In any endeavor, it is prudent to begin with the end in mind. This strategy proved to be successful throughout my business career, which culminated in a position as a managing director at Merrill Lynch. When I turned my attention to business education, I decided to once again start at the end.
The goal was to create a new model for a school of business at Mercy College (N.Y.)—one that would ensure an eager 17-year-old could become a CEO or other C-level success in business. The key to achieving this transformation of business education rested on three core questions: Who should teach the students? How should students be trained? How can they best obtain their first jobs?
Business Leaders Teach
It takes a business leader to cultivate a future business leader. Students need a rigorous foundation of academic knowledge and teachings from executives, who have the advantage of experience “in the trenches” as well as valuable contacts.
Our business faculty members have advanced degrees and leadership experience at top global corporations. The team includes former managing directors from J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch, strategy consultants from Boston Consulting Group, CEOs from Swiss Re, advertising executives from J. Walter Thompson, and partners from PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
These executive faculty, as we call them, also lead seven Mercy College School of Business Centers of Excellence, providing experiential learning opportunities. The centers are designed to help students realize their potential and develop skills in areas such as entrepreneurship, strategic consulting, and international business they can immediately apply to their first jobs after graduation.
Studies have shown that the single biggest predictor of attaining CEO status is active engagement in business at a young age. This demonstrates intrinsic interest and heightened awareness. As a coach would not expect to train an Olympic athlete through passive lectures and exams, academics shouldn’t expect optimum success with this approach in educating a future business leader. Business students, like athletes, must learn by doing.
We facilitate active learning through a number of avenues. A significant portion of students’ grades is based on public speaking projects.
We are the second U.S. college to give students opportunities to perform real consulting projects for top companies and the only college to expose students to management consulting work. Students receive funding to launch new businesses on campus. They film investigative reports on controversial business topics. They travel to China as freshmen and London as sophomores to learn from global business leaders at partner schools.
These and other dynamic pieces of the business program provide students the ability to present themselves professionally, understand the realities of business ventures, project confidence in today’s global business environment, and stand out during job interviews.
In some ways, The Beatles were no more than a garage band until they hired an agent who booked them on The Ed Sullivan Show. A parallel can be drawn to job-searching college grads who send resumes into an anonymous stack in a human resources department.
At an investment bank where I once worked, the hiring director had more than 100 resumes from MBA students at top Ivy League schools. At least 20 of the applicants boasted a perfect 4.0 GPA. The director selected only six applicants for interviews and hired two. So, a majority of graduates with perfect grades from one of the most prestigious business schools in the world could not even secure an interview. What these candidates were missing was the essential ingredient of connections and relationships.
We recruit an exclusive group of well-rounded business students and then arrange an interview for the student with a senior decision maker at a top firm with whom we have a close relationship of trust. Students have a series of mentorships and internships as freshmen, not as juniors, as is the practice at most colleges. Relationships are at the core of business success—and it is never too early to start to nourish these connections.