    • Frederick P. Bartlett
    • University of Florida MBA Student

    Each professor has the responsibility of making his or her course more practical and responsive to student needs. I believe that the professors are given great latitude in this regard. Some do a very good job and some do not.

    I believe that courses in creativity and design may have some relevance in the new business climate. In addition, although it is very hard to teach "soft" business and human relations skills, these are often the most important for a successful manager. I know that many schools are reluctant to teach these "soft" skills, but in many ways they are crucial in a world where outsourcing and offshoring are becoming increasingly popular.

     
     
     
    • Kent Byus
    • Associate Professor of Marketing, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

    The notion of business school relevance appears to parallel the ever-present "academic vs. practitioner" discussion. As I see it, the reality of a growing and prosperous business community requires both academic understanding and theory development to move the community to new plateaus and practical comprehension designed to inject the new understanding into action more efficiently and effectively and with greater accountability.

    Achieving these two desirable outcomes requires a more unified and integrated set of definitions, implications, and urgencies. B-schools must be more sensitive to the operational needs of the practitioner and the practitioner must be more sensitive to the benefits of theoretical understanding. Too often, academic rewards are tied to research performance without considering practical implication, and the practitioner is too often required to retrain the theoretically competent graduate because they lack practical wisdom.

    One solution to such a "definitional" gap might be to require academic research to pass through a practitioner review process prior to publication. As a consequence, all academic publications would be required to include practitioner reviews of published work. The result could be that both practical relevance and theoretical innovation would benefit.

     
     
     
    • Vivek S. Radia
    • Leadership Development Program, Lockheed Martin

    As a business school student I found that faculty without experience added little value if any to the highly interactive material that is created by the author and publishers of textbooks. Business schools are heavily rated on the productivity (research) of their faculty members. This research drives the funding for their schools which are essentially run like businesses. Yet the products of these businesses are students and human capital, but they are not the focal point.

    If business schools were actually a business they would have closed their doors long ago for not adding much value to their students. With the advent of the Internet, B-schools under their current model will provide zero value to students by 2010. As the average lifespan at a corporation has moved closer to two to three years, it should be easier for professors to dip in and out of the industry. If the United States keeps its current model with its agency conflict (teachers must research, not teach) China, India, and the like will continue to catch and surpass western management practices.

     
     
     
    • Juliette Denny
    • MD, Growth Engineering

    My company provides sales management training for VC-backed, early-stage high-growth companies. Many of these companies are run by the brightest MBAs—however very few know how to sell or manage a sales function to achieve the accelerated sales the VCs expect.

    I feel it is vital that all MBAs are taught the basics of sales strategy, sales management, and basic skills even if they are not destined for front-line selling. This would at least give them the tools to start and grow a business or manage a sales function. My husband and I both did our post grads at Harvard and were astounded [by the fact that] more attention was not given to the all-important task of revenue generation. After all, if you have no revenue you have no company.

     
     
     
    • Susan E. Bell
    • President, Spiral Pointe, Inc.

    Your premise that B-schools have lost their way is an intriguing one. Thinking back on observations over the years of some of the less-seasoned MBAs in my employ, it does seem that they often lack an accurate perception of their own skill sets and values. The more real-world experience they can gain prior to graduation, the greater their chances of moving forward with more keenly developed listening skills in their future roles.

     
     
     
    • Arthur Fullerton (HBS MBA '89)
    • Director of Development, Covenant House California

    As someone who graduated with an MBA from HBS and then followed two somewhat nontraditional paths—entreprenuership and nonprofit management—I found that my formal business education provided useful analytical skills, but it was not as helpful as it could have been in preparing me for real-world situations.

    The three areas where the training was inadequate, if not counterproductive, were:

    I. Resources. From financing to time to personnel, the ability to gather and mobilize resources in an effective manner was ignored or assumed away in the cases we studied. In both the entrepreneurial and nonprofit settings, these are key obstacles.

    II. Industry-specific knowledge. The importance of industry-specific knowledge was consistently downplayed under the theory of preparation for General Management. Attempting to manage in an area where you don't have industry-specific knowledge and training means you cannot be truly effective as a leader, teacher, and problem solver.

    III. The theory of people acting in their enlightened economic self-interest is wrong, or at least incomplete. Many more variables enter into people's choices than just value maximizing. The importance of such things as risk aversion, personality profiles, and philosophy/values are not to be underestimated. In business school they were consistently ignored.

     
     
     
    • Snehil Sinha
    • Associate, Citigroup

    Given that there is a need to bring practical focus into the MBA curriculum, I don't agree with Jeffrey Garten's "two-track faculty" proposal. My opinion is based on the presumption that the "clinical faculty" will not make great teachers, either due to self selection or to lack of training and experience. Also, learning from a practitioner is in some ways impractical.

    An alternative solution to achieve the same goal is to increase the firsthand practical exposure of the students. This can be achieved in several ways:

    1. Break up two-year MBA programs to recall students after a year-long, on-the-job exposure.

    2. MBA curriculum should include mandatory association with industry projects.

     
     
     
    • Jack Lutkowitz (HBS MBA '90)
    • President, Intellective Inc.

    As an HBS graduate (MBA '90), I have wondered if the HBS program had an internal inconsistency. On the one hand, HBS admissions places a premium on work experience (four years on average) to gain entrance into the program, while on the other hand, HBS seems to follow the "scientific model" for its faculty.

    This type of MBA curriculum may influence the need for faculty with practical work experience. For example, the HBS curriculum is case study focused, so the argument could be made that HBS professors do not need to be practical experts in the material they teach. More importantly, they need to be experts in the case method. The case method professor, through class discussions, must draw out lessons learned from his students—the real-world experts on the subject matter.

    Some business executives have expressed their concern about exclusive reliance on the "scientific model." For instance, in his book, Plain Talk, world-renown CEO F. Kenneth Iverson wrote, "Few [business school] professors have ever managed anything, and their lack of hands-on experience shows in their students. Medical school faculties, in contrast, are comprised of the best and most respected practicing physicians."

    In my view, it is important that business school faculty have non-academic, practical work experience. The most important course that is not taught in business school is "Ego Management"—being able to keep your own ego in check while helping others maintain their self-esteem. This facility, often the difference between having success or failure in business relationships, can only be acquired and subsequently taught through practical work experience.

     
     
     
    • CJ Cullinane

    In many ways, I feel that business schools have lost their relevance. Business is about rapid change, while academia is about past practice. The dissertation process, which produces our instructors, builds on a literature review of previous research. New and innovative breakthroughs are seldom a result of this process—the breakthroughs come from the practitioners.

    It is difficult to teach sales if you have never sold anything! You can teach the theory, but the actual experience of selling is much different than the theory.

    A graduate school of business will often look for students with experience before accepting them into the program. Why would you have a person teach without the same criteria?

    Research is important, but it is only one aspect of business and industry. Experience and education combined in an instructor would better serve the student and industry. Who might empathize with a business student better, an instructor with a PhD and academic experience or an MBA with twenty years experience in the discipline they are teaching?

    In the changing world of business, the teacher/mentor with the "scars" of the work world might better guide the students.

     
     
     
    • John Davis
    • Adjunct Professor, Singapore Management University

    Warren Bennis identified an important argument regarding business school education: relevancy. Relevance applies both to the practical implementation of management practices and the insightful research that advances the study and understanding of the underlying forces that shape business, market, and customer behaviors.

    As a twenty-year business "practitioner" who has spent the past few years on the academic side, I do see a need for business schools to provide a more rigorous and relevant curriculum that balances the quantitative side with the softer areas of human relations. When I went through Columbia's business school over fifteen years ago, I learned innumerable formulas and frameworks necessary to analyze any complex business problem. But it was when I reentered the business world that the soft-side issues took precedence. The elegance of my analyses, as persuasive as I thought them to be, was often superseded by the practical issues of how the organization could implement the ideas. This involved real but challenging issues of how to handle sensitive people issues.

    To the chagrin of many schooled in the scientific side of business, the people side is imprecise, squishy, and prone to emotional influences. This makes the clear and consistent application of formulas and theories impractical. After all, what formula should one use when telling a manager that he or she is being reassigned, terminated, or demoted?

    For business school faculty on the tenure track, I believe their long-term credibility and even enjoyment of their chosen field will be far more successful if they spend time working inside businesses. Not to belabor the obvious, but this type of experience will give them practical insights they cannot possibly glean, understand, or credibly teach if they are removed from the profession they study. The pressure to publish in Tier 1 journals should not be reduced. But the expectations and criteria of what constitutes relevant research should be redesigned. This should not be a multiyear, committee-driven process, as this will further distance and even risk alienating the journals and their published research from the business world. Instead, the journals ought to ask the hard questions of how to maintain their reputations in light of the need to publish research that the business world can use. Otherwise, the research will be relevant only to other academics.

    The idea of a two-track faculty, one tenure/research-oriented and the other clinical or "practice track," is long overdue. The good news is that many schools are doing this, including my present employer. But the pursuit of this should not remove business schools of the obligation to make the tenure-track faculty pursue more practical, less-esoteric research. Otherwise, I believe they will be increasingly marginalized.

    There is another area of business education that needs fine tuning, or perhaps even a complete overhaul: teaching the interactivity and cross-dependencies of business disciplines within organizations. Business education is excellent at vertical focus, but mediocre, or in many cases, simply lousy at showing how finance, marketing, HR, operations, and so forth depend on each other in the course of daily business activities. One need only to spend a few weeks or months inside a company (perhaps even just a few days) to realize that functional isolation is no longer a practice in most industries and organizations. So business schools need to start actively finding ways to teach cross-discipline cases and examples if students are to truly understand the practice of business. A doctor does not specialize in cardiovascular surgery without understanding the other dimensions of health and the human body. Business schools need to apply this same reasoning in their curriculums. I applaud Warren Bennis for thoughtfully articulating this issue.

    To conclude, let me highlight a reference I made early on in my response—Relevance alone is not the full answer. There is still a need for rigor, but it needs to be applied to the non-quantitative areas if a B-school education is to offer added value and be on the leading edge.

     
     
     
    • Tery Tennant
    • Business Developer/Coach, Attainment, Inc.

    What I have seen as a business performance coach is that people are not being taught basic things such as proper goal setting and achievement, scheduling, delegation, follow-up on commitments, and motivation skills.

    It always amazes me that the vast majority of top leaders don't even know how to clarify and write specific, measurable goals with their people. They also lack some of the key practical communication tools and approaches that are needed.

     
     
     
    • Khalid Sheikh
    • Professor of eBusiness, Mumbai Educational Trust's Asian Management Development Center

    I feel it's not the B-schools that have lost relevance but the faculty research undertaken inside them. Surprisingly, the mission statements of most B-schools still talk about the needs of the industry and practitioners. So what's really required is that the B-schools stick to their self-proclaimed mission and vision by questioning whether research to be undertaken serves the mission of the school by being useful to students, practitioners, industry, or the business community in general.

    Current research is ailing because of the requirements set by the people who evaluate the outcome of that research. It appears they only evaluate whether the steps of scientific research have been meticulously followed ...whether the problem had any relevance to the industry, or whether the solution had any use for the customers of the B-school are never considered as possible evaluation criteria.

    B-schools need a paradigm shift from the current means-justifying-the-ends research to really useful ends-justifying-the-means research.

     
     
     
    • Don Cameron
    • Senior Consultant, Australian Sports Commission

    As a recent MBA graduate, I can only concur with the sentiments expressed by those who believe in linking the "academy" with the real world. However, I would not like to see the importance of research devalued. There are certainly enough "It is my opinion that..."-type management books that provide an important balance.

    The problem with research is not the research itself but what is being researched. Let's have less esoteric research on topics that will not make a difference. Perhaps we need well-respected business leaders to be consulted on what should be researched, rather than "those of the academy." Certainly, more industry experience for business school faculties would be better if we can afford it.

    And please, let us have more emphasis on rewarding good teachers.… I'd like to see professors rewarded at least in part on the outcomes achieved by their students after they leave the business school!

     
     
     
    • B V Krishnamurthy
    • Director and Executive Vice-President, Alliance Business Academy, Bangalore, India

    The present plight of B-schools is one of their own making. In recent years, it has become fashionable for market research agencies and major publications to bring out lists of the best B-schools. Among the parameters considered are the quality of placements, salaries offered, research undertaken, books published, and management development programs conducted, and so on. Many B-schools take pride in announcing that all their students were "placed" on day zero.

    In other words, B-schools have virtually become MBA factories churning out young people in the hundreds and even thousands into a world waiting to gobble them up. Organizations seem to believe these young people can really solve the real-world problems. The fact is that due to a mismatch between what is taught in the classroom and what is required in the real world, organizations end up spending considerable amounts to unlearn many of the things the executives bring from B-schools.

    The solution, to my mind, is to have greater interaction between B-schools and industry. Industry needs to provide specific inputs as to what is being looked for in executives. B-schools on their part have to come out of their "clinical research" syndrome and develop the skills that industry looks for.

    To illustrate, two of the leading Indian organizations have taken the initiative in developing content and making it available to a few B-schools as value-added courses. The result is a significant reduction in the induction and training required for new recruits. Students with these additional skills are able to create value almost from day one.

    A B-school education, like most other aspects of life today, has to be dynamic, proactive, and adaptive to an ever-changing environment. If this happens, there will be no need to discuss the relevance of a B-school education.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    In my business school, we did a lot of case studies of real companies, receiving information up to a certain point, formulating strategies, then comparing them to what actually happened. I believe these [cases] taught me the most useful information and they should continue to be a primary source of learning.

    Another method of bringing the academic and business worlds closer is to encourage student and faculty projects in the business community through summer jobs, consulting, part-time teaching, and studying…. While many schools say they encourage these practices, the only aspect I saw—student summer jobs—was not very visible and was (unofficially) looked down upon. Rewarding such initiatives, up to a certain point, would help turn them into reality.

     
     
     
    • Dr V P Kochikar
    • Associate Vice President and Principle Consultant, Infosys Technologies

    Business schools have not lost their relevance—in fact, business schools are probably more in demand today than in the past. Nobody has yet produced evidence of a declining trend in either the demand for business school education from aspiring managers or the demand for business school graduates from corporate recruiters.

    However, as is often the case, this success obscures some uncomfortable truths. Business school graduates often arrive in industry with an exaggerated notion of the impact they can create. Part of the reason for this is that, when business school faculty address industry problems in the curriculum, it is as though CEOs are the only people who face problems! Perhaps this is due to a desire to paint each problem as a strategy, or perhaps it represents a reluctance to get into the operational nitty-gritty. The net result is that, in the graduate's mind, strategy is equated with importance and operational with the mundane.

    In reality, the average business school graduate will probably not make a presentation to the CEO for years, and only a handful will ever truly become advisors to CEOs (who, by the way, have their share of operational problems too!). Thus, faculty would do well to cover plenty of operational issues in the curriculum. To equip themselves to do this better, they can proactively engage with practicing managers through consulting, training, or simply by visiting industry and writing up case studies. Also, recruitment and tenure requirements need to be updated to afford greater importance to practical experience. Faculty evaluation panels can also include practicing managers. A few large business schools already do this, but they are the exceptions.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    I think you should know about the efforts in Canada by a group called Minerva Canada. I sit on the working committee. Minerva's mission is to see that health and safety principles and concepts are incorporated into business and engineering post-secondary programs. This is done by awarding funding for the generation of case studies to be used by professors and lecturers in these fields. In the future, we will encourage the same in healthcare administration and other courses. The goal is to produce company managers who already know how to incorporate H&S with production and finance. Take a look at the Web site www.minervacanada.org, and feel free to use the case studies!