What Could the Transformation of MBA Education Mean for Your Company?
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Episode 34 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio Episode 34: What Could the Transformation of MBA Education Mean For Your Company?
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. And right across from me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. I’m so happy to be here again with you today. If this is your first time listening out there, the purpose of Growth Igniters Radio is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to the next level of success. So Pam − what’s our topic for today?
Pam Harper: How companies can benefit from the trend of universities transforming their MBA programs. It’s clear that this trend is growing across a whole range of business schools from the very largest public institutions to smaller private schools. Of course, this means that a growing number of students of all backgrounds are coming out with new philosophies, knowledge, and abilities − all things that can add new value for employers. However, it also raises questions about how to foster an environment that attracts and retains this talent…
Scott Harper: … And uses them to their full benefit.
Pam Harper: Exactly. And that’s why we’re happy to have as our guest today, Louis Ruvolo, Director of Graduate Business Programs at Saint Peters University, which is the Jesuit University of New Jersey − and it’s based just across the river from New York City. We met Lou recently, and we were fascinated by his story and also how since 2012, he’s been leading the transformation of Saint Peters MBA education to meet the changing needs of society and business, as well as the very diverse student population in a smaller university. Lou, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Lou Ruvolo: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here with you, Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Well, we are delighted that you are with us. So let’s talk a bit more about your story. Now, your original background was in corporate management. What led you to shift gears and decide to go into academia?
Lou Ruvolo: Well, in most corporate environments, there were all kinds of things that changed on a regular basis, whether it’s a new release of a system, a new policy in HR, a new way to do business and interact with customers, and so on. I had the fortune of being able to work for IBM as my first job out of college, and I learned exactly how much they invested in their employees as their people assets to gain additional education and understand the full picture, and all of the components that went into it.
That always put me into a role of being able to learn new things, and also the incentive to be able to clearly articulate what that meant to us and what the change was so that I could explain it to other colleagues or our customers. So I could say that all throughout my entire corporate career, from then till physically joining academia, I was in a teaching type of mode.
I spent 19 years at IBM, and even in working in one company like that, I had different assignments within accounting, IT, and program management. I even did a little stint in education, and spent quite a bit of time in corporate litigation.
Pam Harper: Now, your background included quite a stint at HP and Compaq [as well]?
Lou Ruvolo: Yes, that came as a secondary career opportunity when Compaq began their financial services organization − that was a specialty of mine that I gained within IBM − and then I eventually moved up to a global leadership position within Compaq, HP before leaving there and then going into a small private company − which was quite a big shift from those global multinationals − into a company that was really based out of New York. Between the project management job that I did there, and then as Chief Marketing Officer, we took the best of all those other corporate experiences to take the small private company up there a few notches.
Scott Harper: Tell me, Lou, what advantage do you see going from a very corporate background into an academic background, as opposed to a homegrown academic moving into an administrative role in a university?
Lou Ruvolo: Yes. Our academic system in the United States teaches people to be very narrow in their focus so that they actually end up being within the top five to one percent of knowledge within a very specific discipline. That is astonishing when you can learn from somebody a single discipline like that.
Unfortunately, in the business world, things are not defined as narrowly as that, and so it actually takes multiple experts around the table to be able to synthesize the full picture. I find that coming from the corporate environment where our pace and our impact with the customer is much more significant, and there is a much shorter runway, that those experiences in the academic arena have caused me, especially, to synthesize what goes on here.
Scott Harper: Well, that makes a tremendous amount of sense. In our previous conversations, you’ve talked extensively about how academic institutions, large or small really, have to embrace the changes that have been going on in the business environment and turn out a different type of student. Can you tell us about the primary forces you’ve seen that are creating this need?
Lou Ruvolo: Yes, Scott. I mean, the landscape of higher education is changing fairly rapidly, and in a very disruptive type of perspective. I think there’s a couple of key areas that are driving that. Number one, there is a completely different cultural environment in academics today than there was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There are also enormous amounts of financial considerations, given the cost of education today.
Technology has certainly reshaped the picture, and the different tools that we get out of that, so what universities and colleges are faced with today is [a need for] some way to differentiate themselves, and that can be culturally or through the curriculum. Curriculums no longer can stay in place for multiple years without modification. There are constantly new things evolving, so the curriculum needs to evolve with it on a much more rapid basis.
Also, the structure of faculty − we’re seeing there’s a much bigger change with faculty coming out of the practitioner ranks − out of the corporate ranks as full time faculty is being hired into institutions. Also, what we’ve always known as a traditional student − the students who are 18 or so years of age that go to a college − there are so many other opportunities now with the for-profits and the community colleges that traditional students no longer exist in a college environment. So what we’ve always known as the traditional university has changed radically in the last 30 to 40 years.
Pam Harper: That’s a lot of change. And of course, we’re also talking about companies and businesses of all sizes having new needs as well. That has to be impacting a bit on some of the choices that you’ve been making − you and others in different universities − about transforming MBA education as well. Would that be true?
Lou Ruvolo: Absolutely. I mean, there’s still a very strong benefit to achieving a post baccalaureate degree in the form of a master’s degree. The good news is that companies over the last 10 years or so have been increasing their desire to hire MBA graduates. Whereas in the early part of the 2010/2013 perspective we were seeing about 62% to 75% of companies having a desire to hire MBA graduates, now, that number is projected this year to be all the way up at 84%.
Pam Harper: Wow.
Lou Ruvolo: The greatest desire of companies to hire master’s degree candidates comes out of the MBA. I think it’s one of the few degrees that really teaches students to be a master of business. If we take a step back from that and try to analyze what is not a business in today’s environment, we’d be pretty hard pressed to come up with any kind of solid answer as to what’s not a business.
Pam Harper: That’s true. We hear about music groups that are businesses, and virtually everything that somebody makes money out of is a business in one way, shape, form or another.
At this point, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back we’re going to talk more with Louis Ruvolo, Director of Graduate Business Programs at Saint Peters University, about what’s going on specifically at Saint Peters University to respond to all those changes we’ve been discussing. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth. And if you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com, select episode 34, and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter at the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. Use #Growthigniters. This will help extend our reach to all of the people who can benefit from this series.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Lou Ruvolo, Director of Graduate Business Programs at Saint Peters University. Lou, how can people find out more about you and the Saint Peters MBA program?
Lou Ruvolo: They can find information on our website, which is www.saintpeters.edu. Once there, they can select the graduate business program, read all about our program, our curriculum, and our distinguished faculty.
Pam Harper: That’s wonderful, and we’ll have a link on the Growth Igniters Radio episode 34 page. That’s www.growthignitersradio.com, episode 34.
Let’s get back to our discussion. We’ve been talking about all these forces that are at work that are necessitating transforming the MBA program in general. Now, let’s talk specifically about Saint Peters University. You’ve been actively transforming this program − leading the transformation. How can you see it meeting the new needs of society and business that have not generally been addressed by traditional MBA programs?
Lou Ruvolo: Well, one of the key things that we see going on in the corporate sector − and having been there experienced it − many of our premier companies in the United States [used to have] a fairly large education and training staff. Through the various financial crisis that have gone on, they’ve reduced those staffs considerably to help contain costs. So now they look to new hires, especially those with MBAs or other advanced degrees, to already possess requisite skills in the areas of oral and written communication, teamwork, and presentation skills. And because the workplace environment is so dynamic, a key skill that employers are looking for is adaptability.
Pam Harper: True.
Lou Ruvolo: What we’ve done within our curriculum is to fine-tune some of the disciplines that we had in our MBA program. We currently offer eight concentrations within the MBA, and we looked at the curriculum that makes up each one of the concentrations. For instance, we have a number of students that are focused on human resource management as their specialization within the MBA. We evolved our curriculum to include three mandatory courses − one in human resource management, one in leadership, and one in employment law. Whereas the breath of the MBA provides a great number of disciplines for this degree, the specialization creates a certain distinction, so that it’s a breath of the MBA, but also the depth of the specific concentration.
Even just our teaching methodology has shifted a lot. Many of our faculty members are industry practitioners. They are coming to teach at Saint Peters for the love of sharing that information with students, and we use the real workplace as part of our model. For instance, this term we have a class in international finance, so in a few of those lectures we’re going to establish the key theories of international finance, but then the students are going to take a deep dive and look the Greek Euro crisis and be able to analyze that.
We often say that at the undergraduate level our educational system has taught us to read and then regurgitate that information onto some kind of exam so that we can quantify the knowledge transfer. However, at the graduate level, we take a different [approach]. It’s more of read, digest and apply − and so by having those theories underfoot and then analyzing what’s going on in the current trade journals − in the Wall Street Journal and other business press − we’re able to actually see multidimensional type of issues that go beyond the textbook, but we’ve had the benefit of researching and digesting those theories as a platform to then understand what’s happening in today’s world.
Scott Harper: You’re really cultivating intellectual agility, which is so important in any aspect of business.
Lou Ruvolo: That is a key piece to it. I’ll tell you a funny story real quickly. In teaching a business ethics course, I had a student that wanted to drop the course after about session number six with the complaint that I was not giving her answers. That’s the whole point, especially, in the class like ethics; we’re here to help you think, to process and to transform with critical thinking skills. The answer really is that what is customary today might very well change In more ways 20 years from now. We’ve seen enough of those changes in our lifetimes − that things that were popular in the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘50s and “60s have gone by the wayside in 2015.
It’s not about having the right answer; it’s about having the right answer for now and to understanding why it is the right answer for now. Not just simply relying on the historical perspective, that we’ve always done it that way.
Pam Harper: How did she react to this − “there is no right answer?”
Lou Ruvolo: She was a little startled. She was … She was looking for something more finite, but she actually stuck through the class, and I have to say I was able to help her channel. She had a very strong passion for animal rights, and that’s exactly how I helped her focus what she was learning in business ethics − to apply to the whole animal rights concepts and the way animals are used for testing some of those other issues that come out. She was able to analyze those dilemmas with a lot better comfort level, as well as an understanding of how to approach that kind of an ethical dilemma.
Scott Harper: The world is not a static place. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along, and it sounds like you’re really trying to bring that out of your students, which is tremendously commendable. I have another question.
Lou Ruvolo: Sure.
Scott Harper: You’ve talked about what you have done − You’re not static either − so what additional changes are in the pipeline for Saint Peters’ MBA program?
Lou Ruvolo: Well, a couple of years ago, we recognized the changing landscape in the business community, and we introduced one of our concentrations in healthcare administration. That, as we all see with what’s going on in the United States, even though that curriculum was built years ago, it changes every time we offer those classes due to the changing landscape. It’s set up that way where at least one of the courses in that curriculum is current issues in healthcare, so it is constantly changing.
Also, across the board, something that we’ve become more accustomed to in the United States is this concept of risk and managing risk. That is a very key component in our MBA program as well as the MS and accountancy program. We actually are taking a very strong look right now to transform what was the MIS component within our MBA curriculum, and move that concentration more into the area of cyber security. Our curriculum continues to change as the environment around us changes so that we can keep our students current with today’s environment.
Pam Harper: So important. We just recently were speaking with Tim Herbert of Atrion in one of our episodes [#33] that is featuring fusing business and technology. And [we discussed] the importance of people in IS disciplines to be able to think strategically, and that this is something that it sounds like also you’re going to be talking about. Is that true?
Lou Ruvolo: Absolutely. I mean, we offer a class in strategic risk management at the end of the MBA program, regardless of what any student specialization has been. There is a capstone course that we’ve appropriately named “corporate strategy from initiation to implementation,” to recognize the importance that it’s not just having good ideas that will bring about change − and the right types of change − but also the ability to effectively implement those ideas so that they will appropriately take traction and cause the change that was intended.
Pam Harper: That’s very exciting, to think about all those things coming up.
So − we’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back, we’ll speak more with Louis Ruvolo of Saint Peters University to talk about how companies can make best use of their MBA talent. Stay with us…
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Lou Ruvolo, Director of Graduate Business Programs at Saint Peters University about the changing world of MBA education and all of the wonderful, exciting things that are coming up in the Saint Peters University MBA program. Lou, how can people find out more about Saint Peters University’s MBA program?
Lou Ruvolo: Well, we have a full cadre of information available on our website at www.saintpeters.edu/graduatebusiness.
Pam Harper: Let’s get back to our conversation. We’ve been talking about how the world is changing; let’s now talk about companies. Once these students graduate, they go into the business environment. Something that Scott and I have seen is that companies, oftentimes, underutilize their best talent − especially, if they’re coming out with all of these new skills, abilities and ethics in a way.
What are three things that CEOs, specifically, can do to foster an environment in their companies that reinforces these new ways of thinking, decision-making and communicating?
Lou Ruvolo: That’s a great question, Pam. We’ve seen so many psychological studies over time that have constantly reiterated that human beings are social creatures − but if you think back, once upon a time business was done with looking into someone else’s eye and a handshake. We’ve move so far away from that now to the current structure of corporations, to the technology that we have that people instant message each other or just send emails back and forth.
There’s very little social interaction going on anymore, but there’s a great need to bring back social interactions. It could be a lunch and learn, it could be some after work gathering, but people need to reconnect with each other. They need to learn how they’re all unique, but that as a team they can collaborate to bring the latest success to the overall company. If employers could help to allocate a little bit of time for employee collaborations − that works.
[ISecondly], I have to honestly say that as I think back over my educational training, I don’t think I ever took a course in how to make a decision or that taught me critical thinking. But now there is a lot of material out there that can help groups to function more effectively to be able to absorb the information around critical thinking. We need to take a step backwards to reinforce those principles. Some of our MBAs coming out of programs at this point are the ones that can do that the best, because that’s how they’ve gotten through their education.
Lastly, I think one of the key things that we can be doing from a corporate perspective is promoting transparency. It’s important for the corporate culture to explain what is important and what’s not important. Celebrate those achievements, and lead by example in that perspective, but to do that in a very transparent arena so that it’s very clear what is rewarded, and why it’s rewarded ,because they can emulate those behaviors and be able to demonstrate what brings the company forward.
Scott Harper: Three points well taken. Now, let’s go back to the first one − the social interaction. You are right about the different ways of communicating, and how far flung people can be. It struck me as you were speaking, Lou, that you’re really talking a lot about how to integrate someone into the culture and how to inculcate cultural values into people who are working in the company. Is that on point?
Lou Ruvolo: Absolutely. I mean, in the assimilation or the on-boarding process for anybody joining an organization, they’re always going to have some of their own thoughts; but you don’t get a dedicated loyal employee until they have seen an alignment between their thoughts − their ways of doing things, their cultural outlook − and how it matches to the company.
Pam Harper: Students are expecting in a way, from going through this, that they’re going to do well when they’re connecting with other people.
What other expectations do you see students who have this transformed MBA education having when they go into the workplace? Companies talk to us all the time about the issues of we can’t get the right talent. It’s hard to get top talent …
Scott Harper: Or we can’t retain them.
Pam Harper: … Or we can’t retain the talent − so what expectations do you see these students having?
Lou Ruvolo: Well, I think the question … When I hear that question I think of it in two fold. Number one, the first piece is attracting them, and so when these types of students come out of our program and enjoy the connectivity to their colleagues, as they go to interview with these other institutions, they need to feel a little bit of that perspective coming to them − that they matter as an employee. We’ve certainly seen how the corporate world has been able to eradicate people off the payroll, so they need to feel like they’re joining someplace that has some kind of culture. On the flip side, by connecting them to the higher good of what the company is doing and to recognize their individual talents, it really creates an opportunity for that retention.
I can tell you that I see it with my faculty members. They all are employed; as a private Jesuit college, we pay a fair salary for faculty, but there’s a personal connection that each of my faculty members has and it’s a feeling of satisfaction that they get from teaching here and from the caliber of students.
At the end of the day, we’ve often seen those surveys that say money is not a motivator; where somebody says “I like where I work, I’m appreciated where I work and those extra dollars that I might be able to get somewhere else don’t become a significant factor,” because you are comfortable and you feel appreciated. That’s one of the things that we’ve lost and that’s what needs to come back a little bit − is that loyalty, and engendering it in your employees. When you have a stable workforce that enjoys what they do, your customers are happy, the revenue comes in more smoothly, and you don’t have turnover of personnel, and therefore you have a more sustainable organization.
Pam Harper: Appreciation is always in style, always relevant.
Lou, any final thoughts as far as what the transforming MBA education can do for companies and for the business world in general?
Lou Ruvolo: Well, I think as we look at the various assets that are in a company’s portfolio, the two things that impress me the most is that our technology is rapidly increasing, and the differentiation between company A versus company B on a certain technology is getting more and more fungible. There’s very little distinction that is coming out in the workplace, but the one thing that is distinctive and will continue to be the most distinctive are the people assets of a company. Having bright, talented MBA students as employees within an organization gives that company a distinct advantage over their competitors. Treating those MBA students and employees in an appreciative way will yield major benefits for the company.
Pam Harper: Lou, thank you so much for being our guest today on Growth Igniters Radio.
Lou Ruvolo: Thank you both, Pam and Scott.
Scott Harper: Our pleasure; thanks again. And thank you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, read Lou’s bio, find out our upcoming events, and open a conversation with us, go to www.growthignitersradio.com and select episode 34.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to think about:
Scott Harper: What can we do to create an environment in our company that not only attract the best of the new MBA graduates, but uses them to their full advantage?