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Kenneth Freeman made his reputation as a turnround expert, steering Quest Diagnostics from a problem-plagued start-up to a leading medical testing company. In a study published last year in Harvard Business Review, he was rated one of the best-performing chief executives in the world. Now, as dean of Boston University School of Management, he aims to bring that real-world sensibility to the school’s 99-year-old business programme.
Prof Freeman, who started in August 2010, views his role as bridging “theory and practice”. He wants students to have “practical knowledge such as analysis, effective presentation skills, and also team-based skills. I want to create leaders who are also team players,” he says.
Real-world, group-based learning is a centrepiece of the school’s curriculum overhaul. A pilot programme for real-time case studies begins this month, using telepresence videoconferencing. A chief executive or director of a government agency will present a management issue in their workplace. Students will be asked come up with recommendations, which they will put to management, sometimes just hours later.
“Management gets the benefit of free consulting, and the students get the experience of analysing the issues of the day,” says Prof Freeman.
The school already places special emphasis on team-based exercises, including a multidisciplinary project in which students invent a product and devise a business plan. Group projects also figure heavily in a large number of electives.
“I’ve done a lot of small-team consulting projects with other students, where we get to know the company as well as each other,” says Katy Perkins, a second-year student. “I came here with a maths and economics background, so I felt confident in my analytical skills, but needed work on my people skills.”
In September, the school, which has about 300 full-time MBA students, will introduce a required course on corporate accountability. The curriculum revamp also includes a heightened effort to infuse ethical considerations into all classes to help students absorb the lessons of the recent financial crisis, says James Post, a professor of management. “We are helping students develop their ethical muscles,” he says.
At the moment, the school offers concentrations in traditional areas such as accounting, finance, marketing and operations. In addition, Boston offers dual degrees in information systems communications, law, medicine, engineering, public health, and arts and sciences.
Starting this year, the school will implement a special focus on digital technology, energy and the environment, and health and life sciences – three growth sectors that Prof Post contends are vital to “effective global leadership”.
These changes partly reflect pressure from recruiters and hiring managers, he says. “New graduates do not have the luxury of a long training programme with the company; they are expected to hit the ground running and add value from day one.”