Bringing value to business education
Students and faculty have been watching eagerly as a new $40-million building rises from a giant hole in the ground just to the west of Goodes Hall, the home of Queen’s School of Business (QSB). When it’s finished next spring, the 75,000 square-foot addition will provide the School with 51 more faculty offices, a slew of meeting spaces, six new classrooms equipped with cutting-edge technology, and a dedicated behavioral research lab that will allow faculty and graduate students to observe and record how people interact in negotiations and business transactions.
To the passer-by, the new wing of Goodes Hall is just the most recent complement to a Queen’s campus that is bustling with much-needed new buildings and facilities. To the people at QSB, this latest expansion is the natural evolution of a campus where creative thinking, decisive action, and sound execution have been the modus operandi for many years. Put simply, the new structure is the product of QSB’s ability to innovate and grow.
The ability to move with the times goes back a long way. In the 1890s, Queen’s became the first school to offer courses for the Canadian Banking Association. In 1919 it established Canada’s first business degree, and between the 1920s and the 1970s it was the exclusive provider of chartered accounting education in all of Ontario.
But the school’s current reputation for innovation stems from the early 1990s, when then-Dean David Anderson led the faculty in a hard look at its operations and concluded that while QSB had a solid reputation for business education and a well-regarded Executive Development Centre, things had to be taken up a notch.
The first fruit of this thinking came in 1994 in the form of a new type of Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) program. It differed from other EMBA programs in that it enabled senior managers across Canada to earn a Queen’s degree from their home community. The magic of the program was that 60 per cent of the course work drew geographically dispersed participants together every other weekend via interactive videoconferencing technology at boardroom learning centres across the country.
QSB didn’t stop there. Faculty looked at the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program, which in their estimation didn’t measure up to what was being offered at competing schools in Canada and, especially, internationally, and so they challenged themselves to come up with something better. They did so with help from roughly $500,000 in seed money provided by QSB benefactor Mel Goodes, Com’57, LLD’94. In 1996, during the tenure of Anderson’s successor as Dean, Margot Northey, the school unveiled its MBA for Science and Technology (MBAst), a 12-month program that broke ground on two fronts.
First, MBAst was a specialized graduate program that met the need for improved business knowledge in the technology sector – which at the time was red-hot – but was populated with company leaders whose primary background was science or engineering, not business. Second, and more significantly, the program was paid for entirely by student tuition fees instead of government funding. QSB’s creation of a privatized MBA was a bold move that raised academic eyebrows across the country.
Many observers were shocked by the one-year program’s $22,000 tuition, but the market-rate fee didn’t bother enthusiastic tech managers, who applied in droves. Such was the program’s popularity that the initial seed loan was repaid in just five years. Canada’s first privatized MBA program spawned a host of other privatized programs in other Canadian business schools.
The success of these QSB programs paved the way for further innovation. In 2004, the school established the Accelerated MBA (AMBA), the world’s first executive-style MBA with a dedicated curriculum for students with an undergraduate business degree and at least two years of work experience.
The following year saw the introduction of an executive MBA program offered jointly by Queen’s and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, which offered its graduates a prestigious degree from both institutions – a surefire corporate door-opener in both Canada and the U.S.. The dual-degree EMBA was another Canadian first.
“Our strength is in finding niche markets, and then executing – building a program very quickly to meet the needs of those markets,” says Dean David Saunders, who has helmed QSB since 2003. “We can do that unlike any place I’ve ever been, and are relentless in our efforts to offer an incredibly high-quality product.”
Since the privatization of the MBA, the culture of innovation at QSB has never been stronger – or more essential. Because the school’s continued operation relies on its ability to offer focused programs that attract high-calibre students, it has to stay a step ahead of the competition to survive and stay on the leading edge of business education. Studies indicate that QSB competes with other top-tier Canadian schools for the best undergraduate students and, at the graduate level, with every other business school on the globe.
“Competition sharpens and inspires you to push the envelope and look at things differently,” says Saunders.
The trick when doing things differently, says Prof. Ken Wong, Com’75, MBA’67, the Commerce ’77 Fellow in Marketing, is to avoid “the innovator’s dilemma” – an insidious trap that organizations sometimes fall into when they try something new. The organization implements a set of policies and procedures to formalize the new idea or direction, but later discovers that, once in place, those same well-intentioned policies make the organization more resistant to change. And it’s no secret that in a competitive environment – whether it’s in business or business education – organizations that are unwilling or unable to change are soon overtaken by more nimble, adaptable competitors.
At QSB, most new program ideas and curriculum flow from faculty, who are regularly exposed to new thinking via their interactions in the classroom. This is especially true of instructors in the executive programs, whose students are experienced, high-level professionals who often turn to Queen’s to help them solve complex business problems involving their own organizations. Close contact with these people keeps faculty abreast of developing business trends and technologies, and it enhances their ability to anticipate what skills and programs might be in demand in the future. Hence programs such as the national EMBA, the Accelerated MBA, and an executive education facility in the United Arab Emirates that QSB opened in 2007 – the first Canadian business school to do so.
"Each year, the students challenge each other to be bigger and better in what they do, which really forces and allows people to think outside the box and be creative,” says Katie Shotbolt, Com’11, ComSoc’s 2010-2011 president."
Given that innovation permeates the atmosphere at Goodes Hall, it’s not surprising that the school’s undergraduates sense and contribute to it. They are a high-achieving, well-rounded group. Students are admitted on the basis of their grades, which obviously need to be top notch, but also on their Personal Statement of Experience (PSE), an essay all student applicants to Queen’s must submit. In this document they describe their interests, volunteer work and other extracurricular activities.
This helps the school identify students with leadership potential – and indeed, successful candidates tend to be captains of their athletic teams, student council presidents and outstanding community volunteers. This year, the Commerce program received 5,000 applications for 450 available undergrad spots, and Saunders says choosing the shortlist of applicants is one of the toughest jobs at QSB.
Once they are accepted into the school, most students join the Commerce Society (ComSoc), the student-run government. In addition to overseeing student affairs at the school, ComSoc also spearheads annual business competitions and other extracurricular activities that provide students with real-world experience in marketing, event organizing, budgeting and other aspects of business. The activities also help foster initiative and that all-important spirit of innovation.
“Each year, the students challenge each other to be bigger and better in what they do, which really forces and allows people to think outside the box and be creative,” says Katie Shotbolt, Com’11, ComSoc’s 2010-2011 president. “It speaks to the fact that things are always dynamic at QSB. Nothing’s ever stagnant, because everybody’s constantly trying to improve the program. It’s an environment that I really enjoyed being a part of for the past four years.”
Another way QSB opens the minds of its students is by encouraging them to study abroad. Most do. Last year, 80 per cent of third-year Commerce undergrads spent a part of the year attending classes at one of QSB’s 90-plus business-school partners in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. Shotbolt, for example, spent the second semester of her third year at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, Norway. She lived in a residence with four other Queen’s students and with other students from Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and across Europe.
Because business is a global enterprise, each QSB program has an international component tailored to each student’s personal situation. For instance, students in the full-time MBA may spend from two weeks to six months studying in another country. The EMBA is structured differently. Student teams complete a mandatory global business project that takes them anywhere in the world outside the U.S. and Canada. Participants complete a thorough analysis of a real global issue or opportunity, including field research abroad. It’s a chance for students to put all that they have learned into practice. Recent projects have included consulting assignments for New Balance, a global athletic products company; an e-government initiative for Dubai Municipality in the United Arab Emirates; and, a not-for-profit initiative linking hospitals in Nairobi and Ontario.
QSB also distinguishes itself through its emphasis on the teamwork that permeates every program in the school. This means far more than just grouping people together and asking them to tackle a given task. It means scheduling students a full week of team interaction and instruction right off the bat, and helping them get past the conflicts that inevitably arise in every team by providing problem-solving assistance when it’s needed. The school actually employs a full-time Director of Team Facilitation and a team of coaches for this sole purpose.
The school’s newest programs are also based on forward thinking. The Master of Global Management, introduced four years ago, grew out of the Bologna Accord, an agreement among European Union countries that sought to harmonize higher education on that continent and make it easier for students to complete an undergraduate degree in one country and their Masters in another. Running with that concept, QSB structured its Global Management program so that Canadian students would spend half of the program studying at an international business school, while international students could study at Queen’s.
A second new program is the Master in Finance, which helps students already working in the financial industry expand their skill set and advance their careers in financial analysis, investment banking or asset management. The classes are held in Toronto, where the majority of students live and work.
Yet another new development is an evolution of the EMBA videoconferencing technology for use on computers. As long as a student has a laptop and a high-speed Internet connection, he or she can be anywhere and interact with their instructor and classmates – and fully participate in class. This makes taking the program that much easier for highly mobile executives.
“Right now we have a team with members in Bermuda, Fort McMurray and Kelowna,” says Dean Saunders. “If we can do that, just imagine the possibilities of where we can go next by bringing people together?”
While enrolment at Queen’s School of Business is strong across the board, new partnership agreements are in the works, and the projected demand will almost certainly require hiring of more faculty – the school is not resting on its laurels. Anything but. The attitude there is that the best time to start afresh is when you’re at the top of your game. Thus, one of the projects in coming months is a complete overhaul of the EMBA program.
“The world changes pretty quickly,” says Elspeth Murray, a professor of Strategy and Organization, who is also Associate Dean of the MBA programs, Director of the Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing, and the CIBC Faculty Fellow in Entrepreneurship. “We’ve got demographic shifts, competitive changes and technological advancements. This is a good time to sit down and have that ‘what-next’ discussion.”
Dean Saunders says going forward the EMBA will focus on developing strong leaders with a deeper understanding of subjects such as governance, ethics, strategy and communications. The fallout from the Enron debacle and the recent banking crisis in the U.S. illustrate the perils that await senior executives. With stronger leadership skills, Saunders says participants will be better prepared to manage such challenges.
Another task in the coming months is to prepare for the completion and move into this new wing, which the demand for QSB’s ever-evolving suite of programs has made necessary.
Still, whatever happens in the expanded Goodes Hall, some aspects of QSB will remain constant.
“We can innovate until thOe cows come home in what we do, how we do it, in the technology we use, and even in how we relate to other departments within the University,” says Wong. “What will never change is how we see ourselves bringing value to the students and to society.”
Alec Ross is a Kingston-based freelance writer and filmmaker.
One eagerly anticipated feature of the new Goodes Hall addition is a dedicated behavioral research laboratory that will enable faculty and graduate students to conduct types of research that currently can’t be performed at QSB. The lab will be equipped with technology, including one-way mirrors, high-end audio and video recording equipment, and specialized software that analyzes minute facial reactions. These and other tools are essential for researchers who study how people interact, for example, during negotiations, sales and leadership situations. They will also help QSB contribute to an emerging area of study called behavioural finance, which examines the thinking and behaviour of brokers.
“Finance has traditionally looked at relationships between institutions and investors,” says Julian Barling, a QSB professor and leadership researcher who looks forward to using the new lab. “Now what they’re looking at is relationships between people in different institutions. And any time you narrow the research down to the behavioral aspect, a behavioural lab becomes absolutely critical.”
Barling says the equipment at the new lab will be similar to what’s often used in psychology departments to study parent-infant interactions, with the difference that the QSB lab will have been designed from the ground up with business research in mind.
Another boon associated with the lab is that QSB students and faculty will be its priority users, which isn’t the case for those who wish to use similar facilities elsewhere at Queen’s.