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Rotman's Vice-Dean of MBA programs talks about the future of the degree, mature students, and more

The MBA was once a huge value-add to the CV but that is now being questioned. We asked Prof. Brian Golden what makes the Rotman MBA popular and about the newly launched Global Executive MBA in Healthcare and Life Sciences.
BY Skendha Singh |   30-04-2019

Golden Rotman

The Rotman School of Management offers some of the world’s best MBA programmes. BrainGain Magazine spoke to Brian Golden who is Vice-Dean of MBA programs and Academic Director of the GEMBA Program, about the future of the MBA, what makes the ideal MBA student, and Rotman’s unique Global Executive MBA in Healthcare and Life Sciences.

Edited excerpts from the conversation are below.

  • Please tell us about the Rotman School’s Global Executive MBA in Healthcare & Life Sciences

    This is the most recent of our innovations, and it’s, for me, the most exciting. I’m a healthcare strategist and this is the biggest industry in the world worth 8 trillion dollars (according to a Deloitte report on 2017 healthcare spends).  And there are only a small number of top business schools that invest in healthcare and life sciences. And they don’t really have a global perspective. They’re all in the United States. They focus only on the US market of healthcare.

    So, we said, the rest of the world looks more similar to each other than the United States. Emerging economies look more similar to each other, the Nordic countries, Asia – Southeast Asia, Canada, Latin & South America. We all have systems where the government is a big player, where there is an increasing need and it’s getting too expensive for the world.

    So we said we want to train healthcare leaders all over the world to treat healthcare like a business. Sometimes, it’s a for-profit business, and pharma and med-tech. But in many cases, hospitals, and healthcare delivery, it is publicly run, and it is accessible for everyone but it’s still a trillion dollars. You have to have business skills to run an effective system. That’s what we’re doing.

  • Why did you decide to offer an executive MBA? As I understand it, the university already offers a full time MBA on Healthcare and Life Sciences.

    It turns out that in healthcare many leaders have to first specialize in their discipline, whether it’s medicine or chemistry [or] finance. But, for the first 5 or 10 years of their career, they’re very specialized. And they have very deep knowledge. We like to think about healthcare leaders as t-shaped managers: deep knowledge and on the top – broad expertise around the whole value chain of healthcare.

    A physician who becomes a hospital CEO, she or he can’t be a CEO before they’re a physician. And it takes 10 years to train to be a physician. The same thing for an engineer or a chemist.  They have to establish their credibility in their field first. And then they can run a pharmaceutical company. But they have to be a good chemist before they can be a good business person who also was a chemist early in their career.

    So that’s why we work with more experienced people. They have an average 16 years of work experience, which is more than most executive MBA programs. And their average age is 44. So, they’re well-established and they’re already working in very significant leadership jobs.

  • One of the most interesting aspects of this program is that modules are delivered in Singapore and San Francisco. What inspired this choice?

    We are the University of Toronto in Canada, but we don’t believe that Canada has all the solutions. We don’t believe any country has all the solutions. We chose to base in Canada because Toronto is one of the top 5 Health and Life Science centres in the world. We have one of the top 10 hospitals in the world (according to Newsweek Rankings 2019). Our Cancer and Childrens’ Hospitals are top 5 in the world. So, we’re very strong with innovation and commercialization.

    But San Francisco is so different. It’s an exciting place for new ventures so the venture capital environment is rich -not only with dollars but ideas and creativity. It is the centre of digital technology. Toronto and the San Francisco area are leaders in artificial intelligence – that’s impacting healthcare significantly. They have some of the most interesting models of healthcare delivery – integrated health systems. Lastly, they are the design capital in the world. All of those skills and perspectives are helpful to students from anywhere in the world to work in healthcare.

    When we go to a place, we only spend half the time in the classroom, the other half of the time [is spent] on the field, visiting businesses. That’s San Francisco and the Bay Area. We were at the University of California Berkley, the campus. We were also at Stanford. We get to bring faculty from these different great schools together.

    Singapore is also very interesting in a completely different way. The United States spends 17.5% of its GDP on healthcare. Singapore spends 5%. And it has better health outcomes. What they’ve figured out is that with more engagement from government, with investments in digital health, and some risk-sharing between patients who can afford it and the government, and a little less risk-sharing for poor patients, they can use their dollars very effectively to get better health outcomes for their whole country without spending a fortune. It’s a very new and innovative health-system. And even though it’s small, and Singapore is unique, there are lessons learnt from there. Singapore is also the centre for all the pharmaceutical companies in the Asia region. We want to learn from corporate practices. And we have strong partners – Johnson & Johnson, consulting firms, med-tech firms, all there. . . So, we can spend time visiting them as well.

  • One thing a good MBA degree can boast of is experiential learning. You’ve just said that a typical student for the GEMBA would be 44 years of age with 16 years of experience. Why do you think a successful professional would return to school for an MBA?

    That’s an excellent question.

    It’s not just that they are 44 years old with 16 years of experience. They’re also some of the most successful 44-year-olds in their fields. But what they’ve said is they’ve made it to the top of their trajectory as a top physician, top scientist, or a top marketer. And rather than just move up the ladder, they want to put a foot on another ladder. They want to think about different roles.

    So, if you’re 44 years old and you’ve been a successful marketer, or finance person, or surgeon for 20 years. The question they’re asking is: do I want to do the same thing for the next 20 years? Or do I want to have a bigger impact on my organisation or my system? And if I want to have a bigger impact on the full value chain of healthcare activities, I have to develop new skills. That’s why they do it.

    They appreciate the learning in a different way because they’ve had 20 years of challenges. A younger student may not appreciate as much as a more experienced student how what we’re teaching today is a solution for a very real problem that they’ve never had before because they’ve worked for [less than] 5 years. If you’ve worked for 15 years, you’ve had every problem imaginable. And we help with that.

  • Business education is transitioning from the idea of contractual learning to lifelong learning. How does Toronto approach that?

    We approach it in several ways. First, we start when we are with the students for 18 months by exposing them to the most current learnings in healthcare MBA in the world. We started the program in 2018. We didn’t ask the question -What were programs doing 10 years ago? We were asking the question - what do we need to do 5 years from now?

    So we introduced courses in digital health. Those were brand new in the world. We introduced a course on design, which is critical to healthcare from a patient’s experience - understanding how to design a system, a process and a product. Those are new courses.

    The second thing we do is over the course of the 18 months we have an action project. It’s experiential learning either individually or in a group. Our students might want to work on a current problem in their firm, or, they may say - I want to work on a new venture. After 18 months, either on my own or with a classmate, we’re going to have to build the runway for the next 5 years of our careers.

    So, when they [graduate], they’re already moving. They’ve got good pace.

    The other thing is we never really let them leave us. When they graduate from Rotman, they continue to work with our Career Services for the rest of their lives, should they choose to. And that’s our way of always exposing them to the new and the best thinking in industry. We are one of the top 10 research schools in the world. Other schools, we would like to say, are selling other people’s ideas. We’re creating them.

    And then we make our continuing education or executive programs available to them. So, we continue to refresh our programs and our methods of connecting, [in which] digital has been very helpful to us, and we can now reach out to students everywhere in the world and present our research.

  • In 2018, US schools saw a 7% decline in MBA applications. The decline was said to have been caused by immigration policies and questions about the value of the degree in our rapidly evolving world of work.
    What are your thoughts on the future of the MBA?

    We have seen a 90% increase in application in the last 5 years. We read about our colleagues and other schools who are seeing a drop. And there is a drop, in GMAT applications, but not in our world. We haven’t experienced that. Even with Indian students - we’ve seen a 30% increase in applications from India. We don’t believe that’s all because of Donald Trump; because we were seeing that increase during the previous administration [as well].

    But, across the world, there is a consolidation of programs. And there is also an increase in specialization of programs. We now offer very popular masters of analytics, masters of finance…

    The healthcare and life science GEMBA is another example of that. We say we’ll provide you the core knowledge of an MBA. But we’re going to do much more than that. It’s going to be global. Students will come from all over the world and study all over the world. It will be updated with topics you need from the industry.

    This specialization is important to have students who are already committed to a sector or an industry. That’s where I think we’re seeing the shift.

    I don’t see the decline of top business schools. I see them innovating more than they ever have. We’ve doubled the number of programs in the last six years. It’s a lot more work for us but the students benefit.

  • What does the ideal MBA student for the Rotman school look like?

    That is a great question. I think we have a few ideal students.

    The first requirement, to use the card-playing analogy, are quantitative skills and analytical skills – that’s table stakes. Everyone has to be strong and be able to master finance and accounting. These are the basic expectations of an MBA.

    We think the person who is likely to have a special career and to contribute in a special way to the school is someone who is ambitious not just for themselves but also their community.

    There is something very different about a 26-year-old than someone like me at 56 years old. When I was coming through the ranks, everyone wanted to work on the Wall Street. And many of our students still do.

    The 26-year-olds today want to start their own businesses. They want to be entrepreneurial. They want to have an impact. This is true of 36-year-olds as well. It is the 56-year-olds that still have the traditional model. The 20s and 30s – they more than ever want to have an impact. And the most important question we ask, in the interview process, is “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” And if your answer is, “I see myself as a senior manager in a consulting firm…” that may be fine. But then the next question is, “Well what about 5 years after that?” And if the answer to that is, “I see myself running my own business that’s about improving the environment or making healthcare accessible to those that don’t have it today” – that excites us.

    They may never do that. But our view is - we have more energy in the class, more learning from student to student, when we have students with massive ambitions not just for themselves but for their communities.

  • 3 attributes you believe every graduate must have to be successful.

    The first is understanding processes of change and resistance to change - at an individual level, at the level of other people around you, and then system and industry. So, understanding the drivers of change, and the levers to facilitate change - that’s a timeless skill.

    The second is understanding the full model of industry, or the full value chain, and the connections. Not seeing oneself as a specialist in a discipline but being able to integrate and see across disciplines. The person who can develop that judgement is the innovator in industry.

    The third is the ability to communicate effectively. What we communicate today is very different from 10 years ago. The importance of being able to do it with professionals from different backgrounds is absolutely essential. It’s part of the reason why we have invested quite a bit in developing the self-skills, the leadership and the communicative skills, of our students.

    We have, technically, great students coming into the school. And that’s true of the top business schools. But they do need to learn to take what’s in the mind and get it into the heart of someone else. That’s really powerful. And it’s not natural for a lot of people. But it’s teachable. It’s teachable through experience and feedback. And we have models to do that.



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