In an event livestreamed to the audience of Poets & Quants, Editor-in-Chief John Byrne praised WashU Olin for boldly reimagining its full-time MBA program, interviewing four students, two career center representatives, two faculty members and Dean Mark P. Taylor.
The event today, February 20, 2020, in Frick Forum was the capstone event after P&Q named Olin its MBA Program of the Year last month. In an article at the time, Byrne had written that Olin’s faculty and staff had basically broken the mold for full-time MBA programs with the three-continent global immersion at the outset of the first-year student experience.
Today, addressing a crowd gathered for the livesteam in Frick Forum, Byrne remarked that he visits a lot of full-time MBA programs and sees a lot of tinkering around the margins as educators work on improving their programs.
“It’s highly unusual for somebody to take out a blank piece of paper and reimagine what an MBA experience can be,” Byrne told the crowd. “There are precious few schools in the world that would bring their entire student cohort out on a 38-day learning experience—around the world—and then pay for the entire trip out of the school’s budget.”
His remarks came in the midst of a post-livestream celebration featuring internationally inspired finger foods, T-shirts for students, faculty and staff and tables adorned with beanies and berets—a takeoff on the Poets & Quants‘ logo. Visitors were offered the chance to record a video testimonial about the program or take selfies with Byrne-approved John Byrne masks.
Byrne came to campus specifically to highlight Olin’s program in an hourlong livestream broadcast live on the Poets & Quants website and into Frick Forum. He broke the hour into three 20-minute segments.
First, he focused on the overall experience by interviewing Dean Taylor along with Olin professors Sam Chun and Andrew Knight, who taught during the global immersion. Segment two focused on the student experience with first-year MBAs Zach Frantz, Jennifer Lanas and Lungile Tshuma. The final segment focused on career outcomes with Jen Whitten, director of the Weston Career Center, career coach Chris Collier and first-year student Kendra Kelly.
“We were all outside of our comfort zones—but safely outside of our comfort zones with the help of the program,” Tshuma told Byrne during his segment, explaining in part why the program was so important to his development as a business student.
Focusing on the student experience
Byrne focused many of his questions on the core experience of working on projects and experiencing the business world in the very earliest stages of their MBA experience. Chun, professor of management practice, spoke of the importance and depth of field excursions to Barcelona vineyards, for example.
“These are meaningful trips—not just going on a winery tour,” Chun said. “We’re thinking about how a family (at the vineyard) thinks about wine and thinks about their values.”
“We learned business by actually doing business,” Lanas said.
Pictured above: John Byrne, editor-in-chief of Poets & Quants, interviewing Dean Mark Taylor, Sam Chun and Andrew Knight for the livestream broadcast today.
Jennifer Desai, MBA ’21, speaks to the ways WashU Olin’s 38-day global immersion bonded the class of 2021—first-year MBAs who opened their program with a ’round-the-world trip from St. Louis, to the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, to Barcelona and finally, to Beijing and Shanghai, before returning in early August.
Creating a tight bond among members of the nearly 100 students who began the program in late June 2019 was among the goals of the global immersion. “My classmates and I are never in competition with one another, rather we genuinely want the best for each other,” Desai said. See below as she reflects on the experience its affect on her work at WashU Olin.
Can you describe how the global immersion influenced your approach to class?
One of the most impactful takeaways from the global immersion program for me was that it expanded my capabilities in thinking of business in a global context versus only here in the United States. During the core classes (especially economics, strategy and marketing) this fall, I often thought about the differences in values, culture and governments in the world when discussing a case study or when thinking of a solution to a problem.
How did the opportunity to bond with your classmates affect your experience in class and moving forward in the program?
From study groups to interview preparation to discussing career goals, I have found support from virtually everyone in my cohort from the beginning. I never imagined traveling the world with these wonderful people for five weeks would have created a bond and support system that I will have throughout my life.
The thing that has surprised me the most is that my classmates and I are never in competition with one another, rather we genuinely want the best for each other. My classmates truly do feel more like my family rather than just my peers.
Also, I guess I should say, we are almost never in competition with one another. Every now and then, we may secretly hope that someone’s fingers can’t move fast enough, or they lose their Wi-Fi connection during class registration time. This was especially true when the opportunity to travel to Israel, for a Venture Advising class that was sponsored and paid for by the school, arose.
Most of us wanted one of those coveted 43 spots to serve as a consultant for a startup! I initially did not, but the classmates I talked to encouraged me to seek one because of my career interests and the opportunity in general. Having secured one of those spots and just completed travel, I am beyond grateful for their encouragement to pursue such opportunities.
Have you been able to use the global immersion yet in any preparation for your career next step? If not, do you envision ways in which you might?
As a first-year MBA student, balancing core classes with finding a summer internship is kind of the way of life. The WCC traveled with us during the global immersion and we had a variety of sessions on resume building, interview prep and networking. They also provided us with ideas on how to incorporate the global immersion experience into our conversations or interviews.
Returning to the states, during interviews, I was able to use the global immersion experiences to discuss projects that I have completed and are vastly different from anything I have ever worked on before. This has led to a variety of conversations with interviewers, as it sparked interest from them. Additionally, the global immersion program has helped solidify my desire to work with a global company.
Any global business leader understands that international events drive opportunities and influence decisions. Agile business leaders pivot quickly when unanticipated events arise. Business goals remain constant. Strategy and tactics may have to change to meet the unexpected. These are lessons WashU Olin students learn day in and day out. Today, the team at Olin is putting those lessons into practice.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, my Olin colleagues have confronted the challenge admirably. We’re retooling our celebrated global immersion for the next class of full-time MBA students—while accounting for an unanticipated public health crisis.
The result: The MBA students in the class of 2022 will span five cities across three continents in their global immersion, beginning in St. Louis and continuing to Washington, DC; Barcelona; Paris; and Lima, Peru.
Our inaugural class covered St. Louis; Washington, DC; Barcelona; Beijing; and Shanghai, all the while taking classes, consulting with business professionals in-country and creating solutions for real-world business problems.
Given today’s headlines, and because the health and well-being of our students is paramount, we had to make decisions now. We had to pivot, while preserving the important global experience that has quickly become a cornerstone of the WashU MBA—so much so, in fact, that Poets & Quants named us the program of the year for our work.
From the start, we’ve pressed the opportunity for students to gain global business literacy in a variety of economies and markets. We’ve spoken about the agility today’s business leaders require when operating in cultures different from their own. And our students have bonded tightly in a unique and united global experience.
Class of ’22 students will take virtually the same courses their predecessors took, gaining similar outcomes. This time, however, students will experience even more diverse business perspectives.
As well as adding a major European capital and world business center to the itinerary—Paris—we are adding a stint in Lima, the capital city of Peru’s emerging economy, with opportunities to study sustainability concerns and startup opportunities. An economy with local production in textiles and ecotourism. A culture risen from a tumultuous history, where economic development is a priority.
For students who were deeply committed to the possibility of an experience in China, we haven’t left them behind either. When the current crisis subsides, we plan to offer an elective residency in Shanghai—along with other residencies in Tel Aviv and Berlin.
WashU Olin is a global business school. We’ve invested in the program and in our students in order to develop globally mobile business leaders who are nimble enough to confront challenge dynamically.
To be sure, we didn’t anticipate this challenge. But in confronting it, we’re creating a new and exciting version of our global immersion.
This story originally appeared in the 2019 edition of Olin Business magazine.
On a pristine Thursday in July, a group of WashU Olin MBA students sipped two varieties of Spanish sparkling wine and sampled pan con tomate in the main house of the 500-year-old Barcelona winery where they’d spent two afternoons collecting data.
The students had strolled among the knotty vineyards, smelled the soil and ducked into dark cellars lined with bottles of aging cava. They’d heard about the wine-making process and the family values that drive the latest generation of vintners at the Raventos i Blanc winery 40 minutes from the city’s center.
By 9:15 that evening, the sights, sounds, aromas and flavors had become another data point. Students clustered on sofas and barstools around the lobby of the Pulitzer Hotel in downtown Barcelona. Melding their research data with the culture and values they’d absorbed firsthand, they prepared team presentations for class the next day while three Olin professors milled about, offering insights and answering questions.
The scene was emblematic of WashU Olin’s newly rebooted full-time MBA program and its crown jewel: a ’round-the-globe immersion in international business designed to set students up for a richer business school education and set them apart from their peers. Students absorbed a rigorous schedule of classroom work, course-driven field excursions and presentations in Washington, DC, Barcelona and Shanghai.
By the time they returned to St. Louis 38 days after they left, the verdict was clear: The new MBA program was a success.
“I was prepared to feel like a student on this trip and to take incredible classes from amazing professors,” said Kendra Kelly, MBA ’21. “But I wasn’t prepared to see myself as a working professional in these places. In six weeks, I feel like I’m leaps and bounds beyond where I would have been had I not participated in this.”
Eighteen months in development
At a faculty meeting on May 23, 2018, Dean Mark P. Taylor challenged instructors to consider a bold new plan for the full-time MBA program. By then, a team of staff and faculty had already completed several months of behind-the-scenes work. New courses had been conceived. International locations had been chosen. Partner institutions were identified.
With faculty approval, the race was on to implement the new program in time for the arrival of first-year MBA students in late June 2019. The newly rebooted program would include options for MBA students to accelerate their education and graduate a semester early by foregoing a summer internship.
It would also offer students the option to pair their MBA with a concurrent specialized master’s degree in about 23 months.
But the real meat of the new program would be its biggest challenge, drawing dozens of instructors and scores of staff members into the planning process. The required global immersion would be an enormous logistical feat as WashU Olin arranged travel, meals, lodging, coursework—and prepared for inevitable surprises—for nearly 100 students across three continents.
Planners piloted the program over spring break in March 2019, taking 70 first- and second-year students to Shanghai and 35 to Barcelona for a compressed version of classes and excursions. Organizers returned with insights on how to manage transportation logistics, how to engage weary travelers and how to pace the coursework.
The goals were clear: Build the global mobility of Olin’s latest cohort. Set the tone for a program rooted in values-based, data-driven decision-making. Establish a baseline in international business for students with varying levels of business experience. Provide perspective on how business is done across different cultures, countries and economies when students begin core classes.
By the end of the trip, Professor of Practice Patrick Moreton—the faculty director and chief organizer of the global immersion’s academic experience—was confident it had met the goals.
“These students were absorbing and engaging with the environment in ways we’ve never seen before,” Moreton said, citing the papers, presentations and simulation results students had submitted throughout their journey.
The student presentations, designed to solve market entry questions and operational problems for real companies in the United States and abroad, incorporated rich learnings from their own field observations and data collected from financial documents and company research.
“They did a great job,” Moreton said, acknowledging that the students were deliberately challenged to use business concepts they hadn’t yet formally learned. “The experiential design of the courses lets students see the value of these concepts in action and achieved great learning outcomes.”
Rebooting the full-time MBA
Elements of the redesigned program for full-time MBA students at WashU Olin
A required global immersion for all students entering the program, including a 38-day ’round-the-world trip with coursework and excursions at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC; in Barcelona; and in Shanghai.
An option to accelerate the MBA experience and finish a semester early by foregoing the traditional summer internship between years one and two.
An option to earn a specialized master’s degree.
Bonds for life
Faculty members were also impressed with the quality of the cohort. From the beginning, program leaders acknowledged the new program would attract a certain type of student—a student prepared to touch down in St. Louis and depart almost immediately for faraway lands. With the highest yield rate in Olin’s MBA history, it was clear prospective students made Olin their top choice—specifically for the global experience.
Meanwhile, those nearly six weeks of global travel also fulfilled another goal: Organizers expected the program to create deep bonds among members of the cohort. And bond they did.
Sixteen students celebrated birthdays during the 38 days of travel. Four students formed an impromptu band using idle instruments in a DC pub. Another took a long weekend away from Shanghai to get married—and was showered with classmates’ well wishes when he shared wedding pictures on WeChat, the Chinese social media platform everyone used to stay connected. Ten students rented a yacht in Barcelona for a water-borne city tour and an afternoon swim. Students visited karaoke bars in Beijing, walked on the Great Wall, toured DC monuments and gazed into the soaring ceiling of Barcelona’s Sagrada Família basilica.
“We spent a lot of time together. We had meals together. It really helped us inside the classroom because we are really comfortable talking to each other, asking each other questions,” said Benjamin Gaffney, MBA ’21. “It helped the academic conversations as well.”
Ashley Macrander, assistant dean and director of student affairs for graduate programs, said students frequently cited the deeper cultural competency they’d gained as an important takeaway of the program.
“This experience has given our students an even stronger start than they’ve ever had before,” Macrander said. “They care about each other as colleagues and friends. They’ve formed tighter bonds with Olin. It’s made them even more engaged students and that’s going to make them more engaged alumni.”
One after another, students praised the strength they drew from one another through the trip, a strength derived from the bond they’d created—and the understanding they’d gained of each person’s ethnic, professional and social backgrounds.
“People from different backgrounds, different industries, different countries, different life experiences—and when we work in teams, we get to share all our different ideas and see how they come together,” said Abhinav Gabbeta, MBA ’21. “All these different perspectives fill the different gaps you have.”
Students drew on one another as they worked on a series of projects that began in St. Louis, continued at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, extended to the cava producers in Barcelona and finished with garment manufacturing plants on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Rigorous coursework around the globe
It’s Friday morning in early August and the mercury creeps toward a high in the upper 90s. Four first-year WashU MBA students dodge other commuters in Shanghai’s People’s Square subway station and squeeze aboard the No. 2 train, standing chin-to-shoulder for a quick ride two stops to the west.
Susie Bonwich, Zach Frantz, Duckenson Joseph and Linh Nguyen—joined by two Chinese-speaking guides—have scattered into the city seeking insights about the coffee shops and confectioners doing business in Shanghai. Their classmates have gone in other directions, visiting other stores.
Before departing WashU in late June, all the students visited Strange Donuts, a St. Louis-based chain of shops with locations around the region and in Mexico City. Jason Bockman, the owner and a former Olin student, had been invited to consider opening a doughnut shop in Shanghai. The question for the students: Should he?
“I’m really excited about this project,” said Bonwich, who joked about her previous experience as a corporate trainer for a premium global burger restaurant chain. “I feel like shaking fries will actually have some value in this program.”
The four students visited four different shops, including a simple coffee shop, a high-end bakery and a patisserie. Their mission: Gain competitive insights. Evaluate square footage. Compare what Chinese diners prefer—their values—against the US palate. That work would merge with data from Bockman’s business and lessons they’d learned in their course on business models in a global environment, taught in a Shanghai hotel ballroom.
“For sure, I’m looking at all of this very differently. Before, I’d try to look at a business model and see how a company made money,” Frantz said. “But this is giving me a framework to see more about why decisions are made. I have a much more data-driven framework.”
trip, students blended on-the-ground experiences with in-the-classroom lessons.
The business models course invited students to contrast retail strategies
across a variety of industries—including hardware, cosmetics and apparel—among
retailers on three continents.
In the hardware
industry, for example, contrasting values came to the forefront as students
noted less of a do-it-yourself mentality among Chinese homeowners compared to
Americans. That’s largely thanks to the lower cost of labor—they can more
easily afford a plumber—and the lack of space to store and work with home
Global Management Practices course in Barcelona included student visits to
three wineries as they developed strategies for expanding cava in the US
market. Their business and policy course at the Brookings Institution included
detailed briefings on global economies in Europe, South America, Asia and
Africa. With visits to Chinese garment makers and global distribution centers,
students explored the role of operations strategy in their global business
Threaded throughout, students trained on effective teamwork, received communication coaching to hone their presentation skills and met with counselors from the Weston Career Center.
“I didn’t think the global immersion would add so much to my experience, but I feel like I’m so much ahead,” Joseph said. “I have a lot of stories I’ll be able to tell an interviewer.”
Changes, differences, similarities
experience, faculty and staff watched and learned as the class of 2021 served
as the vanguard for Olin’s new full-time MBA. They provided social and
political insights to help students assimilate across three unique cultures.
They prepared for the inevitable upset stomachs and ear infections that would
interrupt any group of 100 adults over six weeks. They noted—and will adjust
for—the time it takes to secure visas for a large group of students attempting
to traverse the globe.
And they tweaked
schedules along the way in an effort to preserve a rigorous academic experience
alongside the rigor of international travel—with all the demands of border
crossings, jet lag and laundry.
“The faculty has
had to adapt the schedule to students’ needs,” Gaffney said. “We very much
appreciate those changes, but also, you just need to learn: While this is the
plan, it may change.”
In the end,
students appreciated the opportunity to contrast the cultures and values across
so many stops, integrating that perspective into their work. They noted the
late-morning, late-evening routines among Spanish businesses—and their
preference to begin meetings with more small talk and a personal connection.
They recognized that the Chinese palate doesn’t favor sweets to the degree
Americans do. They saw the ways Chinese manufacturing conditions contrast with
Americans’ preconceived notions.
“Honestly, the thing I’ve seen most powerfully is the similarities,” Gabbeta said. “It’s all about the human connection we’re making. We’ve gotten to know the people. There may be a lot of differences, but at the end of the day, as long as we share that human connection, we can make some really powerful differences in the world.”
Faculty and Courses
IN ST. LOUIS
Values-Based, Data-Driven Decision-Making
Stuart Bunderson, Director, Bauer Leadership Center and George and Carol Bauer Professor of Organizational Ethics and Governance
Seethu Seetharaman, Director, Center for Analytics and Business Insights and W. Patrick McGinnis Professor of Marketing
IN WASHINGTON, DC
Global Institutions and Values
Tarek Ghani, assistant professor of strategy
Lamar Pierce, professor of organization and strategy and associate dean for the Olin-Brookings Partnership
Global Management Practices
Sam Chun, assistant dean and director of executive education, professor of management practice
Peter Boumgarden, professor of practice, strategy and organizations
Understanding Business Models in a Global Context
Daniel Elfenbein, associate professor of strategy
Anne Marie Knott, Robert and Barbara Frick Professor of Business
Implementing Strategy through Global
Lingxiu Dong, professor of operations and manufacturing management
Fuqiang Zhang, professor of operations and manufacturing management
Foundations of Impactful Teamwork
Andrew Knight, professor of organizational behavior
Effective Communication for Business
Cathy Dunkin, lecturer in business communications
Amy Shiller Brown, Molly Cruitt, Sarah Gibbs, Judy Milanovits, Gabe Watson and Katie Roth Wools contributed to this report.
Pictured above: Students in the 2021 MBA class during the scavenger hunt in Barcelona in 2019.
In a recent post, Olin received recognition for two of its strategic pillars—entrepreneurship and global experience—that have been successfully implemented into the curriculum.
“Every course at Olin has to be accountable to entrepreneurship and innovation… That took entrepreneurship from being a really strong niche to something every Olin student is going to be exposed to,” said Cliff Holekamp, former professor of entrepreneurship at Olin.
“Deep global immersion in international business issues, cultures, and practices sets an important foundation for business today,” said Dean Mark Taylor discussing the MBA global immersion trip. “The cohort [also] really bonds as everyone gets to know one another and works together—especially as they begin the program by being thrown into the deep end on the global immersion where, at some point, every student must adjust to a foreign culture.”
P&Q also highlighted Olin’s location, accelerated graduation path, and the option for a STEM-designed specialized master’s degree paired with an MBA.
leaning into the needs of today’s business students, differentiating WashU Olin
by leveraging our unique assets, preparing them to be globally-minded and
globally-mobile and providing the tools to confront the challenge and create
change,” said Taylor.
Other schools listed alongside Olin included the Dartmouth’s
Tuck School of Business, University of Chicago’s Booth, USC’s Marshall, and