When it comes to teaching Executive MBA students how to strategize, Mark Addicks, adjunct professor and chair of Marketing Innovation, believes in the power of the case study. In the Critical Strategic Thinking module that’s part of the course Developing and Delivering Superior Customer Value, Addicks writes and presents cases designed to help students learn not only how to pinpoint the exact issues a company faces (as in real life, there is never just one problem) but how to prioritize these issues and, ultimately, address them.
“Students in the class are expected to solve real-life problems,” Addicks said. “There’s not one right answer but several possible right answers – and also many wrong answers. When they get into their first case, they might be completely lost because no one is feeding them the exact information or the necessary charts. They have to read, find the data and learn to draw their own conclusions. I want them to get a feel of what it’s like to run a large company here in Minnesota.”
Where Did You Learn to Think Like That?
Addicks has a good idea about what it’s like to help run a corporation, having joined General Mills in 1988 and worked his way up to chief marketing officer in 2004 (he was also named a senior vice president in 2007). As CMO, Addicks led the company’s global brand-building strategy, including its advertising, promotions, public relations, design, packaging, online, licensing and multicultural initiatives, before retiring in 2015. Still, he recalls a time, just after completing his undergraduate degree, when he set out to be an entrepreneur.
“I would try to figure all these things out for my business and I would get lost down a lot of side roads or find myself focusing on the wrong thing,” he said. “And I would encounter people with training, who had MBAs, who could quickly analyze and focus on the right thing at the right time and I would wonder, ‘Where did you learn to think like that?’” This experience led Addicks to pursue his MBA, which he earned from Harvard Business School in 1988.
He said he knew for a number of years that one of his goals for retirement was to take his lifetime of knowledge and share it with professionals on their way up in the business world. When it came to the question of where to do this, he recalled the positive experiences he’d had teaching students at the Opus College of Business while still working for General Mills. Within the Executive MBA program, he saw an opportunity to connect with students who are likely candidates for the C-suite and teach them new ways to think about problems in business.
“At the top level, you don’t hand off important decisions to someone with less experience, but you also have to understand how to work in teams, collaborate and listen,” Addicks said. “I want to teach students how to look at the big picture, understand key marketing principles and how to set priorities. Which problem do you need to solve first? How? What’s your next priority?”
Securing the Future of Minnesota Business
In Developing and Delivering Superior Customer Value, which Addicks team teaches with John McVea, EMBA program director, and Michael Sheppeck, Ph.D., students work through three to four case studies over the course of the semester. For each case, they are expected to be able to show their method of action and back it up with sound reasoning. Marketing always plays a big role. “We’re all marketers now,” Addicks said. “It’s in every aspect of a business: customer service, web design, finance. Everything is customer focused. So even engineers who want to move up in a company, or start their own companies, have to have a firm grasp of marketing.”
Although General Mills is a multinational company with just over $17 billion in sales in 2015, Addicks said his interests since retiring have turned once again to start ups and entrepreneurship, specifically helping to prepare the next generation of Minnesota businesses.
“We’ve always had big companies in Minnesota and they’ve provided us with a high quality of life,” he said. “Now, with Minnesota companies such as Valspar and St. Jude Medical being acquired, we need to pay attention to what’s going to happen to Minnesota companies. St. Thomas can pay a role in establishing the next generation of big businesses in our state.”