[NOTE: This series was originally published as twice-weekly posts on my blog, Strictly Confidential.]

 

An Outlaw's MBA Hit Parade
Is business school your best next move? Read these class reviews, then decide

By Chuck Nowlen
Published November 28 – December 28, 2011
Copyright 2011, CAN2 Media/Strictly Confidential

The economy’s a river choked with loony tunes and dinosaurs. The jobless flail desperately, trying to make their way. Business schools from DeVry to Harvard dangle gilded lifelines to fertile shores.

Thinking about chasing that MBA rescue? And, if so, do you really know what to expect?

Maybe I can help. I spent much of the last five years exploring three part-time Twin Cities MBA programs, representing a rough continuum of what’s out there: upper-tier University of Minnesota, lower-middle-tier The College of St. Scholastica and, for "the rest of us," Metropolitan State University.

I can also claim a thin slice of The University of St. Thomas after one of my professors later switched schools. That brings my total MBA exposure to a third of the classroom programs in the Twin Cities metro area.

Which, if any, might be right for you? Obviously, that's a highly subjective question. But I think the following equally subjective, first-person class reviews might help you make a better-informed choice.

That's the short intro, so if you're a cut-to-the-chase type, you might want to SKIP TO MY REVIEWS NOW. Meanwhile, here's some more important context and a disclaimer or two:

I chose the MBA path, not for the degree, per se, but rather for the practical business knowledge the courses offered. Make no mistake, I'm a happy, busy journalist; I wasn't after boardroom clout and excess — OK, maybe a little excess. Still, with the journalism profession in its own business free fall, I figured MBA training would at least broaden my on-the-job field of vision.

The quest was solely guided, then, by (1) the real-world value of each class; (2) how well the professors kept their students engaged; and (3) how much bang each class seemed to promise for the buck — hence the shuttling among three programs with different price tags.

I wasn’t exactly forgiving either. If a professor routinely bogged things down in empty bluster, worthless meandering and/or gratuitous, small-group naval contemplation, well, let’s just say I didn’t waste much time stifling yawns and bird-dogging the clock.

Not the typical MBA approach. But it did give me the freedom to call 'em as I saw 'em here — not, for example, by how the professors saw me. [Full disclosure: I was five elective credits short of a degree as of this writing, with a cumulative 3.3 grade point average — a B-plus — across all three programs.]

Remember, though: One student’s gold is another student’s scrap iron — some, no doubt, saw these classes and professors very differently. So maybe it’s best to take each individual review with a few grains of salt and rely on the entire package for a taste of what the MBA experience is really like.

The professors: 10 whose classes approximate a typical array of MBA requirements and electives, rated for you on a maximum five-dollar-signs ($$$$$) scale. All are still teaching in accredited Twin Cities programs.

My class reviews follow. Please scroll or pick and choose from this list:

1. Financial Management: "Praise 'The Packet' And Pass The Ammunition"

2. Organizational Behavior: "And This Ace Of Spades On My Head Makes Money How?"

3. Financial Accounting: "Dang, Those Sax Lessons Were Important After All!"

4. Managerial Statistics: "If A Dude Runs Up A Stairwell 20 Times, Will Anybody Hear Him Pass Out?"

5. Human Resources Management: "How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love HR"

6. Marketing Management/Practical Research Methods: “Aerobics Burns And Small-Group Hustles”

7. Management Communication and Cultural Competence: “The Real Color Of My MBA”

8. Management Information Systems: "When Harry Met Linux"

9. Process Consultation: "Relax, Breathe Slowly, And Focus On The Shiny Object"

10. Strategic Management: "Behold! The Silver Fortress Of Dreams"

 

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Financial Management
'Praise The Packet And Pass The Ammunition'

Professor: John Reik
School: Carlson School Of Management, University Of Minnesota

Why pay $1,200 a credit for a Carlson MBA when you could spend two-thirds less at St. Scholastica — and three-quarters less at Metro State?

Professors like veteran John Reik, that’s why. Reik’s not just a teacher; he’s the Jedi master of money, finance law and accounting.

And, if your brain, drive and ego are up for three hours of devil’s-math boot camp every week, he can make you a Luke Skywalker too.

“Brilliant,” writes one reviewer on the student-feedback site, RateMyProfessors.com, where Reik earns a rare perfect 5.0 overall score. “(He) is the gold standard for teaching at Carlson. … A 100% must for all who want to be introduced to not just good, but great, teaching.”

Clarity? Reik scores a perfect 5.0 in that RateMyProfessors subcategory as well. Helpfulness? Ditto.

The only subcategory Reik doesn’t ace, in fact, is “Easiness,” where the number is an appropriately intimidating “1.” This course can be one hell of a brain-numbing ride.

You’ll see so many colossal strings of math at times that you’ll think you’ve fallen into “The Matrix.” No cheat sheets or programmable calculators at test time — Reik expects you to derive anything you need from a memorized dozen or so equations. You also have to show and explain your work.

But, you know what, if you ignore all that and just follow this guy in class, it’ll all make sense by the end. Take it from me. I was a lifelong financial boob.

The big magic happens as Reik patiently walks you line-by-line, number-by-number, concept-by-concept, scenario-by-scenario every week through the hundreds of pages that make up the amazing finance Rosetta Stone he’s created for his students. It's called “The Packet,” and it’s Reik’s photocopied, industrial-strength distillation of all things finance. Challenging every cubic millimeter of a huge three-ring binder, The Packet becomes your own personal finance Bible.

If, that is, you just do the homework, focus hard in lectures and ASK any question that occurs to you — Reik pauses for feedback often. And if something still isn’t clear, let him know — he’ll do his very best to turn your lights on, during class or with a one-on-one after. He also answers detailed emails.

Know, too, that if you stick with it, you WILL be able to light-saber your way through every single finance area he lists in The Packet’s introduction – and I'll note each one of them here, both with pride and as homage:

Financial-statement analysis, investment and financing tax implications, cash-flow analysis, risk and return, asset valuation techniques, cost of capital, capital budgeting techniques, long- and short-term financing decisions, and financial planning.

Now go – and may the force be with you.

Class rating: $$$$$

(Posted December 7, 2011)

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Organizational Behavior
'And This Ace Of Spades On My Head Makes Money How?'

Professor: John Mirocha
School: Metropolitan State University
[Note: Mirocha is now at the University of St. Thomas.]

This one crossed my radar early on, when my aversion to mandatory classroom dilly-dallying had not yet fully matured into vile and murderous rage.

It’s a good thing, too, because Professor Mirocha's take on organizational behavior easily takes the prize for dorky, last-round party games.

Everybody will walk around the room holding playing cards to their foreheads so only others can read them. Then you’ll role-play as each classmate passes by, depending on what your cards say about your relative status.

You’ll get 15 minutes to draw a picture that renders your concept of “the world.” Everybody will walk around some more to take them all in. Then you’ll talk about what you saw.

“Duck, Duck, Goose,” anyone?

Much as I wanted to condemn this stuff, though, I couldn't come down too hard here. This is Organizational Behavior. Is there a business course on the planet better suited to group-dynamics theater in class?

Besides, I was lucky. Metro State’s student diversity is rare for the Twin Cities, so there was a rich variety of cultural viewpoints. China, Iran, Somalia, India, Russia, Mexico, Burma – all home countries among my 20 or so classmates. By no means all white-collar, WASP Echo Boomers among the locals either.

Other things stayed with me too. I had a great time doing a 10-page “company culture” analysis of the newsroom I ran at the time. (Hint: Think “Underdog” meets “Mommy Dearest.”) We dissected the classic tragedy, “Lessons From Everest,” leaving me even more convinced that top-down, homogeneous business teams are about as change-agile as hairless mice in an ice storm. A few other winners as well.

Which is why I have to tip my hat to Professor Mirocha, who, by the way, does have his detractors on RateMyProfessors.

I half-agree with a couple. But here's the lasting point: You're REALLY in business if you can make the very best of people as they are.

Course rating: Two-and-a-half dollar signs

(Posted December 14, 2011)

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Financial Accounting
'Dang, Those Sax Lessons Were Important After All!'

Professor: Faye Larson
School: College Of St. Scholastica
[Note: Larson is now a non-MBA assistant professor at The College of St. Catherine]

OK, class, let’s start this one with a mini-quiz for a taste of what's taught here and how.

Question #1. What do the acronyms LIFO and FIFO mean?

Question #2. Which payment option is cheapest, assuming a 7% annual interest rate in each case:
* Option A - a single $87,000 payment on December 31 for goods received on January 1 the same year;
* Option B - seven consecutive years of $15,000 payments on December 31 for the same goods;
* Option C - three consecutive years of $29,000 payments on January 1?

The answers are below. Meanwhile, trust me: This is real-deal accounting. Professor Larson, a CPA who also holds an MBA, was the long-time chief financial officer for the American Red Cross and is a thriving consultant as well.

You might not guess that – Larson is as unassuming as they come. She also is a bit hum-drum, although matter-of-fact might be a better term. Every once in awhile, the clock can seem to stand still.

But what did you expect, Lady Gaga? Larson guides you through just fine. Copies of previous tests are available; you can bring a double-sided, 4-by-6-inch cheat sheet to exams too.

Most importantly, by the time the course is over, you should have everything down cold. The key is cumulative, practical repetition. Accounting is a little like Spanish or music lessons that way.

Each week brings either a one-hour, show-your-work quiz, or a homework assignment that takes your brain for a similar extended spin. These count for two-thirds of your grade.

Then there’s a heady group project – assembled entirely off-hours -- where you wade through real corporate annual reports and financial statements, choose the salient calculations and then report in a pro’s detail what it all means. That's another one-sixth of your grade. The remaining one-sixth: a comprehensive final, basically a three-hour “Super Quiz.”

And why does all this matter? Because if time and money make the baseball game that companies play every day, accounting makes official sense of all the stats from each at-bat, game, player trade and season.

Accounting also shows you what companies might be hiding or camouflaging, what play they might make next – and, of course, what they might have done that was REALLY smart or REALLY dumb.

If you're in business to make money, that REALLY matters. This stuff has a long shelf life too.

Speaking of which, those quiz answers:

Question #1 Last-In-First-Out and First-In-First-Out, referring to how inventory enters then leaves a company, and at what cost.

Question #2 Option A (a lump sum). Present value = $81,308.46, calculated from standard tables. Option B (called an “ordinary annuity”). Present value = $80,839.35. Option C (called an “annuity due”). Present value = $81,432.58. Thus, B is the cheapest choice.

Class rating: Three-and-a-half dollar signs.

(Posted December 12, 2011)

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Managerial Statistics
'If A Dude Runs Up A Stairwell 20 Times, Will Anybody Hear Him Pass Out?'

Professor: Nadav Cassuto
School: Metropolitan State University
[Note: Cassuto is now a community faculty member at the Minnesota Career Development Association.]

This course is a dream come true for math dimwits like me who loathe wasting time in a classroom.

Only three in-person sessions, and they’re done by week five: PowerPoint lectures on the basics the first and third weeks, capped off by a two-hour, problems-and-multiple-choice midterm exam two weeks later.

After that, it’s digital readings, exercises and a monster final project from home, with Professor Casutto's emailed grades and feedback. This part was my first experience with online-only learning, and I gulped a bit at the thought of statistics without a live mentor in the room.

Turns out that cyber-lessons are perfect for statistics.

Here, I'm talking about ALEKS, an artifical-intelligence, interactive teaching cloud that first evaluates how much you already know, then prompts you through what's left to learn.

Data distributions, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, probability, random variables, correlation and regression: ALEKS starts with the principles in each mini-module, then tests you with story problems.

ALEKS is a stickler too. It won’t let you advance ‘til you answer all the questions right. Otherwise, it’s back to where you just came from, only with a new set of questions. Predictably for me, this meant a LOT of rereading after mini-module false starts.

But who cares? I learned here, and it stayed with me, particularly that final project, which counts for a whopping 60 percent of your grade.

Mine? I lived on the top floor of an eight-story apartment building at the time, and a crowded elevator always seemed to stop at every single floor on the way down in the morning and again on the way up at night. One day, I thought, “Would it be faster just to take the stairs?”

So I made like a workplace-efficiency guy and set out to find the answer — and, indeed, the stairs were faster. For this, I can thank the following: a stopwatch, great jogging shoes and leg muscles, a small miracle called a “one-tailed, two-independent-samples T-test with a 0.05 alpha,” and another computing cloud that gave me the values I needed to make the call.

Another nod, of course, to ALEKS and Professor Cassuto, who was far from a dazzler with PowerPoint, but whose prompt, emailed guidance saved my bacon often.

Class rating: $$$

(Posted December 19, 2011)

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Human Resources Management
'How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love HR'

Professor: Jacqueline Bush
School: College Of St. Scholastica

This, of course, is the bureaucratic realm of hiring, firing, discipline, training, rules, regulations, pay scales, court cases, promotions — and forms, forms, forms.

I dreaded this class. I envisioned brutal hours of tedium. I just knew the professor would be a bad combination of traffic cop, IRS auditor and nun.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Not that Professor Bush doesn’t match a few HR stereotypes: corporate-conservative dress and manner, every hair in its understated place, a voice appropriately poised and calming. She was, after all, a human-resources honcho at multinational giant 3M for many years.

What transcends, though, is Bush's remarkable gift for making people feel at ease, motivated and in good hands – and that makes all the difference. You connect to the material in a way that’s … dare we say it? … both good for you and fun.

Not that she’s the Lily Tomlin of workplace engineering either. Bush is no stand-up comedian, although, now that I think of it, she might be perfect as a straight man.

Example: On a finer point of HR and retirement, she tells of a friend who left the corporate life and decided to breed her German Shepherd for a living. “Just so you know what we’re talking about,” she adds, with only the slightest hint of a grin, “this was a truly magnificent animal, a magnificent dog. We’re talking upwards of $20,000 for each coupling.”

A student’s raised-hand comment: “Wow. I think I must be in the wrong business ...”

“No, man,” interrupts another student, “you must be in the wrong SPECIES.”

Not her joke. But it is her class, and the atmosphere she creates somehow nurtures both discipline and hair-down moments like that.

Maybe it’s because Bush really seems to care about you. She engages you more than most when you ask a question, and if you need some extended private feedback on anything HR in your own work life, she’ll go far beyond the extra mile.

You will work hard, though. There are complex case studies. There are arcane reading assignments. There are papers, a major small-group project and an essay final exam that incorporates every concept you’ve been exposed to during the term.

And always – ALWAYS – Bush provides a practical link to real business life, whether it’s the difference between Hooter’s-style employee branding and illegal sexual pandering, or the reason why so much corporate disciplinary training is a waste of time and money.

The bottom line: While other teachers fight the boredom factor with gimmicks, bombast and/or small-group nonsense, Bush brightens the entire three hours only with what matters: real-deal expertise, challenging give-and-take and, above all, genuine humanity.

Hmmm, how about that? A bona fide HR rocket ace with a bona fide heart.

Class rating: $$$$

(Posted December 5, 2011)

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Marketing Management/Practical Research Methods
'Aerobics Burns And Small-Group Hustles'

Professor: Nancy Nentl
School: Metropolitan State University

It's three hours of hyperkinetic, I'm-in-charge-here show time for Professor Nentl at these two classes every week. And nobody's going to steal her spotlight — not for long anyway. Not you. Not me. Not anybody. Ever.

Some might find that a bit much at times, but it does make a lot of sense.

For one thing, before she began her impressive, nonstop sprint through her bachelor's, masters and PhD degrees on the cool side of age 40, Nentl was once an aerobics instructor. And that's pretty much how she comes off as she glides around the classroom — prodding here, cajoling there and, often, laughing with caffeinated glee.

More than once, in fact, I'm positive that her next words will be, “Woo-HOOOO!!!! Can you FEEL the marketing burn here people??!!”

Don't get me wrong: Showmanship, energy and agenda control can keep people interested. And most part-time MBA classes kill an entire night's prime-time TV schedule after what for most has already been a long day on the job.

It's all well worth it, too, for the vast majority of Nentl veterans. Search for her on RateMyProfessors, and you'll find maybe a dozen glowing reviews — although one asserts that she “discourages speaking in class if you have an accent or are international" and "doesn't respect the students." Another gives her a "poor" rating without comment.

And, indeed, long before I'd even heard of RateMyProfessors.com, incidents like these start to erode my commitment:

At an early Research Methods lecture, Nentl grabs a magic marker and asks for examples of a survey technique she's just explained. Long silent pause; nobody raises a hand. Finally, she picks a guy in the back of the room.

I don't remember the guy's halting, fidgety answer. But I do remember her reaction:

“Ohhhhhhh,” she winces. "Really?" She flashes a here's-the-dunce grin to the rest of the room as she hustles to the far end of the whiteboard. "Maybe we'll write that one, you know, WAY over down here?"

At another session, Nentl nods blankly and flashes that same dunce-cap grin as a Hmong student struggles with his English during a long comment.

“Ohhhhhh ... kay. Yes. Yes, that's a good point,” she repeats a couple times while he's speaking. When he finishes, she sighs, nodding, then picks up her lecture as if the Hmong man had never said a thing.

Then there are all the 15- to 20-minute small-group confabs, which Nentl orders two or three times every session. Over and over — EVERY class. A handful are substantive, but, typically, they're shallow dull-fests.

These, for me at least, itch like poison ivy fast. Sure, group work is as much a part of corporate life as water coolers and prairie dogging. But here, I just get the feeling that the real reason is not so much to build synergy skills, but to fill the entire class period.

The bottom-line question for both of these classes, of course: Did I actually learn what I needed to know about real-world research methods and marketing? Absolutely.

Thanks to Marketing Management, I nailed down key elements of a business plan for a local fitness magazine I'd come to MBA school to explore. Research Methods also gave me a potent reader survey to help guide its content and ad strategy. Many other lasting payoffs too.

The problem? If I learned anything in business school, it's that time, efficiency and good cost-benefit decisions are money. And, frankly, actual learning here accounts for maybe an hour of each 180-minute class.

Class Rating: Two-and-a-half dollar signs

(Posted November 30, 2011)

[Aerobics illustration courtesy of Free images from acobox.com]

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Management Communication & Cultural Competence
'The Real Color Of My MBA'

Professor: Randal Zimmerman
School: College Of St. Scholastica

By the time I took this class, I'd sweated through a ton of statistics, accounting, economics and finance. Hey, I'm a career journalist who'd last chased a degree when calculators gave people hernias. I looked at MBA math as an adventure.

Besides, as an art-hugging right-brainer who had utterly embarassed myself in the GMAT test's analytical sections, I was now pretty damn proud: I'd taken every left-brain punch that an MBA program could muster. All I had to do now was cakewalk through the people-oriented stuff, right?

Unfortunately, this all took place in Minnesota, where, apparently, even workplace diversity starts with some white guy with a first name like "Geert."

The course? St. Scholastica's largely lip-service, bond-with-other-cultures elective. And, well, I've got a little experience in higher-education diversity, so I suspect that the same general formula applies to almost any Upper Midwest MBA program -- and, for that matter, the diversity element in almost any other college course as well.

Geert? That would be the widely respected (I'm told) Geert Hofstede, the father half of a Dutch father-and-son team that supposedly wrote the definitive cultural-competence textbook.

No offense, Geert, but a PAINFULLY dry, PAINFULLY tightly wrapped Professor Zimmermann really got my hopes up in the first class when he added about the reading assignments from your work, "I don't think you can learn much about other cultures from a book. You really have to experience them."

Then, of course, he completely undermined himself: "That's why we'll be doing a lot of role playing in this class every week" -- after which we played an absurd game of "Stump The Fake Foreigner" (my term) in small groups for the next hour or so.

It got worse: A full one-third of our final grade would depend on a crowning "Mock Embassy Reception" role-playing exercise later in the term.

Yep, an entire room full of Minnesota WASPs pretending to be dignitaries from the four corners of the Earth — and for college credit, too.

I didn't care what, if anything, I'd learn in the meantime. I just knew that the picture in my mind was ridiculous, especially when REAL diversity is so critical in the change-oriented, REAL multicultural economy. True, finding people of color in the Great White North is like finding Mormons in Harlem — but please.

To be fair, St. Scholastica does offer two- to three-week special programs in Europe, Mexico, China and Africa — which draw raves from participants. But they typically cost thousands extra, and, more to the point here, they are completely separate from this class, except as oft-noted options for further study.

All of this reminded me that I'd turned to MBA classes only to enrich my horizons and wouldn't really wouldn't lose much if I put academic Romper Room on the shelf for a term, especially during the sustained maelstrom I was in at work then. Besides, everybody gets a clinker class sometime.

So I got the hell out of there pronto.

Class Rating: One half of one $

(Posted November 28, 2011)

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Management Information Systems
'When Harry Met Linux'

Professor: Warren Bettenhausen
School: Metropolitan State University

Professor Bettenhausen pulls off quite a trick here: He gives information technology all the depth, complexity and staying power it demands – while also making his class easy.

Yep. IT made real. IT made easy.

Word’s been out about this gem for a while.

Here's a 2009 review on RateMyProfessors, where Bettenhausen, too, scores a perfect 5.0 in Overall Quality and in two of three subcategories -- Helpfulness and Clarity -- with a 4.0 in Easiness:

“One of the best professors at Metro State University. Don’t miss out on registering for him.”

Another post, from early 2011: “He clearly communicates. … His lectures are interesting. … He has real-world expertise in the IT industry. I highly recommend this professor.”

Sure, these are the only two Bettenhausen reviews on the site, and they’re a little terse for such high numbers – although, come to think of it, isn't tight communication the IT soldier's trademark?

That and arrogance, Bettenhausen deadpans to begin session #1. He’s a very easy-going professor; he really seems to like being there. Class almost always lasts the full three hours, but it's organized to make it painless — in byte-sized modules, you might say.

The first 45 minutes: a five-question multiple-choice quiz on the previous session’s readings, case study and lecture — the only tests in the entire course. A back-and-forth on the answers right after the quizzes are passed in, then a break.

The next 45 minutes: quick dialogue on IT current-events articles students find during the week, then Bettenhausen’s lecture, delivered cut-to-the-chase conversationally. Sort of like he’s in somebody's cubicle at work, recapping Sunday's Vikings game.

Another break, then 45 minutes for a student team’s PowerPoint on the week’s case study. These range from BAE Systems’ automation fiasco at the Denver airport to Buckman Laboratories’s much ballyhooed, but seriously flawed, information-sharing pilot.

Then, boom, class is over.

Meanwhile, it's up to you to pick four individual case-study mini-papers and the topic for your final project: a 12-page, fully footnoted treatise on a real-life business IT problem, with a 20-minute presentation.

I started this course only marginally experienced and, well, a little scared of under-the-hood corporate IT. I left this course confident, competent and completely able to keep up with the fastest-changing linchpin of modern business.

So ... Did you expect more tech jargon in this review, stuff like middleware, matrix organizations, social software, packet-switching, the ARPANET and change controls?

You’ll learn about it all. You just won’t realize how dreadful it can be in the hands of others.

Class rating: $$$$$

(Posted December 26, 2011)

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Process Consultation
'Relax, Breathe Slowly, And Follow The Shiny Object'

Professor: Paul Brown
School: College Of St. Scholastica

Take a good look around you at your next staff meeting. A long, penetrating look around.

Who would you partner-up with if you really wanted to change things? What are these people really thinking when they do what they do at work?

In other words: Who the hell ARE these people, anyway? And where the hell are they trying to go?

Now make a habit of asking yourself questions like this often on the job — about the people you work with, but also about you.

Welcome to the world of process consultation, where psychotherapy meets organizational politics — productive organizational politics, that is. Welcome to the world of Professor Brown.

“Yeah, I’m in therapy. I get a lot out of it, both personally and in business,” he mentions early while introducing himself, nonchalantly imprinting: Forget the head-shrinking stereotypes, people. You might get a lot out of this stuff too.

Like how managers can learn to keep running long after the consultant gets paid and skips town. Like how you can make the most of your career by knowing yourself, your coworkers and your employer for what you all simply have to be at your cores.

Brown, whose private clients range from corporations to local social-services agencies, has a knack for making people open up. And, in this class, his life's an open book too — his child support hassles, what happened over drinks with a friend, this week’s eureka moment on the psychologist's couch.

His first homework assignment: “When you’re driving home tonight, see how long you can go without turning on the radio. Keep track of what your mind’s doing in the silence. Then email me what you come up with sometime during the week.”

It goes far beyond touchy-feely after that — this is group therapy with a profit motive after all. You’ll plumb every nook and cranny of the seminal consultant’s manual, ”Process Consultation Revisited: Building The Helping Relationship,” by the father of the field, Edgar H. Schein.

The put-it-all-together payoff and the lion’s share of your grade: filtering a specific change initiative at your workplace through a process consultant's senses. This, for me, meant a deeper look back at that newsroom I once ran. But, unlike in Organizational Behavior class, this time the same newsroom turned out to be “The Caine Mutiny” crossed with “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”

I took to Schein’s methods like a duck to water, too, once I realized how similar they are to what good journalists do to separate fact from spin, real McCoys from imposters, and a great story from a throwaway.

All potent reminders that when it comes down to it, business will always be about human beings.

Class rating: Four-and-a-half dollar signs

(Posted December 21, 2011)

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Strategic Management
'Behold! The Silver Fortress Of Dreams'

Professor: Daniel Forbes
School: Carlson School Of Management, University Of Minnesota

You can tell Carlson’s a top-20 school. The building’s a palace — part tech showcase, part coliseum, part airport terminal, part art museum. Even the lecture chairs are cushy.

And at an occasional event they call “Networking” – an opulent banquet in the courtyard, where you meet, greet and business-card during that night's extended class breaks – you’re served roast beef sliced by guys in white coats and chef’s hats.

Carlson means money. Big money. Corporate-giant money. Cream-of-the-crop money. You FEEL like money here.

This class is the mandatory start to your Carlson MBA journey. Professor Forbes nutshells the course this way in his syllabus:

“We will mostly take a ‘bird’s-eye’ view of the business world. …We will spend a lot of time talking about what most senior managers at large firms like Disney and Microsoft ought to do.”

He notes twice during the term – the first class and the last – that, overwhelmingly, former students look back at Strategic Management as their most useful class on the job.

You’re in steady hands with Professor Forbes, who tag-teams Strategic Management sections with local legend Alfred “Alfie” Marcus, author of the course textbook and a required companion, “Winning Moves: Cases In Strategic Management.”

It's all corporate-bureaucratic to the bone: tightly organized; everything on schedule. Forbes works way down in front in an amphitheater lecture hall, commanding a massive whiteboard and a projector for PowerPoint and multimedia.

Early on, you’re assigned to a permanent, four-classmate SWAT team that’s often asked to report its consensus on class-discussion topics during lectures. This group also puts together a final project, a 15-page businesses-sector analysis that counts for 60 percent of your grade.

Once again, the MBA gods were merciful – my group was all hotshots. Our collective take on the satellite radio industry grabbed the top of the class's grading curve. We all aced the multiple-choice and short-answer midterm and final too.

So what stayed with me? Three biggies for starters:

* The classic “Porter's Five Forces Model,” which forecasts a company's success or failure based on benchmarks of its external and internal business environment.

* The “Running In Packs” concept, which debunks the myth of the loner entrepreneur. You're much better off with a crackerjack posse in your corner.

* The difference between “resources” (what you've got to work with), “capabilities” (what you can do with it) and “core competencies” (the essentials of your competitiveness) — and how they play out in everything from outsourcing and mergers to global expansion and sustained advantage.

Too bad Carlson's $22,000-plus annual tuition can prove far too steep if, for example, you don't get help from your employer, as many students here do.

I wasn't among them, though. That's why I eventually had to do most of my MBA networking over cold vending machine coffee at other schools.

Class rating: $$$

(Posted December 28, 2011)

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Twin Cities Classroom MBA Programs/2011-2012

 

Argosy University Total tuition for degree/24 months: $23,046. Website: argosy.edu

Augsburg College Tuition: $556/credit. Website: augsburg.edu

Bethel University Tuition: $625/credit. Website: bethel.edu

Cardinal Stritch University Tuition: $525/credit. Website: stritch.edu

DeVry University Tuition: $2,225/course. Website: devry.edu

Globe University/Minnesota School of Business Total tuition for degree/24 months: $28,890 Website: msbcollege.edu

Metropolitan State University Tuition (resident): $312/credit. Website: metrostate.edu

University of Minnesota Tuition (resident): Full-time–$31,321/year Part-time–$1,172/credit. Website: csom.edu

University of Phoenix Tuition: $665/credit. Website: phoenix.edu

St. Cloud University Tuition (resident): $725/credit. Website: stcloudstate.edu

College of St. Scholastica Tuition: $445/credit. Website: css.edu

University of St. Thomas Tuition: Full-time–$14,000/semester Part-time–$885/credit. Website: stthomas.edu

Strayer University Tuition: $2,325/credit. Website: strayer.edu

Another (Partial) MBA School List, Including Online-Only Programs

 

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