Integrating Business and Embracing Risk

As I have mentioned before, fifty years ago, General Motors (GM) was the world’s largest employer. Like most industrial giants, GM was built on standardization, specialization and stability and the company represented the typical needs of business education: Provide a large, stable company with life-long specialists in areas such as Accounting, Marketing, Management, or Finance. Employees were brought in with one of those degrees, put through internal management training and worked their way through their functional department until retirement. That was the career path most business school graduates could expect and colleges built educational programs accordingly. That marketplace is largely gone, yet, our educational model has remained pretty much the same.

Today, students must prepare for a more diversified economy that offers shorter- term employment prospects and values customization, connectivity and speed. Companies need people who can innovate by connecting the dots, communicate effectively with diverse groups of people and assume different roles as the firm responds to a turbulent marketplace. This will require employees who understand the entire enterprise, see opportunities in emerging trends, and can pull together diverse resources to create value. As such, faculty must work in new ways to provide the kind of education that produces such “integrators” by changing the culture, structure, and substance of the business school experience.

Last year, we began work on this new business school experience. Faculty, alums, prospective employers and friends of the college all contributed to a new program and structure that will launch in 2015. The centerpiece of this new experience is the Integrated Business Major – a program designed to create holistic business professionals with the attributes to succeed in today’s economy. In addition, the specialty degrees of Accounting, Finance, Marketing, and Human Resources will become more focused and technical to meet the increased data analytic requirements of working in staff positions in these areas. In all, we are raising the standards for all of the degree programs in the college, while providing an educational experience that better reflects the demands of the marketplace.

In many ways, our new approach is similar to long-standing practice in the medical profession. General practitioners treat the entire patient by providing people with a wide range of services that meet most of their needs. Then there are the specialists like cardiologists, urologists, endocrinologists and others that meet very specific needs. Just as patients want great physicians to handle each need, businesses are demanding personnel in the same way – a pool of outstanding integrators who understand the entire business and a higher quality pool of specialists (either housed internally or contracted) to tackle more technical issues.

In the end, we expect that this new mix of majors and culture of engagement will produce graduates that: 1) are great collaborators and communicators; 2) can get outside their comfort zone, transition effectively from project to project and take risks; 3) are able to find and use real-time data to make good decisions; and 4) are problem solvers. These qualities transcend “majors” and will be a competitive edge for our students as they compete for their jobs, build varied careers and aspire to leadership.

I have seen so much great work and enthusiasm from the CBA faculty members, staff and friends of the college who have led this effort. We have some hard work ahead and our sense of positive restlessness will no doubt alter our approach as we move forward, but we have embraced risk and I am looking forward to see how these changes transform this college and the lives of our students. We will keep you all informed as we move forward, stay tuned….

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