What are the secrets behind some of the best MBA professors teaching today? A new book by longtime Michigan Ross professor George Siedel reveals their methods
Early each September, Finance Professor Steven Kaplan of the Chicago Booth School of Business begins remembering the names and faces of all 205 of his students so that when classes begin at the end of the month, he can greet each student by name.
“When I walk into class, I can say, ‘Hi George. How are you feeling?’ The students are shocked that I know who they are, ”says Kaplan in a new book that explores the techniques of some of the most influential MBA professors teaching today.
Kaplan did not abandon this technique when his classroom was forced to become virtual in 2020. Instead, he organized small group lunches and breakfasts so he could still get to know all of his students in person.
George Siedel, Michigan Ross
SEVEN SIGNIFICANT AREAS FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS
“Even electronically, he was able to develop this learning community,” says George Siedel, author of Seven Essentials for Business Success: Lessons from Legendary Professors, published this summer by Routledge. The book demonstrates techniques developed by award-winning professors for the purpose of inspiring teachers, business leaders, and potential MBA students looking for the right program.
Siedel, business law professor emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says Poets and quantums that the book has been something of a passion project. He had been kicking around the idea since the 1990s when he met the legendary Harvard professor C. Roland “Chris” Christensen, who visited Ross for a faculty seminar. Christensen encouraged Siedel to pursue the project, but other professional duties put pressure on it.
Siedel has been with Ross for 48 years, including five years as associate dean. During that time, he interacted with many great professors at other schools. It made him think about his old idea. He dedicated Seven essential things to Christensen, who died in 1999.
The book identifies the seven key areas that successful executives and business owners need to understand – accounting, business law, finance, management, marketing, operations and strategy. Siedel then takes readers into the classroom of a legendary professor from each area.
“I’m just a farm boy from Ohio, and I’ve been impressed by some of the amazing teaching I’ve seen in leadership training and in MBA teaching. So this is basically just a love job, ”says Siedel Poets and quantums.
A LOOK INTO THE CLASS ROOMS AT SEVEN TOP MBAS
To write the book, Siedel conducted extensive interviews with each professor, visited their classrooms, talked to their colleagues and students, and watched hours of YouTube videos of the professors in action. He selected professors at the top of their disciplines from the seven top-ranked schools of US News & World Report in 2018, the year he seriously started the project: Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Harvard Business School.
“I think what surprised me the most was how humble all these professors were and how uncomfortable they all were with the attention. Of course they were happy to be in the book, but they were also very humble about their abilities, “says Siedel.” Professor Rifkin, for example, an all-star strategy professor at Harvard, wanted me to criticize his teaching and that I should help him, which is ridiculous.
“The other thing that surprised me is just their intense desire to learn. They do not think of classrooms as places where they download knowledge. They look forward to going to class every day to learn from the MBAs.” he says. “You know, MBAs bring in a lot of up-to-date, work experience, and it’s impossible for a professor doing research to keep up with all that. So they see it as a continuing learning process. “
TEACHING WITH PASSION AND PURPOSE
Each professor-centered chapter contains the gold nuggets MBA students look for when searching for a program: Students’ insights, course structure, and content, as well as the professor’s resume and credentials. The chapters also contain the more abstract philosophies behind the teacher’s methods. Siedel comes to these through one-on-one Q&A interviews and descriptions of actual classrooms in action.
At Wharton, there is Professor of Legal Studies Richard Shell, who created the P3 program: Purpose, Passion, and Principles. “The goal is to get MBA students to reflect on how they define success, how they define happiness, and how their definition of success relates to their life goals,” says Siedel. “It has had a huge impact on students in the program, just the chance to step back and look at their lives in general.”
At Stanford, there is accounting professor Charles Lee, who asks students to ask themselves the same questions that a security guard would ask if they encountered them late at night: Who are you? What are you doing here? And where are you going? “He advises students to think beyond your resume and to think about their underlying values and purpose in life,” says Siedel. “He’s an accounting professor, but he encourages students to think about the big issues that really go beyond specific topics that MBAs usually focus on.”
And in terms of sheer impact, at the Chicago Booth, there’s the finance professor who remembers every student by name, Steve Kaplan. Through his program, the New Venture Challenge, Booth students have created about 300 businesses, created thousands of jobs and raised billions of dollars in new venture capital. Companies created through the program include GrubHub, Braintree Venmo and Simple Mills, the second largest natural bakery in the country. “Students have a really wonderful learning experience, but they’re also leaving that program, and they have companies that they started in Chicago,” Siedel says.
Other professors included in the book include management professor Gretchen Spreitzer from Michigan Ross, Kellogg marketing professor Florian Zettelmeyer, Sloan operations professor Georgia Perakis and HBS strategy professor Jan Rivkin. Two of the classrooms that Siedel highlights, taught by Perakis and Zettelmeyer, are EMBA and leadership training courses, which are considered to be among the most popular in the country.
A BOOK FOR STUDENTS, TEACHERS AND BUSINESS LEADERS
Siedel says the book has three target groups: Business school professors who want to incorporate these methods into their own classrooms. Business leaders who want to do a better job of developing talent in their organizations. And potential MBA students exploring the type of program that is best for them.
In Chapter 2, Siedel distills the core concepts taught in the core discipline classes at each of the seven schools and serves as a checklist of what students should expect from an MBA program. This was information that Siedel often did not find on the school’s websites, but valuable for potential MBA students’ research.
“It really is the only book that has in-depth coverage of selected professors and leads you into multiple MBA classrooms, into an EMBA classroom, and into an executive education classroom,” says Siedel.
“I hope that novice MBA professors and PhD students can use the teaching processes of the seven professors, although I have received feedback that even established professors will find this useful,” he says. “I also hope that it is helpful for business leaders to help them realize that they play an important teaching role when developing their talent. Some business leaders are simply not very effective communicators, they are not very effective teachers, and they lose a great opportunity to develop the employees in their own companies. ”
Find Seven Essentials for Business Success: Lessons from Legendary Professors at Amazon.
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