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UCLA

Not Your Father's M.B.A.

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By Mary Daily

Published Oct 1, 2015 8:00 AM


Management in the 21st century is anything but business as usual.

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Illustrations by Joey Guidone

Today’s companies must remain nimble in the face of disruption and ever-evolving technology. Flat hierarchies and a global outlook rule the day. Now, a major gift to the Anderson School of Management enables UCLA to create the kind of leaders this new marketplace demands.


The major characteristic of business today is change — rapid change, radical change. Executives and business owners must quickly adapt to new ways of doing things. Hierarchy and bureaucracy are out. Collaboration, connection and innovation are in. Information flow never stops. Success is no longer measured just in short-term shareholder value, but also in the metrics of consumer experience and satisfaction (which can quickly go viral through social media) and impact on the larger world. The essential rule for managers is to be ready to pivot and persist.

“It’s a fast-paced technological environment,” says UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian. “You have to be comfortable not just with pivoting and changing course, but you have to be able to work in interdisciplinary teams. You need technology, you need marketing, you need legal, you need policy. There’s no one person sitting at the top.”

Creating leaders who can hit the ground running in this new marketplace is the challenge facing business schools. So a major gift to UCLA Anderson School of Management could not have come at a more critical time. Marion Anderson, the widow of John E. Anderson ’40, for whom the school is named, gave $100 million this past May to continue her late husband’s legacy. The gift is a culmination of the Andersons’ long and enduring relationship with the school.

“My husband was very passionate and committed to making the school one of the finest in the nation,” Anderson says. “I want to see it continue to grow and fulfill its mission.”

Of the gift, $60 million will establish an endowment to support such priorities as student financial aid and fellowships, faculty and research funding, and program innovations. The remaining $40 million will provide seed funding for a new building to advance students’ learning and development experiences in technology-enhanced classrooms.

With these abundant resources in hand, UCLA Anderson is investing in leading-edge advancements in order to prepare a new kind of savvy business thinker.

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Fluent and Flexible

Working in a collaborative context, modern managers must know how to instigate and orchestrate change in an ambiguous environment. They must be ready to debate and discuss strategies and stay constantly open to new ways of thinking.

Whereas in the past “people would be trained to do a particular function throughout their careers, in the future they will have to be information-savvy,” says Anderson Finance Professor Andrea Eisfeldt. The M.B.A. experience will be more hands-on, more like an adventure. “People don’t want to just go to the next level at an investment bank. They want to start their own business, impact change in a field. That requires getting your hands dirty with programming, fieldwork, data. You can have people at a high level at a young age because you don’t have to train someone for 10 years. They can learn by doing and use technology to get ahead.”

But to create — and lead — real change, today’s managers must be more than tech-savvy. Olian points out that they must be “somewhat bold and contrarian. You need self-confidence in being able to be slightly nonconformist. Even if you’re a follower coming into a market, you need to bring some way to do it better. You need tenacity and passion to believe you will succeed.”

Tooled with Technology

“Technology enables process changes, so technology lies at the core of many business model innovations,” says Guillaume Roels, associate professor of decisions, operations and technology management. As an example, he cites Uber, which “could not be deployed before smartphones became ubiquitous.”

“Consider the capabilities of smartphones in managing our financial portfolios, monitoring our health and managing our learning,” says Alfred E. Osborne Jr., senior associate dean, founder of the Harold & Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and professor of global economics and management. “Mobile and cloud computing enable customers to be more active participants in the important decisions that shape their lives.”

Indeed, technology continues to break down geographic and personal barriers. Anderson already offers a hybrid form of education — part online and part classroom. Dominique Hanssens, the Bud Knapp Distinguished Professor of Marketing, says students appreciate the flexibility and come to value the live sessions even more than when the classroom experience was all there was.

The school’s Easton Technology Management Center, launched in June, will broaden opportunities across UCLA, preparing the next generation of business leaders to drive technological change. The center expands the scope of the Easton Technology Leadership Program and provides access to the latest innovations in technology management. The program includes nearly 430 participants preparing to drive technological change and innovation. “The center will enable us to understand the landscape of technology and what it is doing to disrupt business,” says benefactor James L. Easton ’59.

Data-Driven Decisions

In our plugged-in world, the flow of information never stops. Companies can risk drowning in overload. The data can be infinitely useful, but how do they manage it, analyze it and use it effectively?

Anderson’s new Morrison Family Center for Marketing Studies and Data Analytics will enhance both academics’ and practitioners’ knowledge of data and of how to interpret and apply it in order to advance the understanding of consumer markets and behaviors.

Hanssens, who heads the center, says it will focus on a kind of research that UCLA does well, with “quantitative models of marketing behavior and research in consumer behavior using experimental data.”

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Global Outlook, Strategic Site

“Global borders are coming down,” Hanssens says. “Our students come from literally all over the world.” They learn to lead and contribute within diverse teams, sharing their perspectives and listening to others in order to broaden their thinking.

“Diversity of thought, of backgrounds, is vital to creating the big futures,” Osborne says. Leaders must be ready to address the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce and customer base.

UCLA’s location places it in a singular position. Says Olian: “We’re preparing people for the high-velocity role they will play here. Sharing success, thinking fearlessly and driving change — those qualities embody who they are in the rapidly morphing world of our region, which leads the world.”

Hanssens says the school is “blessed by location. The really innovative companies are pretty much on the West Coast. We are in a unique position to be the major university to be part of this wave of new forms of business.”

Broader Responsibility

Gone is the time when companies were accountable only to shareholders. Today, “business has a part in solving every big issue of the day — poverty eradication, environment and sustainability, quality of life and access to health care,” says Olian. “Business models or distribution models can help. How do we create economic models that support the haves and the have-nots? How do we educate the world’s labor force for the 21st-century economy?”

Osborne believes that many of the answers lie in entrepreneurship: “How many challenges in the world are opportunities waiting to be addressed by enterprising, courageous thinkers? Entrepreneurship is at the heart of all discovery. And the creativity that the new world order encourages is enormous.”

Last summer, Forbes ranked UCLA fifth among the nation’s most entrepreneurial universities. This fall, an entrepreneurship accelerator opens in Anderson’s Rosenfeld Library — a place for students to “work with ideas and develop prototypes and test them in profit and nonprofit applications,” Osborne says. “It’s disciplined experimentation, learning to mitigate risks and manage the production of value.”

Essentially, he adds, the accelerator “brings dreams and aspirations to a classroom on campus,” where they can advance toward reality.

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