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‘We want to drive holistic thinking’

‘We want to drive holistic thinking’
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First Published: Mon, Dec 17 2007. 12 34 AM IST

Joel Podolny, dean, Yale School of Management. Photo: Kedar Bhat / Mint
Joel Podolny, dean, Yale School of Management. Photo: Kedar Bhat / Mint
Updated: Mon, Dec 17 2007. 12 34 AM IST
The Yale School of Management, part of Yale University, is contending for a place at the top of the fiercely competitive business schools league. It has recently overhauled its curriculum, and is in the process of setting up a new campus—all of which is expected to further invigorate the school. In an interview, the dean of the Yale School of Management, Joel Podolny, said he hopes that more students from India will enrol at the school, finding merit in the evolution of its programme. Edited excerpts:
The revamp of the MBA curriculum has been the high point for Yale School of Management. What led to this transformation?
The change in the curriculum was motivated by the belief that there was a tremendous disconnect in the traditional MBA curriculum and the current needs of businesses. So we wanted to bring about changes that would drive holistic thinking, and would be integrated from the beginning.
Joel Podolny, dean, Yale School of Management. Photo: Kedar Bhat / Mint
Today’s managers are working across many boundaries—boundaries of functions, skills and geographies. Yet, the conventional curriculum compartmentalizes MBA education into silos such as finance, marketing and systems.
Most schools offer a bridging programme at the end of the course which, I personally feel, does not work. Once students get used to these silos, they tend to think of situations as being a finance problem or a marketing problem. In reality, business issues are far more complex and interrelated.
The analogy I use for this is that of a language course. For nine months you teach French, and in the end, you teach Spanish for a month. Finally, what you have is students and faculty going back and forth using a Spanish-French dictionary, resulting in a whole lot of chaos.
Can you elaborate on the changes that have been made to drive holistic thinking? What aspects of the new programme are out-of-the-box?
The complete replacement of siloed courses with interdisciplinary courses is the key innovation in the programme. We no longer have courses on subjects such as accounting or marketing, we have courses that are titled (and focus on) customer, employee, investor, state and society. What’s critical in these courses is that they are interdisciplinary in design and in content. Students still get all the basic skills they need, but they learn how to use those skills in context.
The other innovation we have brought about is in our case studies. Traditionally, even the case studies tend to be siloed. In addition, in most schools the faculty member prepares the case study and then gives it to the student. We have created a new case format called the raw case.Instead of giving students 15 pages of a ready case study, we give them access to data, analyst reports, theoretical writings, white paper, and work with the students to create multidisciplinary cases. Given that we are dealing with a lot of information, this will be a good tool in pedagogy.
Ours is also the first major school to have a mandatory international component, for which students have to travel to another country for two weeks. Based on that trip, they bring new insights, following which we structure our classes in such a way that what they bring in feeds into the class.
Other business schools such as the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California have talked of overhauling their curriculum as well. How is this different?
Given that businesses the world over are going through so much change, this is a time when everybody should be experimenting as far as evolving business education is concerned. But the transformation has to be holistic. When we decided to change the programme, our strategy was to ensure that the course is integrated from the beginning. We don’t believe that changing just one or two parts makes any impact.
The change at Stanford is interesting. It is customized to each student. After a common programme in the first quarter, students will face no specific required courses, but rather a set of distribution requirements that will give them the breadth of knowledge a general manager requires.
But our focus is an integrated programme. We believe that our approach bears out the thought that business is integrated so management education should be too.
The school is almost a year into the new programme. What’s the feedback you’re getting from students,?recruiters?and?other schools?
Yes, we are at a point where we can review feedback, and the response from most quarters has been incredibly positive. In the first year, when we announced the changes, applications went up 20%. In the next year, applications were up 25%.
The response from recruiters, too, has been good. We just had the first batch return from their internships, and we have found that we have more students with full-time offers this year. All our students who took up internships in investment banks have got full-time offers.
Other schools, too, have been appreciative of the changes we have made. Some of these schools are coming to us to know how we’ve brought about the transformation.
What’s your pitch to students from India, especially those who might also have admissions from other Ivy League schools such as Harvard or Wharton?
I would tell students to consider a school that is striving to build leadership potential in its students. If you look at our alumni from India, you will see that we have been a good place for fostering leadership. We have Indra Nooyi (CEO of PepsiCo Inc.), Ranji Nagaswami (senior managing director and chief investment officer of AllianceBernstein Investments, the retail division of AllianceBernstein LP) and Ramesh Ramanathan (a Mint columnist and founder, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, a non-profit institution aimed at improving the quality of public governance by deepening democracy).
Indian students currently make up the largest number outside the US, at about 7.5% of the total student body, and we expect that number to increase.
Does the revamped MBA programme take into account the role and importance of emerging economies, such as India’s, in today’s business environment?
Yes, we have incorporated a fair amount of India element into our programme. India is one of the countries that we have in the international module in which students spend two weeks visiting businesses across the country.
Even otherwise, focus on various aspects from across geographies and emerging markets comprises a significant component of our programmes. We think that a lot of innovations, especially in marketing or in the use of technology, are happening in markets such as India’s. At a recent conference held at our campus, one of our speakers said markets such as India are becoming leaders for marketing trends and innovations. We do incorporate these into the programme. In the course on customers, for instance, we try to get students to think about creating organizations that are focused on emerging markets. It gives them a good sense of the world in which they will be managers.
YALE’S INDIA LINKS
• Elihu Yale was governor of Fort St George in Chennai, then Madras, from 1687-1692; his gift of books, Indian textiles, and other goods in 1718 led to the Collegiate School of Connecticut, established in 1701, being renamed in his honour.
• 128 students from India are at Yale in 2007-2008; India ranks first in the number of all international students at the Yale School of Management.
• The university began the Yale Parliamentary Leadership Program in October, taking to Yale 15 members of India’s Parliament for lectures and meetings on the challenges they face.
PROMINENT INDIAN ALUMNI
T.N. Srinivasan
Class of 1962, Samuel C. Park Jr professor of economics at Yale University
Rakesh Mohan
Class of 1971, deputy governor, the Reserve Bank of India
Indra Nooyi
Class of 1980, chairman of the board and CEO, PepsiCo
Fareed Zakaria
Class of 1986, editor, ‘Newsweek International’
Ramesh Ramanathan
Class of 1991, founder, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy
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First Published: Mon, Dec 17 2007. 12 34 AM IST