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The evolving MBA.

Alliances between business schools and corporations can help sharpen the U.S.' competitive edge, but CEOs should clear up the confusion between what they say they need and who their recruiters hire.

"Change" was clearly the watchword of the Chief Executive roundtable on business schools: Representatives of both academia and the corporate world agreed that MBA programs must continually evolve. The graduate who enters today's intensely competitive global marketplace must have vastly different skills and abilities than did his or her predecessor. And tomorrow's graduate will need to possess still different qualities to meet the requirements of a rapidly changing business environment. We must, however, move beyond mere aphorisms and take real action.

Business schools must change at least at the same pace that our world is changing--or they must suffer the consequences. So, too, must chief executives change their skills and management styles. As evidenced by recent board of director decisions at Oster Sunbeam, General Motors, American Express, and elsewhere, the CEO is being held more accountable than ever. Corporations that have not anticipated change are being left behind, as well.

Separately, and in tandem, academics and chief executives must turn the challenge of change into opportunity.

TAKING A HANDS-ON APPROACH

Top business schools have. Some have anticipated the changing nature of the marketplace and redesigned their curricula. Relevant business issues are now intertwined with course presentations. And in many schools, the team approach is beginning to dominate. Rather than working in isolation or in the traditional one-on-one method with a professor, students now are being grouped together. This approach not only enhances learning but, critically, builds students' abilities to be successful team players.

Total quality management, globalization, and computer-based instruction also have been put in place to better train and equip our graduates. Business schools interact more frequently and more broadly with the corporate world, using a variety of stages, such as guest lecturer programs, cooperative research, and joint projects of mutual interest. Multifaceted corporation-school partnerships are becoming more commonplace.

Perhaps most important, communication has emerged as a central linchpin of the many changes taking place at top business schools. Not only must we focus on sharpening the dialogue between schools and corporations, we must see that our graduates are equipped to communicate effectively in the workplace.

The top schools are responding to this challenge and are beginning to mold a more flexible, perhaps less analytical MBA graduate. Initiatives such as "Individual Effectiveness" at the Fuqua School of Business provide students with strong interpersonal skills and business communications acumen, while helping them to develop individual goals and career direction. These, in turn, are being interwoven with core courses to produce a manager with both functional and general management expertise--one who knows when to lead and when to be part of a team, and who is adaptive and responsive to change. In addition, our CEO partners must step up their own communication efforts to combat the dichotomy between what CEOs say they want in an MBA graduate and what campus recruiters seek. Clearly, the goal is to avoid mixed messages.

The MBA should be seen as an important component of a lifelong business education program that can, and should, be augmented through executive education. While internal corporate training programs are superb at improving narrow, job-specific skills; imparting a specific corporate culture; and providing career path guidance, they lack a broad perspective. Business school-based executive education programs resonate with the energy and vitality of the participants' diverse backgrounds. Managers and executives alike benefit from interaction with peers from other companies, industries, and geographic locales--creating an atmosphere a corporate setting cannot match.

Business schools and corporate America must nurture alliances for mutual benefit. Rather than looking upon each other as part of a customer/supplier equation, we should be working toward strategic partnerships that assure our success. On the part of business schools, this can best be achieved by continually improving MBA programs and drawing heavily on corporate involvement and interaction, as well as by expanding the executive education programs that such forward-thinking firms as Ford, Eli Lilly, and Johnson & Johnson have forged with top business schools.

Together we can create a "win-win" scenario that will help America manage change more effectively and reassert its competitive edge.

Thomas F. Keller is the dean of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in Durham, NC. He also serves as chairman of the department of management science and as R. J. Reynolds professor of business administration.
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Title Annotation:Business Schools
Author:Keller, Thomas F.
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:742
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