What to look for in an MBA curriculum

There are certain courses and concepts every MBA student should master: time value of money, regression analysis, business strategy, and market segmentation to name a few. Faculty members generally agree on some common elements of required MBA “core” curricula. That list has grown over the years as important topics such as ethics and leadership are now required in many MBA programs. 

The Business Roundtable’s acknowledgment that corporations are powerful social actors will have many implications on how business schools prepare leaders today and into the future, just as Milton Friedman’s prioritization of shareholder value has for the past 50 years. Should top MBA programs offer courses exploring the challenges and opportunities corporations confront in interactions with society? Student demographics and enrollment data suggest doing so has been a wise decision for Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

Many of today’s MBA students care deeply about global issues such as climate, clean water, gender equity, and more. At the same time, the global financial crisis and climate change have formed lasting impressions on their awareness and consideration of how business practices can have far-reaching effects. These factors contribute to strong demand for MBA courses and experiences that position students to work on some of the most interesting and challenging issues of our time. 

Business and Society, taught by sociologist Wes Longhofer, is consistently among the most popular offerings at Goizueta. Each semester an increasing number of MBA students are attracted to the opportunity to examine how corporations, non-profits, governments, and the public can work together on global issues at meaningful scale. 

To be clear, courses such as Business and Society are not designed to vilify the corporation. To provide important context, Professor Longhofer begins with the history of the entity as a social, political, and legal actor. A few additional topics include the environment, human rights, fair trade and fair labor, and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

As popular as these concepts are with many MBA students, the idea of including Business and Society and other related courses is not without controversy. Aside from the inevitable philosophical debate, the time constraints of an already packed MBA curriculum are significant. Traditional MBA courses are indeed fundamental to learning responsible management and leadership, but the extent of that responsibility is not limited to the viability or prosperity of the corporation. It extends to the corporation’s role in a world of increasing interdependence and transparency. 

Recent news from Amazon, Inc. could serve as a real-time case study across several academic disciplines, including Goizueta’s Business and Society course. Its co-founding of “The Climate Pledge” has committed the company to net zero carbon by 2040 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, among other major operational changes. On the surface, these changes may seem unrelated to the competitiveness of its core business. However, in today’s business and global environment, Amazon was notably behind its competitors in making such a move—and their employees demanded this action.

Deciding which business school to attend can be a difficult task. Many top MBA programs offer superb training in the functional disciplines of finance, marketing, strategy, etc. As prospective students research MBA programs, a smart approach may be to take a close look at course offerings and consider schools that go beyond the traditional functional disciplines. Consider schools that feature strong courses and faculty focused on not only better business but business to better society. This distinction should no longer be peripheral in business education. The challenges we all share are certainly not. 

Brian Mitchell

Brian Mitchell

Brian Mitchell is the Full-Time MBA Associate Dean at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Prior to joining Goizueta, Brian spent 20 years in marketing and strategy roles in the pharmaceutical industry where he earned distinguished awards such as Brand of the Year and the Pharmaceutical Global Marketing Award. Brian has an Ed.M. in Higher Education Leadership and Governance from Harvard University and was awarded Harvard’s 2016 Intellectual Contribution and Faculty Tribute award for his research on global partnerships in graduate business education.