Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning to Think Like a Manager

Darden is well-known for its focus on developing general managers.  Darden is also well-known for having arguably the best teaching faculty among MBA programs.  Combining these two elements results in a curriculum that really challenges students to think like managers.  But what does that look like?

Take my accounting class as an example.  I could spend hours working on, say, determining what the differences in accounting were for inventory using FIFO or LIFO accounting methods.  Yes, I would feel a sense of accomplishment, but in truth, this is only the start.  After reviewing the math in the first ten minutes of class, the majority of the time is spent discussing the managerial implications of the different techniques.  In my finance class, it was very common for the professor to come in and lead with the cold call Brian, what is your recommendation?  This is a very different question than Brian, what answer did you get?  To make a recommendation, you have to put the numbers into context and, like a manager, use the analysis to shape strategies and recommendations.

More recently, the faculty have been teaming up to facilitate a more robust class discussion.  The Ethics and Decision Analysis faculty led an energy case on hydraulic fracturing.  By team-teaching, the class is forced to think about how decisions-making actually plays out in the real world.  The Marketing and Operations faculty co-taught another class.  They did a great job of demonstrating how managerial decisions can have competing consequences for marketing and operations personnel, and again, forced students to think more broadly through a decision.  Another example is a finance negotiations case led by the Finance and Decision Analysis faculty.  In each of these classes, you are challenged to bring together material covered in each class independently to make more informed strategic decisions.

Having just completed the first-year core curriculum, I am convinced that it is the faculty's dedication to continually push students to think about the managerial implications of our decisions that is one of the largest catalysts for our future success.  By teaching in a style that closely mimics the decision making process for general managers throughout the world, I am not only developing essential functional skills.  I am also applying techniques for decision-making and communicating these decisions three times a day.

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