Over decades the MBA has mirrored the evolution of global business, keeping in step with new thinking and technological advances. Above all, it has transformed managers into true leaders; changing lives forever. NZBusiness reviews New Zealand’s dynamic MBA marketplace.
by Glenn Baker
Today’s [business] managers will be expected to lead exponential change in an age in which ‘Big Data’, robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous cars and food produced in petri dishes will change almost every aspect of work and life.”
Dr Colleen Rigby, director of MBA at the Waikato Management School, University of Waikato is summing up the macro trends she sees impacting MBA programmes going forward.
“The impact of technology will affect not only manufacturing, but service, retail and the professions – such as law and health.”
Rigby can see an increasing move to blended learning as students become time poor – allowing them to have the flexibility to study part-time while in busy management positions. Building the leadership skills for managing change will be significant, she believes.
Rigby’s team also recognises the need for MBA students to be connected to the needs of the community. “We like to think of our MBA as having social heart, both in the way it is delivered and in students’ interaction with the business community.”
So how is the University of Waikato’s MBA programme responding to these macro trends?
Students will be exploring a real market opportunity in India (“the new China”) when they visit there in October. They’ll be taken to leading Silicon Valley type companies to expose students to the latest technological advances.
Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Zoom, are increasingly being used to link students online, and flipped classrooms have become more common, where students view lectures before class and class time is for discussion and experiential learning.
A high performing teams’ project engages students with a social enterprise project. Some students publish their research in applied journals, says Rigby, which managers can access online.
“We also recognise that knowledge in a vacuum is not helpful, so we use a number of opportunities to enable students to integrate what they’ve learned – through integrated case studies, simulations, research projects and the overseas study tour.”
Meanwhile, some 127 kilometres north, Professor Kevin Lowe, director of the Graduate School of Management at The University of Auckland, is posed the same question on macro trends.
He too sees wide-ranging opportunities opening up in response to the fast-emerging digital economy. “The Internet of Things in particular, is influencing everything we do and will do so at an accelerating rate,” he says.
There are business building blocks that will remain timeless, he adds, “but the levers for competition change all the time.”
Lowe points out that the digital revolution is speeding up. “So the longer a manager waits between skill updates, the more out of date they become.”
The advent of Big Data presents a real leadership challenge for management students he says, in that how do they interpret and use it.
The MBA acts as a giant booster shot, he suggests, and says the current speed of change in the business environment is also putting enormous pressures on teaching staff, particularly in the IT field, to keep in touch.
The dynamics of the MBA delivery landscape is constantly changing. The gender balance in class, for example, is coming under increasing scrutiny and UoA’s Lowe says although that typically runs at one-third female, two-thirds male, he’s encouraged by his current executive weekend group (on average, more senior than the Auckland evening MBA group) which sees female students outnumbering males.
And although there has been a move to online tuition in recent years, Lowe thinks there’s no substitute for the more intense on-campus ‘face-to-face’ experience. Often a blended/hybrid model works best.
For potential students weighing up the price-tag of a full MBA and questioning its value for money, Lowe offers two arguments.
The first is that quality always comes at a higher price, and institutions such as the UoA place a high importance of quality of delivery, which includes sourcing the very best in tutoring skill-sets. “With more people pursuing an MBA, the degree has become more commoditised. Therefore it’s more important than ever that people shop for a quality MBA,” continues Lowe. “One that’s at the very cutting edge of topics.”
He says the level of grants and funding an institution receives for leading edge research is always a good indicator of the calibre of the programmes on offer and the faculty.
“Business owners can be more competitive if they [are exposed to] people whose ideas are on the leading edge. But realise that these people don’t come cheap.”
The second argument in favour of the MBA is the fact that employers generally reward graduates for their updated skillsets, says Lowe. He calls it a retention opportunity. “If employers don’t [see the value] then the reality is they may lose that employee.”
Savvy HR managers also recognise the value an existing employee completing an MBA can bring to the company, compared to outsourcing that capacity externally, he says.
Going forward Lowe can see a total resetting of the UoA MBA model. “Effectively we have 750 hours of student’s time and attention over a two-year period, so my message to the faculty is ‘how do we organise that time to deliver maximum outcomes?’”
Just as Microsoft produces new versions of Windows every so often, so too does the MBA need a major ‘reset’ from time to time. “It’s time to go to the next version,” he says.
He predicts that MBAs will increasingly specialise in various sectors going forward, to increase their diversity. In New Zealand that might be tourism, food safety or agriculture – industries that New Zealand is good at.
There’s no doubting the fact that New Zealand’s MBA landscape is extremely competitive. But each provider has a unique offering. Waikato, for example, allows students to study one or two nights a week or every second weekend in Tauranga, Hamilton or Ngaruawahia. The University is also building a new campus in Tauranga due to be ready in 2020.
The Waikato region is dominant in agri-tech and agri-business, Dr Colleen Rigby points out. It has two major DHBs and a number of high performance sports facilities. “This means you gain access to top knowledge about various industries from those who are doing it well.
“We also pride ourselves on the applicability of the learnings. What you learn on the weekend can be applied in your workplace on the Monday.”
Rigby describes her teaching staff as ‘pracademics’ (not pure academics) with real life business experience. “At Waikato we have lecturers who have worked for the UN, for global businesses, for the Asia Development Bank and in major consulting firms. They bring their vast experience and knowledge into the classroom.
She says an MBA programme should include both leadership and management development. “We run a significant leadership development programme which includes assessment, feedback, workshops and lectures on leadership. This year we have had some excellent senior leaders as guest speakers. Our students tell us the program is life changing. It changes the way they think, learn, interact and lead.”
“Our students tell us the programme is life changing. It changes the way they think, learn, interact and lead.”
– Dr Colleen Rigby, University of Waikato.
The University of Auckland’s Kevin Lowe points to his School’s strong brand as its USP. “As a Global Top 100 business school we operate under a huge halo of perceived quality. We have a gorgeous facility, and attract world-class faculty.” He believes the fact that more than 86 percent of their students only applied for the one MBA programme speaks volumes for their programme.
Massey University, which operates out of Auckland, Palmerston North and Wellington, offers New Zealand’s longest continuously running MBA programme with thousands of alumni working in New Zealand and overseas. Its programme is delivered to a national cohort from all over the country.
The Massey MBA director, Associate Professor David Tweed, is a Massey MBA graduate himself and believes passionately in the programme.
“The Massey MBA is focused on those who aspire to be senior generalist leaders, or who want to add an outstanding credential to validate their management experience,” he says.
The design of the programme establishes business foundations in the first year, on which core themes of strategic thinking, effective professional practice, business value propositions and internationalisation are explored in year two.
Delivered in an executive style for executives, the Massey fees include a non-assessed professional development programme, all course materials such as textbooks, and business lunches on teaching weekends.
Massey University pioneered an international study tour component for its executive MBA students that ensures a practical and applied understanding of global business is added to transformational leader development and organisational effectiveness within the New Zealand context. The University delivers a programme that is highly tuned to the needs of professional post-experience practitioners, says Tweed.
In addition, if you own your own business, the Massey MBA, with its entrepreneurial and innovative components, helps you break through limits to growing your business, he says.
“The key limitation to growth is normally the management team. New ideas, models, knowledge, and personal professional development will remove those limitations.”
Words from the wise
For students contemplating the ultimate challenge there is plenty of advice available from the MBA providers. Lowe’s top tips include getting your spouse or partner one hundred percent on board. And know exactly what you want out of the programme. “Are you looking for upward mobility in your organisation? Are you looking for a ticket out? What’s your goal? General manager? What gaps in knowledge do you want to plug?
“It’s important to know exactly why you’re doing it,” says Lowe.
One recent graduate he recalls, clearly knew why he took on an MBA. He was working at senior level for a not-for-profit (NFP), and two weeks after graduation took Lowe aside to inform him that he’d just been appointed CEO of another NFP.
“He directly translated his MBA experience into making that leap to CEO, and told me that being able to talk like a CEO at the interview, thanks to his new-found knowledge, made all the difference.”
Waikato’s Rigby says social media is especially useful for keeping up with graduates’ careers.
“So many have been promoted, become GMs and CEOs or achieved governance roles in the last year, which tells us the Waikato MBA programme is achieving the right outcomes,” she says.
“One example of the commitment is a current student who has sailed through the programme, despite travelling daily from Hamilton to Auckland for work, and having a major health issue with ongoing treatment. He has still managed the programme without asking for an extension on assignments.”
Time management is the key to studying success, according to Rigby. “Consider how much time you currently spend daily on TV, social media and other potentially time-wasting activities and then cut down the amount of time for those activities for the duration of the programme.” Studying for an MBA certainly makes you time efficient, she says.
“In addition, the programme is collaborative with lots of group work and it is possible to divide tasks and readings amongst the team, as long as everyone pulls their weight.”
A speed reading course and good computer skills will also help.
Rigby sees the value propositions of the UoW being that of transformation: transformation from managers to leaders, from local to global, from individual to collaborative, from functional to strategic, from profit only to greater good.