San Antonio is a city bursting at the seams with institutions of higher education. With well over a dozen universities, colleges and branches inside the metropolitan area, the need for specialization, creativity, and adaptability becomes self-evident.
In addition to a mastery of the more traditional disciplines such as accounting and financial management, employers in the business sector increasingly expect graduates to come equipped with design-thinking abilities, hands-on experience, and leadership skills grounded in solid principles and ethics.
Seeking to respond to industry needs and to better prepare students for meaningful, fulfilling careers, leaders of the Bill Greehey School of Business at St. Mary's University’s recently overhauled the institution’s MBA program. The re-imagined degree, designed for students in both the for- and non-profit sectors, focuses on social entrepreneurship – addressing social problems with a business answer.
Tanuja Singh, D.B.A., dean of the Greehey School of Business, explained the idea of a double bottom line: “When you do good, you also do well."
Contributing to the common good, she said, "does not come at the expense of a sound, profit-driven business model. But at the same time, we bring to center the idea that all leadership must be value-focused and have a positive impact on society.”
Newly christened as The Greehey MBA for Values-Driven Leaders, this initiative aligns with the mission of St. Mary’s and is named in honor of the school’s benefactor and namesake, Bill Greehey, the founder and chairman of NuStar Energy whom the Harvard Business Review just named as one of the top CEOs in the world.
An innovative collaboration between St. Mary’s and 3 Day Startup, funded by a grant from the 80/20 Foundation (see below for more on the Foundation), serves as a vital element of the new M.B.A.
3 Day Startup (3DS) is a non-profit organization based in Austin that promotes hands-on entrepreneurship education through weekend-long technology startup boot camp programs. Founded in 2008 at the University of Texas and now taking place internationally, San Antonio's collaborative workspace Geekdom has hosted several 3DS weekends with Trinity University and Rackspace.
According to Singh and Earnie Broughton, director of the Greehey MBA Program, School of Business and Executive Education Program, increased lab-based learning was central to the MBA program redesign.
“The 18-month, 30 semester hour curriculum includes traditional coursework like accounting, financial management, international business, marketing management, and information technology, but the heart of the program is a values-driven lab, focusing on ethical and sustainable leadership as well as the abilities to effectively manage conflict, communicate, persuade, and influence other people … and on educating the whole person,” Broughton explained.
The degree will include a concentrated international field study, behavioral simulations of potential real-life business situations, and the administering of inventories and tests. A significant component of the experiential learning will come through the 3DS partnership.
Unlike the quick-and-dirty boot camps at Geekdom, this MBA program will integrate a recurring 3 Day Startup experience into its very curriculum. Thanks to the 80/20 Foundation grant, Broughton and Matthew Gilley, Ph.D., professor of management and the Bill Greehey Chair in Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, will work with 3DS CEO Cam Houser and other staff to design a program customized for and structured around the vision and goals of the new MBA.
This July, a cohort of 25 Greehey MBA students who entered the program in the fall of 2012 will spend a weekend at Geekdom developing their ideas for technology startups with a specific focus on social innovation. (Kiva.org, the international online microlending platform, exemplifies a socially conscious tech startup.)
Broughton expects that the business pitches developed during the 3 Day Startup weekend will be “viable and possibly pursued.”
Singh added that some students from the diverse cohort currently work for non-profits and “may actually use their ideas to benefit their organizations in some way.”
The 3DS team, together with Broughton and Gilley, will lead the program this summer. Next year, however, the 3DS staff will serve in a smaller, support-only role, allowing the Greehey School faculty to assume ownership of delivering the program.
It was Rackspace chairman and co-founder Graham Weston's 80/20 Foundation that first suggested a collaboration between St. Mary’s and 3 Day Startup. Lorenzo Gomez, III, the executive director of 80/20, said the reconstructed MBA initially appealed to the Foundation because they saw it as an opportunity to try a progressive model of education.
“We feel that higher education in the university setting is going through a huge amount of disruption, and that most universities have a hard time adapting. We feel like the only way to survive this disruption is to specialize and become the best in something,” Gomez said. “I was encouraged by St. Mary’s wanting to specialize at their MBA level in social entrepreneurship. I think that’s the new model. You can set yourself apart through specialization.”
Weston, who has been called a “serial entrepreneur,” appreciated the focus on entrepreneurship, with Gomez noting that several of Weston’s endeavors (including Geekdom) aim to create entrepreneurs as well as attract them to the city. Additionally, the “train the trainer” approach (3DS staff initially implementing the program but then passing the reins to Broughton, Gilley, and others from St. Mary’s) requires a one-time grant and fits with the 80/20 Foundation’s desire to produce maximum output with minimum input.
The Foundation’s name comes from the Pareto principle, paraphrased by Gomez as, “supporting 20% of the people and organizations that generate 80% of the impact."
The Foundation, which Broughton called “results oriented,” shares his and St. Mary's outlook on business: "If what you’re doing can’t have an impact and can’t have value, then you need to stop doing it and do something else.”
Gomez echoed those sentiments and fully endorses the program.
“Most M.B.A. programs don’t put the student in motion. Most M.B.A. programs are broken, and this is one of the few that is doing it right.”
Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]
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