Columbia Business Magazine

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According to the results of a survey published in the 2022 “Tomorrow’s MBA” report, MBA students want to learn traditional disciplines but with the addition of artificial intelligence and other new and emerging technologies. They want courses that expand their minds and focus on global challenges; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); ethical leadership; and responsible management.

Columbia Business School didn’t wait for that survey, however, to develop a roster of new courses, ranging from technology, innovation, and product management to climate change and DEI in the workplace.

“The mission is to make sure we’re offering cutting-edge topics, but always through a curriculum that has foundational building blocks, so students are prepared when they get to those higher-level classes to think critically, to problem solve, to work in teams, and to bring together an abundance of core knowledge for success,” says Jonah Rockoff, senior vice dean for curriculum and programs and the Paul Garrett Professor of Public Policy and Business Responsibility at CBS. “Our students progress from A, B, and C to get to X, Y, and Z.”

Training the ‘CEO of the Product’

“I want to change hiring dynamics,” says Chris LaSala, a lecturer in marketing at CBS. His tactic? Establish a product management lab in the product management program that matches students with partner companies to develop new digital products. LaSala is betting the experience will help propel them directly into a product management role after earning their MBAs.

“Product management as a potential occupation for MBAs has burgeoned in the past five to six years,” says Senior Vice Dean Rockoff. Once a half-term class, the introductory course to project management has been expanded to a full-term. “They take the foundational class, and then they focus on the lab. It’s a lot of time working on a hands-on project,” he says.

LaSala, formerly a global product lead at Google, lined up eight partner companies — Bees (AB/inBev), Hulu, Licorice, PTC, Snap, Stripe, Theorem, and ZipRecruiter — for the fall 2022 PM lab. His goal is to attract even more top companies that want to solve customer needs with the help of CBS students, including Columbia alumni business owners who could benefit from working with students as participating executives.

“This creates the perfect environment for students to learn how to deal with ambiguity, learn quickly, manage imperfect information, communicate with busy executives, and work under time pressures while balancing other priorities — just like a real PM,” says LaSala.

Rockoff says this is the kind of experience he and other curriculum planners look for in experiential learning opportunities for students. “It’s one thing to talk about something in the classroom and to present people with cases. But it’s quite another to give them opportunities to get their hands dirty and really collaborate with an external partner who has a real problem that needs solving in real time.”

Climate Change Is the Perfect Public Policy Problem

Misguided market forces are the root cause of climate change, according to Gernot Wagner, a climate economist and senior lecturer in economics at CBS. He believes that bringing solutions to the table will require efforts to guide market forces in the right direction, and that students need to understand the rapidly changing global climate policy landscape shaping business to determine how to guide those forces.

This prompted Wagner to design the new Climate Policy course at CBS, which was first offered in spring 2023. In it, he’s helping students look closely at the economic principles at play in climate policy and teaching them how to analyze individual corporate and finance efforts. The class dives into international climate change agreements from Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Paris. Wagner and his students also look at how the race to clean energy creates both challenges and opportunities.

In addition to Climate Policy, Wagner teaches Climate Change and the Energy Transition, a foundational course in CBS’s Climate Change and Business Program, and plans to launch a third climate elective course next year.

In his opinion, climate, climate change is “the world’s most perfect public policy problem” because “it’s more global, more long term, more uncertain, and more irreversible than most other issues.” He hopes the Climate Policy course will help students understand and analyze both the risks of unmitigated climate change and the risks and opportunities of fast-changing climate policy and regulatory environments.

Six Areas of Breakthrough Innovations

Technology Breakthroughs, which was launched this past fall, combines the expertise of Costis Maglaras, dean of CBS, and Shih-Fu Chang, dean of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, in a rare teamtaught course at the intersection of their fields. This cutting-edge course introduces students to new technological ideas and their business applications.

“After three years as dean, where I have been giving the odd lecture here and there, I was really excited to go back into the classroom to offer a new course jointly with Shih-Fu Chang, dean of Columbia Engineering, on Technology Breakthroughs,” wrote Maglaras at the start of the term.

Deans Maglaras and Chang, who recently spearheaded the Dual MBA/Executive MS: Engineering & Applied Science, explore new tech in areas from hardware and software to vast data collection and powerful algorithms, examining how these and other technologies “have been changing every aspect of our lives, every industry, and every possible career path that our students embark upon after their degrees,” notes Maglaras.

Each class brings students together with faculty experts, founders, scientists, CTOs, and investors who provide technology overviews, examine how these technologies are implemented in practice today, and discuss the future. Visiting speakers have covered subjects ranging from deep learning and neural networks to computational imaging and computer vision, to AI and robotics, to silicon photonics and blockchain.

Opportunities such as these provide students with insight into current digital breakthroughs and those poised to impact the next decade, preparing them to lead in today’s hightech business climate.

Translating DEI Science to DEI Application

In her Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Organizations course at Columbia Business School, Valerie Purdie-Greenaway, associate professor of psychology, integrates the best science behind DEI with ways companies implement it.

She says she teaches “the very best, most current, high-octane science and best practices, so students understand that there is very good scientific, sociological, and empirical evidence related to what works.” It’s an innovative approach to helping students learn the challenges in translating science and evidence into application within companies.

Many questions revolve around the strengths of DEI programs. Is DEI equipped to handle some of the thorniest questions of our time around ethnic conflict? What are its limits and constraints? Can a startup company afford to care about DEI? Can it afford not to?

In the course, students explore the elements of DEI both in the classroom, through industry studies, and in the field, where they are asked to participate in activities that compel them to experience firsthand the struggles facing individuals and firms. In the past, assignments have ranged from volunteering for a race with paraplegics to dining at an up scale restaurant in a gentrified neighborhood.

The course also shows students how companies are using AI, natural language processing, and other types of data analytics to predict things such as who is feeling a sense of inclusion and who is not. “I have some CEOs of startups come in who are using big data analytics to think about representation,” Purdie-Greenaway says.

A Map for the Corporate Labyrinth

Professor William Duggan introduces his new course, The Corporate Innovator, with the Greek myth of Ariadne’s thread, which showed the way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.

According to Duggan, “Such is the lot of the corporate innovator. You have a new idea, and you want the organization to take it up and put it into action. But there’s no clear way to get there. Every new idea for corporate innovation faces a different labyrinth.”

Duggan’s Corporate Innovator course helps students move new ideas through such a labyrinth. Course material applies to all types of organizations, at any level or department. Students can use the tools to advance a new idea within large and small businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. They learn how, as a corporate innovator, they can advance their ideas through an existing system.

“In military terms,” adds Duggan, “it’s hand-to-hand combat, person by person through the corporate labyrinth.”

Innovation Requires Implementation

Innovative ideas in business also require implementation plans to deliver quality outcomes in a timely manner. To help students understand how to create such a plan in a real-world context, professors Nelson Fraiman and Angela Quintero have partnered with the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center at Columbia University in their course, Process Improvement and Growth.

Open to MBA/EMBA and engineering students, the course organizes students into teams tasked with developing a process for company-sponsored projects. For example, teams might redesign a logistical strategy for distribution with the goal to eliminate inefficiencies, or students might analyze customer feedback and develop solutions that target increasing customer satisfaction.

In addition to the hands-on business projects, Process Improvement and Growth bridges the gap between theory and practice through studying international cases and hosting conversations with guest speakers. The course provides a unique experience for students, who combine skills acquired in other classes to help local companies, while collaborating across disciplines and interacting with company executives.

The Back and Forth of Public and Private Investing

Investment strategies that alternate between private and public markets are increasingly customary in today’s financial environment, while investing in private markets has become crucial for traditional equity hedge funds and long-only funds.

At the same time, private markets are becoming extremely competitive and increasingly efficient, leading savvy investors to seek public market capabilities to differentiate funds. To help students learn to navigate hybrid public/ private equity investing strategies and situations, the Heilbrunn Center for Graham and Dodd Investing has developed the new course Hybrid Fund Investing: Crossing from Public to Private Markets (and Back Again).

In it, students discuss how public and private investing are similar and different and learn where there are opportunities for unifying elements in the investment process. Case studies offer opportunities for hands-on analysis, so students gain real-world knowledge of investment strategies. Guest speakers also reinforce those real-life situations through presentations.

As the needs of students and the business world continue to change, so too will CBS’s curriculum offerings.

“Columbia’s curriculum provides structure for students to progress from foundational, long-standing knowledge to the cutting edge,” says Rockoff. “Our mission is to make sure the curriculum is reflective of the direction of business and always forward looking.”

See More From the Winter/Spring 2023 Columbia Business Magazine