De­sign­ing a de­gree

WHEN IT CAME TO CRE­AT­ING AN MBA PRO­GRAM, THE UNIVER­SITY OF SYD­NEY TOOK A FEW LEAVES OUT OF ITS OWN TEXT­BOOKS.

The Australian - The Deal - - Contents - BY SUE O’REILLY

When it fi­nally de­cided to en­ter a crowded mar­ket, the Univer­sity of Syd­ney took sev­eral leaves out of its own text­books.

By the time Aus­tralia’s old­est univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, de­cided in 2008 to en­ter the highly com­pet­i­tive MBA mar­ket, the field was al­ready crowded.

To at­tract top-qual­ity ap­pli­cants, se­nior staff at the univer­sity’s busi­ness school knew they had to de­velop a markedly dif­fer­ent prod­uct, not only from those of­fered at the Univer­sity of NSW’s highly re­garded Aus­tralian Grad­u­ate School of Man­age­ment and Univer­sity of Melbourne’s Busi­ness School, but from those avail­able at pres­ti­gious in­ter­na­tional schools.

In re­sponse, the Univer­sity of Syd­ney Busi­ness School – for­merly known as the Fac­ulty of Economics and Busi­ness – de­cided to take a num­ber of leaves out of its own text­books. Staff spent con­sid­er­able time re­search­ing the mar­ket, analysing com­peti­tors’ of­fer­ings and the pro­fes­sional back­ground and age range of MBA stu­dents. They also con­sulted widely with se­nior Aus­tralian busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives, seek­ing de­tailed feed­back on the pluses and mi­nuses of MBA cour­ses here and over­seas.

Led by Richard Hall, as­so­ciate dean of man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion and pro­fes­sor of work and or­gan­i­sa­tional stud­ies, the course de­vel­op­ment team was keen to iden­tify ways in which ex­ist­ing cour­ses might be fail­ing to keep up with rapid changes in a glob­alised busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. The out­come was an elite prod­uct called the Global Ex­ec­u­tive MBA, an 18-month course launched in 2010. It has a max­i­mum of 20 care­fully cho­sen stu­dents and is now train­ing its fourth co­hort.

“Dur­ing our re­search phase, we iden­ti­fied that tra­di­tional MBA cour­ses, with their fo­cus on teach­ing es­sen­tial but con­ven­tional skills such as ac­count­ing, fi­nance and mar­ket­ing, were not meet­ing the needs of peo­ple al­ready in se­nior man­age­ment roles but keen to step into top-line lead­er­ship po­si­tions,” Hall says.

“This group tends to be com­prised of high-level, mid-ca­reer ex­ec­u­tives in their late 30s to mid-40s, as op­posed to the more ju­nior busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives in their mid-20s to early 30s who are at­tracted to stan­dard MBA cour­ses.

“Stu­dents in stan­dard cour­ses are taught all the the­ory of ba­sic man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing skills, but they do not get enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn, de­velop and test their skills in a high-pres­sure, real-world busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.”

Hall says an­other short­com­ing in con­ven­tional MBA cour­ses is a fail­ure to keep pace with the glob­ally in­te­grated na­ture of to­day’s busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. “We also found that peo­ple aim­ing for lead­er­ship roles in their fu­ture ca­reers wanted more em­pha­sis on ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and peo­ple-man­age­ment skills.”

The re­sult is a course that costs about $ 120,000 and of­fers stu­dents top-level, hands-on con­sul­tancy work in In­dia, the US and France, as well as two weeks at the Lon­don School of Economics learn­ing about the Euro­pean wine in­dus­try.

“We of­fer a to­tal of six mod­ules over an 18-month pe­riod, five of which are in­ten­sive two-week res­i­den­tial mod­ules in Syd­ney and over­seas, de­signed to en­able ex­ec­u­tives in de­mand­ing jobs to man­age ca­reer and fam­ily de­mands while study­ing.

“In the Syd­ney-based mod­ule, stu­dents have the chance to work in the re­source-con­strained en­vi­ron­ment of the not-for­profit sec­tor. For the past cou­ple of years, that’s been with The Smith Fam­ily. It’s a very valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence, not just for the not-for-profit, but also for our stu­dents, many of whom find work­ing in an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps some of the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of our com­mu­nity an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In In­dia, stu­dents live in the boom­ing city of Ban­ga­lore and work for in­no­va­tive IT-based busi­nesses. In theUS, they live and work in Sil­i­con Val­ley, en­gag­ing in strate­gic dis­cus­sions at IT gi­ant Sy­man­tec.

Then, af­ter study at the LSE, they spend 10 days in the stun­ning Langue­doc re­gion of France, ex­plor­ing the chal­lenges faced by wine-mak­ing busi­nesses there, many of which have been run by the same fam­i­lies for gen­er­a­tions.

Fees are set at $15,000 per mod­ule, with stu­dents pay­ing an­other $20,000 or so for ac­com­mo­da­tion, meals and ground trans­port while over­seas, as well as their air fares.

Global Ex­ec­u­tive MBA stu­dents un­der­take mod­ules in (clock­wise from far left) Sil­i­con Val­ley, Langue­doc in France, Ban­ga­lore in In­dia and Syd­ney.

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