Posts Tagged ‘class’

Favorite Darden Class

Selected 3rd & 4th Quarter Books

Selected 3rd & 4th Quarter Books

It seems that with each new quarter I have a new favorite Darden class. Given my engineering background, I expected that the quantitative courses such as finance, accounting, and operations would be my favorites. And indeed, this was the case during my first couple quarters at Darden. It was also no surprise that I earned better grades in these quantitative courses.

By the first quarter of my second year it was becoming clear that despite my lower grades in the leadership and strategy courses, I was learning far more in these ‘softer’ courses. I have since embraced the leadership and strategy classes and am taking some of the most demanding offerings. The photo above shows a subset of the books I am reading in the 3rd and 4th quarter of my second year for these ‘soft’ classes. I have now read about two thirds of these books from cover to cover and will finish the rest before graduating in May. There are five additional books for class that I have read on my Kindle (love the Kindle). My pace of reading has increased from about two books per year prior to attending Darden to my current rate of a little over two books per week.

Some of my favorite Darden classes include:

Business Ethics Through Literature – in this course we read modern literature and discuss the underlying ethical business implications in class. Some of our reading included: The Great Gatsby, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Never Let Me Go, and Things Fall Apart.

Managerial Psychology – this course covers 14 books on psychology. Thus far, the books have focused on core psychological principals rather than the best selling ‘pop’ culture type books. Some notable readings during my third quarter included: TA Today, You Are What You Say, The Evolving Self, Mans Search for Meaning, and Social Intelligence. I’ll probably write another blog entry on my key leanings after finishing the course.

Readings in Sustainable Business and Creative Capitalism – the term ‘sustainability’ is a buzzword (again) and whenever this happens some of the meaning behind the concept is lost. The idea of sustaining business performance or investment returns is age old. This course begins with a historical review of how business and societies have failed. We then discuss ways to structure businesses with sustainability in mind. Some of our readings include: Collapse, Hot Flat and Crowded, and The World Without Us.

Case Method Learning

Classroom discussion is only one setting for Darden’s case method of teaching. We also learn from individual preparation, learning team meetings, and post-class reflection. For me, the majority of ‘technical’ learning takes place during individual preparation. In this post I’ll outline some of my observations on the learning process at Darden. If you are looking for some specific information on how the case method is implemented at Darden, you may want to check out my earlier Case Method post.

The business elements taught at Darden naturally break down into two groups, as follows:

Technical skills – this includes elements such as creating an income statement, performing a discounted cash flow valuation, or analyzing the effectiveness of a marketing campaign. Most people first think of the case method in terms of technical skills and wonder how these skills can be effectively taught with class discussion. Generally, most technical learning takes place before class and we use our discussion time to review the material and learn from our mistakes. (see my Case Method post for an example)

Business background – this includes the broad knowledge and the general skills required for effective management. Examples include teamwork skills, industry knowledge, communication skills, and concepts like business acumen.

Both of these groups are taught throughout the Darden program. Naturally, some settings are better suited for building specific competencies. Below is my analysis of how Darden students learn these elements:

Setting Technical skills Business background
Individual preparation
  • Reading technical notes
  • Completing individual analysis
  • Reading cases set in different business environments (industry, location, etc.)
Learning teams & group work
  • Refining individual analysis
  • Working in teams and with peers
  • Picking up industry, cultural, and functional knowledge from learning team members
Class discussion
  • Reviewing techniques
  • Learning from your mistakes and the mistakes of others
  • Developing business communication skills
  • Building confidence in your capabilities
  • Identifying connections between classes/subjects

In addition to learning from the formal curriculum, I have developed my business background through involvement in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities at Darden.

Working Hard

There is a clear perception that Darden Students work harder then students at other business schools.  Although this image can make prospective students nervous, it has several positive implications for the Darden community including the high level of credibility it affords us with recruiters and alumni.  Many of the factors contributing to the ‘we work harder’ perception are part of the schools heritage and date back over 50 years.  Some of the most influential factors include:

Class schedule – the general belief is that Darden students prepare 3 cases per day, 5 days per week.  This perception falls somewhere between the actual workload and the workload from when Darden was founded.  In 1954, classes were taught 6 days per week and there were 3 cases every day.  I’ve even heard rumors that exams were administered on Sundays so they wouldn’t interfere with the class schedule.  The first year program for the class of 2009 averaged about 12 cases per week.  Our schedule alternated between 4 and 5 teaching days per week and 2 and 3 cases per day.  I’ve provided a snapshot of a typical Darden week in my weekly schedule post.

Case method – most classes begin with the professor selecting a student at random to present and defend their analysis of a business case.  With participation accounting for about 50% of final course grades, Darden students prepare for every class session.  In comparison, lecture format classes found at other schools may not require any preparation.  One advantage of working through cases during the quarter is the limited amount of studying needed for exams.  In fact, many Darden students only spend a couple hours studying for each exam.  I’ve written more on Darden’s teaching style in my case method post.

Attendance policy – students are allowed to miss two classes per quarter without a valid reason.  This policy helps ensure high attendance, which is necessary at a school where classroom discussion is an integral part of the learning process.  I remember the class of 2009 being generally supportive of this policy when it was introduced during first year orientation – apparently there was no expectation of skipping class.

Learning teams – part of the case method, these teams generally meet the evenings before class is taught.  Although these meetings take time, they ultimately reduce the total time most students spend preparing for class.  In my team we assigned each individual one case to analyze for the next day.  Each team member would then share the results of their analysis in the evening learning team meeting.  Therefore, on any given night I only analyzed one case in depth and then reviewed my team members’ work on the remaining cases for the next day.  In addition to their efficiency benefits, these meetings provided a great environment for learning how to effectively review other people’s work – an important skill for MBA graduates.

Image promotion – Darden’s students, alumni, and faculty often promote the ‘Darden students work harder’ perception through their own personal dialogues.  It’s often with a sense of pride that someone from the Darden community discusses the rigors of the program.

All these factors contribute to a culture in which working hard is valued.  The communication of this culture has a reinforcing effect as prospective students looking for an easy or ‘social’ MBA generally choose to attend other schools.  The result is a student body that expects to work hard for a well respected education.

This culture applies to our community as a whole and does not necessarily mean that Darden’s academic program is more time intensive than programs at other schools.  From my own observations, the hardest working students at Darden spend less than half their time on the academic program and devote huge amounts of energy towards club leadership positions or multi-industry career searches.

Mexico City GBE

My wife and I attended the Mexico City GBE during Spring Break 2008. This GBE was one of several “Global Business Experiences” offered by the Darden faculty. Our trip was led by Professor Peter Rodriguez and the participants included 12 Darden students and 2 partners.

GBEs at Darden generally have a significant academic element and students receive course credit. The Mexico City program consisted of four main components, which are outlined below. More details are also available on the Darden webpage.

Business cases – we discussed 5 cases with IPADE students on issues relevant to Mexico. The IPADE professors made sure to involve us in these discussions and Darden students seemed to receive their fair share of cold calls.

Guest speakers – presentations and Q&A sessions with 5 business leaders from various industries including entertainment, retail sales, and beverage distribution. Some of the speakers used English and others used Spanish along with the translation service provided by IPADE.

Company visits – trips to Barcadi, Grupo BIMBO (an industrial bakery with several brands including Wonder Bread), and Kidzania (an amusement park for kids).

Cultural visits – we visited the Anthropology Museum, climbed the pyramids at Teotihuacan, attended a soccer game, and participated in a wine tasting. We also received some cultural exposure by working on a group project with the IPADE students.

This trip left me with several insights on the cultural and business environment in Mexico. I also gained a new respect for the scale and maturity of the US business school market. There are 4 well know full-time MBA programs in Mexico and the combined graduating class of these programs is around 200 students per year. In comparison, US News ranks 63 full-time US MBA programs and the combined graduating class of these programs was 12,500 students in 2007. While many of the 63 US programs may not be as reputable as the 4 programs in Mexico, and the US has 3 times the population of Mexico, there is still a huge difference in the relative size of these two markets for MBA education.

Another aspect of this trip I really appreciated was Professor Peter Rodriguez’s involvement throughout. Peter participated in every activity including classroom discussions, company and cultural visits, dinner each night, and the soccer game. Since this was his fifth time leading the Mexico City GBE and the Mexican economy was part of his Ph.D research, Peter was able to provide us with a substantial amount of information on the business and cultural aspects of Mexico.

Choosing an MBA Program – Why Darden

My first step in selecting an MBA program was retrieving each of the published business school rankings. I then supplemented these rankings with additional criteria which were important to my decision. Finally, using the MBA program data published by US News, I was able to apply my criteria and weightings to each of the MBA programs and produce the following rankings:

Rank School
1 University of Virginia (Darden)
2 Harvard University (MA)
3 Dartmouth College (Tuck) (NH)
4 Stanford University (CA)
5 Yale University (CT)

The criteria and weightings used to produce these rankings are as follows:

Weight Category
30% Reputation
15% Selectivity
15% Learning method
15% Class size
10% Undergraduate degree
10% City size
5% Placement

Before discussing the weightings, let me provide some background on the originally published rankings and my additional criteria. When I first visited Darden it became apparent that the rankings did not capture many of Darden’s key advantages. For example, almost every visitor who observes a case discussion will agree that Darden offers a superior learning method. However, none of the published rankings use learning method as a criteria when comparing MBA programs. I therefore set about developing a more complete analysis that took into account this criteria along with three others. Here is what I choose:

Learning method – captures the teaching style and mix of learning methods employed by the MBA program. My preference was for programs that maximized the use of cases and active learning methods and minimized the use of lectures. This preference would also favor general management programs over more technically oriented programs (see The What and The How)

Class size – getting to know my classmates and having a sense of community within the program was an important objective, and one that would be significantly influenced by the class size. Within the 20 top schools as ranked by US News, the class size ranged from 171 at Emory-Goizueta to 910 at Harvard. Balancing between the advantages of a small and strong network vs. a larger and inherently weaker network, I gave the maximum score to schools with a class size between 250 and 350.

Undergraduate degree – having an undergraduate degree in engineering and a technical mindset, it was important for me to develop the less technical aspects of my business knowledge. Therefore, I preferred MBA programs that had a lower ratio of students with engineering, math, or science degrees. I was a little surprised at how much the MBA programs varied in this category. Within the 20 top schools as ranked by US News, the percentage of students with an engineering, math, or science degrees ranged from 21% at NYU-Stern to 61% at MIT-Sloan.

City size – in addition to the stronger sense of community enjoyed by schools in smaller cities, my wife and I also have a personal preference for smaller cities. Although this criteria is somewhat independent of the MBA program, the comfort of myself and family over the next two years was an important consideration. Therefore, I gave the maximum score to schools with a city size of under 1 million people.

In order to add these additional criteria the weighting of the original criteria must be reduced. This is fine because the reputation, selectivity, and placement scores suffer from measurement error and in some cases intentional rankings management. These are still good criteria, but should only account for about 50% of the total weighting for the following reasons:

Reputation – the US News reputation metric is based on a survey of MBA school deans and corporate recruiters. One drawback of this survey is the lack of a student perspective, which would provide some balance between the research ambitions of the deans and the teaching quality elements important to students. Additionally, corporate recruiters are concentrated on the first 1-2 years of employee performance, which favors more technical schools over the general management schools which are more focused on the long term horizon.

Selectivity – GMAT score and undergraduate GPA are the primary components of this category. From my conversations with professors and admissions staff, there is a fairly low correlation between these scores and a student’s performance as an MBA student. In fact, some admissions directors have expressed that students with the highest GMAT scores tend to have weaker essays. Admissions offices are constantly confronted with the moral dilemma of maximizing selectivity scores to improve the schools ranking vs. selecting the best student body.

Placement – this category is generally dominated by the average starting salary and bonus of graduating students. This metric can be further broken down to show that the mix of industries students pursue significantly impacts the placement score. In 2007, Darden students who accepted consulting and investment banking positions received about $21,000 more in first year compensation then the students who accepted general management positions. Thus, the placement category often reveals more about career interests of the student body then the schools overall placement effectiveness.