Monday, August 4, 2014

Welcoming the Two Year MBA Students

This is the text I generally followed when greeting our two year full-time MBA students this morning.

Good morning.  My name is Kevin Frick and I am the Vice Dean for Education at the Carey Business School.  I would like to welcome you to the GMBA program and take a few minutes to follow up on two things that the Dean talked about and share some additional thoughts about your next two years.  I am going to follow up on what the Dean described as a marathon and on the idea of teaching business with humanity in mind.  Then, I am going to talk about the curriculum as a puzzle.  Not something you should be puzzled by.  But a jigsaw puzzle that fits together perfectly when all the pieces are correctly aligned to make a beautiful and complete picture. 

First, the Dean talked about the experience of earning an MBA over two years of full-time experiences as being like running a marathon.  I have run five marathons and am training for my sixth.  I can tell you a few things about marathon training that extend what the Dean said.  I ran when I was a teenager.  But I did not run in my 20’s or early 30’s.  It was not until I turned 36 that I came back to running for the first time in almost 19 years.  At the time, each time I went for a run it was an effort.  Each time I went for as little as 5 kilometer outing, it took some convincing to make sure that I would do it.  It has been 8 years since I came back to running, and I now get up every morning and want to run.  In fact, I have to remind myself now that rest days are important.  I have gone from having to force myself to do something to that thing being second nature to me.  That comes from doing the same thing over and over and over again.  You will have a chance to learn skills in the classroom, try them multiple times in the classroom or for assignments outside the classroom, have a chance to put them to work in participating in or leading student organizations, in the integrative experience classes like Innovation for Humanity and Discovery to Market, and in the internships that I expect that most of you will have next summer.  The more you repeat an activity the easier it will become. 

And the easier it will become to do without thinking about it.  I have worked on running the right speed so that I don’t give up after 5 km but so that I can run the whole 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers of the marathon.  The idea of not just going out for a run every day but going out for a run at a specific pace and to practice that pace will make a huge difference for me.  In running, my friends and I call it doing the workout right.  You will learn how to do things right.  And not just preparing yourself to perform your business related-tasks but preparing yourself to do them correctly each and every time will be an important part of your activity.

Finally, on this point, it is acceptable to make mistakes.  I was given the advice to make as many mistakes as possible in the first year.  That may sound like strange advice, but it reflects the fact that supervisors expect a learning period when you first take a new position.  The key is that I have made mistakes in my training.  Just before my first marathon, I made a really bad mistake that probably made the difference between the time I ran and an improvement of six or seven minutes.  However, I got myself back up and kept on trying.  This happens with you as individuals.  It happens with startup businesses.  It can happen many times in a career.  The key is that you should not fail to try something for fear of a mistake.  Instead, try lots of things.  Find out what works and what does not.  The environment of a graduate business education provides a safe space in which to make mistakes and to find out what will and will not help you in your career later.  Will it give you all the answers?  No—some things can take a much longer time than 2 years to fully master.  But it will give you the tools you need to start to figure out where to get the answers for yourself in the future.

The Dean also talked about teaching business with humanity in mind.  As the Dean noted, we hope that each student takes some time to consider what this concept means.  I know the idea of teaching business with humanity in mind was one of the things that brought me to Carey from another position within the University back in 2013.  I think that the most important thing about teaching business with humanity in mind for me is to teach students to think about more than simply profits—to think about how their business decisions affect people.  Individuals, groups, and populations as a whole.  How do business decisions change lives?  How do businesses change the world?  And what are business opportunities that can make the world a better place. 

What I would like to discuss in addition to the extension of the Dean’s comments is the way in which the courses in the GMBA program, particularly the core courses fit together like a puzzle that makes a beautiful picture when all the pieces are correctly aligned.  I have seen puzzles of artwork, of skylines, of nature scenes. They all look wonderful when they are done and when an individual or group works to put a 1,000 piece puzzle together it is amazing to see when it is all done.  And it really captures the imagination to realize how much effort it took to put the entire thing together. 

We don’t have 1,000 courses or 1,000 credits in the “puzzle” of the GMBA curriculum. What we do have is a range of courses in which you will use very different skills.  Not everyone sees how the skills fit together from just looking at the list of courses.  But they do fit together to produce a wonderful result—a Carey GMBA graduate who will be recognized, as the Dean noted, by being an innovative leader and exemplary citizen who will grow economies and enhance communities.   People who interact with you when the puzzle comes together will recognize the difference that Carey has made in your education, in your career, and in your life.  That is the goal.

To get there, sometimes a course will focus more on one skill set than another.  For example, courses like quantitative methods are mostly just that—quantitative.  For some of us, quantitative skills are already second nature and this is just a matter of applying them in a new area.  I know I have a friend who is taking an online calculus course with her husband.  She was jokingly asking for help on social media, although everyone who knows her thinks she will be fine.  Quantitative skills are something that I think are mostly fun.  So, that would be the type of course I would enjoy very much.

Then, we have courses that are highly conceptual.  For example, ethical leadership.  What is ethical?  What are standards?  What are the consequences of failing to meet those standards?  Who sets the standards?  Do we each live up to the standards?  What do we do if we see others not living up to the standards?  You will have a number of courses that challenge your thinking and challenge you to come to a discussion to learn to bring up the points that interest you most and to engage with points when you are somewhat disinterested.  This is a completely different skill set than purely quantitative skills but just as important for a well-rounded leader.

We also have course that present frameworks for you to use in your business practices in the future.  People and markets and competitive strategy, for example.  Or courses that build on quantitative skills but in a very specific ways like the series of finance classes.  (Although even finance classes involve some conceptual thinking about how to properly consider what value means.) 

Finally, there are integrative courses.  These courses bring together multiple sets of skills that you have learned or are learning as early in the program as possible to challenge you to start to complete the puzzle yourself.   Quantitative skills is like one of the corner pieces of the puzzle.  It is something easy to recognize to get you started.  Business ethics is similar. Economics, finance, and strategy are like other pieces of the edge of the puzzle.  For these, it is somewhat obvious where they fit in and connecting them to the cornerstones of your education is not hard.

The integrative classes are like the inner pieces of the puzzle.  Sometimes you have to stare at them for a while and work very hard to put them together.  But you can immediately see that they are holding some of the most beautiful parts of the picture that is being created when you are doing a puzzle.  And in the GMBA curriculum you can see that these are some of the most important courses that hold the key to your future success.  But they can be a struggle.  They can be time consuming.  The Innovation for Humanity class is incredibly intense.  Yet, it offers some of the most exciting experiences that students in our GMBA program have working with clients outside Baltimore on important consulting questions.  Discovery to Market is another integrative course that offers you the chance to do just what the title says—think about how to take a discovery that has not yet been brought to market into the marketplace.  A piece that connects both of these to the edge and corner of the puzzle is the new business problem solving class that uses a framework focusing on people, plans, and presentations to help to get you to think about the most effective way to help others to solve their business problems.

When you take the entire set of courses, you will have done the work like putting a 1,000 piece puzzle together.  The “new you” after you are done will look different than you do right now.  If the “new you” after your Carey MBA education is not different, then we haven’t done our jobs very well. In the “new you” we will see someone who has begun to set their professional image as one of integrity and honesty.  One that focuses on doing well in business while considering the good of humanity.  One that puts together a series of skills ranging from highly quantitative to highly conceptual and in which you can put all of them to use.  As your career moves on some of those skills will become more important.  I wouldn’t say that others become less important.  It is just that some of the skills will become things that you don’t have to do for yourself.  But it is still critical to understand them.  You have to know whether the people you will someday hire to do those tasks are doing them correctly.  And part of understanding things like economics and finance is not only to be able tot use the reasoning yourself but to be able to figure out when those around you are not using the reasoning quite correctly.

So, in this morning’s comments we have covered a lot of ground.  Not quite the 26.2 miles of a marathon or even the time it takes world class runners to run the marathon—fortunately I am not here to lecture you for more than 2 hours this morning.  But the comments are a reminder.  You are here to learn and learn a lot.  You will work hard and keep working hard.  It will feel like a marathon of activity involved in assembling a complicated puzzle.  But when you are done, you should have opportunities that are limited only by your imagination and your ability to continue to grow and learn and work hard.  None of what I described ends at the end of your graduate education.  Every day you should continue to grow, continue to learn, and continue to work hard. The structure of growth and learning will change, but to continue to learn is absolutely necessary.  We give you the tools to get started and complete the first puzzle.  You have to use those tools to complete other puzzles in your career.  You have to use those tools to practice business with humanity in mind.  

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