A Report Card on America's Business Schools

By Simon, John J., Jr. | Management Review, December 1989 | Go to article overview

A Report Card on America's Business Schools


Simon, John J., Jr., Management Review


A Report Card On America's Business Schools

Business, like the old gray mare, isn't what it used to be. From corporate information resources to decision support to product fabrication and delivery, computer-based technologies are linking business activities and facilitating globalization.

"We are seeing revolutionary changes in how technology relates to business strategy," claims Ramchandran Jaikumar, professor of business administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. Jaikumar points to the growing number of companies that exploit technological advantages to improve their competitive position. "In this country," he says, "we see this primarily in the manufacturer-supplier relationship - many large companies now require their suppliers' computers to be able to communicate with their own - but in other countries, the concept has been taken much further. In Italy, for instance, a highly competitive system involving thousands of small firms and a common technology base has evolved in the textile industry around Prato."

As a result, today's managers are increasingly required to understand technological developments and their impact. "Students in today's business schools need to understand where technology is going and how the interplay between technologies determines the infrastructure for competition," Jaikumar says.

Business schools that acknowledge the need for curricular innovation to prepare students to function effectively in a changing technological environment are taking three distinct paths (see sidebars on pages 28, 33 and 36):

* Establishing or strengthening course offerings in information systems or information technology;

* Offering dual-degree programs in business and engineering at the undergraduate, graduate and executive levels; or

* Increasing direct involvement of business in the evaluation and conduct of business education programs.

Current and former business school students agree that traditional business courses are far and away the most useful and generally the most enjoyable classes in the MBA curriculum. This attitude may reflect the difficulty of hitting the right level of introducing technology in classwork. Too much detail can turn students off. Conversely, courses with too little detail may not prepare students adequately for the business world.

Technology concentrations in some MBA programs provide skills that seem to be readily transferable. John Cerveny, now executive director of the very non-technical Statewide Student Advocacy Group, a financial aid clearing-house for New York students, specialized in management of technology and entrepreneurship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Cerveny claims the program "revealed an aptitude [in me] for undertaking activities with an entrepreneurial bent." Looking at developmental trends in technology, he explains, "taught me to observe a process from start to finish." But most important, RPI taught Cerveny the importance of team building: "I learned that no matter what the activity, it's essential to find the right people with the right skills," he says.

Finding the right people with the right skills was part of what Sean O'Sullivan, another RPI MBA graduate, had to do when he founded MapInfo Corp., now a four-year-old, $1 million international supplier of PC map digitizing systems. The company was spun off from RPI's Center for Interactive Computer Graphics - where much of the product development work was done - by means of a business plan developed in a course on principles of entrepreneurship. O'Sullivan claims that the RPI concentration in the management of technology helped him develop an analytical style of thinking. "The emphasis on practical implementations of technology is extremely strong at RPI," he says. "It's ingrained in all the engineering and management courses. You learn how technology affects real-life, real-world, industry-related activities. …

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