Tools for a new kind of leadership

Fuqua students learn to respond to the demands of the workplace and the world.

Swithin George M.B.A. ’19 already knew a lot about leadership when he came to Fuqua.

As the lead manager for the Enterprise Architecture team at Caesars Entertainment, he’d been tasked with architecting and executing technology integration solutions for one of the largest IT transformation initiatives under way in the gaming industry.

But it became clear to him that his technical abilities were only a part of what he needed to move forward. As he thought through next steps, he considered what he didn’t know.

“As I progress through my career and specifically work toward becoming a leader focused on technology and innovation, I’ve had a humbling epiphany that there is a lot that I need to learn,” he says. “The value is right at Fuqua with emphasis on enabling my team to do the best work they can. I saw a mutual fit between Fuqua and me and being successful.”

George is just the kind of student Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding wants to attend the school—those with what he’s termed triple-threat leadership capability, a combination of the raw intelligence known as IQ, emotional intelligence or EQ, and a decency quotient or DQ. An effective leader must have the smarts, the ability to connect and relate, and an interest in the success of the whole team.

The school’s curriculum and accessibility are evolving to reflect the skills needed in a changing society where technology is so rapidly advancing.

Senior Associate Dean Russ Morgan takes aim at that goal by constantly asking if Fuqua is meeting the needs of both sides of the market.

“Fuqua has always recruited high-quality students,” he says. “But the other side of the coin is re-evaluating the skills employers are demanding. What are the unmet needs recruiters are looking for? What types of talent?”

One of those needs is a demand for workers with the ability to find solutions to real-world business problems in data analytics, he says. That led to the creation of the Master of Quantitative Management (MQM) programs, which provide training in analytics and communication. Daytime M.B.A. students also have the opportunity to dive into analytics through Fuqua’s new certificate in Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM).

Companies have been slow to grasp how big data can transform their organizations, says Jeremy Petranka, the assistant dean for the Master of Quantitative Management: Business Analytics program.

“There’s still a divide between the wranglers of data and the users of data,” he says. “It still feels like people are viewing analytics as an add-on tool and not as a potentially central tool to help run an organization.”

These tools have been around for decades, Petranka explains. But now companies can use high-speed computers to spit out answers in an afternoon instead of days. The ten-month MQM program produces graduates who know what questions to ask in order to get the answers that solve business problems.

“Students are learning how to frame the question: How do you use these tools to ask questions in each business domain? And how do you communicate those insights?… That’s the world we are in,” Petranka says. “We are not the auto mechanics. We are the racecar drivers.”

Fuqua is one of the first top business schools to have a specialized master’s focused on analytics.

“Big data,” Petranka says, “is the wave of the future.”

Of course, to take advantage of any program at Fuqua requires access to the school; already, for many students, technology has brought campus closer. Still, a tweak to the Weekend Executive M.B.A. program has made it even more accessible.

Students are now required to come to campus only once a month for three days, instead of twice a month for two. A Hybrid Saturday class is mandatory but students can attend physically or virtually.

George, who is married with a four-year-old daughter, was able to attend Fuqua because of this change. He’s based in Las Vegas and it takes him a workday to travel because of the five-and-half-hour flight, along with several hours waiting in the airport. There are a lot of demands on his time, including getting his daughter to school, and his wife works full-time.

“The hybrid week is a lot easier and workable in my schedule,” says thirty-six-year-old George. “My employer is highly supportive. Twice a month would be harder.”

The flexibility in the schedule seems to have attracted more women to the program, as well as people who live beyond the Southeast region of the U.S.

That’s important because Fuqua is also striving for more diversity and inclusion across the board in what Morgan calls both “observable and unobservable” factors.

“We want to see diversity in work experience, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, international representation from various countries, various regions of the U.S. and socioeconomics. Some of these are harder to measure,” he says.

The goal isn’t just cosmetic; diversity and inclusion are key ingredients in fostering the innovative leadership Fuqua aims to cultivate.

“Where you really benefit as a team is when you are exposed to ideas, experiences, and cultures that you don’t directly know,” Morgan says. “Students are not just learning from faculty and staff, they learn from their classmates.”

The importance of this cross-cultural understanding can be seen in a business climate in which CEOs are expected to take positions on social and political issues in an increasingly polarized world.

Professor Aaron Chatterji offers an “Advanced Corporate Strategy” class to introduce students to CEO activism and how social issues and politics affect business.

Chatterji says his course is not common in business schools. He’s seen courses about non-market strategies, which cover understanding government and legal institutions and how they work, but not with a focus on politics in business.

“I wanted to fill that gap. An overview of leading political issues draws implications for business and gives them practice in responding. We discuss inequality, diversity, fake news, climate change, and the #metoo movement and how it’s changing the job description for CEOs,” Chatterji says.

He notes that social media often hypercharges these issues, fueling consumers to react one way or another. CEOs have to be pretty careful in taking positions, Chatterji says. Some may turn off certain customers, and others have received support.

“I’m not trying to give students the answer,” he says. “A lot of these questions come down to their own values. I’m giving them the motivation to reflect on those values. It’s muscle memory. If you practice flexing those muscles, it makes it easier to come to a decision when the time comes. That’s how I think about the role of my class.”

Also inspiring students to reflect is a “Women in Leadership” class taught by Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, an associate professor of management and organizations and a scholar at the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics.

While the pilot course only meets once a week for six weeks, it covers a lot of terrain. The first class, “Stereotypes, Bias, and Barriers,” lays the foundation for the course’s purpose. Subsequent topics include navigating male-dominated organizations, sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and work/life balance. The class also delves into intersectionality— how women differ by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, along with a multitude of other identities.

“It brings the idea to the forefront that gender can influence the trajectory of women’s careers at different points,” Rosette says.

When Rosette initially offered the class, she was expecting about twenty to twenty-five students sitting in a roundtable forum. She was surprised when more than eighty people registered. Sixty people are in the class, and several students were put on a waiting list.

“This is a good problem to have,” she says.

Among the students who made it in was second-year M.B.A. McKenzie Beaver, who was an associate director of client services for a consumer-insight agency before coming to Fuqua. Beaver says she immediately signed up for the class because she remembered Rosette’s energy and enthusiasm during a speech about women in leadership roles Beaver heard as a prospective student.

“Her class looked at leadership from a variety of angles,” says Beaver. “It opened my eyes to the way women are often stereotyped and how we can overcome those stereotypes. If we recognize prejudice, we can fix and address the issue.”

As Beaver is continuing on her path to possessing modern leadership skills, George says he’s already begun to apply what he’s been learning in the Weekend Executive program. Over the past year, he’s assisted with moving back-office systems to a leading cloud platform, delivering significant efficiencies to its financial organization, and he says he has been better able to negotiate with his peers and vendors.

“So far the program has exposed me to a lot of concepts around leadership and accounting,” George says. “I’m seeing great results.”

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