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Clockwise, from top: Henry Mintzberg, Karl Moore, Roger Martin and Richard Florida. (Photo illustration by Cat Yelizarov/Photo illustration by Cat Yelizarov)
Clockwise, from top: Henry Mintzberg, Karl Moore, Roger Martin and Richard Florida. (Photo illustration by Cat Yelizarov/Photo illustration by Cat Yelizarov)

Business Education Report, Fall 2011

Getting face time with star MBA profs Add to ...

Alicia Leung has one regret about her MBA at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Next term, she’s off to Spain and won’t be able to study marketing under acclaimed professor Alan Middleton.

The second-year student, who’s focusing on strategic management and marketing, says colleagues already taking his class flat-out love it.

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“Here, you are so busy you can’t always go to class. One classmate of mine who takes his course says: ‘I don’t care, I won’t skip any of his classes. They’re just so good,’” says Ms. Leung.

She’ll get over her disappointment (after all, she’s going to Spain). She’s also been able to talk one-on-one with her well-known mergers and acquisitions teacher Graeme Deans.

And last year, Ms. Leung studied marketing with another top-name teacher, Jane-Michele Clark. Ms. Clark once stayed after an evening class for more than an hour talking with Ms. Leung about her future, and the two still keep in touch.

One of the draws of business school for Ms. Leung and others is rubbing shoulders with great business minds. Schools often promote their big-name lecturers to drive enrolment. But once you’re studying, how do you make sure you get to get face time with your favourite business guru?

Fortunately, most schools allow open access to their top professors, particularly for graduate students. And most are generous about sharing their time with students.

McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management draws top students with superstar professor Henry Mintzberg, an expert on general management and organizations who has co-authored 15 books and has been named to the Order of Canada.

Mr. Mintzberg helped reorganize the school’s MBA curriculum three years ago, and meets with all students in the program each fall during a group session. He lectures in two of the faculty’s more specialized masters programs and supervises PhD students.

The school is also home to Karl Moore, a respected expert who teaches graduate courses in globalization and marketing. “He likes to give back to the students,” says Don Melville, director of the masters program at Desautels.

At the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, dean Roger Martin — internationally known for his work on integrative thinking and design — interacts with students constantly.

While deans don’t normally teach, Mr. Martin always takes on two courses a year in the MBA program and puts no restriction on enrolment (they’re supposed to be full at 35 students, but they often fill up to 50). “I am a pretty available dean. Students can talk to me about their career or their jobs or an independent project they’re interested in,” says Mr. Martin.

He also does a lot of speaking at the school — at events undergraduates or anyone from the public can attend, often for a fee as low as $10.

Another big Rotman idol is Richard Florida, the “creative class” guru and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at Rotman. He’s readily available to students, teaching two MBA courses — Prosperity and Competitiveness and Creative Regional Strategies.

A draw at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business is George Athanassakos, who routinely makes top 10 lists for research and teaching. His value investing course is extremely popular — in part due to Mr. Athanassakos’ teaching skills, but also because he often takes students to meet Warren Buffet.

“More than 50 per cent of our masters students take that course. He runs it twice a year. If more students wanted it, I could probably talk him into running it a third time,” says Fraser Johnson, director of the MBA program at Ivey (and an acclaimed professor himself, specializing in purchase management.)

Taking an elective graduate course is often the most sure-fire way to meet a high-profile mentor. In addition, schools offer credit for independent research projects, and you can ask such a faculty member to be your supervisor.

If you already have an idea in mind before you start or even enroll in a program, you can contact the faculty member in advance and ask if he or she would be interested in your idea.

You can simply send an e-mail, or find out if your researcher has an assistant, and get in touch with that person (you’ll likely get a quicker response).

Many faculty members also hire students for research projects. These jobs aren’t always posted, and can start any time (but you can get clues to ongoing projects by checking a faculty member’s web page).

“Just go in and talk to the person. Tell them you’re interested in the work they’re doing and you’d like to get involved,” says Brian Bemmels, associate dean of academic programs at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia - which boasts an icon of its own in its dean, business-leadership guru Dan Muzyka .

But the only way to know in advance how your school of choice deals with its high-profile faculty members is to ask. Call or visit and find out if your dream mentor teaches in the program you’re applying to (and how hard it is to get into the class) and if that person is open to supervising projects.

Talk to graduates and check professor-rating web sites to make sure your idol will deliver. “I’m sure there’s a lot of boring Nobel prizewinners out there. You want someone who’s a great classroom instructor as well,” says Mr. Johnson.

And look at the presence of a great name as only one factor in determining if a school suits you.

“Some student come here because of the reputations of particular people,” says Charmaine Courtis, executive director of student services and international relations at Schulich. “But once they get here, they ... end up meeting other people who are just as interesting.”

Here are some tips for maximizing your guru face time:

Do well in class. “You’re not going to want to work with a student if they’re doing poorly in the program,” says Sauder’s Brian Bemmels.

Respect that person’s time. Even if you’re working on a project with a big-name mentor, you likely have others who can help you deal with everyday concerns. “You don’t bug him with the little things,” says Saibal Ray, director of the PhD program at Desautels, of Henry Mintzberg. Be on time for appointments, keep it brief and make sure you’ve developed your ideas somewhat in advance of a face-to-face conversation.

Make it not just about you. Roger Martin of Rotman says he gets the most out of working with students who try to think of his own interests when proposing an idea. “Make it a win-win,” he says.

Go for it. No point in sitting in the back of the room when your mentor is lecturing — and you’re paying a sizable tuition. “Be proactive. Everyone is available to meet with students, but students don’t necessarily take advantage of those opportunities,” says Don Melville of Desautels.

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