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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Economist News from Schools - April

News from the schools
Apr 21st 2006


EARLY in April Harvard Business School played host to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, renowned landscape artists whose most recent work involved hanging saffron-coloured drapes along the footpaths of New York’s Central Park. To the disappointment of some, the pair were not in Boston to wrap the iconic Baker Library in polypropylene fabric (as they did Berlin’s Reichstag in 1995). Rather, they were the guests (and subjects) of a first-year MBA course studying the artists’ self-financing business model.

In order to maintain complete control over their work, Christo and Jeanne-Claude shun potential sponsors and fund their projects by selling the preparatory studies, drawings and models that go into each venture. If extra money is needed, they sell their earlier work from the 1950s and 1960s. But with their projects costing upwards of $20m and growing in size, the complexity of their financial dealings is increasing. Most recently, with “The Gates”, their project in Central Park, the pair struggled to find a bank willing to open a multi-million dollar line of credit so they could pay their workers.

It is an unconventional business model, to be sure. But Josh Lerner, a professor at HBS and co-author of a case study on the creative couple, believes that students can learn a lot from their example. “There are a significant number of students who see themselves going into non-traditional entrepreneurial ventures, and for them it can be very instructive to see how one takes the entrepreneurial model and applies it to a non-traditional setting,” Mr Lerner told the Harvard Gazette.

The death of J.B. Fuqua

John Brooks (“J.B.”) Fuqua died of complications from bronchitis on April 5th at the age of 87. The former tycoon, who bought and sold businesses in a wide range of industries during his lifetime, gave his name to Duke University’s business school. Mr Fuqua, brought up by his maternal grandparents whose name he adopted, never attended college. But as a young man he frequently borrowed books from Duke’s library. After his borrowing was mentioned in a profile in Fortune magazine, a librarian from the school dug up his old library card order and got in touch with him. Mr Fuqua was so moved by the gesture that he donated over $24m to the school in the years thereafter, including $10m in 1980 to establish the business school.

Harvard on high

For the fifth year in a row, Harvard Business School has topped the influential ranking of full-time MBA programmes by US News & World Report. Not much has changed from last year: nine of the top 10 schools remain the same. But the numbers suggest that employers’ appetite for hiring MBAs returned last year. According to Robert Morse, US News’s director of data research, the class of 2005 had significantly higher salaries and better chances of a job than the previous year. Most schools are expecting similar gains this year. Eternal optimists?

Northeastern’s new direction

The employers of MBA graduates have long lamented the disconnection between their classroom instruction and real-world experience. Noting this trend, Jeffrey Garten called on schools to make dramatic changes in business education when he stepped down as dean of the Yale School of Management last year. Few listened. But in Boston, where Harvard and MIT dominate the MBA market, a lesser-known rival has differentiated itself by taking Mr Garten’s advice to heart.

As Thomas Moore sees it, very few business schools truly understand what corporations are looking for in the MBA graduates that they hire. So Mr Moore, the dean of Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration, spent his first year on the job meeting companies in an effort to find out what skills were most important to them. The feedback has guided the school in a revamp of its MBA programme.

Northeastern’s new curriculum puts greater emphasis on communications, interpersonal skills, project management and ethics. The four subject areas were valued by potential employers more than any specialist knowledge, says Mr Moore. The new programme also requires students to choose one of three career tracks: Finance, Marketing or Operations/Supply-Chain Management. The supply-chain track, in particular, has generated enormous interest in the business community, where logistics has a growing influence on the bottom line.

Many of Northeastern’s “customers”, as Mr Moore likes to call the companies which hire his students, have also accepted his invitation to play a greater role in shaping classroom instruction and admissions standards. Company representatives will address relevant classes and help assess applicants to the school. A number of corporate partners will also offer six-month, full-time corporate internships to qualified students.

Capital gains

Washington, DC, is teeming with ambitious young professionals, which should make it a natural market for a top-flight MBA programme. But last year no business school in the city or the surrounding area consistently broke into the top-20 in the major rankings of full-time programmes. However, this might be about to change. As the area’s businesses continue to boom, a couple of schools, better known for their undergraduate programmes, are making an effort to move up in the MBA polls.

On March 31st, Georgetown University broke ground on a new building for its McDonough School of Business, which came 36th in the latest ranking by the Financial Times. George Daly, McDonough’s dean, says the school is doing well considering its relative youth—Georgetown only started offering MBAs in 1983—but must do a better job of defining itself. With help from the university’s well-regarded law centre and school of foreign service, Mr Daly hopes to carve out a niche in the areas of public policy, regulation and international business. The school is also considering a relationship with a business school in Europe.

About a mile down the road, George Washington University, where Colin Powell earned his MBA, is making its own climb up the rankings. In the latest Financial Times poll the school ranked 75th, an improvement of 22 spots over the previous year. And in February, the university dedicated its new business-school facility. The building, which cost $56m, brings all the school’s operations under one roof for the first time.

Barnes storming

In an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal on March 20th, Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard, a must-read among neo-conservatives, advised George Bush to revitalise his administration by overhauling his cabinet. According to Mr Barnes, Glenn Hubbard, the dean of New York’s Columbia Business School and a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), would make a “perfect replacement” for John Snow as secretary of the treasury. “He is in sync with Mr Bush ideologically and has the added value of being respected on Wall Street,” said Mr Barnes. Although Mr Hubbard continues to weigh in on major economic issues, he says he is happy to do so from his perch at Columbia.

Tyson back in the political ring

Another former CEA chairman made bigger ripples recently. Laura Tyson, who was the top economic advisor to Bill Clinton, has decided to step down as dean of London Business School at the end of this year, after five years on the job. She decided not to renew her five-year contract at LBS and will instead return as a part-time faculty member to the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (where she was previously the dean). The timing and nature of the move left some wondering if Ms Tyson might be positioning herself for a role in a future Democratic presidential campaign. In a message to the LBS community, she mentioned that she would be spending part of her time back in America on “political activities”.


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