From large blue-chip companies to local social enterprises, corporate partners are embedded in the One Planet MBA at University of Exeter Business School.
The chance for students to rub shoulders with executives and senior managers abound. Examples range from SAP, the German software giant, which co-teaches a data analytics module, to PwC, the Big Four accounting firm, with whom students are working on consultancy projects.
To support students, IBM, ex-Accenture and PwC consultants in January shared their experiences of developing and maintaining consulting clients, and the challenges of the job.
But corporate involvement spreads beyond consulting. They do mock interviews with students and provide guest lectures, set challenges to the students and shape the curriculum of the program. A number of part-fee scholarships are also provided, too, including from Canon, Ikea and Coca Cola.
We spoke to Camilla Norman, stakeholder manager at University of Exeter Business School.
For consultancy projects, MBAs are being placed into IBM, PwC and Marks & Spencer, to name but a few examples. Who are your key corporate partners?
We’ve got a range of partners. These include Coca Cola, IBM, Thomson Reuters, the Met Office, Lloyds and Canon. Our corporate partners play a critical role in the One Planet MBA and that’s one of things that sets us apart. For that reason, we always recruit new partners, and this year we started working with Marks & Spencer, Unilever and Barclays.
But we’re doing a variety of things with other organizations too, ranging from large blue chip firms to local social enterprises, start-ups and NGOs, such as the Fairtrade Foundation and WWF International.
How do the partnerships enhance students’ career prospects?
The bulk of our students are international, probably about 80% of them. So having a large international company on their CV is good. It also says there’s a possible foot in the door as well.
Our partnerships enable our students to work on real life challenges and assignments set by our partners, for example as part of the assessment for individual modules, our Corporate Challenges and of course the MBA project.
But our partners also co-deliver our MBA modules and address and network with our MBA participants through regular networking events and guest speaking opportunities.
And we don’t just work with large companies; we explore projects with other small, lesser-known companies. If there’s the right project, there is potentially the demand from students.
Because of the entrepreneurial content of the MBA, we are also engaging with venture technology partners that work with disruptive, early-stage start-ups and entrepreneurs.
How do corporate partners influence the MBA curriculum?
We do look to our corporate partners for input into the MBA. We have a Corporate Advisory Board, from whom we seek business perspectives on the program. They shape our MBA curriculum and ensure the program is fit for purpose and relevant to the needs of modern day business.
They also co-deliver modules, for example our ‘Practical Insights into Data Analytics’ module with SAP, and 'Emerging Business Models' with Barclays and Unilever. Our first scene setting module on the program, ‘Preparing for Change’, is co-delivered by WWF International, while Thomson Reuters enables our students to develop online exposure and credibility by publishing thought leadership on the major global challenges that we face today.
So we don’t just work with partners on consultancy projects; we do a load of other things with them. They come in and do mock interviews with the students. We’ve had the White Company and Coca Cola set ‘real-life’ challenges for our students to work on as part of their ’Corporate Challenge’, giving students the opportunity to put into practice their learning from the program while delivering value to our partners.
Can you give me a quick summary of what the consultancy projects are, and what firms students are placed into?
We’ve done projects with, and are looking this year to do projects with, many blue chips organizations, such as Marks and Spencer, PwC, IBM, SAP but also with smaller organizations and boutique sustainability consulting firms.
The way it works is the students will do a consultancy project between April and September, the outcome of which is a 10,000-word dissertation and a company deliverable report and/or presentation.
For their project students can work on any real life business problem faced by our corporate partners and client organisations, typically a strategy, marketing, business development or technological issue or a challenge that a company might have. So we’ve had one [project] using social technologies [social media] as a means to streamline communications and increase employee engagement in the digital workplace. Other projects have focused on new business models, foreign market entry strategies and issues related to the disruption business[es] face in their global environment and potential strategic responses to those challenges.
We’ve had innovation in the legal services sector, one around the circular economy, and a marketing strategy for a new product launch in the Middle East. It could be anything, really. Our students can work on anything that is of interest to them, topical and of relevance to the MBA curriculum and to the needs of a client organization. Anything which is really relevant to the company and the content of the MBA, and topical.
Have they led to any of your students securing jobs?
Yes, we’ve had a number of successes. One of our students did a project with Coca Cola and has now been working for them for a few years. We also placed students at SAP, [and] at management consulting and finance firms. This year we have had a couple of companies that have said they’d like to hire our students, which is very pleasing!
We’ve received some excellent feedback from companies and it is great for us to be able to support our students and place them into organizations for their projects, while delivering real value to the client. Our client organizations have praised the professionalism of our MBA participants and the quality of the work undertaken. We tend to attract high quality students because of our entry requirements, which tend to be higher than those of our peers.
How enthusiastic are students about the projects?
They really see the value of doing a consultancy project, [which] give[s] them hands-on experience with companies to tackle real problems, which could really make a difference. It also gives them exposure to the inner workings of large organizations, opportunities to network and get noticed. Few MBA students realize the MBA project is a great way to bridge the gap between where they are today and where they want to be in a few years’ time. And the MNBA project will always provide them with a foot in the door of a prospective recruiter.
What do the companies get for their help — access to talent?
They benefit from talented, experienced, international professionals from a forward looking, cutting edge and accredited MBA, with the capability to bring innovative business thinking to [the] company. This sums up our USP and the value they bring to organizations out there, large and small.