Inside The MBA Program Of The Year: Olin Business School’s Reinvention Of The MBA Curriculum


(soft music) – Welcome to our live stream webinar here. We’re on the campus of
Washington University at the Olin Business School. We’re here to celebrate the
MBA program of the year, Olin Revamp. It’s MBA and came up with an incredibly novel, innovative and bold solution. As someone who watches
business schools very closely, I can tell you that it’s rare when I do not hear about
another curriculum review pretty much every month at
another business school. This one was incredibly unusual and involved among other things and a massive Global
Immersion in three locations that actually started off the
program among other things. So with me today to talk about the program and how it was changed, is the Dean of the Olin
Business School, Mark Taylor and two professors who were involved in the Global Immersion. Samuel Chun, who is a professor
of management practice and who went to Barcelona with
a group of about 100 students and Andrew Knight, who’s professor of
organizational behavior, who actually followed
them all over the place. Washington, Barcelona, and
ultimately, Shanghai, China. Welcome. – Thank you.
– Thanks. – So what informed the change and how did you come up with the fact that you were gonna send
off the entire class on a 35-day learning experience around the world? – Well, I think we wanted
to provide something that was bold, it was innovative. It was really gonna be a game changer in terms of developing our MBA. We like to think of ourselves as a global international school. Even though we are here at the
heart of the United States, we actually do have a
global mindset as part of, We call it pillars of excellence. So really thinking about
how we could imbue that right from the start and our MBA students, almost from the first week they traveled from here to Washington DC, briefed on Geopolitics Global Business and then actually sending them out to doing not only classroom experience, but actually experiential
projects, consultancy projects in the field in Europe and then in China. It was really a way of in a sense, kind of orientation by disorientation. And we’re really getting
the students thinking in that global mindset
right from the beginning. – Great. To me one of the more
unusual aspects of this is, traditionally, there
is a belief in academia that you have to teach
all the core subjects, accounting, finance, marketing strategy, and then they can apply those ideas, those concepts to the real world when you have some experiential learning. You guys kind of reversed the process and threw people right into it. What was that like? – It was exhilarating, I think. And there’s a lot of reason behind that. What you do is you give
them a general framework that enables them to actually
penetrate their course more deeply when they get
back in the accounting and the marketing and the finance. It also gives them kind
of a common language that they can use from the get go. And it’s a nice setup. – In my sense, is you also
organized teams of students so that you took their backgrounds. So if you had a person who
had a background in accounting or a person who had a
background in strategy or project management and you
put them together in a way to basically allow them
to bring that expertise to whatever project
that they’re working on. So on some level, they didn’t need to go through semester-long courses on all the core basics, to add value to a given project. – So most MBAs come in with
some kind of experience. I think team composition
is something we’ve always took very seriously
through all our programs. But I think it was especially critical for this particular experience. – And the curriculum revamp is
really based on four pillars. Mark, you alluded to it. Global is one of them obviously, but entrepreneurship and
experiential learning and then values driven with
data analysis is another. How did all four of those
pillars come to play in the Global Immersion? Andrew? – So we start out here in St Louis and the students begin with a
course focused on values-based and data-driven decision making. And so it really establishes that as a cross-cutting way of
thinking about projects that they carry with them throughout each additional location. The experiential part was a
core component of the program. Students are learning by engaging in project-based experiences and they’re learning about different domains of business
through those projects. And so it is a core component
as they move across the globe. Global is obviously central. And finally with entrepreneurial, a few of the project
experiences that they had were specifically
oriented towards engaging in some of the skills that
you need to be successful as an entrepreneur. And so whether that’s a
project working with wineries in Barcelona or a project thinking about how you would enter
into the Shanghai market if you were a donut company, each of those involved really flexing the students entrepreneurial muscles. – Mark, what do you think you learned through the first iteration
of the Global Immersion? – Well, I think we had a couple of situations before that. We were mindful of engaging
our current MBA students up to the top class and they helped us really think about how we would do this. So we had some pilot studies and sent students to
Barcelona and Shanghai. They gave us some initial feedback and they told us about
how much they enjoyed that Global Immersion experience and how the group had bonded even though they’re short pilots. So it wasn’t a completely first run but having done the whole run together, we found out a few things like making sure that
work is compartmentalized. So the work that was
assigned say in Barcelona, was finished and didn’t even hang over when students arrived in
Beijing or Shanghai, right? So it’s managing the workload. I mean probably where we
gave a heavy work load to the students’ rice. So perhaps a little bit more time for cultural activities
with social activities. But by a large, we were pretty happy with the first iteration as well, yeah. – And you got two things out of it, right? One sense of it was you
received or you were able to give the students
accelerated development by throwing them into
this unusual experience. You got a level of maturity and learning, more quickly than you otherwise
would if you just threw them into a traditional classroom on campus. And then the other
learning was the deep bonds that were formed among the
students traveling together over 35 days in three different locations, riding buses, staying in hotels, having dinner and lunch
and breakfast together, working on these assignments together. I hear that they came back to St Louis and the second years wondered, “Well, what is this going on here?” Because it was such a close-knit group. – And I think that that’s absolutely true. It’s the idea of people
traveling together, you say, for several weeks around the world and working with each other 24/7. Actually not going home. Perhaps we give him a
little bit too much work, but actually working together did provide that bonding experience. And as you say, they arrive on campus a semester earlier than usual. So they’re actually getting
this intensive bootcamp as well for several weeks. – [John] Right. – So by the time they get back here in late August, September,
we’re actually ready for it, way ahead of the game in terms of starting the rest of that program and also you’re interviewing
for internships. The bonding of the group was important but also it shifts in
the dynamics of the group because everybody in this program is in a foreign country at some points. And about 40% of the
students were non domestic but with no particular dominance of any one particular nationality, Europeans, Asians and so forth. And in different countries,
that dynamics led to different kind of
elements of leadership. So I think that was also
a very interesting element of the cultural intelligence,
the cultural awareness and the bonding of the group. – Right. Another part of the
boldness of it frankly, is you decided you were
going to move up and bolt on a semester ahead of the traditional start. So you actually asked professors
to come off their vacations or their sabbaticals or their
research projects, whatever– – [Mark] Research projects. – [Sam] We don’t get that. – Of course. And show up early along with the students. And even more than that, and this is what I
really found fascinating, is you foot the bill for the experiment. I think there were a
lot of people out there who were saying, “Oh, that’s great. “I’d love to go on a
Global Immersion trip, “but my God, it’s gonna
cost me X amount of money.” In fact, Olin paid the cost of the entire immersion. – That’s absolutely true. So we didn’t actually
significantly increase fees from one year to the next year where we introduced this Global Immersion. And that’s because we really didn’t want to deter people from coming
on the program, right? – [John] Sure. – We have a comprehensive
scholarship program here as well to help students who find difficulty in funding the fees. But at the moment, we
don’t offer stipends. That is a way of offering a stipend. That actually, provides a
great return on investment worth $20,000, something like that. – Right, wow. That’s fantastic. Now Sam, bring me through
the Barcelona experience. You were there. What happens? Bring me through if not day to day, give me a real sense of what people experienced on that trip. – Well, it’s a blend of
I think three things. Clearly, there’s course components. We do have content that
we have to get through and it’s general management
bootcamp in Barcelona, getting people thinking
on lines of strategy, execution and how to
actually lead these things. The content is placed tactically in the mornings. In the afternoons, we
have experiential visits to wineries and distributors
to get an understanding of how these businesses operate. We’ve got coaching and
development sessions on alternating days that
basically keep students on track with projects, but also helps them
develop personal skills, consultative skills, business
acumen skills on the fly. And in the evenings we dine at, what is it, 9:00 p.m? These guys eat late in Barcelona.
– Yes, indeed. And Sam, I heard that you were
starting classes at 8:00 a.m. Is that true? – Yeah, there was an error. (laughs) We tried and we quickly
overwhelmed the hotel waitstaff who loathed us because we got into work at six instead of seven. So we were like the most
hated people on hotel premises until we switched that right midstream. – But it’s a nice mix of classroom time, one on one coaching, trips, projects and assignments, and then cultural visits to get a sense of the
culture of the place, right? – And these are meaningful trips. It’s not just going for a winery tour. – [John] Like for example? Give us an example. – Well, how does this
family actually think about what it wants to do with wine? One of the things we assume is that everyone wants volume growth. And some of these families just say, “No, we’re doing quality. “It’s this many cases
and we’re not gonna do “any more than that.” And then the students have
to kind of understand this and cope with that at
a very different level. It is in fact values-based, not yours, but the company owners. – Right. And the assignment for the
students essentially was what? – So at that point, it
was really understanding what these wineries wanted
to do to expand themselves pretty much into the United States. So Catalan has interesting problem. There’s politics there right now. – [John] Sure. – The actual sales of Catalan
Wineries are impacted by this. So a lot of these guys are leaning for global diversification. And the United States is a great market. Some of them are in it, but
I think we undersell Cava in this country. We focus more on champagne and the Bubblies that
we get from California. – Or Prosecco. – Yeah, Prosecco.
– Which is quite popular.
– And I won’t say anything, but Cava has some superior elements to it compared to Prosecco. – Now Andrew, you accompanied the students in every location. DC where there were a lot
of lectures and classes at the Brookings Institution because of a longstanding partnership that Washington University
has with Brookings. And then of course, Shanghai
where you spent 17 days and I think you also
took a trip to Beijing. Tell me a little bit about
the Chinese experience. – So the Chinese experience
as you mentioned, the students began by visiting Beijing before they went into Shanghai. And the focus in Shanghai was
building upon the foundations, the general management course in Barcelona with a tilt more specifically
to thinking about strategy, first of all and second of all, operations. And so the strategy
course was built around thinking about how someone
from the United States might locate a new retail outlet in Shanghai. And so the students did a lot
of work out in the community, boots on the ground, scouting locations and thinking critically. – New locations for the
stores to be planted in Shanghai?
– That’s checked. And even just doing some
boots on the ground, almost anthropological observations of convenient stores. What are the differences
between how convenient stores and retail outlets operate in Shanghai compared to what the students
may be more familiar with in their own home countries? And so there was a big
element of thinking critically about how business operations differ across different societies,
but also people operations, how people manage not just their employees,
but also their customers. And so that was a big initial focus of the first course in Shanghai and the second one focused on operations. And there, the students
had wonderful opportunities to visit and see in depth
some cutting-edge approaches to manufacturing or textiles. And for some of the students who may not have had
those experiences before, it was incredibly eyeopening to see how many of the goods that we have here in the United States or elsewhere are produced and distributed. – Now, Andrew, did you have class at eight o’clock in the morning? – I’m not sure. (laughs) – [John] It was such a whirlwind, you can’t remember.
– I’m not sure. We had class at different times of the day. I think I often had students
at the tail end of the day. But I think what was different
about this experience was that it wasn’t built
around class times per se. And so my response of,
“Well, I’m not really sure,” is partially because the
educational experience was so different from a
traditional class-based model. And instead, the students are learning and working with one another
at very different times of day. In some sense, they’re living like a global business person would live. And so sometimes after dinner
we might come into a hotel and we’d see a team of
students working together in the hotel. And so the rhythm of
the day, I think really was more akin to what a
global business person might live as opposed to
more of a class-based model. – Yeah, you essentially had almost 100 road warriors. – Yes. – Right. – It was experiential
in more than one way. – That’s right. – Really, absolutely. And in addition to what they were doing, some were actually
preparing or interviewing for internships, right?
– Yes. – By Skype and things like that. – That’s right.
– And you also brought along a contingent of career management people from the Western Career Center. – Absolutely. – Yeah, so this is quite a
mad dogs and Englishmen tour, to use the phrase from
the old Joe Cocker days for baby boomers. That won’t mean anything to… It’s out there, but hey. And I should point out Mark,
that you’ve made some changes, given the Corona virus in China. Wanna explain what you’re
gonna do next time? – Sure. So we have a Global Program and Global Program’s
getting hit by Global Shocks now again.
– Indeed. – So we’re kind of
practicing what we teach and we’re really acting
nimbly and pivoting and maybe even shifting the programs. So some of the program
will remain the same. So the students will go
from here to Washington DC for the International Briefing, then they’ll go to Barcelona. But then, last year we went from Barcelona to Beijing to Shanghai and this year we’re getting
from Barcelona to Paris and then from Paris to Lima, Peru. – [John] Right, wow. When I said Paris and Lima, people thought I meant
Paris, Texas and Lima, Ohio when it’s actually Paris,
France and Lima, Peru. – Well, that’s quite a trip. So you’re actually adding
another major city. Paris is a special place. – Yeah, and they’ll do some
business there as well. But that will also be a
cultural visit as well. The European cultural visits
and the bulk of the extra wet will be in South America, in Lima. – Now for the trips, are you partnering with local universities and
putting the students up in dorms or you have other accommodations? – We have other accommodations and really playing to our strengths. This is round about 100 students, maybe even a little bit more in round about that level. And therefore they can A, bond together and B, the logistics work for us. We can actually call up a hotel and say, “Do you have 100 rooms available? “Do you have 100 seats on this flight “going to Lima, Peru?” That works well for us. – Actually, that’s the other
remarkable thing about it. You were able to pull this major undertaking off in little more than 12 months after the faculty approved
the curriculum changes. And that’s amazing in and of itself, ’cause you are arranging
all kinds of logistics. The coursework, the projects, you always have to
anticipate the unexpected, someone gets sick, someone gets ill, someone has a personal
emergency of one kind or another and it needs to be
immediately attended to. There’s a lot to think about when you wanna take 100 students and bring them all around the world. – Yeah, and the faculty
and I should say the staff, have been absolutely outstanding
in putting this together as of the students. We talked about the bonding
of the students on this trip, but also it’s a bonding
between the faculty and the staff and the
students and together as well. So it’s been actually a
really positive experience for the whole school. – That’s great. Well, thank you for sharing
that experience with us. – Our pleasure. – It was quite an undertaking and congratulations on pulling
that off and not only this, but the rest of the pieces
of the new curriculum. So we are gonna be
joined in a few moments, stay with us, with three students who were kind of Guinea pigs on the first big Global Immersion. And we’ll talk about it
from sort of the front lines of Washington, Barcelona and China. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants on the campus of Washington university’s Olin Business School. Thanks for watching.

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