Murat Tarimcilar, associate dean of graduate programs, says the Global MBA has helped boost GWSB rankings.

New Global MBA: One-Year-Old and Playing with the Big Boy

By Mary A. Dempsey
Published: Fall 2009

Every veteran executive has a story like it. A suitcase—containing business attire—lost right before a big conference. A glitch in Internet technology during a make-or-break presentation. An eleventh hour miscommunication that sends an irreplaceable package to Portland, Maine, instead of Portland, Ore.

For Tom Loper, the nerve-wracking moment came in Spain. He and five colleagues were making a formal marketing presentation to Derbi, a Barcelona motorcycle and scooter manufacturer interested in the U.S. market. Leading up to this moment, Loper and a team of 24 spent seven intensive weeks prepping in Washington, D.C., then another 10 days in Spain examining port facilities, meeting exporters and studying regulatory restrictions.

Their work culminated in a detailed PowerPoint plan. But in the middle of that presentation, the target audience— the company’s marketing chief—was called from the meeting to take an important phone call. Loper and his colleagues were left stalled at the front of the room, worried about the effect of the interruption.

The presentation, when it resumed, was well received and Loper can now joke about it. But the fact he even had such a moment is extraordinary. You see, he’s not a highpowered business executive, at least not yet. Rather, he’s a Global MBA candidate at The George Washington University School of Business.

Loper, MBA, ’10, is among the students who successfully navigated the first year of GWSB’s pioneering Global MBA. The 28-year-old native of Mobile, Ala., was in Spain for the program’s required foreign residency component, which challenges students to solve real business problems for real business clients. Other residencies focused on industries in Vietnam, Mexico and Turkey. International students undertook a residency in D.C.

Companies and business associations were willing to open their doors to students because of their connections to GWSB professors.

“I am pleased at the success and recognition the Global MBA has attained in its first year,” said Donald R. Lehman, GW executive vice president for academic affairs. “The accrediting agency for business schools recently commended the program and noted that it is part of the school’s cutting-edge approach to business education. It is clear to me as well that the Global MBA is the right program for our times.”

The Global MBA’s emphasis on business ethics has received a lot of attention, in no small part because of questions about how Wall Street practices may have played into the current economic downturn. But the curriculum’s other defining elements—leadership and globalization— are no less important. Loper, a practicing attorney when he decided to move into international business and marketing, was drawn to the degree because of its global focus.

“Other schools’ study abroad programs were just to experience the culture, and I’ve already done that professionally and personally,” Loper explained. “But this MBA provides real-life work experience. “When I go to speak with potential employers, I can say that I already have that real experience.”

Murat Tarimcilar, associate dean for graduate programs, oversaw the 26-member faculty team that developed the new curriculum. Although GW’s existing program was strong, it was a middle-of-the-road one that had not been substantially revamped in 15 years. Tarimcilar credits the new one with boosting the School of Business in national rankings.

“We looked at our strengths, the trends, the models out there,” said Tarimcilar, an associate professor in decision sciences. “And then we looked at our strengths and ambitions. We wanted to offer something academically rigorous, prestigious, innovative and unique. We wanted something that would set us apart.”

He said GWSB had the right expertise for the transformation. “If any school was going to embrace all this, it was clear that it should be us,” said Tarimcilar.

He explained that the GWSB Institute for Corporate Responsibility, led by Tim Fort, the Lindner- Gambal Professor of Business Ethics, provided an avenue for injecting ethics discussions into every course. The University’s location, rich with international agencies, global banks, multinational corporations and an international and multicultural population, provided additional perspective for the globalization component. Leadership was slightly more challenging.

“We’ve had a strength in leadership in the School for a number of years but we thought we weren’t highlighting that correctly in the core of the program,” said D. Christopher Kayes, assistant professor of management. “From the educational side, what we’re finding—there’s a lot of research to support this—is that students don’t see leadership courses as relevant. They think accounting and finance and operations will give them the specific work skills they need. But when they get a year or two into a company, they realize what they need are leadership skills.”

He said the new curriculum has woven integrity-based leadership lessons into core classes, using current events and case studies to make those lessons resonate. Students look both at companies where leadership failures have caused problems and those where strong, ethical leadership has fueled long-term benefits.

“At the School of Business, we see ourselves as blazing the trail for the kind of leadership that will be needed in the future,” Kayes added.

Faculty input was key to the curriculum redesign. Professors worked hard to adjust to the additional courses and content required by the new seven-week course structure, a dramatic shift from the previous system where each course lasted 14 weeks. Recent grads, experienced alumni, business recruiters, corporate executives and graduates of the top-ranked business schools in the country weighed in on the proposed curriculum. And students provided input.

Tarimcilar said feedback from students has been especially important in adjustments aimed at strengthening the program. For starters, students in the debut year of the program asked for even more content focused on ethics.

Making Connections on the Ground

Sally Kurtz Schiff was among 19 Global MBA students who traveled to two cities in Turkey to work on projects related to the textile and apparel industry. They split into groups to tackle five projects focused on three clients: an exporters association, a maker of high-end women’s activewear and a textile manufacturer.

Kurtz Schiff’s team was assigned to the textile manufacturer. Those students were tasked to find ways the manufacturer could deepen its presence in European markets.

“The company was trying to understand its competitive position in an industry that relies on personal relationships,” explained Kurtz Schiff. “Until you arrive and you’re on the ground, face-to-face with the client, you can’t imagine how important relationship-building is.”

Her team determined that European clothing makers were interested in social and environmental responsibility, meaning labor issues and production processes were important factors.

“Our client didn’t realize that these things could be of potential interest to their clients,” said Kurtz Schiff, who worked in communications at a nonprofit before enrolling in the Global MBA program. “We had to pitch them on marketing research and provide them with a mechanism to conduct these surveys.”

Kurtz Schiff said the overseas experience brought together a number of classroom lessons. She said her client presentation was just one element of a much bigger experience that included meetings with a well-known fashion designer, examination of manufacturing plant processes, a visit to Istanbul’s stock exchange and immersion in Turkish culture. Research and business conversations looked at how China’s powerful textile industry has affected countries like Turkey.

Liesl Riddle, an associate professor of international business, led the trip to Turkey, where she lived and did field research in the 1990s. Her business connections were instrumental in getting students connected with textile manufacturers, a shoe company and the Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporters Union (ITKIB).

Her teams of students received enthusiastic responses to their work. ITKIB not only said it would begin using the branding suggestions that students developed, but it wanted to hire the students—on the spot. Another client, the head of a high-fashion activewear manufacturer, brought his entire management team to hear students’ findings from a customersatisfaction survey and then asked the students to help with corresponding action plans. Textile company Sunteks in the industrial city of Bursa immediately adopted the corporate Web site the students developed to help the company broaden its export resources.

“There are things we cannot teach from a book,” Riddle said. “The residency fills that gap.”

The Quest for Excellence

There is one repercussion of the new curriculum that students, administrators and professors agree on: The Global MBA is attracting more students, and they are enthusiastic and well prepared. Where average GMAT scores at the School of Business were around 620 two years ago, they are nearing 650 for the incoming 2009 fall class.

“We’ll be bringing in a larger class, about 25 percent more students,” explained Kathleen Rogan, executive director of strategic initiatives for graduate programs. “And we’ll have to increase the number of residencies.” One hundred students enrolled for the first year of the program; 125 students join the program this fall. Graduate program officials are planning an array of locations, topics and sectors for the 2010 program and are examining new locations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East that could be added to the current lineup.

For Kayes, one of the biggest surprises with the Global MBA was the first-year students’ performance. “I was surprised with the level of discussion and the level of engagement that students had. They hit the ground running,” he said. “And it surprised me to see how much desire they had to find out more about the topics. There’s a real hunger for learning.” “I believe that when you set the bar for students a little higher than they think they can achieve, and you coach them through, they will excel,” Riddle said. “Every single one of my students rose above expectations.” GW