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report on business education, spring 2012

After two years of wide-ranging consultations with corporate advisors, alumni and students, Sauder decided to remodel the content and delivery of its curriculum to equip students to solve messy problems.

Just as globalization, international financial crises and scandals have rocked the business sector, those teaching the next corporate leaders have felt the tremors, too.

In the latest example of business schools rethinking what they do, the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business rolls out its revamped MBA this fall, with exclusive details shared with The Globe and Mail.

"Business schools and management education in general have found themselves at a crossroads over the past five years," says Murali Chandrashekaran, associate dean of professional graduate programs. He adds, "It is not just about business and management and designing controls systems, but really about designing the leader of tomorrow who will step up in an environment of high conflict."

After two years of wide-ranging consultations with corporate advisors, alumni and students, Sauder decided to remodel the content and delivery of its curriculum to equip students – so it hopes – to solve messy problems critical to the bottom line and society.

In the re-imagined program, the first major overhaul since 1995, the curriculum has been streamlined along four broad career tracks – business innovation, consulting and strategic management, product and service management and finance. Students will still learn the fundamentals of a traditional MBA, such as finance and marketing, but must take courses in creativity and global issues, for example, to round themselves out as flexible managers.

Sauder's changes, in part, respond to employer demands. "They are saying, 'We want people with strong analytical thinking that allows them to think holistically about the business,'" says Dr. Chandrashekaran.

As before, Sauder's MBA will run for 16 months, with a class of between 110 and 120 students.

Darren Dahl, who teaches creativity, said his course has become increasingly popular since it was introduced as an elective three years ago. About two-thirds of the current MBA class is taking his course.

This fall, all MBA students will be required to take Dr. Dahl's course that explores how play, visualization, improvisation and other techniques can fire up an organization and its employees. Embracing creativity, he notes, has repercussions for hiring, customer service and product development.

"Students clearly see this adds value to the portfolio of what they need to enter the business world," he says.

Though nominally grouped by their preferred job destinations, students will be forced to mix and mingle with each other across the school's four career tracks. At various points in the program, students will work together in cross-disciplinary teams on real-world problems identified by local and global businesses, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations.

Sauder has established a new "business clinic" as a contact point for potential clients and students. Working in teams, students will be evaluated on the quality of their work for clients and will receive coaching from professors and industry advisors.

As well, Sauder has expanded opportunities for summer work experience beyond traditional internships. Students now have an option to create their own ventures or work in groups on large-scale consultancy projects.

As they learn about the mechanics of business, students will be pushed to examine their personal philosophy and values as future leaders. This emphasis on self-reflection is a new trend in MBA education.

At Sauder, for example, a new mandatory e-portfolio will be a vehicle from Day 1 to graduation for students to reflect on their own, as well as with career coaches and students, on what they are learning and what it takes personally to lead a diverse organization.

The intent is to turn out graduates who can recognize and manage a wide range of forces at home and abroad that impinge on corporate competition, government decision-making and social change.

"If you are going to be an effective global business leader you have to work on a public policy level and understand the complexity," says dean Daniel Muzyka, who steps down this summer after 13 years to become president and chief executive officer of the Conference Board of Canada. "It does not all melt down to the bottom line, but those issues very much impact the bottom line," he says.

Sauder, like other business schools, recognizes the need for students to gain global experience. Students will have a new mandatory study-abroad component to discover first-hand what it's like to work across borders, cultures and time zones.

Through relationships with sister business schools in Europe (Copenhagen Business School), India (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore) and China (Antai College of Economics & Management, Shanghai Jiao Tong University), Sauder will send its students, in cohorts of 30 or so, to spend a two-week stint overseas working with their counterparts on a local business problem.

"When business is global, the business school needs to be global, as well," Dr. Chandrashekaran says.

Special to The Globe and Mail