Talented Pioneers

First full-time UST MBA graduates share common drive and optimism

While the hum of the frenzied rush hour has quieted and the workday is long gone, the lower level of Terrence Murphy Hall in Minneapolis is wide awake with activity. There, in the full-time UST MBA Student Commons, the night is still young and there is work to be done. A group of students grapple with a problem in the “Mexico” team room. Several others take a moment to respond to e-mail in the computer lab. Just across the way in the lounge area, a few more engage in discussion about the next day’s presentations. Secondyear student Meghan Whitehouse was glad she had been warned about the intensity of the full-time program before starting her first year. She’s now accustomed to days that begin at 5 a.m. and often stretch well into the evening hours.

In September 2003, when 28 enthusiastic full-time UST MBA students walked through the doors of Terrence Murphy Hall, they knew they were the inaugural class for the program. There was a shared sense among everyone involved that a new adventure was about to begin. St. Thomas is no stranger to the entrepreneurial spirit – risk taking and entrepreneurship have characterized the university for many years. Still, anticipation that accompanies the start of something new is especially prevalent among those associated with the full-time UST MBA. Since that fall, 40 new first-year students have joined the inaugural class, who are now second-year students. The program will eventually grow to 200 students – 100 in each of the two classes. They, along with faculty and staff, are all playing a role in shaping St. Thomas’ flagship business program.

Nearly two years ago, the full-time MBA program at UST was the first College of Business graduate program to undergo a major restructuring and curriculum review. The new UST MBA program places special focus on rigor, benchmarking best practices at top MBA programs around the country. In addition, the program sought relevant and effective ways to integrate the traditional UST strengths of being personal and incorporating values and ethics.

In 2002, St. Thomas recruited Dean Christopher Puto from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He is guiding the curriculum review efforts of the College of Business faculty with the long-term goal of leading St. Thomas down the path to accreditation with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, International.

Students of the revised full-time UST MBA commit to 21 months of full-time, intense study in order to complete their degree. During the first year, students spend the bulk of their time taking required courses. In addition to coursework and team projects, the UST MBA curriculum includes business simulations and laboratory sessions focusing on the areas of ethics, communication and leadership.

Additionally, St. Thomas boasts the only MBA program in the country with a required business research course in the core curriculum. All students in the full-time program take the Applied Business Research course in the second semester of their first year. Working in small project teams, the students must design, execute and deliver a complete survey research project in one  semester. Students get firsthand experience with client relations, project management, survey  design, data collection and analysis, and report preparation and delivery. The students have direct, hands-on experience with every part of the process, and this prepares them to be effective decision makers when they enter the management ranks.

Puto speaks highly of the class of ’05: “Each of these students is a talented pioneer. They have vision to go beyond the norm in MBA education and the courage to carry it to the next level. Each will bring something special to the organizations they find themselves leading.”

Ethics at the CoreDuring the second semester of their first year, the full-time UST MBA Student Association created the role of chief ethics officer and elected Whitehouse to the post. In this role, Whitehouse sits on the faculty committee for academic integrity. She works closely with faculty as they address the question of how to bring ethics into their classrooms. Whitehouse sought assistance from Dr. Ken Goodpaster, UST MBA Business Ethics professor and renowned authority on business ethics curricula. One of the projects she assumed was researching ethics-minded programs of eight top business schools across the country.

In addition to advising Whitehouse, Goodpaster works with the class of ’05 in his Ethics and Business Law course and in the ethics lab, where students visit the ethics operations of prominent Twin Cities companies. “The fact that this group of students initiated the role of chief ethics officer says something about what they value. I’ve watched them develop their judgment through debating case after case. They have grown in their ability to address legal and ethical issues as they come to grips with real ethical challenges,” Goodpaster said.

He also said it takes courage to raise ethical issues – employees must be bold enough to ask questions about right and wrong. “As these St. Thomas students prepare to enter the workforce, they possess a moral maturity that will give them the confidence to raise issues and the intelligence to carry them through. The students have learned how to be ethically discerning without being moralistic.”

Ethics permeates the entire UST MBA curriculum. “Ethics has been a part of every course we’ve taken,” Whitehouse said. “The ethics lab is a valuable supplement to our coursework. We engage in interactive sessions with business leaders who deal with ethical issues every day. It’s not just about business leaders telling us what they’re doing right in terms of ethics; it’s also about what they do when things aren’t going well.”

A Collegial AtmosphereWhitehouse very much appreciates the collaborative nature of the cohort. She lauds her professors for their communication about what’s going on in each others’ classrooms. “It’s a collegial atmosphere where we are learning right along with the professors,” she said.

“We don’t see ourselves simply teaching a set of individual classes,” said Dr. Sunil Ramlall, who teaches Management of Organizational Behavior. “We make coursework an integrative experience for students and we – faculty and students – learn from each other as we go.” For example, Professor of Marketing Dr. Susan Heckler raises topics in her marketing course that Dr. Tom Ressler reinforces in his statistics class. Ressler also addresses topics that originated in Ramlall’s organizational behavior class. “Rigorous analysis of case studies is one way we integrate subject matter. I’ve not seen this level of integration at other institutions,” Ramlall said.

Whitehouse always knew she wanted her M.B.A. Her three years of work experience in the financial sector after graduating with a finance major from Drake University cemented her determination to push her career to the next level. She hoped that an M.B.A. would help her circumvent the corporate ladder on her way toward roles with greater responsibility. Whitehouse grew up in Minneapolis and was aware of UST’s reputation as a business school. The things that most attracted her to St.Thomas, though, were the cohort concept, the personal attention she knew she’d receive from faculty, and the emphasis on entrepreneurship.

As she nears graduation, Whitehouse has the luxury of knowing that she’s survived the hardest part. “It was overwhelming in the first year,” she said. “I wasn’t always sure I was going to make it. I’m glad they put us into teams right away so that we had an immediate group of people who shared the same pain.”

She also has the satisfaction of knowing she has a good job as a small business administration relationship manager waiting for her at Wells Fargo when she graduates. Her hard work is paying off. “UST is highly regarded in the community. This degree will be so valuable, and for that reason, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Leadership of Businesses and PeopleMatt Horovitz notes the growing emphasis in today’s business world on emotional intelligence. It’s fitting that UST MBA faculty understand that competencies in working and communicating with diverse business people are just as important in business as the numbers side of the equation. Ramlall’s Organizational Behavior class focuses on that very idea. The required course for first-year students provides a foundation for the practice of management as a leader. “After students leave, they have a new appreciation for the importance of ‘human skills’ in business,” Ramlall said. “These students are bright and hungry for learning. I give them a theory and then teach them how to use it,” Ramlall said. According to him, though, it’s not supposed to come easily. “I encourage students to keep challenging me. It’s important that they struggle because I want them to get gratification from what they’re learning.” Horovitz appreciates that philosophy. UST MBA has helped him work on his problem solving, empathy and self-awareness. “I approach the relationships in my life differently now,” he said.

Horovitz chose UST MBA because of the way it blends academic topics with practical experience. He was attracted to its supportive environment and easy access to professors who are student-oriented and hands-on. He hasn’t been disappointed. “I’m challenged in every way possible here. UST MBA spawned a level of learning in me I didn’t know existed.” He added that all M.B.A. programs explore things like decision making and financial management. “What you get at St. Thomas that you won’t find in programs with 100+ students in each classroom are things like Professional Fridays, leadership and ethics labs, and extensive learning from other students in your cohort. The integrated approach changes who you are.”

From Nonprofit to M.B.A.Horovitz leans back in his chair. He seems relaxed, despite that it’s finals week in late December  and there are still things he needs to wrap up before the holiday break. The experience he had prior to entering St. Thomas gave him perspective and confidence that there was much to gain by pursuing his M.B.A.

An easygoing speaker, Horovitz recounts the tale of how he ended up at St. Thomas. He graduated from Minnetonka High School, then traveled to the University of Kansas, where he earned a degree in community leadership and development. He grew up in a family active in the community. While he wasn’t sure about what he wanted to “become,” going into business didn’t feel right at the time he graduated. Horovitz was most interested in nonprofit organizations, grant writing and volunteerism,where he would have a direct connection to helping people.

After earning his B.A. in 1998, Horovitz returned to Minnesota to work in fund raising for the  Minneapolis Jewish Federation. During his five years there, he also held positions in volunteer training, leadership development and event planning. He learned a lot, but he confesses that frustration set in when he started to recognize that the organization could benefit from a strong business management strategy. “I wanted to help them out, but I realized I didn’t have the credibility or language I needed in order to do so. I felt like I’d hit the ceiling.” It struck him that going back to school could change all that. With all its versatility, an M.B.A. seemed to Horovitz like the perfect way to learn how to maximize efficiency within organizations.

Aside from his responsibilities as a student, Horovitz serves as chair of the admissions committee for prospective full-time UST MBA students. He plans recruiting events, communicates one-on-one with prospective students and participates in the interviewing process. He’s also a teaching  assistant in the applied leadership development lab for first year students.

Horovitz is pursuing an elective track focused on marketing management in the UST MBA program, and hopes to land in a marketing or brand management role upon graduation. He likes marketing because it is the connection between the customer and the business. He doesn’t buy into the goal of being in business just to make money. “Good businesses must balance filling customer needs with employing sound business practices to remain financially stable. When business is conducted in an ethical, smart way, it has a positive ripple effect on the community.”

Horovitz recognizes that companies that combine smart operations with giving back to the community are the ones most respected. Staying true to his nonprofit roots, he envisions himself happiest in a marketing leadership role – corporate or nonprofit – where there’s a direct relationship to meeting needs in the community. Now that he can see the light at the end of the MBA tunnel, Horovitz realizes how the program has affected him. “The UST MBA has changed the lens through which I view the world,” he said.

Companies to Call Their OwnA highlight for many UST MBA students is the in-depth business simulation project. They manage a company as a small group using an advanced computerized simulation. Teams make weekly decisions about opportunities, product development, strategy, production and positioning in the global marketplace. They receive feedback on sales results, market share, stock prices and bottom-line profits. During their second year, five students were elected CEO to carry the project to completion. The CEOs recruited and formed leadership teams, then bid to take over the management of the simulated companies. Whitehouse and Cristina Lien, both CEOs, worked with their teams to use all of the knowledge and skills they developed in the first three semesters andtheir summer internships to demonstrate their abilities to successfully operate a business. Horovitz works on the team led by CEO Lien.

Lien plans to use her CEO opportunity as an active laboratory for her own leadership development and as a way to challenge her team. “I have a responsibility to facilitate an experience that meets their expectations,” she said. She calls her group a high-performance bunch that has a high degree of mutual respect for each other.

Their creativity and know-how will be tested as they try to resurrect a company with negative earnings and no real products. Lien is confident in her team’s ability to turn the company around. Much of the success may depend on her leadership skills. Her leadership lab professor, Dr. Teresa Rothausen-Vange, notes that Lien’s decisive personality and sensitivity enable her to both connect with people individually and impact their behavior, qualities that will serve her well in organizations. “I have a clear sense of my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned to leverage the heck out of what I’m best at,” Lien said.

A Road Less TraveledSpend a minute with this CEO, and you’ll quickly identify her drive and determination.

Lien’s journey down the UST MBA path might best be described as a rich culmination of “roads less traveled.” She grew up in a small town of 3,500 in northern Michigan. Very early on, Lien set her sights on attending Yale for her undergraduate studies. It was there that she both completed her degree in history and met her husband.

At the age of 18, Lien felt a call toward church leadership as her life’s vocation. After graduating from Yale in 1997, she and her husband made a decision to move to the Twin Cities, where he grew up. Since 1998, she has been in and out of the seminary and is currently on the verge of completing a master of arts in congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

Lien took a year off from the seminary in 2001 and accepted employment at Marshall Field’s in Rosedale. She quickly moved up the ranks and found herself in charge of three departments totaling $7 million of Marshall Fields’ business. While retail was a departure for her, the role proved pivotal in a number of ways. For the first time, she began to think of herself as a professional businesswoman who had an aptitude for management.

Lien shopped around for MBA programs, considering places such as Yale’s School ofManagement and the University of Michigan Business School. She ultimately chose UST MBA because from all angles, St. Thomas made the most sense for her situation. Lien wanted to complete her seminary studies at Luther, her husband was employed at Target Corp. and they were expecting a baby soon. “UST MBA seemed the most supportive for women who are clear about choices and who know they’re going to have to work hard,” Lien said. She also was attracted to St. Thomas because of its well-earned reputation for excellence in educating nonprofit managers. “I didn’t apply to schools that couldn’t speak to the nonprofit piece.”

At the time she applied, Lien knew from talking to people such as Rothausen-Vange, who also is director of the full-time UST MBA program, that the program was undergoing reconstruction. “Everyone I met with projected a clear sense of direction and made it obvious that my opinions were going to be valued at St. Thomas,” she said.

As Lien prepares to graduate with her M.B.A, she is candid about her experiences in the UST MBA program. She has now emerged as one of the leaders in her class – both as a CEO of her simulated company and in her efforts to launch a local chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs. But, it took her awhile to find her niche.

She appreciates the cohort setup, but emphasizes that she didn’t really start experiencing the benefits until her second year. “I entered as a student passionately prepared to invest my whole self into every aspect of what I was doing, and I’m not sure UST knew how best to support me right  away.” Now, she has a high level of ownership in the program and wants to watch it succeed and grow.

It would be difficult to look at Lien without wondering how she balances her myriad responsibilities. Ultimately, it’s been her clarity of purpose and knowing that her classmates and professors care about her success that have helped her through. She’s sensitive about what her husband and son need from her, so she’s learned to be very intentional about the time she spends with them. “I have a phenomenally supportive husband who believes in what I want to do,” Lien acknowledged.

On Saturday, May 21, Lien will join her UST MBA classmates and walk across the St. Thomas stage to accept her M.B.A. diploma. The very next day, she’ll do the same at Luther Seminary, this time for her M.A. “It will be a crazy weekend, but I absolutely plan to be at both places!”

After visiting with several representatives of the UST MBA class of ’05, one thing is perfectly clear: There is no such thing as typical. They are a unique and exceptional bunch who possess a wide variety of backgrounds and goals. As M.B.A. candidates, they share a common drive, business instinct and optimism about their futures. They are focused on where they want to go, and they are developing the confidence to help them get there.

Even though their destinations are as different as the paths that led them to UST MBA, they  recognize that the relationships they have nurtured with their peers and professors during the 21-month UST MBA experience will be invaluable to them in their post-St. Thomas lives.

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