Kiwi MBAs continue to expand the minds of today’s managers and tomorrow’s leaders; encouraging students to future-proof their thinking on business.
While the MBA degree is a product of the early 20th Century, the programmes offered address the needs of managers of the 21st century.
MBAs have recognised the need to move participants from the role of manager to leader; from production-driven to customer-focused; from centralised to decentralised; and from bureaucratic structures to empowerment of teams and the need to be connected, not just at a class level, but internationally.
Those are the combined thoughts on how the ‘game has changed’ from two leaders in the local MBA arena: professor Elizabeth George, director of the MBA and Post Graduate Diploma in Business, University of Auckland, and Dr Heather Connolly, academic director at Waikato Management School Executive Education.
We spoke first to Dr Patricia Bossons, director, Executive Qualifications, at the Massey Business School. Bossons was previously director of the Centre for Coaching and Behavioural Change at Henley Business School in the UK.
“We aim to encourage students to ‘future proof’ their thinking about how business will be in the future, and what part they want to play in it,” she says. “Artificial Intelligence and automation/robots is a big topic at the moment, and we are developing new material to include in the programme to reflect this.
“We have an MBA Advisory Board, formed from our senior contacts in the business world, and they contribute topics which are keeping them awake at night in the real world; so we aim to stay ahead of the academic game on the MBA.
“Where a topic has longevity, we will offer it as a Special Option elective – Design Thinking would be an example of this – or a Master Class in our Continuing Professional Development portfolio, in partnership with the Alumni Association and/or IMNZ, which is now part of Massey,” explains Dr Bossons.
The past few years has also seen what many, at the outset, thought just a gimmick. The International Study Tour has become a significant and integral part of the MBA programme.
“Our students engage in projects which challenge them to take New Zealand businesses overseas,” says UoA’s Professor George. “This year’s students will explore the Vietnamese market on behalf of several locally-based SMEs.
“These action-learning projects expose students to new markets and cultures, while refining their skills in every aspect of business. Undertaken towards the end of their MBA, the projects help to consolidate their learnings,” explains Professor George, who has an active research interest in non-standard work arrangements and diversity in the workplace.
The 2nd Year International Study Tour for the Massey MBA is split into two groups this year, with one visiting Dubai, Netherlands, Belgium and Prague, the other Japan and Shanghai.
“We try to cover company visits to as wide a range of industry sectors as possible, public and private, and not for profit. Overseas New Zealand company headquarters are included, with visits to Fonterra and Air New Zealand, for example. Students can offer their own contacts to enhance the range of visits possible,” says Dr Bossons.
In the final year of the Waikato MBA, celebrating 25 years in 2017, participants get to experience global business and ‘how New Zealand fits into the global marketplace’.
Dr Connolly explains: “The focus of the tour varies each year and recently the spotlight has been on management innovation. Each tour exposes participants to key learnings, which they can bring back home and implement in their own organisations.
“In 2017 we are heading to London to visit the Catapult Innovations hubs.” (See sidebox).
All the answers?
UoA’s Professor George says business owners, founders or managers who’ve been successful in setting up their organisations need a new and different skillset and knowledge as they try to grow their business or even sustain it in the face of a changing economic landscape.
“Do we provide them with all the answers? Of course not.
“What we offer instead are the following: a faculty who can share with them knowledge that is evidence-based and built on cutting-edge research; and facilitated class-room interactions which help students capitalise on their experience and develop a framework for being able to organise and consolidate all they know – and identify ways of thinking through the issues and challenges that they will face.
“They will learn the power of persistence and resilience.
That will help them psychologically with the disruptions that they will face in their industry or occupation moving forward, says Professor George.
“Our focus is not only on knowledge, but also on how to evaluate and use it. This ability to evaluate and use knowledge is a skill not just important for classroom assignments, but especially as they move outside the safe bounds of the classroom. They need to use knowledge to chart their way through the challenges they will face as they launch or re-launch their careers.”
Cradle to grave
Massey wants to create a ‘cradle to grave’ relationship with the New Zealand business community – from first degrees and individual development programmes taken early on in a career through the Institute of Management NZ (IMNZ), through to the MBA, with other personal development taken along the way as appropriate.
“And then, with an active Alumni Association, the ability to update your MBA with Master Classes and an ongoing provision of Master Classes in topical subjects,” says Dr Bossons.
“We are reserving a number of places on leading edge elective for current MBA students and for alumni to keep their MBAs current, and also to continue to expand their network.
“These are activities Massey has elected to do in response to student and business feedback about what they want from an MBA programme/graduate.
“We involve students in contributing to specific decisions made about their MBA delivery, which can include suggestions for visits on the international study tours; provision of specific guest speakers for workshops; possible electives/master class subjects, etc.
“It is not a completely ‘democratic’ MBA – that would not be possible at the quality of provision and student experience we aim to deliver.
“But we do aim for an adult learning environment, where our students’ experiences in the world, before they come on the programme are respected and included in the process.”
Waikato’s customer/student-centric approach allows participants to choose a study option which supports a work-life balance and meets the needs of executives who work full-time, says Dr Connolly.
“Meeting needs is also why Waikato has continuously refined the material covered to ensure that participants are equipped to tackle the big problems facing businesses worldwide, not just locally.
“Our MBA balances the broad nature of an MBA with the soft skills that participants need, including developing leadership and nurturing the mindset and emotional intelligence required to manage complexity. Our graduates are able to do more than adapt to change, they are the instigators of change, they deal with ambiguity, they critically think, and they look beyond what has gone in the past.
“Yes, New Zealand is a nation that is mostly SMEs. However, often the managers/owners of SMEs have not been exposed to the possibilities new innovations and knowledge can do in transforming their organisations, making them more competitive in the global market.
“Many SMEs sell their products and services internationally, but lack knowledge on the possible disruption that new technology may bring to their business,” adds Dr Connolly. “Our SME leaders gain insights and benefits not only from the learning they get from the programme, but also from the networks they develop with larger New Zealand and overseas international companies.
“The thread of developing oneself is a key aspect of the Waikato MBA,” continues Dr Connolly. “We can all go to Google to learn and gain new knowledge. What Google will not give us lies in the tacit knowledge that will underpin any organisational core competency. We nurture participants’ tacit knowledge through continuous rich conversations, debates, insights and the relationships they gain on our programme.
“The value for money of investing in an MBA comes not just from the knowledge and skills a participant gains, but also from the lifelong contacts and networks with others in the cohort, as well as with the Waikato University as an alumni.”
Massey University believes the flexibility of their MBA is one of the features most appreciated by students. There are no evening classes; delivery is only at weekends, and in two different modes.
Each first year workshop is delivered three times, so it is possible to stay on track if a workshop has to be missed. Coaching and mentoring is being introduced at an individual level for all students from 2018, to give even more personalised learning and career development opportunities.
“The Applied Research Project in Year Two allows students to pilot a business interest which they can then develop into their future SME business interest going forward, if they so wish,” explains Dr Bossons.
“In addition, we have significant expertise amongst our MBA lecturers in ‘translating’ academic theory into real-world practice. The leadership material in the programme focuses on the actual requirements of individuals as they lead diverse and complex groups of people through the challenges of modern business.”
The personal development and self-awareness building throughout the MBA begins at the orientation weekend which kicks the programme off, and continues throughout.
“The one-to-one executive coaching to be included from 2018 will emphasise this even further,” Dr Bossons says.
At Waikato Dr Connolly draws attention to the 2011 international AMBA innovation award the university received for what is now a thriving aspect of their MBA course – a unique stream for developing Maori leaders. Waikato University joined with Tainui College for Research to offer the Waikato-Tainui MBA.
“The method of delivery is a residential, every-second-weekend programme, where participants are resident at the Hopuhopu campus. The uniqueness of the Waikato-Tainui MBA programme is the weaving of Maori values throughout the MBA programme. This distinctiveness was the key element for the award,” says Dr Connolly.
“A past participant from this cohort stated: ‘The lecturers at Waikato Tainui Colleges are world-class with vast experience. For me it was particularly inspiring to receive lectures from Maori academics and practitioners who are renowned within their respective areas of expertise.’”
Transforming and catapulting mindsets
In 2016, Waikato University went to business leaders and asked what they looked for in executive education. Two clear themes emerged: firstly the ability to deal with complexity and constantly changing business models; the second is around leadership development.
“To meet these challenges, we also looked at how executives want to learn – which is global best practice, backed-up with experiential, practical, real-life examples from businesses which have already tried different approaches – in some cases succeeding and in others failing.
“The distillation of these real insights is what executives can take back to organisations, making them more effective in their roles immediately,” says Dr Connolly.
“Our new-look MBA has been built on these very foundations – and is ranked in the top one-percent of MBA's worldwide.
“We've looked at all aspects of our MBA to make sure it provides executives with the latest thinking, delivered in a modern context. For example. other MBAs have been focused on tours which visit export markets like China and India. Instead, we turned this around to identify where true global insights could be brought back to the local economy.
“Which is why, this October, our 40 MBA participants fly to London to visit two of the UK Catapults – a network of world-learning centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth.
“Our participants will get up close with these world-class innovations; learn how they have been developed from inception through to commercialisation; understand how to manage the process; and, more importantly, will be able to bring the knowledge back to New Zealand to implement in their own organisations.
“The Future Cities Catapult explores ‘how digital innovation, urban data and citizen-led design can influence city planning into the 21st century’.
“Even locally, we are seeing the challenges of population growth and how past decisions are affecting the current ability of larger urban areas to support future development. Our participants will learn and appreciate the huge opportunities available to develop more liveable and resilient urban infrastructures using new business models,” says Dr Connolly.
At the Digital Catapult, they will witness the practical application of digital innovation and how this can improve organisational productivity and drive regional growth.
MBA lifts career to next level
An MBA was the challenge Monica Brbich felt she needed to take her career to the next level. After four years as group accounting manager at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (F&PH) she felt herself “beginning to plateau”.
Monica completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Business, part-time, over two years and continued studying part-time for a third year to complete the MBA. She had previously completed a B.Com. at the University of Auckland.
Her manager and CFO assisted her with the application process and supported her throughout her studies, allowing leave for lectures, assignments and the class trip to Shanghai.
“The international business trip was definitely a highlight. Working with a great New Zealand company, Hallertau, to find a strategy for them to move into the Chinese market was a challenging learning experience.”
Within months of completing her MBA, Monica was promoted to group treasurer manager at F&PH, an exciting new challenge she felt better prepared for.
“The role has more of an economics and finance focus which I love and rediscovered through the MBA. It also made me look at things at a high level, in terms of the strategic positioning of various aspects of the company and ensuring they are aligned.”
Andy Graves, head of capability at the company says MBA graduates always apply their learning directly back into their roles and many, like Monica, then take the next step in their career.
“We’re all about self-directed learning, so it’s about giving people the opportunity to really develop and grow for themselves.”
featured in NZBusiness magazine, September 2017 issue