Executive MBAs Learn what to Do for Life, Not Just Next Year

Published on June 22, 2009

The principles of economics are very simple, but it takes a lifetime to learn to use them effectively, said Kevin Murphy, George J. Stigler Distinguished Service Professor of Economics. “The core of business education is teaching fundamental principles to tackle problems in a wide range of areas,” he said.

Murphy spoke with dean Edward Snyder during orientation for the Executive MBA Program at Harper Center on June 22. The current executive MBA class represents the most diverse citizenship in the history of the program, featuring 289 students from 56 countries. Among them are students in XP-80, who will be based at the North American campus in Chicago; students in AXP-10, based at Chicago Booth’s Asia campus in Singapore; and students in EXP-16, based at Chicago Booth’s Europe campus in London.

Students spent a day at Harper Center, where Snyder and Murphy spoke at a noon discussion in the Rothman Winter Garden. “All problems come down to (1) how do we model individual decision making, whether it’s consumers or firms, and (2) how do those individuals or firms interact with the marketplace to determine outcomes?” Murphy said.

Chicago Booth will not teach MBAs what to do today, but rather prepare them for several decades of career decisions, Snyder said. “With an average age of 36 and average work experience of 12 years, as members of this class you still have a long time ahead of you,” he said. “We have a certain humility that we have no idea what you will be doing. We would not want to tell you what to do, even if we had that power.”

The best job faculty can do is to help Executive MBAs understand how markets, competition, and how organizations work, Snyder said. “If you get those things, in 20 years when you’re doing something we cannot conceive of, you will be doing great,” he said. “If we told you what to do for the next year, we would probably get it wrong and wouldn’t serve you for the long run.”

Chicago Booth teaches students the skills they do not get on the job, Murphy said. “It’s like sports, where athletes train and not just practice their sport,” he said. “A guy is not learning to be a better football player in the weight room, but he’s going to be a better football player because he spends some time there.”

Likewise, at Chicago Booth, “our goal is not to replicate the environment or create a practice facility that replicates the business world.” Instead, Murphy said, “We’re trying to create the training that is going to enhance your performance in the business world.”

The commonality in stories among alumni is not that a Booth MBA learns all the right cases and formulas to apply to particular problems, Snyder said. “It’s more that at some point in their careers they had to make a judgment or figure something out, and there was no spot-on case or formula,” he said. “They had to draw on their teams and their colleagues and listen and leverage. And the complimentary knowledge we provided made them feel absolutely confident.”

The return on investment pays off in career-changing events, Snyder said. “These are events where you have to think something all the way through and get to a completely different place,” he said. “We want to get you ready for those high-stakes moments.”

After orientation week, which included lectures in financial accounting, leadership, and microeconomics, students returned to their home campuses to continue their MBA studies. Next summer, they will reconvene in international groups and spend time studying at the Singapore and London campuses.

                                                                                                                    — Phil Rockrohr