Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management is seriously rethinking the MBA.
Starting this May, the school will launch a one-year MBA program at its New York tech campus that aims to bridge the gap between tech skills and management ability. If the program proves effective, it could reshape the way leaders emerge in the tech industry.
“The goal is to produce leaders for the digital economy,” says Doug Stayman, the associate dean of MBA programs at Johnson. “Organisations desperately need people who are true leaders but also understand the business needs and the technical needs.”
To accomplish that goal, the program hopes to break down a longstanding barrier between the tech community and business school grads. Experts say that startups are often reluctant to hire the average MBA, whose skills they see as unsuited for the culture and work of their companies.
The MBA was developed in the mid-20th century and designed to prepare students for work in a specific type of company, explains Stayman. It was a lynchpin for places like Procter & Gamble and McKinsey — big companies known for their thorough approaches to analysing data, solving problems, and implementing solutions.
But business grads trained in those skills aren’t usually the candidates tech startups are looking for. “These things are not just content, they’re cultural,” Stayman says of the divide. More often than not, he explains, startups see the MBA style of thinking as clashing with their approach and culture.
To address that, Cornell consulted startups and tech companies when drawing up plans for its new degree, the Wall Street Journal reported. The program will mix classroom learning with a heavy dose of hands-on, entrepreneurial skills and experience. Students will learn skills valued by today’s startups, such as consumer insights, planning, and product development.
So far, the program has more than 70 applicants for a target class of 35 to 40 people. The degree’s hefty price tag, while not finalised, is expected to run in the low $US90,000 range. By comparison, two-year tuition tends to cost between $US100,000 and $US120,000 for most top-10 business school programs.
Stayman says the program will offer some merit-based financial aid, and he also expects a number of students will be sponsored by companies and employers.
Despite its tech-business focus, graduates aren’t exclusively meant to work for startups. Stayman sees it as an open-ended certification. On the one hand, it could help the business-minded cross into tech, but on the other, it could give students an inroad to traditional management jobs.
“We want them to go to places who hire MBAs — to Deloitte, to Amazon, and to other recruiters who hire MBAs — but also to people who don’t traditionally hire MBAs,” Stayman said.
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