Every year I get inundated with business school publications. This usually happens around ranking time when schools are competing for vanity in the publication(s) of their choice. All of these b-school publications proudly proclaim that their institution is globally, strategically, entrepreneurially, sustainable. All of them. The proportion of their students that can find India on a map, know what it takes to start their own business, or calculate the financial return on investing in a piece of green technology is an entirely different question. Yes, I’m skeptical of some of these claims. Marketing is frequently ahead of production. But, what these publications are telling me is that an emphasis on international issues, entrepreneurship, strategy, and sustainability are necessary components of a modern day business school curriculum. What they are not, is differentiators.
The quest for differentiation lies not in developing programs around topical themes, but rather in creating a unique culture that imprints a distinctive and highly visible set of qualities on graduates. Something that hits people in the face when they greet it. Topical programs are easy to copy, cultures are not.
If you have ever met Dr. Lapchick, you know he is an evangelist. He believes in leveraging the large venue sports provides to promote social good. Everyone associated with the sports business program: the staff, faculty and students has drank this Kool-Aid. (I say this in admiration not in condemnation.) Every sport business management person I meet is optimistic, articulate, respectful, and firmly convinced they are working to bring positive change to the world. Every single one of them.
A similar observation applies to the Professional Selling Program. I attended their Meet and Greet at the Orlando Science Center a few weeks ago. Almost to a person, those students were aggressive, professional, confident and focused. They believe they can sell you anything and are going to get rich doing it. They too are all in.
These two programs differentiate their students. They also share some similarities: Both programs have a strong sense of what they are trying to accomplish. Both programs are small (around 30 students). Both programs have a great deal of industry participation, are seen as among the most applied programs in the college, and have lots of co-curricular activities designed to reinforce key values and behaviors (e.g., building homes in New Orleans).
Can this be done on a larger scale? (Accounting comes close.) Can we purposefully imprint a small set of highly visible and distinctive qualities on all our students? A set of qualities the market will value and that will give us an identity among the crowded market of business schools? Something we can sustain over time?
Somebody needs to break out the Kool-Aid.
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. This post appeared on October 8, 2012. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley.