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Focus On: MBA
Business Education - The Inside View:

Professors and program leaders share their opinions on how to approach your MBA. By Matt Bellotti

Are you 'motivated and driven to improve yourself and your organization'? If so, you should consider an MBA. You are just the type of person deans at top business schools are looking for.

"Our program is a weekend program for working people, so we look for drive, commitment, and follow through" explains Mr Philip O'Neill, Director of the McGill MBAJapan Program - the only full, two year MBA taught in English in Tokyo. He adds, "We look for a well rounded individual with about five or more years of responsible work experience. We are also interested in people who will be able to contribute to the learning of the class based on their unique background."

Mr O'Neill was offering an insiders view of what applicants need to know about quality business education. Professor Ooi Lee Lee, the Director of The Nanyang MBA in Singapore added his experience of his Business School's MBA program, which is ranked Top 3 and World Top 100 in Economist Intelligence Unit's 2007 Global MBA ranking.

"The decision (of who gets on the course) is taken through our Selection Panel, which comprises our MBA professors, career head and alumni. Applicants who have met our admission requirements will be short-listed and interviewed. Our requirements include good academic results, relevant work experience, clear career objective and aspiration, as well as good references from company superiors. One of the most important factors we look for is [to be] a potential business leader who is socially responsible."

The constant evolution of the business world makes teaching a vibrant and topical program challenging, however, both McGill and Nanyang have taken it in their stride. "We update our curriculum on an ongoing basis to ensure its relevance to industry while maintaining its academic rigour." Explained Prof. Lee. "Our faculty has substantial industry experience and is actively engaged in business consultancy and executive training. In addition, we have guest speakers who are industry experts to conduct lectures on current topics of interest and importance."

At McGill, this challenge is somewhat countered by the fact that the course is run alongside the candidates employment. "All of our students are working, many within Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 organizations" noted Mr. O'Neill "So they are really at the cutting edge of what is going on in the business world. The work in class and in team projects is very closely tied to what is actually going on within the students' organizations."

Asian students are increasingly earning a reputation for being more focused and engaged in the educational process, especially at the highest level. Both program leaders noted a recent increase in the number of Asian students taking their MBA.

Professor Lee said "Education has always been a vital part of Asian family life. This increase in demand is fuelled mainly by the booming Asian economies, resulting in the need for more globally trained business managers.

Mr O'Neill noted a difference in the learning style from European or North American students. "Asian students, particularly those from a confucion educational background are often reticent to speak out or question their professors. But our program is Socratic, in a high involvement setting. It brings out the best in everyone."

But whether the students are Asian or not, an understanding of global factors affecting industry is an essential part of MBA study. This can often be enhanced in the form of overseas study. For example, Nanyang students are strongly encouraged to participate in a component at one of 50 exchange universities worldwide, go on a business study mission, or even enroll in their double degree programs with University of St Gallen in Switzerland, ESSEC Business School in France or Waseda University in Japan. At McGill students benefit from professors who fly in from the Desautels Faculty of Management in their campus in Montreal. There are also opportunities to study in Montreal and to take a China study tour.

Just as important, according to Philip O'Neill, is the global understanding and experience of the teaching staff. All of McGill’s professors have overseas experience, which is perhaps even more useful than students being sent overseas.

Far from diluting the teaching methods at the 'home' campus, this international element of teaching actually enriches and enhances the learning experience. As Mr. O'Neill puts it, "It can only encourage our students to look at business problems from different angles, and it helps to spread out their network."

"We have been very selective in the choice of our partner universities" explains Professor Lee from Nanyang Business School. "This ensures no compromise on the quality of the overseas component and participants are able to acquire best practices from another country or culture as well as knowledge and skill from faculty at the universities. The benefits certainly outweigh the costs."

With kind thanks for their time and knowledge to Mr. Philip O'Neill from McGill MBA Japan program, Tokyo ( and Professor Ooi Lee Lee from Nanyang Business School, Singapore





Looking into the recent number and intensity of crises, some past-present asynchronies can easily be recognized. Never before was it so easy for a crisis in one country or market of the developed world to so severely impact the world in total. The subprime crisis is yet another example.

As Swiss banks jumped on the bank wagon of loans for real estate in America, they should have known that something may have been wrong with the observed growth rates - they were too good to be true. Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to such events as black swans in his seminal book with the same name. A black swan is defined as an event with three characteristics. First, it was originally deemed to be unlikely. Second, if it actually happened, it would have major repercussions. Third, afterwards everybody admits that one could have seen it coming.

The basics of economics and investment prescribe rather to invest acyclically and as a latecomer in the life cycle of the growth bubble, however, the time for attractive returns on investments was too limited. The bubble burst too soon. Top managers and shareholders of Swiss banks are paying the price now. All managers have to understand that if such crises occur in such an interconnected system of economies, you can run, but you cannot hide. Investment experts predict now that the sub-prime crisis was actually just the beginning. There will be a ripple effect. Car loans and credit cards laden with bad debt are next fields where the credit crunch will be felt.

How does this impact the job market in banking and finance in general and for MBA students in specific?

The healthy fundamentals will allow banks to swallow this bitter pill. But undoubtedly, current growth opportunities have vanished. Those managers and financial experts especially who cannot cope with the changing reality of an interconnected world full of black swans will feel the harsh wind of change blowing in their face. Greater connectivity and the sheer velocity of global integration has increased the number of relationships and vastly swollen the amount of information available. On the other hand, it has done nothing to give managers more time to interpret the information and manage the demands. This raises the bar for success in one's future working environment to new heights.

MBA graduates from the top schools represent an attractive pool to recruit from as they have been trained for times of constant crises, global interdependence and higher bars for success. As a postgraduate degree, financial service institutions benefit especially from their previous work experience AND latest training. The St.Gallen MBA, for example, can easily be compared to the boot camp of marines with the only difference being that their training is not hard in the physical sense, but mentally. Their absorptive capacity and mental bandwidth have been increased through an education which prepares them for more turbulent times. As with many other top schools, lessons drawn from the latest crises has become an essential part of regular classes.

Written by Dr. Wolfgang Amann, Executive Director, The St.Gallen MBA

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