Episode 6: The Evolution of the MBA

October 1, 2019

Although the MBA is over 100 years old, the world of business is wildly different than it was a century ago. Join us as we explore how MBA programs are evolving, what today’s employers are looking for, and how things like big data and innovation are changing the degree. Michael Weber, Dean of the University of Maine Graduate School of Business talks about the relevance of the MBA in Maine and beyond. 

Episode Notes

Although the MBA is over 100 years old, the world of business is wildly different than it was a century ago. Join us as we explore how MBA programs are evolving, what today’s employers are looking for, and how things like big data and innovation are changing the degree. Michael Weber, Dean of the University of Maine Graduate School of Business talks about the relevance of the MBA in Maine and beyond.

J. Michael Weber is the Dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Maine. He has a 25 year career in academia, with significant experience in graduate business program development and growth. He has successfully facilitated the national and international rankings of graduate programs, by the U.S. News and World Report and CEO Magazine. Dr. Weber has been actively engaged in consulting throughout his career, providing business and marketing services to a wide variety of firms/organizations, government institutions, and even started several of his own entrepreneurial ventures. He has traveled extensively in South America and Europe in conjunction with consulting activities for international and domestic organizations. He received his B.S. from the University of Florida, an MBA from the University of West Florida, and a Ph.D. in Business from Louisiana State University.

Photo credit: New England Ocean Cluster

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Produced by the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center, with help from WMPG

Episode Guests

J. Michael Weber is the Dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Maine. He has a 25 year career in academia, with significant experience in graduate business program development and growth. He has successfully facilitated the national and international rankings of graduate programs, by the U.S. News and World Report and CEO Magazine. Dr. Weber has been actively engaged in consulting throughout his career, providing business and marketing services to a wide variety of firms/organizations, government institutions, and even started several of his own entrepreneurial ventures. He has traveled extensively in South America and Europe in conjunction with consulting activities for international and domestic organizations. He received his B.S. from the University of Florida, an MBA from the University of West Florida, and a Ph.D. in Business from Louisiana State University.

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The information provided in this podcast by the University of Maine System, acting through the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center, (the University) is for general educational and informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the author(s) and speaker(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of the University. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of the position of any entity other than the author(s) and speaker(s) – and, since the author(s), speaker(s) and listeners are critically-thinking human beings, these views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time. All information in the podcast is provided in good faith, however the University makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability or completeness of any information in the podcast and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in the information in this podcast or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its broadcast or use. It is the listener’s responsibility to verify their own facts. Your use of the podcast and your reliance on any information in the podcast is solely at your own risk. The podcast does not contain nor is it intended to contain any legal advice. Any legal information provided is only for general informational and educational purposes, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, the University encourages you to consult with an appropriate legal professional or licensed attorney.

Transcript

​This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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The Greater Good: Episode 6

Carrie:
Welcome to the Greater Good: a podcast devoted to exploring complex and emerging issues in law, business and policy. I’m your host Carrie Wilshusen, Associate Dean for Admissions at the University of Maine School of Law.

Today we’re talking with J. Michael Weber, dean of the University of Maine Graduate School of Business. Although the MBA is over a hundred years old, the world of business is wildly different than it was a century ago. Join us as we explore how MBA programs are evolving, what today’s employees are looking for and how things like big data and innovation are changing the degree.

J. Michael Weber is the dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Maine. He has a 25-year career in academia with significant experience in graduate business program development and growth. Dr. Weber has been actively engaged in consulting throughout his career, providing business and marketing services to a wide variety of firms, organizations, government institutions, and even started several of his own entrepreneurial ventures. He received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Florida, an MBA from the University of West Florida, and a PHD in Business from Louisiana State University.

So welcome Dean Weber. Thank you so much for joining us here today.

Dean Weber:

Well, thank you very much for having me.

Carrie:

So you were most recently in Georgia. What brought you to Maine?

Dean Weber:

Well, my wife and I had visited here multiple times during the summer. The classic story, falling in love with the geography of the state and then falling in love with the people of the state and then thinking, well, how can we live and work in Maine? I had this wonderful opportunity and I couldn’t pass it up, so here I am.

Carrie:

So when you arrived in Maine, how did you assess the needs – because you’re coming into your role as the dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Maine – in Maine?

Dean Weber:

Well when I arrived, I was given a few research reports that had been completed over the last five years or so. But research reports are typically out of date the day before they’re printed. So the best thing to do is get out and talk with the folks. I think we calculated that in my first six months, I had more than 200 meetings with various constituents around the state, including businesses, faculty from various universities within the state, students of course, alumni, and the University of Maine. I think when you look at the combined information we got from those various meetings, that’s really driven our mission and driven our strategies and tactics as we move forward.

Carrie:

And what did you learn from those meetings?

Dean Weber:

Well, workforce development seems to be the number one topic in the state. We really have a shortage of professionally trained folks with graduate degrees in the state. And that’s really our mission, to try to build the right graduate degrees that fill those positions.

Carrie:
So there’s a shortage of those people. Do you consider that a real problem for business in Maine?

Dean Weber:

Sure. If you look at economic growth and economic growth potential within the state, it’s really dependent on our ability to hire qualified workforce. So we see some really cool and creative startups in the state. We also see some companies that move from areas that we consider to be cool startup and creative places such as San Francisco, but they want to move here for quality of life living that we have here in the state of Maine. But if these companies cannot find the right workforce, they’ll end up moving. So it’s really important for us to be able to train the folks that live in Maine now and recruit new people to come to Maine

Carrie:

That will really feed the Maine economy?

Dean Weber:
Oh, yes.

Carrie:

So tell us a little bit about the MBA, how many people study for an MBA, that sort of thing.

Dean Weber:

Sure. So, nationally on the average year, there’s about 250,000 people enrolled in MBA programs in the United States. Of those, about 100,000 graduates a year. In the state of Maine, we generally have about 700 MBA students in programs per year. But what’s interesting is that last year in 2018 there were approximately 1300 positions that were open [in Maine] that advertised for candidates with MBA degrees. So we’re not even producing enough MBAs a year to meet the job demands. And that’s in Maine alone. [Then you] look at the salary: the average salary for folks in Maine with an MBA is approximately $87,000 a year, whereas the average household income in Maine is much closer to $50,000.

Carrie:
So talk to me a little bit about the MBA. Historically, what did the study of an MBA entail?

Dean Weber:

Well, the MBA is about 102 years old now. Your traditional MBA has always had management and marketing and accounting and finance and a little economics and a little bit of business law. Those are fundamental and those will always be there. The things that have changed are how we teach it and delivery modalities. The big change most recently is a focus on concentrations. The MBA is the most general degree really in the world at the graduate level. But having said that, there’s also great demand for some degree of specialization within it. And that’s where the market’s moving.

Carrie:

We’ll talk about that in a little bit, but I’m interested right now in how the delivery method is changing. So tell me what the traditional way of getting an MBA is.

Dean Weber:

The traditional way, especially being featured a lot in the media right now, was a face-to-face type of interaction in the classroom. We have a lot of our well-known MBA programs that have what we call full-time MBA programs. If folks have been reading the local news or the national news, we’ll see that they’ll kind of be left with this headline that MBAs are in decline. The reality of that story is that full time face-to-face types of MBAs are, in fact, in decline. The growth area though, are online MBAs. So the economies have been very strong for the last 10 years or so and unemployment rates are relatively low. So people are not wanting to leave work in order to go attend an MBA [program] full time and face-to-face. So they’re looking for things that are more convenient that they can do after work or on their own time. And that’s what the online [degree] really does.

Carrie:

So let’s talk about the difference between online and brick and mortar (sitting in the seat five days a week) doing that kind of work.

Dean Weber:

Well, I think if an online class is really designed correctly, you can provide the students with a series of activities that they have to work on during the week. Potentially some short videos, on YouTube, like, you know, five minutes or less. You don’t want to record a three hour lecture and post that online and then expect students to sit through that. That’s just boring and old school, so to speak. So short, small videos, interesting and relevant reading of articles, potentially maybe a trade book about some aspect of business and then some sort of deliverable that week, some sort of writing assignments or maybe an interaction with their group and, and they deliver that each week and they do that on their own time. So if they want to work on it after dinner, at nine o’clock or one o’clock in the morning or during their lunch break at work, that’s what makes it really flexible.

Carrie:

So I understand that the demand is more for online learning because people want to do it while they’re working, but aren’t we giving something up in going online versus the brick and mortar model?

Dean Weber:

Yeah, that’s always been somewhat the myth or rumor about online education. The reality is that we can create networking types of scenarios online where people can still build their network. You can use team-building and group exercises online. So many of the things that we think are unique to face-to-face are actually available online and we call that engagement. How do we create an engaging environment for people online?

Carrie:

So what about learning outcomes? Is there a difference?

Dean Weber:

I’ve been doing studies that compare face-to-face delivery and online delivery since approximately 1996 and you can measure things like learning outcomes, performance on an exam, writing ability, and working groups. You can also measure satisfaction and so forth. And there’s literally not a statistical difference between those two delivery modalities, in terms of those types of outcomes.

Carrie:

And how about the folks who are hiring those people? Is there a bias towards the brick and mortar versus the online degree?

Dean Weber:
Typically, the employer doesn’t know how you got your MBA. They just see it. They just see your diploma in your resume and if they want your transcript, normally it doesn’t differentiate whether it was online or face-to-face. What I do think employers recognize is that their employees will be working in virtual environments where they have to connect and network with their colleagues using [many formats] whether it’s old school phone-based or new technologies like Zoom, which are all video based. And those employees are better if they’ve experienced that in an MBA education cause they know how to deal with it. They know how to connect and negotiate and just flat out communicate with people using this virtual technology.

Carrie:
So you started talking about that one of the innovations of the MBA now is these concentrations. Can you talk a little bit about that generally and then specifically what’s going on in Maine?

Dean Weber:
Traditionally when we talked about concentrations, that meant I would take a few extra courses, three to maybe four courses in a business discipline, such as I would take three or four extra courses in finance or marketing or management or maybe economics. Today is getting a little bit more specific and we’re looking at high growth areas. A really high growth area is analytics. That is by far the most popular concentration in the MBA.

Carrie:

Ok, you’re going to have to educate me on analytics.

Dean Weber:

Right. If you’ve been watching news stories and so forth along the way, we hear this thing called big data. The reality is we’re collecting so much data on consumer behavior as they are in digital and even in even brick and mortar shopping experiences. It’s just their preference, whether they like or dislike something and they click on like, or dislike or the thumbs up or the thumbs down. That’s meaningful data. We can also track their movement on website, the degree which they interacted, what percentage of them move from going from the first page of a website to actually going to the cart and making a transaction. We can track what brought them to the website in the first place. So all of this data can be used and analyzed and then decisions can be made from it. And that’s what business analytics is really about. Decision making, using data.

Carrie:

So how would an MBA interface with that?

Dean Weber:

The MBA provides the broader business skills than just the analytics parts. So that way you would also have a better understanding of the principles of accounting, what the basic spreadsheets people want to use and want to talk about. You’d get knowledge about finance and management and marketing, which you use in combination with the analytics side. And I think that that’s what makes the MBA with analytics so powerful because that enables you to make decisions, not just analyze data, but make decisions around the data that is so prevalent now.

Carrie:

So tell me some more concentrations that you’re specifically looking at for Maine.

Dean Weber:

One of the things we really looked at in these conversations with all the great people in Maine, these more than 200 meetings we’ve had, was what do Mainers want and what does Maine need. As a couple of really cool examples, for instance, we’re looking at forestry business and you might say wow, that is really incredibly specific to Maine. But I would tell you that yeah, maybe it’s Maine centric but it’s globally relevant. I could have a forestry MBA student from New Zealand actually taking this program cause they have a very large forestry business. What if we had some of our neighbors from New Brunswick, Canada and they have a very big forestry business that they were coming in to this program also. And so not only would the program look at the issues that are specific to forestry, these folks would know better management skills, better looking at their profit and loss statements and but also applying in a very forest specific way.

Carrie:

And there’s work in that.

Dean Weber:

Oh, yes there’s work in that. I just got back from a trip to New Brunswick and along the highway, they were multiple billboards, remember we don’t have billboards here in Maine, so it was kind of interesting to look at them in New Brunswick, advertising to hire people in the forestry business.

Carrie:

So some others?

Dean Weber:

One is innovation management. I would say the innovation might be one of the most important strategic initiatives that corporations are looking at today, both small and large. Innovation, we call it the big “I”, really resides in the C suite now. It’s not that innovation is new, it’s just risen to the top of what we define as a core essential ingredient for sustainability for organizations.

Carrie:

So let’s back up a little bit. Innovation is a big word. It has a lot of different meanings. What does it mean in the context of an MBA?

Dean Weber:
In an MBA, we really walk students through the process of how do we create ideas, and then how do we foster ideas to the point to which they can survive and then contribute to the longevity of an organization. And when I say contribute, a lot of times that’s financially. And so we want to keep building new ideas so the organization can grow or replace ideas that have grown old and have no more place in the market.

Carrie:
So this is different from an entrepreneur coming up with a great idea.

Dean Weber:
Yes, because it’s really looking at the corporate side of it. Usually a portfolio the corporation has of products and services already and we’re figuring out how do we add onto that portfolio, either through product extensions or completely new to the world types of products entrepreneurs typically start off with. They should start off with kind of one idea. How are they understanding their marketplace? And then how are they building a business plan to be successful there?

Entrepreneurs typically need a little bit of more of a condensed package than the MBA provides. What we do for them is we really produce workshops in which we call it the mini MBA because entrepreneurs are constrained from a time perspective and a financial perspective.

Carrie:

And they’re idea driven, right?

Dean Weber:

And they’re idea driven. So we’re more focused on providing them with the toolbox for them to be successful versus the academic degree.

Carrie:
So one of the things about the State of Maine is just how extraordinarily beautiful it is and the natural resources. We talked about forestry. Are there other areas of concentration?

Dean Weber:
Well, certainly one that’s really showing up a lot is food business. Food business can be fairly comprehensive in terms of how we look at agriculture in the state and leveraging that. There’s really two angles here. One is the food business side, which I’m going to talk about now. And the other we’ll talk about in a minute is outdoor recreation. Food business can look at everything from our brewing, our craft beer industry, which happens to generate about $225 million a year in the state, through approximately 166 independent craft brewers. They’ve got to deal with everything, like sourcing of raw materials. What if they want to be organic? So where do they get their organic barley, wheat and hops from? Especially if they want to be very Maine centric. So they have to create a network with the farmers here and then they have to look at distribution.

So let me get back to your [mention of] the beauty of the state. One thing that we’re talking about is outdoor recreation. We’ve got some great faculty throughout the state who really look at the finer points of what recreation means in this state. They have great relationships with [some of the Maine Outdoor Brands companies], which includes LL Bean, Seabags, and Shaw & Tenny who produced some really cool canoe paddles. So there are some very unique elements of outdoor recreation so an MBA can be catered to that. For instance, let’s say that we’re a ski resort such as a Sunday River or Sugarloaf. What do they do from a business perspective during the summer months? The snow is gone. It is incredibly beautiful in those areas. But how do we maximize utilization of equipment that might just be sitting idle for as much as six months of the year? So building mountain bike programs in which people take their mountain bikes up the mountains using the ski lifts, which required them to buy some type of pass to use the ski lift during the summer is an innovation that allows them to generate revenue throughout the year. A concentration in outdoor recreation with an MBA is a good mechanism for people to create those types of innovations and manage that.

Carrie:

That could be an incredible asset for this state to have more people trained to think that way and plan that way.

Dean Weber:

Oh yeah. I mean, if we’re talking about the ski and boarding industry, it’s becoming much more professional, more corporate, and the more corporate it becomes, the more they’re gonna want to hire MBAs to really manage the business.

Carrie:

You also talked about a global policy concentration. Can you talk about that a little?

Dean Weber:
Yeah. The University of Maine has the School of Policy and International Affairs. They provide a really great series of classes that we can combine with the MBA that prepares people to work from anywhere from the United Nations to a variety of organizations in Washington DC, to the World Bank, to the International Monetary Fund. And not only are we preparing them academically for those experiences, but through practical internships. And we have a very good network of folks down in the Washington DC area and send a lot of our students to that area, plus the New York area for the United Nations. They’re getting these great experiences. So we’re producing people not only from Maine, but Mainers  that will travel the world.

Carrie:

So you were just talking about interdisciplinary work. Now I’m from the law school and I know we have a dual degree with the MBA program. Can you talk about some of the other innovations that there are and some of the other collaborations and how that can play out with the law degree or with other degrees.

Dean Weber:

Yeah, you know, the JD/MBA is not a new, you know, it’s been around a long time, not just for us but around the country. So how do we concentrate that a little bit and make it specific? From the business side, from an MBA perspective, we really like transaction law. We like compliance and information privacy. So those are the areas when we talk about a JD/MBA that we really hone in on and that’s where we want someone to take their extra courses and their specialization should be there. Whether it is actually a dual degree or just a concentration from the MBA side.

Carrie:
Right. So you’re able to leverage the depth of the programs at the [University of Maine School of Law] to amend the MBA program. And vice versa.

Dean Weber:
As another example, and this is something that we’re talking about with the University of New England is to have an MBA and a PharmD. And the PharmD is the terminal degree for pharmacist. Some people would say, well, pharmacists are just processing prescriptions and managing the supply chain for medicine and so forth. But the reality is it’s a business and your big pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy chains such as CVS and Walgreens and so forth, they want to hire a pharmacist with MBA degrees because they want them to do more than just look at the prescription side of the business. They want to think of it actually as a business.

Carrie:

So I’m thinking about maybe getting an MBA. How do I think about that?

Dean Weber:
Well, you want to really choose something that you think kind of matches where you are in your career and where you are with lifestyle and so forth. I don’t think that you would differentiate much from others because you would say you don’t have a lot of time for it and you probably want to do it very conveniently. There are five top criteria that people use for choosing an MBA program if you survey people nationally, this is what they’re looking for and maybe this kind of matches your own your criteria. Number one is a program length and flexibility. So people are looking for the shortest possible MBA and they’re looking for the most flexible delivery options. So they want it as close to 30 credit hours as possible and they generally want it online. The second criteria is program cost. Unless you’re going to go to the Boston area and you’re willing to pay six figures for your MBA, you really ought to be looking for an MBA that is as cost effective as possible. So here at the University of Maine, you know, Mainers can expect to pay less than $17,000 to get their MBA. That is really, really great value. The third thing that people are looking for is curriculum with a concentration. And that’s what we’ve just been talking about. So trying to find a concentration that matches your career perspective and maybe that would be transaction law, right? So we would look at something like that.

Host:

And you get to share the wealth of the other institutions in the University of Maine System.

Dean Weber:

Oh yeah. It’s not just about the University of Maine itself, but all the institutions within the system. How do we leverage all the expertise of all the faculty and all the programs across the system to be efficient and effective?

Number four, reputation, ranking, and accreditation. You really want to find an accredited program. AACSB is the number one accreditation agency for business programs. Only 5% of business schools internationally are accredited by AACSB. They have very high standards and that’s the type of accreditation you want to look for. US News and World Report provides annual rankings. The University of Maine’s online MBA is ranked in the top 100, this past year and ranked number 28 by CEO Magazine, which is a well known magazine published in Europe. And then finally, number five for criteria that you would really want to look at is, what are the extras? What does the program offer in terms of career services? Micro badging, maybe even just a sense of community, and networking that might occur.

Carrie:
Just thinking of a person who’s thinking about this sitting in a good job: do I invest the time and the money to get an MBA? Does it really change the trajectory of a career to have an MBA?

Dean Weber:
We really measure a lot of that now. It used to be when people were unemployed and they came and got an MBA, you would just measure the outcome of did they get a job and how quickly did they get a job and how much did they get paid when they got that new job? Well, most of our students today in an MBA, as many as 80 to 85% are employed. And so we measure different things now. We measure the impact while in the MBA and immediately after graduation. And that’s what we call a kind of your ROI (return on investment) to this investment. Should I invest my time and money in this? What we’re seeing is that while people are even still getting their MBA, they’re given more responsibility in the workforce. And when people notice the outcomes of that additional responsibility, oftentimes they get a raise. And oftentimes you get promotions or oftentimes, with this new credential and with a higher performance, they’re jumping corporations and making nice vertical moves, not horizontal moves.

Carrie:
So, we’re calling this podcast The Greater Good. Our goal is to share the work that’s being done on behalf of our communities to problem solve around emerging issues in areas that people don’t often think of as serving the greater good. So earlier on we talked about this issue in May that there really aren’t enough folks with the MBA for the opportunities. Do you see yourself working for the benefit of the greater good?

Dean Weber:
I think that’s our primary focus. I’ve run across a variety of statistics in terms of job openings and so forth, but there’s one that kind of resonates with me a lot and it seems kind of consistent. I run across some job reports to suggest there’s as many as 4,500 open positions in Maine that require professional credentials and graduate degrees. And if we can’t fill those jobs, those companies can’t grow and our economy can’t grow. So we have to train our Mainers. We have to recruit others from outside the state to come and join us in Maine and stay in Maine. And we want to pay them good wages, good professional wages, that they will then spend in our communities. And of course that’s called the money factor, right? So that continues to trickle down and that to me is greater good.

Carrie:
We had a conversation last week about rural communities and their struggles. It seems to me some of these innovations around outdoor recreation and agriculture and the brewing industry really could be an incredible economic driver for communities beyond southern Maine.

Dean Weber:
Well, it is, all of this as an initiative for all of Maine. This not focused on southern Maine whatsoever. Obviously by providing systems that connect all the various business entities within the state is incredible. Figuring out distribution and supply chain within the state that maximizes the state’s resources and capabilities is incredibly important. But it’s also how do we deliver education in a state that has a significant rural component to it. And so our motto is we take the education to them and we do that in two ways. One is obviously online: it’s a key way to take it to the most remote areas in the state, but it’s also using smart room technology at our various campuses. So I can deliver an MBA class out of a classroom in Portland or out of a classroom in Orono and deliver it to Farmington and Machais and up to Fort Kent, throughout the entire state. So we want to make accessibility easy and so I think we impact greater good from that perspective also.

Carrie:

To empower the folks in those communities to grow their communities.

Dean Weber:

Right now we’re going around the state really working with chambers of commerce and some of our employers to figure out how can we develop preferred partnership programs with them. So not only can we deliver to them, but how can we make education more affordable to their employees and to their members, especially if it’s a chamber.

Carrie

Thank you so much for your time today, Dean Weber.

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The information provided in this podcast by the University of Maine System acting through the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center is for general educational and informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and speakers and do not represent the official policy or position of the university.