Why Georgetown McDonough Has A Dean Of Innovation

Inside Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. Courtesy photo

What are some of the biggest threats you are seeing to the GEMBA program and executive education?

In general, I think in MBA programs and business education, there is a maturation of the industry. There is more global competition. We all don’t know exactly what technology will do or not do for us. And so, the most obvious threat to me, is mimicry, which is inevitable. I think there are about 14 or 15 programs structured — at least, outwardly — very similar to us. There were none when I started this. Many have taken the 12-day format, the different nations, etcetera. And I say, it’s just superficially the same. For instance, Pedro Perada, my counterpart at ESADE, co-teach in the same class. Co-teach doesn’t mean he does his part and I do my part. We sit in the class together and we interact and play off each other’s sentences. That kind of richness, I think very few people do.

Marc Busch, my counterpart from the School of Foreign Service, he and I teach in the same module. He does non-market strategy and I do market strategy and we play off each other. So, he goes in the morning and I go in the afternoon. That kind of integrated learning is hard to do. But it’s hard to explain — you know, through newspaper article or advertisement — the much deeper philosophy and practice of philosophy we have.

So, I think one of the biggest threats is superficial imitation. But it’s hard to point out the core differences between what we do and what others do. Because, superficially, you say, oh, I’m very interested because you go to six countries. I keep telling people that I am probably the only dean who interviews every serious GEMBA candidate myself. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be very surprised if anyone else did that. Why do I do it? Because, again, we don’t just take any candidate. We try to make sure there are enough languages being spoken. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. And to some extent, there is an art to the jigsaw puzzle and it’s not just a science. You want Type A’s but you also want people who are not Type A’s. We craft the program together.

The other thing is these programs are costly. The economy has not been as strong everywhere else. The dollar has been very strong, so, the program looks more expensive to most other countries. And therefore, how can you maintain economic viability of this complex program? We have professors from all three schools going to every module and hanging out with the students and teaching them, because I believe, philosophically, that’s what it takes them on this journey.

So, there are economic threats and the third is technology. Technology can be a wonderful tool if used effectively. But we have to really think about how we can make technology work better for people, beyond just convenience and beyond just being able to access greater numbers. We have to see how we can enhance being Georgetown through technology. But, again, that may be hard to indicate to another person.

We have to see technology as a wonderful opportunity to enhance what we do. Why aren’t we using virtual reality? Why aren’t we using machine learning? These are all going to be possibilities but there are costs associated with them. We have to figure out how to balance those costs and enhance the benefits. So, that’s not just a threat, that’s a challenge — and an exciting challenge — we have.

In an interview a few years ago, you talked about how important it is for you to get students from developing nations into the executive education programs. How is that going, and is it still a priority?

Yes, so, again, we have to learn from diversity. And, we realize, for instance, a program that charges nearly $160,000 is going to be expensive. Because of that cost, even if you’re searching for diversity, what are you going to get? You’re going to get the same market segment from across countries. So, we really make intense efforts to go out into the field and seek out the right people. And then, depending on their ability to pay, we try to do everything we can to make it work. Priests, for instance, can’t pay anything. They are not going to look well on your rankings, obviously. But, it’s a really important point to go out and seek these priests.

So, we go out of our way to not just recruit people from different countries or different areas, but to recruit people who will make a difference in the learning experience. And it doing so, what we go to countries like India, and South Africa, and Kenya, and China, and countries in South America. If we wanted to fill up our program with students from the United States, I could do that overnight. Everyone likes the world diversity. But diversity is hard. You have to make sure you put processes and systems into your program that allow people who are from other areas or less confident or more junior or from other cultures where you don’t speak up so easily, to have a chance and really play that role that allows diversity to work.

One of the things people miss is to not just have a diverse class profile, but doing subtle things like I just said to help make that diversity work in the classroom. And we pay attention to that as well in how we form groups or what projects we give them. All of these subtleties are hard to notice in marketing materials or on a website. But that’s why I pay attention to this program specifically. Even though I oversee six degree programs and 30 non-degree programs, I pay attention to this because that’s what it takes to make something really good.

What does going out and recruiting these students look like on the ground, in practical terms? It seems like it would take a lot of people and resources.

So, MBA fairs don’t work as well. Because, those are mass market things with 26- and 28-year-olds going to them. We actually use alumni a lot. We just talk to them and ask if they know people. It’s really engaging more broadly. For instance, what I was doing at Facebook yesterday. We had about 80 alumni come over. I mostly talked about my research but then talked about why and how it relates to our programs. And, sure enough, there were two people interested in doing the GEMBA who talked to us over there.

It’s really expensive and time-intensive — this is not a good way of making money, by the way — but I believe in this program, because I think it’s a sign where education should go. It’s really trying to make a difference and look for new spaces and make a difference in ways that existing structures and systems in educational institutions don’t really do.

Comments or questions about this article? Email us.