Students standing in front of Mount Vernon during DC residency in October 2021.
Just in time changed to just in case

During the second full week of October, the entire Full-Time MBA class of 2022 got a real-time lesson in operational logistics, supply chain disruption, crisis management, labor relations and strategic pivoting.

Coincidentally, we also sent them to Washington, DC, for their weeklong residency at the Brookings Institution.

By all accounts, the students’ time at Brookings was extraordinarily well spent. They rubbed shoulders with movers and shakers in the nation’s capital and gained deep insights into the ways business and policy intersect. Indeed, WashU Olin’s link with Brookings is a valuable differentiator among business schools.

But we didn’t expect that merely traveling to Brookings would bring students face-to-face with the realities of today’s business world. As Southwest Airlines struggled with labor shortages and crippling flight cancellations, it was a real-time demonstration of how the pandemic continues to impact the global economy and shape what the next  normal will look like for the foreseeable future.

Passing the test

In some ways, the trip to DC was a test we didn’t expect we’d be taking. October’s excursion was our first attempt at group travel since the start of the pandemic. After the delay of their excursion, our MBA students were finally able to go on the first leg of their global immersion—a trip that should have happened in August 2020.

I tip my cap to the staff, faculty and students who rolled with the challenges and bore the experience with grace and resilience. I’m especially grateful our students saw past the inconvenience to appreciate the many benefits of their weeklong engagement at Brookings. That included time with noted members of the media, policymakers and scholars who work inside the capital, who connected the ways business and government influence each other. It also included a side-trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate.

We learned we could manage travel under even the most trying circumstances. We dug deep into our toolkit to accomplish the task—tools we’ll certainly need as we plan for the balance of our students’ global immersion, now scheduled for the spring semester.

All strategy is emergent

For our students, this shouldn’t be difficult. As I’ve said before, our current students have never known a WashU Olin experience untouched by the pandemic. They’re well familiar with the imperative to pivot and reset based on circumstances, resilience that will serve them well during their careers. And I believe we’ve done a good job of modeling that behavior as a school.

I’m also fond of saying all strategy is emergent. That is, we must plan, but leave room in the plan to capitalize on unanticipated circumstances. Thus, we planned the MBA global immersion, and we have adapted to ensure we carry out that commitment.

But we’ve also established a new online MBA set to debut next month—a program borne of our experiences over the past two years. Our strategy remains fixed on being a leading global player in business education. Our emergent strategy accommodates students who have demonstrated they want to learn in—and for—a digitally enabled world.

That flexibility will be the way of this new world.

Pictured at top: MBA students from the class of 2022 standing in front of Mount Vernon during their DC residency in October 2021.

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