Preparing CEOs within MBA programs
Recently, while participating in the Silicon Valley discussion at the 2011 State of the Valley Conference, I was asked a resounding question: What is the caliber of students within your graduate School of Business and IS&T programs? My answer was very clear and direct: upcoming Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). Many people wondered how this was possible.
The term CEO is an American invention of Alexander Hamilton. Although it is a unique, American executive business position, many developed countries in the world have their own senior executive with differing names, such as Chairman (UK), Sprecher (Germany), President (Japan) or Administrateur Délégué (France).
The first incubator for academic preparation of CEOs is an MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree, which is a graduate business degree that encompasses the most comprehensive and fundamental part of their education. It serves as a final accord of a business executive’s education. For an overwhelming majority of MBA students, this will be the last degree attained.
Of course, by following their lifelong commitment to higher education, our graduates will engage in various, short-term educational programs during their long professional life; however, the MBA program for future CEOs will remain the most important educational milestone.
There are many discussions among business school leaders and executives focusing on the following question: From where does the foundation of a CEO’s knowledge base, professional skills and his/her vision come? Does it start while working in business, during school or in accordance with the widely spread opinion, further down the road during the graduates’ practice?
I strongly believe that a CEO’s foundation should be established within the business school. It, as an institution, must guarantee the fulfillment of this important part of its educational mission. Future CEOs should begin to develop a higher, more comprehensive understanding of modern and future business.
In contrast, imagine if the level of preparation provided to medical students was only sufficient enough to treat simple, non-complex diseases, basic treatments or minor surgeries? Imagine if one school provided this basic and rudimentary knowledge, while another provided a comprehensive and robust understanding that included new breakthroughs. Our MBA programs enrich our students with practical and theoretical knowledge that can be used immediately within the workplace. Adaptation is important in business today, and our classes and programs adapt to incorporate new philosophies and technology.
This is why our mission is not limited by preparation of mid- or even high-level leaders, but highly qualified MBAs who develop a vision, knowledge and skills that allow them to become a prime candidate as a CEO for a large company or a start-up.
Building appropriate foundations for a future CEO’s career requires new approaches within the MBA program and its elements, while cultivating a climate that supports the development of critical-thinking skills. This includes a comprehensive set of courses, such as human capital management, leadership, management, marketing, statistics, accounting and finance. All of this must be delivered and studied on a new level that facilitates the CEO’s vision. This philosophy would instill the fundamental understanding of the CEO system, provide a true vision of the big picture necessary for an organization’s executives and provide a clear path for their advancement. This vision will be derived from critical thinking and creativity, and will be necessary to foster their success and their career.
In our introductory MBA course at University of Phoenix, students do not feel that they are students. From the first minute of class, we encourage them to consider themselves as CEOs and their classmates as the board of senior executives. Fortunately, our university creates all of the conditions for this environment by offering small class sizes — 10 to 12 students on average, not 20 to 40 like at other universities. Such a “senior executive” approach makes our classrooms an incubator for growing and preparing future CEOs. Every student considers himself/herself as a CEO and acquires new knowledge and skills necessary for the CEO mission.
The results of such a concept’s implementation, which we started nine years ago, are impressive. My students, as “motivated CEOs,” do everything differently. They read textbooks differently revealing useful information for their CEO career. They memorize more information. Their writing is elevated, as they imagine themselves as a CEO who is presenting their writing to their subordinates. Their in-class discussions and group activities look like the same board of director meetings that exist in business today. It provides the motivation needed to demonstrate their professional maturity, thoughtfulness, informative ability and critical-thinking abilities.
Teamwork is an invaluable tool for every CEO. Our University implemented student Learning Teams several decades ago, while many others have been adopting this concept only recently. From the first to the last day of our MBA program, our learners are engaged in collaboration through in-class discussions, team learning, team assignments, final projects and presentations. Because we have many international MBA candidates, it’s important that our future CEOs learn how to build and lead international teams. As a result, upon completion of our MBA program, our graduates have developed the CEO’s vision on re-engineering companies and converting them into modern and progressive team-based organizations.
Because the CEO philosophy — as an American phenomenon — has been adopted by many developed countries of the world, our international students from Asia, South America and Europe (most of them work at the major Silicon Valley companies) are extremely interested in studying its theoretical and practical aspects at one of our various Bay Area campuses including the San Francisco-Silicon Valley Metropolitan Area. Moreover, because Silicon Valley is a world-famous incubator for small businesses there is a “dual-effect” phenomenon within our classrooms. Students have the opportunity to work with their faculty and classmates on the problems and benchmarks that they are experiencing within their organizations. This not only provides them with a valuable resource for innovation, but also enriches their classmates learning process.
The University of Phoenix MBA program’s content follows Dr. Peter Drucker’s (2005) idea, who is a great thinker and influential authority in management science of the 20th Century: “…the CEO is the link between the Inside, i.e., ‘the organization,’ and the Outside — society, the economy, technology, markets, customers…”
We teach our future CEOs how to be the links between the “Inside” (their organization’s structure, leadership, management, people, finances and more) and “Outside” (society, economy, technology markets, customers, media, public opinion and more). Through every course of our business program we have been promoting one of Dr. Drucker’s major ideas: “Results are only the outside.”
Within our MBA program we help our future CEOs to develop an understanding of:
- What results are meaningful for an organization?
- What is our business now and where are we going?
- What are our priorities?
- How do we get common people to perform uncommon tasks?
- How do we place human capital (best people) into key positions?
We pay a great deal of attention to helping our MBA students develop a drive to become leaders in their learning teams, company, organization or own business. Through every in-class discussion, individual paper or team project we focus our students’ attention on creative thinking and analysis of the following most important things:
- What our business or organization should be
- How to correctly diagnose the company’s problem
- How to achieve its innovativeness and excellence
- How to balance leadership and management, as well as values and standards
- Determining the company’s priorities
- Who should be placed into key leadership/management positions
Finally, we imbue our MBA students with a clear understanding that as a CEO, your responsibility is both your own work, as well as the work of every employee in the organization.
Our future CEOs develop a deep understanding of innovations in strategic planning. For example, while working with our students on a company’s marketing plan, we show them why and how to put customers, their needs and potential benefits from the use of offered products or services first. Such an innovative concept is important because traditional marketing plans (and numerous textbooks and software) discuss a company and its products/services first.
A key quality a CEO must possess is professional presentation skills. This is why our students are required to use slideshows, video presentations and handouts almost at every workshop — exactly like in advanced Silicon Valley companies. One of our important requirements is the use of “board of directors” presentation tone and voice within all in-class discussions and presentations. For this purpose, right in the beginning of our MBA program, we teach our students how to deliver professional presentations using a specially developed instructional video. This approach allows our future CEOs the ability to practice and develop the skills needed to provide professional and compelling presentations.
We strongly encourage our students to join various major social/professional networks, focusing on discussions regarding executive management that allow them to communicate with CEOs and learn from them. For example, they join their faculty’s LinkedIn® networks learning from the discussions of real CEOs about major topical aspects of this profession.
Silicon Valley is one of the best incubators in the world for innovations, as well as the testing fields for opening new domestic and global markets. Our faculty members who work in Silicon Valley bring the best practices and freshest, real-life examples immediately to our MBA classrooms. Just recently, a month ago, new ideas on global markets penetration from Stanford International Technological Symposium were delivered to our future CEOs with recommendations on their implementation in students’ papers, course projects and final team presentations.
While being dedicated to these ideas we believe that more and more of our graduates will become CEOs. Many of them, while being imbued with our ideas, will found and lead their own enterprises as CEOs.