Cornell M.B.A. Melds Technology, Management; Hands-On Work Plays Bigger Role, With Some Lecture Courses Out

Cornell M.B.A. Melds Technology, Management

Hands-On Work Plays Bigger Role, With Some Lecture Courses Out

MELISSA KORN

Updated Nov. 26, 2013 12:18 p.m. ET

Can coders become business leaders? Cornell University is betting they can. Next spring, the university’s Johnson Graduate School of Management will launch a one-year M.B.A. designed to give engineers and software developers a grounding in management skills. The combination is crucial, employers say, as information technology shifts from a back-office function to a core business strategy.While the school is investing only a “modest” amount in the venture, officials say, the program, part of Cornell’s New York City tech campus, is reimagining the M.B.A., dropping monthslong lecture courses in favor of learning by doing.

Cornell went directly to startups and tech companies such as LinkedIn Corp.LNKD +0.09%

and Deloitte Services LP for advice on what to teach. Faculty and staff asked employers about the skills they are struggling to find, and how a person might go about acquiring those skills, says Doug Stayman, associate dean for M.B.A. programs at Johnson. As a result, the proposed curriculum—expected to be approved next month—will include courses on software development, and leadership instruction will have a special focus on persuasion.

Unlike a traditional M.B.A., where courses last a semester, faculty will teach subjects such as design thinking and digital marketing in short bursts. Those will be followed by hands-on work exploring a startup project or pitching in on a company-sponsored assignment. Business students will work alongside engineering and computer-science students to prepare them for the group dynamic of life in technology.

Cornell already has graduate-degree programs in engineering and computer science under way at its temporary quarters in Google Inc. GOOG +0.44% ‘s Manhattan office building. The campus, which will have a permanent home on Roosevelt Island, is part of a city-backed effort to cement New York as a tech hub.

The M.B.A. students will spend the first part of the year on Cornell’s main campus in Ithaca, N.Y., taking summer courses in accounting, strategy and finance, with the rest in Manhattan. In January, they will spend a few weeks in Israel pursuing a hands-on project and learning about the regional tech industry.

“If technology really is permeating everything that we do in this information economy, business-school curricula will need to change over time. We’re just trying to get way out ahead of it,” says Daniel Huttenlocher, dean and vice provost of the Tech Campus.

The application also veers from the b-school norm. Candidates can upload their résumés and prepopulate some forms using information from their LinkedIn profiles. The school will also accept videos and Web links in lieu of applicant essays, if candidates choose.

The experiment has its risks. It could tarnish the reputation of Cornell’s traditional b-school offerings if it falls flat or takes longer than expected to scale up. And if it does prove successful, there is little to stop other schools from simply copying the model.

If the program pans out, it might help tech companies warm to the idea of hiring M.B.A.s.

Keith Cowing, a senior product specialist at LinkedIn who helped advise Cornell on curriculum development, says his industry needs students who can learn a concept and use it immediately, creating a “rhythm” of theory and practice that is common in the tech world.

Mr. Stayman says Cornell has been flooded with interest from companies that want to host students for projects, including MasterCard Inc. MA +0.44% and Intel Corp. Whether that interest during the school year results in jobs at graduation remains to be seen.

Other schools are skeptical that Cornell’s program is all that new.

“We’re very happy that the world is finally coming around to what we’ve always been doing,” says Michael Trick, senior associate dean at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. He contends that its existing M.B.A. has already successfully married technology and business skills.

Employers such as Next Jump Inc., a New York-based online rewards company with about 200 employees, will be watching Cornell closely. Chief Executive and founder Charlie Kim says he hasn’t hired any business students since 2010, when none of 12 M.B.A.s who were hired worked out because they appeared more focused on spreadsheets and strategy than action. He says he expects the Cornell students to be “thinkers and doers.”

Johnson has had 40 to 50 inquiries a week since it announced the program in July. It has accepted more than 20 students so far and will continue to fill out the 40-person class as more applications roll in.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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