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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Brazil: Global Business Experience

Each spring, Darden students have the opportunity to enroll in a Global Business Experience (GBE). This year's opportunities led Darden students to India, Spain, South Africa, China, Brazil, and Argentina and continued the strong Darden tradition of experiential learning.

I had the privilege of travelling with thirty of my peers to Brazil. With stops in the Amazon, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro, it was definitely learning-by-doing-and-seeing at its finest. Layer thirty inquisitive and bright minds on top of face time with academic professionals and corporate executives within Brazil and you have a recipe for a wholly unique global experience.

While the GBE was distinctive in many ways, it was during this trip that I really recognized the value of the Darden core curriculum. In one day in Sao Paulo, we had a discussion on Brazil's opportunities and challenges that aligned perfectly with what I learned in my Global Economics and Markets class, followed by a dialogue on cultural differences reminiscent of my Leading Organizations class. This was capped off by a tour of a manufacturing facility, bringing to light many of the kaizen concepts we'd covered in our Operations class. The Brazil GBE provided a great avenue to synthesize the core curriculum.

Of course, education doesn't always have to be visiting companies and sitting in classrooms. I've included just a few of the items from the Brazil itinerary below, but suffice it to say words (and pictures) are a horribly inadequate substitute for the experience.

Meeting of the Waters (confluence of Amazon River and Rio Negro):

Municipal Market Negotiations Activity:

Exploring Rio de Janeiro (view from Christ the Redeemer):