Why You Are Paying More for Your MBA

The Lee Business School Evening MBA program is ranked 52nd nationally by Business Week.  This is a significant achievement and a testament to the dedicated LBS faculty and staff who create a high-quality student experience with far fewer resources than MBA programs at other institutions.  The cost for in-state students to complete our MBA program is less than half that for in-state students at our average peer institution and is less than a third of the cost of places like Arizona State and UCLA.

Even more impressive than our program’s ranking and affordability is the achievement of our MBA students. LBS MBAs have dominated regional as well as global competitions and our graduates have been at the forefront of entrepreneurship. Not to mention that when the Runnin’ Rebels take the floor this month their new coach sports an MBA from UNLV.  

But we can and must do better.  A city of two million people needs a world-class MBA program to help diversify and fuel its economy.  Through a series of cuts that have totaled about 40% of our budget, the State of Nevada has made it clear that it is not going to provide the resources to propel the University and its programs forward. Nonacademic areas have shouldered a disproportionate share of these cuts, but the MBA program has had to scale back staff and services to match our shrinking finances.   

The good news is that for the first time in UNLV’s history the State is giving us the opportunity to implement differential fees and have these revenues come back to the University rather than go into Nevada’s general fund.  The Board of Regents judged the needs of the MBA programs at UNLV and UNR to be so great that it approved a $100 per credit hour surcharge on all MBA courses at both institutions starting this spring semester. The revenues from this surcharge will not fill the entire hole left by the budget cuts, but it will allow us to invest in some much-needed infrastructure, help recruit and retain the best faculty to teach in the program, and improve graduates’ visibility in the community and with prospective employers.

It is my hope that these differential fees represent the first step on a short journey to self-sufficiency for the MBA program and the entire Lee Business School– a state of affairs where we would be responsible for our own programs, revenue generation, operating budgets and payroll.   Risk is inherent to any enterprise, but there is no down side to financial self-sufficiency.  Controlling our fate can only help us realize our aspirations: For far too long our destiny has been decided for us.  This new approach will require a greater partnership between faculty, students, staff and the business community.   But markets work and greater value creation will be rewarded with more national visibility, higher student demand, and greater opportunity for graduates.

So as you pay more for your MBA classes this semester know that it is an investment in your future.  Some of the changes financed by the new fees will be readily apparent this spring, with a new MBA student lounge and greater opportunities to meet local employers on campus in the works.  Other changes, including a revamped curriculum, higher admission standards, and block scheduling will likely roll out in the fall of 2012.  Five years from now, it is my goal to have your degree associated with a top twenty-five evening MBA program. If we can control our own financial destiny, such lofty goals are within our grasp.

Dinner at the School

If you had three people in history you could ask to dinner, who would they be?  It is a question commonly asked of interviewees. The response is frequently both entertaining and revealing.  Ruling out dead people, I’d invite Ron Popeil, Mel Kiper Jr., and Snooki.  I think Snooki’s speaking fee is a little high (ask Rutgers they paid $35,000 to the horror of their students).  If so, Kim Kardashian would do.   We would serve rotisserie chicken, debate each others’ “up” and “down” sides in infinite detail, and probably cause enough drama to be charged with disturbing the peace—oh wait that’s the Housewives of Orange County.

Maybe inviting them to dinner is a bad idea, but I would like them featured on a panel discussion at LBS about personal branding and launching a highly successful career.  Even this doesn’t quite give them their due for each of my guests did more than achieve celebrity status…they invented a whole new category.  Ron Popeil is from my father’s generation. He is maybe the best pitchmen ever, created all sorts of kitchen gadgets and perfected the infomercial.  Mel is from my generation.  He invented the professional “draft analyst,” became a fixture on ESPN and turned the NFL player draft into a two-day television event. Snooki, is from my children’s generation and while it is fashionable to make fun of her, as far as I know, she is the first serial reality TV star—let’s hope that can’t be easy to do.  The format is simple.  Ron, Mel and Snooki will tell their stories.  The students will be charged with identifying similarities in their stories and developing actionable career strategies based on our speakers’ experiences.

Our guests are what sociologist and writer Malcolm Gladwell calls “outliers.”  They are unusually successful people and if we are to believe Gladwell, they are likely to share a few common characteristics.  For one, outliers tend to come from a culture of entitlement.  Not “the world owes me something” view we normally associate with this term, but rather from a perspective and tradition that says it is okay to challenge authority, pursue your own agenda, and take the initiative. (Helicopter parents take note.)  Snooki, for example, has plenty of this, and can take a punch to boot. Outliers also have the vision or good fortune to see opportunity before others do. Mel Kiper credits his career in part to a discussion he had with an NFL general manager who spoke of the need for better information on players and encouraged him to turn it into a business.  Finally, outliers get lots of practice developing their new skill before anyone else does.  Gladwell is a strong proponent of the 10,000 hours rule—that virtually every really talented person spent the equivalent of five full years in practice.   Getting extensive practice hours in before anyone else gives outliers important first mover advantages.  Mel started his firm while he was still in college and I have no doubt that he spent hours pouring over player numbers when he was eight years old. Similarly Ron Popeil came from a family of pitchmen, had perfected his pitch skills through years of practice and ceased the opportunity when the broadcasting rules changed to allow long format commercials.

Another way to look at our guests is that they are all entrepreneurs.   Entrepreneurs tend to identify and advocate disruptive ideas—ideas that challenge conventional wisdom in an industry, turn assumptions upside down and revolutionize a market.   I’m only guessing but the type of entitlement culture that Gladwell describes may also give people a natural advantage in generating disruptive ideas and thereby creating new market opportunities to get their 10,000 hours well before anyone else.  For Mel, the disruptive idea was that only those inside the game—coaches and scouts could evaluate talent.  For Ron, it was that you couldn’t separate product development from marketing –that they are one in the same. If I’m right, opportunity isn’t a matter of luck, it is the product of a particular culture and hard work.  Snooki isn’t on reality TV by accident, she executed a plan that involved cultivating a unique personality. Thomas Edison who once quipped “The reason so many people miss opportunity is that it tends to be dressed in coveralls and looks like work.”

In the end the question isn’t whether we would have the infomercial, draft analysts, or serial reality TV stars without our guests. These developments were probably inevitable. The question is they these developments associated with the names Popeil, Kiper and Snooki.  And, how we can increase the odds that the name associated with the “next big thing” is our own.  

Ron, Mel and Snooki….have your people call my people and we will set something up.

Don’t End Up in the Dixon Cornbelt League

The title of today’s post is based on a short story by W.P. Kinsella. He is most famous for writing a book that later became the movie “Field of Dreams.” In the short story, a college baseball player who had a very disappointing season gets invited to join a summer league team in a small town in Iowa. He is hoping to use this opportunity to turn his career around. The townspeople are extremely supportive of the team and show up to practices in droves. Yet the regular season never starts. The reason is that all of the players in the Dixon Cornbelt League have a reputation for being great in practice, but choking in game situations. So they give in to their fear of failure and just never compete.

Education is about learning and demonstrating what you know to the faculty who are evaluating you. But in a sense, this is still practice– a competition to land a starting job on the team. To quote Herbert Spencer, professional schools believe that “the great aim of education is not knowledge but action”. In other words, if you don’t do anything with the knowledge you have obtained, it is not worth much. Just getting great grades in school won’t make you a success in life. It will make you an underachiever.

As you transition from college freshmen to the world of business, you need to hone your professional skills, take stock of where you are relative to the competition and work on what you need to do to get better. You need to be able to turn your knowledge into business deliverables that are superior to what other people can produce and effectively communicate the virtues of your work to others so that you can land that job, contract or consulting project you want. Whether you like it or not, you are in a race to realize your dreams.

We in the Lee Business School believe in the virtues of competition. Competition makes us stronger. It challenges us to become our best through focus and consistent effort. It is also the best way to benchmark our progress as people and institutions. That is why we encourage our students to take part in national and regional student competitions that test their ability to deliver high quality products and services against students from places like Arizona, BYU, Clemson and Penn State to name just a few.

And know that UNLV students have fared well, impressed the competition and used their success to further their careers. Our American Marketing Association team has finished second to Wharton twice in the last five years at the association’s annual student competition. Our Students in Free Enterprise team has made it to nationals the last two years in a row and we won both the undergraduate and graduate divisions of the Governors Cup business plan competition last year.

So go to the student competitions portion of our website, find an opportunity, compete for a spot on one of our student teams this year, and show future employers what Rebels can do. Unless of course summers in Iowa surrounded by corn appeal to you. If so, you are at the wrong school!

Announcing the Lee Business School

This is a landmark day in the history of the College of Business at UNLV.  Today we take the first step to becoming the Lee Business School (LBS).  The name change will require Board of Regents approval and is in recognition of a generous gift from Doris and Ted Lee.

Mr. Lee created the Urban Land Company, which he manages with his wife Doris and two sons.  The firm, based in San Francisco and Las Vegas, has 50-plus properties, including casinos, hotels, restaurants, auto dealers, apartments, offices, and warehouses. Both Doris and Ted benefited from world class educations and they want UNLV students to have the same opportunity they did.

A great education does three things for you: (1) It provides you with “aha moments,” times when a faculty member, who is a thought-leader in their field, changes how you think and see the world; (2) it helps you make good choices about your career and your life by providing you with access to role models—successful people who will mentor you along the way; and (3) it gives you the confidence to know that you can compete with anyone by creating experiences that require you to constantly test and refine your skills and abilities.

The generous gift by Doris and Ted Lee provides 10 professorships that will help us recruit young, high-impact faculty to LBS—people who will provide many “aha moments” for students. The gift includes money to fund speaker series and short courses where students can interact with unusually successful people and it provides scholarship dollars to attract talented students who aspire to compete at the highest levels.

On behalf of our almost 4,000 students and 100 faculty and staff who will carry the Lee name, I say:  “Thank you.  We will carry the Lee name proudly.”

Next Year You Might Be a MIB Major

Today we started the process to go from our current six departments down to five. Necessity is the mother of invention and part of the rationale for our new structure lies in our austere budget situation. But while the “new normal” helped spur change, we hope this alignment will help us become a more innovative, engaging, collaborative college that is well-positioned for the future,

Back in the day, business schools were created to get people jobs at General Motors. More precisely the goal was to give people the professional training necessary to get a well-paying job in a functional area in a large organization. Students majored in accounting, finance, marketing, human resource management and so forth, learned the requisite skills, got a job in the corresponding department, bought season tickets to the Detroit Tigers and moved up the corporate ladder. Retirement came with a gold watch, life-time health insurance and a defined benefit pension. Thank you United Auto Workers.

Have you been keeping up on the news? General Motors hasn’t been doing so well lately–that little government bail out thing. Most new jobs are in small companies. Fewer and fewer employees stay in one company for their entire working lives. Work is often performed in project teams composed of people from different functional backgrounds sometimes spread out across the globe. Retirement depends on the performance of your 401-K (it also hasn’t been doing well lately). Entrepreneurship is the value de jour and many people are encouraged to go into business themselves.

I cannot detail all of the ways these changes are going to impact your professional life. They are that profound. Suffice it to say that one implication for students is that you need to acquire an integrated understanding of business. This includes how markets are changing, how these changes impact the internal operation of firms, and how the various functions of business fit together to contribute to the bottom-line. Pay attention as you go through the college core for no matter what your major you are going to need to understand this other stuff if you want a successful career as a business professional.

And as business practice has become more integrated, the business disciplines have experienced some convergence. These days it is getting harder and harder to figure out what is what. Is e-commerce marketing or management information systems or both? What about business intelligence or customer relationship management? And isn’t accounting a management information system? Professor Miller will tell you everything is economics (every economist thinks so) and what discipline can’t claim project management or entrepreneurship?

So in thinking about how to restructure the college we decided to take advantage of some of this convergence as well as consider how our new departments might develop expertise that could better link us with other colleges where we share some interests. In the end, we decided to reorganize three of our departments into two. Gone are the departments of Management, Management Information Systems and Marketing. In there place we have a new department of Technology Entrepreneurship & Management (TEM), that we hope will elevate entrepreneurship in the College and increase our ties with the College of Engineering. We also have a new department of Marketing and International Business (MIB). Men in Black references aside, we hope this new combination will take advantage of the synergies that exist between marketing, supply chain management and international business.

I have asked these new departments to look at the curriculum they will inherent ( for TEM- Management, Entrepreneurship and MIS; for MIB- Marketing, Supply Chain and International Business and suggest ways to integrate the core concepts from these areas into a more streamlined set of course offerings and majors that will better prepare students for the challenges that await you. They should have these new curriculum ready by next fall. If you are already well into your major, don’t worry we will make sure you can complete the old degree. But if you are new to the College or are interested in the more updated programs, you might just be a MIB major by Fall 2012. Stay tuned.

Mismatched Socks

My wife Suzanne and I were in Orlando a couple of years ago enjoying a “dinner and a movie” date when we stumbled into this store that sold mismatched socks in groups of three. The Little Miss Matched store was packed with moms and daughters. Everyone was full of smiles and bags of socks were flying out of the store. Suzanne knew she had found just the right gift to bring back to her daughter Isabella. I just marveled at the crowd and tried to stay out of the way.

But those mismatched socks refused to leave me alone. Two years later, I was reading an article by Luke Williams, a fellow at Frog Design and adjunct professor at NYU, and there were those mismatched socks again. Little Miss Matched, as it turns out, is a great example of a disruptive idea that had gone to market. Disruptive ideas are ones that take an industry cliche–something everyone competing in the industry takes for granted and turns it on its head to create a new business model or niche market. In this case the cliche was that socks could only be sold in matched pairs and the niche was young pre-teen girls who wanted to express their individuality through their mismatched hosiery. Don’t laugh: Little Miss Matched has eleven stores throughout the nation and a big contract with Macy’s Department Stores.

Higher education has many industry cliches. Among them is the assumption that students are most defined by their major. Every student has to have one (even if it is general studies). Most students identify themselves by their major and it is assumed that mastery of the skills and concepts that come with a major largely define the student’s aspirations and post-graduation career. But what if a student’s defining experience didn’t come from the body of knowledge in their major? What if it came instead from the development of an entrepreneurial mindset nurtured by a set of hands-on experiences shared by students from diverse backgrounds, interests and majors from around the university?

This is the disruptive idea behind our Global Entrepreneurship Experience (GEE). Our GEE students are mismatched socks. We hope that by pairing twenty freshmen from different majors, with different skills and different ways of looking at the world, we can foster creativity and encourage disruptive ideas. By exposing the GEE students to the new business creation process over four years, we hope they will bring some of these disruptive ideas to market. And unlike most programs that hope to get students good jobs, the GEE hopes to create young entrepreneurs: employers who can help us diversify the Nevada economy.

October 10 to 14 is entrepreneurship week in the College of Business: a time when we celebrate the innovative spirit and encourage all students to develop their entrepreneurial skills. Even if you have no interest in starting your own business, the ability to form disruptive ideas, recognize market opportunities, communicate new value propositions and marshall the resources necessary to successfully launch new products or services are skills in high demand today. So participate in next week’s activities, be a part of the competitions and share the story of your victory with prospective employers. Good Luck.