An MBA Orientation With Football & Cake

Michigan's Ross School of Business

Michigan’s Ross School of Business

It is 3 a.m. and I am riding through dark Los Angeles streets, on my way to an early morning flight to Ann Arbor. For the past two weeks, I’ve been keeping East Coast hours to avoid being jet-lagged during orientation, so it doesn’t feel like 3am. I’m catching the most convenient direct flight and anyone who has attempted different departure times at LAX knows that the pre-dawn hours are the best time to avoid traffic delays.

The logistics are all perfect, but I’m wide-eyed and quiet in the passenger seat. Did I choose the right school? Do I really need an MBA, when I’ve been pretty successful without one? What have I committed myself to? What have I done? Pretty much, I’m thinking what most executive MBA candidates are probably thinking, around this time.

Fortunately, Ross did an excellent job of managing expectations. Well before orientation began, the school provided a schedule of events, a syllabus for each of our three beginning classes, and extensive tools for pre-work in quant and computer skills. For quantitative review, we had exercises and videos from Professor Valerie Suslow, who went over each concept in a clear and encouraging manner. We also received lectures from Valerie at orientation, along with exercise sessions lead by helpful finance TA Taylor Begley. The program requires a laptop and a current version of Microsoft Office and they provide a membership to the Office classes on Lynda.com as part of the prep. There was also a fair amount of pre-reading for our first set of classes. As prep for Ross’ PDP (Professional Development Program), we had various people we work with fill out anonymous surveys about how we perform as managers. Being the captain of my ship, there is no one I report to, so some of the survey structure was odd for me, but it is probably fairly simple for middle managers in large organizations.

As part of PDP, during orientation, we received inspirational presentations from innovation expert Professor Jeff deGraff of Innovatrium and management guru Professor Stacy Jackson. Being in Ann Arbor, we had the option to tour Jeff’s Innovatrium and it was fun to see how their space is structured for brainstorming across disciplines. I personally got a really interesting takeaway from Stacy’s lectures. He had us read a series of descriptions of different management styles. I thought it was obvious which manager was great and which was awful. As it turns out, all the engineers in class seemed to prefer the manager who seemed chilly and controlling to me. Combining this insight with the feedback I got via the surveys, I discovered that the creatives I manage were all already very happy, but I was able to bring home some useful ideas for how to make the tech folks more happy.

The Ross EMBA is a lockstep program, meaning that everybody takes exactly the same classes. So we all started off with Professor David Wright’s financial accounting, Professor MP Narayanan’s finance, and Professor Puneet Manchanda’s marketing  class. If you can picture hilarious stand-up comedy and a rigorous education in new accounting concepts in the same package, you can picture Dr. Dave’s course. One of my fellow students described him as, “one of the very few humans who can make accounting amusing.” MP teaches with engaging dramatic gestures and takes a strong applicability approach. MP feels it is not enough to teach how to find the present value function in Excel; his students actually learn how to apply finance concepts analytically. Being a very accomplished marketer, I didn’t really expect to learn anything in a marketing class, but Puneet is a very inspiring teacher and interesting speaker.

University of Michigan’s program is truly innovative in having both the Ann Arbor and Los Angeles cohorts do orientation at the Ann Arbor campus. I feel this gives us a much stronger connection to the overall school and gives members of the Los Angeles cohort more commonality with others in the alumni network. This aspect was huge for me in Ross being my first choice because I didn’t want to graduate from a school whose campus I had never seen.

Ann Arbor is beautiful this time of year. Not too hot and not too cold and there are multiple college town bars, with lovely outdoor patios, where we were able to go and people watch and chat with our new classmates and the members of the Ann Arbor cohort. This gave us a real feeling of being immersed in campus life.

Most of us stayed in the Executive Residence, which is walking distance from the main collegiate streets of Ann Arbor. The Executive Residence has comfortable rooms, snacks and beverages in a 24/7 access-controlled lounge at the end of each hallway, high speed internet, meeting rooms, printers, and a really delicious buffet three times a day in the building. A few people were not able to stay in the Executive Residence, but my recommendation is show up early and make sure you do stay there because it is really excellent.

The only other hiccough during orientation was that iPads and printed versions of binders were distributed a bit late in the week for when some reading would ideally be done. But this brings up something else which is really nice about the Ross EMBA. Ross provides a truly valet MBA experience, in that, once you have paid your tuition and fees, everything else is laid on. The school never nickel and dimes you. For example, they give you the iPad with a spiffy University of Michigan Ross School of Business cover and you always have a digital version of every course pack, but the school will also send you a printed version of the course materials in a binder any time you like. Or you can go green, if you prefer.

We experienced a lovely charity day, during orientation, but I’m not going to give details on it because the school likes it to be a surprise. I’m just going to note that the hands-on experience was good for bonding and I was impressed, when I was working on a team with some members of the Ann Arbor cohort and one person thought of a very clever way to make us much faster.

The highlight experience of Ross orientation was probably our night at the UM football stadium. After a guided tour which included various restricted areas like the locker rooms emblazoned with “Those who stay will be champions”, we got to attempt field goals in the Big House, and then eat dinner on the club level. One of my classmates commented, “I now know that every time one of our kickers misses a field goal, and I declare ‘I could’ve made that’, that no, no, I really couldn’t have made that.” I got to enjoy special bonus background info and anecdotes because one of my classmates is the author of a best-selling book on college football.

In general, both the Ann Arbor and Los Angeles cohorts have a very interesting mix of students. During the welcome banquet the first night, we did an exercise where we each had to tell our table something interesting or unusual about ourselves and then each table selected one or two of these tidbits to be shared with the whole banquet hall. My table included someone whose grandfather served as the inspiration for Oscar the Grouch, so I felt like I got to dine with royalty.

The only thing more I could really have asked for was that Ross bake me a cake. For me and the other students who had birthdays during orientation, Ross made a birthday cake.

One of my fellow students describes the overall response to orientation, lauding “the excitement of new people and new ideas. I know that feeling carried over for days once I got back to home and work.” I headed back to the Detroit airport in a limo with three classmates, all of us exhausted but thrilled and inspired, looking forward to the MBA journey in front of us.

Amelia G

Amelia G

Amelia G is a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur and a member of the first Los Angeles cohort of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Her company can help make you or your product famous. She can be contacted via LinkedIn at  http://www.linkedin.com/in/ameliag/