schulich's real-world mba degree - Schulich School of Business ...

schulich's real-world mba degree - Schulich School of Business ...

Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine



Take a team of savvy Schulich MBAs, open up your

books, give them the keys to your business and watch

them go to work. You’ll be amazed at the results


School of Business

York University

Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine








Julian Bowron, above and on the cover

with the Schulich strategy study team

that has helped to transform Feature

Factory: from left, Rosemin Nanji,

Krystyn Cunningham, Priya Nandrajog,

Lisa Au, Amanda Martinez. “We’ve

made tough business decisions based

on the study,” says Bowron

Julian Bowron’s company was coming apart at

the seams. His firm, Feature Factory Inc., was

growing at a rate of almost 40 per cent per

year and Bowron, a hard-driving, hands-on entrepreneur,

was finding it harder and harder to hold onto the

reins of management.

The company, which he started in 1981, is a highly

specialized design/manufacturing studio that does the

bulk of its work for the entertainment industry. With

more than $6 million in annual sales, Feature Factory

has created everything from the iconic big red apple

dangling in Times Square to the King Kongs and spaceships

inside the lobbies of new state-of-the-art Famous

Players movie theatres. When the recently opened

Woodbine Racetrack casino needed someone to design

and build four 10-metre-wide, two-ton rotating chandeliers,

they turned to Feature Factory. And when the

Royal Ontario Museum wanted to create an exploding

volcano theatre, it was Bowron who got the call.

The problem was that Bowron’s company could not

keep up with the rapid growth and the increased

demands on his time. “We had been flying on a wing

and a prayer ever since we started,” Bowron says. It was

at this time that he was approached by an MBA student

from York University’s Schulich School of Business with a straightforward pitch: let her

and a team of colleagues carry out a full-blown strategic consulting report — what the

School calls a strategy field study. The team would undertake an exhaustive market

overview and in-depth analysis of the competition. They would scour Feature Factory’s


Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine



operations for inefficiencies and bottlenecks. And once

finished, they would put forth strategic recommendations

based on some of the latest ideas in business

management, free of charge. It was an offer Bowron

couldn’t pass up.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

prefers to fund individuals

or organizations that it

believes “make a difference.”

One of those organizations is

the Schulich School of Business.

Recognizing Schulich’s success

as a leader in bringing relevance

to business education, the

McConnell Foundation provided

the School with a generous

Author and consultant Clayton Christensen donation. The funds were used

to re-evaluate Schulich’s strategy

study program after more than 30 years in existence and to investigate

what other leading business schools around the world were doing in

the area of real-world learning.

The result was that Schulich played host to a two-day symposium

that explored some of the cutting-edge ways in which business schools

were meeting the relevance challenge. The symposium drew deans and

academics from the world’s top business schools — Harvard, Wharton,

Michigan, Kellogg and London Business School, just to name a few. The

event was also attended by representatives from nearly every major business

school in Canada. The symposium featured a special address from

Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, best-selling author of The Innovator’s

Dilemma and consultant to many of the biggest and best companies in

the United States. During a wrap-up session, many of the conference participants

lauded Schulich’s strategy study approach for the intensity and

richness of the learning experience.

The consensus was that for business education to remain relevant,

it must become more plugged into the real word of business than ever

before. One point is clear: if business schools are going to more fully

embrace real-world education, then learning at those schools will

increasingly resemble the strategy study model pioneered by Schulich.


• Second-year students from Schulich’s MBA program, the

largest and one of the most respected graduate business

programs in the country, come together in teams of eight.

• The team is comprised of students with a strong grounding

in all aspects of management and varied backgrounds

and experience.

• The team finds a company or organization that is willing

to take part in the study (Schulich teams work with about

80 organizations per year) and then spends eight months

analyzing the company and preparing the study.

• The students are backed up by a team of three Schulich

professors who act as advisors overseeing the process.

• Every report must include an evaluation of alternative

strategies and their implications for the organization, supported

by a detailed financial analysis and an implementation


• In the final phase of the strategy study, the student team

presents its final report to senior management and

defends its recommendations to the client.

Bowron agreed to let the students use his company

for their strategy study. He gave them access to

every part of the operation: “We wanted results that

were meaningful, so we were totally open about our

business operations. We provided full disclosure.” The

result, according to Bowron, was a number of key recommendations

that have helped to reshape the management

of the company and provide a new focus for

sustained future growth. “We’ve made tough business

decisions based on the study,” says Bowron.

One of the team’s key pieces of advice to Feature

Factory was to go global. “The strategy study awakened in me an understanding of the size of the

market in which we operate,” says Bowron. “It’s a multi-billion-dollar market that is growing each

year, and we have a microscopic slice of it. We’re definitely now thinking globally.”

Bowron quickly acted on the recommendations. He has spent a lot more time this year marketing

his firm’s unique capabilities at trade shows in the United States. The investment has paid

off: Feature Factory recently landed a large contract to produce entertainment-themed, Webenabled



Most importantly, the study made Bowron acutely aware of the limitations that were choking his

company’s future growth. “It was no longer possible for me to be involved in every aspect of the

business,” he says.“We were way past the point where I could handle everything. I had to gradually

start throwing away hats.”

Bowron hired a general manager with experience managing growth and placed him on a partnership

track. One of the first responsibilities he gave his new general manager was to read the

Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine

Schulich strategy study, which contained invaluable

data on the company, the industry and the competition.

Nearly one year later, as his firm prepares to move to

a larger facility, Bowron is extremely bullish about the

entire strategy study process. As for the students, it

gave them a profound and rich learning experience. Lisa

Au (International MBA ’99), now an associate in the

commercial arm of Toronto Dominion Bank, acted as

the team’s project manager, making sure the group

members met strict deadlines. She found the intensive

teamwork to be one of the most important aspects of

the strategy study. “Working with different people,”

says Au, “you acquire interpersonal skills that you will

carry forward into the business world. One thing you

learn doing the strategy study is that you don’t let your

team down.”


The Feature Factory team worked closely together in a

process that can be fraught with breakdowns and

conflict — the sort of real-life human dynamics that

take place in business every day. The director of

Schulich’s Strategy Field Study Program, Asaf Zohar,

says the students are forced to work as a team. For

students who pass the rigours of Schulich’s strategy

study, the transition to a team-based working environment

will be smooth.

The strategy study also makes the students highly

marketable, especially in the current business environment.

The strategy study process strengthens interpersonal

skills as well as the ability to communicate, negotiate

and act entrepreneurially — the sort of critical

skills that business increasingly values. Zohar sums it

up this way: “In today’s business world, with its

unprecedented turbulence and change, if I were a company

looking to hire, I would only look for MBA students

with those skill sets.”

The Schulich team that

worked with Bill

Redelmeier, above, president

of Southbrook

Farms, suggested ways

he could improve his

sales, distribution and

marketing and mapped

out a globally oriented

export strategy to make

Southbrook the dominant

brand in the worldwide

fruit wine category


Many of the top employers in Canada and around the

world agree. A number of Schulich students such as Brian Jones use the strategy study as a tool to

sell themselves in the highly competitive job market. Jones, who recently joined Merrill Lynch in

Toronto, is convinced that one of his best selling features was his Schulich strategy study experience.

He worked for eight months as part of a team that analyzed a fast-rising Internet services

company. “When we were finished,” says Jones, “we knew more than the people who work in the

industry.” His fellow team members ended up receiving job offers from e-business firms in Silicon

Valley and Los Angeles in California and Seattle, Washington.“You couldn’t have received that kind

of learning experience anywhere else,” adds Jones.

What makes Schulich students so marketable, say its supporters, is the fact that the strategy

study allows them to roll up their sleeves and practise the skills they have learned, much like a

medical intern or articling law student.

For Dezsö J. Horváth, dean of the Schulich School of Business, the strategy study lies at the heart

Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine

Frank Lussing, president

and CEO of York Central

Hospital, below with

Asmita Gillani, the hospital’s

chief operating officer,

gave his Schulich strategy

study team a daunting

task: to forecast the

state of the Ontario

health-care system a quarter

century from now. The

team rose to the challenge,

and then some

of one of the School’s core competencies — real-world relevance. And part of that relevance, he

believes, lies in being able to identify strategic issues. “With the traditional case method of learning,

the problem is usually apparent, and the students must come up with solutions,” says Horváth.

“But finding solutions is the easy part. In real life, it’s identifying and dealing with the real problem

and not just treating the symptoms that are the hard parts. The case method,” he adds, “is no

longer an adequate substitute for the complexity of the world. That’s why business schools today

need to go beyond the case method.”


One of the criticisms of the case-study method is that it is static and backward looking, a snapshot

of a company frozen in time. “All you know about that company is what’s printed in the pages. It is

far more challenging to analyze a real company,” says Zohar. “Just when you think you’ve got it,

another factor gets thrown in.” The students quickly get the

message: Welcome to the real world.

The Schulich strategy study bridges the demands of

academic rigour and real-world relevance in a way that few

other business studies can. “The strategy study forces students

to wear different glasses and look at issues and problems

through multiple perspectives,” says Horváth, an

expert in strategic management with a working background

in engineering. But most importantly, says the

dean, the study requires students to exercise that most

critical of business skills: judgement. Adds James Gillies,

Schulich’s founding dean: “Judgement cannot be taught.

But it can be learned, and you learn through doing.”

One of the key benefits of the strategy study process for

businesses and organizations is the chain reaction of dialogue

and analysis that the study sets off inside the client

organization. “Businesses typically find that our students

bring a novel and fresh perspective,” says Zohar. “That

stimulates debate within an organization that might not

have otherwise existed. The team often ends up challenging

key assumptions at the core of the organization.”


One of those organizations was York Central Hospital.

Located in Richmond Hill, on the suburban edge of Toronto,

it is one of Ontario’s fastest-growing and most progressive

hospitals. Frank Lussing, the president and CEO, gave the

Schulich strategy study team a daunting task: in order to

formulate a long-term strategic plan, he asked the team to

forecast the state of the Ontario health-care system a

quarter century from now. Most health-care industry

experts and consultants would have balked at the enormity

of the challenge, but the Schulich team charged ahead.

The result was a strategic document that, according to

Lussing, ought to be read by every health-care ministry in

the country. After nearly five gruelling months that

devoured most of their waking hours, the students submitted

a three-inch thick report that Lussing calls “a living,

breathing document.” Says Lussing: “Most of these reports

end up sitting on a shelf somewhere. This is something we

Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine



Not many MBA students are able to walk in off the street and land

interviews with the top investment firms on Wall Street. But Schulich

MBA student Lee Grunberg did just that. According to Grunberg, the

key to his success was his experience working in Schulich’s prestigious

York-Wharton-Recanati program, one of the School’s specialized strategy

study options. The program brings together teams of students

from Schulich, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

and Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration at the

University of Tel Aviv to help Israeli companies establish a foothold in

the North American market. “We were a team of students dealing

with a real company and real dollars,” he says. Grunberg recently

accepted a position as an associate working in New York City with

Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. According to Grunberg, the real-world strategy

study of the York-Wharton-Recanati program helped set him apart:

“It’s the single best program offered by an MBA school in North America,

if not the world.” Schulich is expanding the array of international

strategy study options it offers students, and a growing number of its

strategy studies are taking place in a global context. The School

already has strategic alliances with business schools in Copenhagen,

Denmark, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, based on the York-Wharton-

Recanati strategy study model.

refer to on a regular basis. To this day, it continues to inform our strategic thinking.”

Rather than try to pinpoint one specific scenario, the team developed a road map for tracking

a number of different scenarios. Using a strategic development tool known as “scenario writing,”

the team fleshed out four likely scenarios for the health-care industry — everything from a spartan

health-care system starved of government funding to a free-enterprise scenario where government

hands over health-care management to the private

sector. The scenarios provide a road map — what

Lussing refers to as key “signposts” — that let the hospital

know which way the sector is veering.

“We’re monitoring the signposts,” says Lussing. “It’s a

very dynamic, iterative process in regards to planning and

very untraditional for the health-care industry. In the past,

Lee Grunberg, second

from left, with fellow

plans were very specific, hard and fast. They prescribed a

Class of 2000

future for you.”

Schulich School MBA

graduates Kabir

Ahmed, Donna Graham

and Brian Jones,

credits his experience

in Schulich School’s


strategy study

program with landing

him a job in New York

City with Bear,

Stearns & Co. Inc.


He recalls first being contacted by the students, who

asked if his hospital would allow them to undertake a

strategy study. “There’s always a bit of reticence or skepticism

when dealing with students,” says Lussing. But the

Schulich team was not exactly wet behind the ears. The

average Schulich MBA is 30 years old. The students in

Lussing’s group had a wide range of pre-MBA work experience.

The group included a software engineer, an IBM

financial analyst, a pharmaceutical sales agent, an investment

banker and a Bell Canada project manager. Lussing

and his management team decided to go with the

Schulich strategy study.

Toward the end of the project, the Schulich team was

asked to present its work to the hospital’s board. “The

students knocked their socks off,” says Lussing. “It was

state-of-the-art in strategic planning.” The board still

refers to the team’s report, which won top prize among

the Schulich School’s 80 reports completed that year. As

for the students, completing the mammoth York Central

Hospital strategy study in such a short time frame was

physically and mentally draining.


The strategy study is a long, intense, gruelling process —

sort of like a business boot camp for elite executive

recruits, except that this boot camp takes place near the

end of their MBA training. Every Schulich MBA must go

through the strategy study program, which is still

referred to by its original course number, the 601. No

other name provokes more anxiety among incoming students

than the 601. The School’s dean, Dezsö Horváth, has heard the complaints about the program

being too tough, too long, but he is not about to offer a shoulder to cry on.“Our job is to graduate

men and women who will become executives of the highest calibre,” he says. “I know of no

better proving ground than the demands of a real-world strategy study.”

And although the dean is well aware that some students may resent the hard work and long

hours exacted by the strategy study, he says they will inevitably look back on the 601 learning

Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine

experience as invaluable. “I’ve met students several years

after they’ve graduated who tell me that the strategy

study was the single best experience of their business

education. It’s the one experience they end up carrying

with them throughout their careers.” A recent independent

review of the Schulich strategy study confirms this.


Bill Redelmeier, president of Southbrook Farms, is a big fan

of the strategy study report. His business, part winery and

part retail grocery outlet, took off earlier this decade

when Redelmeier stumbled upon the greatest product to

hit the wine industry since icewine — “framboise,” a

sweet wine made with the juice of fermented raspberries.

The wine was an instant success, capturing top prizes at

nearly every single competition it entered.

When a team of Schulich students approached him,

Redelmeier took them up on their offer to conduct a strategy

study. The results, he says, were both unexpected and

positive. “I’m not sure they came up with the ideas they

were expecting or the ideas we wanted,” says Redelmeier.

Much like the Feature Factory strategy study, the Southbrook

study awakened in Redelmeier a realization that

the firm had a lot of untapped potential. Says Redelmeier:

“It was a wake-up call. It told us that we were really a lot

better than we thought we were.”

Following the success of his berry-based wines,

Redelmeier began spending more time and effort in producing

traditional grape varietals. The Schulich team,

however, advised him to stick to his core competency and

do what he does better than anyone else on the planet —

create award-winning fruit wines. They also suggested

ways of improving his sales, distribution and marketing,

and they mapped out a globally oriented export strategy

to make Southbrook the dominant brand in the worldwide

fruit wine category. Redelmeier insists he will continue

to use the strategy study as a “shopping list” for

future changes and new directions.

The Schulich team that

completed a strategy

study at Bell Mobility last

year recommended the

company shelve a new

business venture. Diane

Blackburn, then a project

manager in the business

development department,

says the team

“found the problems.”

The project has since

evolved into something

more promising


Not all of the organizations analyzed by the Schulich MBA

teams have winning products or services. Sometimes, the

question of timing is critical — whether it’s a product launch or an IPO. In the case of a study completed

for Bell Mobility last year, the strategy study team recommended putting the brakes on an

incubating new business venture. The company’s Next Steps program for entrepreneurs latched

onto a concept for using wireless telecommunications and the Internet to promote preventive

health practices. Diane Blackburn, a project manager in the business development department at

the time, says the company had been exploring a niche business opportunity using a concept that

she calls the “mom principle — we would nag them electronically about their health maintenance.”

When the Schulich strategy team came on board, she told them to take the rough-hewn concept

and “run with it — see what you can find out.”Their conclusion was that while the idea was sound,

the market was not ready to accept it. Blackburn says, “They were organized, professional, highly

Advertising supplement to July 2000 Report on Business Magazine





Real-world learning came to Schulich

in the late 1960s, during a time when

North American business schools were

under fire from businesses over the

way they were training MBA students.

Specifically, businesses felt that management

education had become too

academic and theoretical. At that time,

James Gillies became the first dean of

the Schulich School of Business. He

had come back to Canada after having

served as assistant dean of the business

school at the University of

California at Los Angeles (UCLA). He

was joined by his new associate dean,

James Fleck, who returned to Canada

from Harvard. Both were acutely aware

of the challenge: how could business

schools apply management learning to

real-world problems? Their solution

was the groundbreaking strategy field

study. It was cutting edge for its time

and is still considered at the forefront

today, some 30 years later.

The strategy study was embraced

by the faculty of the newly minted

school — something that would have

been much more difficult to introduce

among the entrenched interests of

a more established school, says Gillies.

When the current dean, Dezsö

Horváth, joined the faculty in the late

1970s and became chair of policy and

strategy, he used the strategy study

process as a tool to integrate the

School’s various business disciplines

and create a more holistic approach to

management education. Today, that

approach is the dominant feature of

all top-ranked business schools.

The strategy study process gives

the School’s business professors an

insight into present-day corporations

and organizations that few faculties in

the world enjoy. “I’ve learned more

about Canadian business from chairing

Schulich strategy studies than I have

from sitting on some 30 boards,”

adds Gillies.

focused. They found the problems.” She adds that the Schulich team also saved

the company a lot of time fleshing out the viability of the concept, which she

says has since “morphed” into something more promising.

It is no wonder that companies such as Bell Mobility welcome the Schulich

strategy teams year after year. These teams have helped businesses and organizations

as diverse as the Toronto Blue Jays, IKEA, art galleries and software

start-ups. The students walk away with credible, hands-on business experience

and real insight into complex management issues. The businesses gain fresh

perspectives and ideas, and they get an up-close look at some of Canada’s top

business students. Not surprisingly, a large number of the strategy study students

are offered jobs by the companies they study.

Dean Horváth, who recently played host to academics and deans from some

of the world’s best business schools for a conference on real-world learning, is

justifiably proud of Schulich’s unique strategy study: “This is at the frontier of

management learning today.” Gillies, the man who introduced the strategy

study concept, also knows firsthand the depth of the School’s commitment.

“The competence and resources to manage a strategy study simply lie beyond

most business schools,” says Gillies. “The amount of time that we spend —

both in terms of the School and the faculty — is unprecedented.” The strategy

study, adds Gillies, has become a distinguishing feature of the Schulich brand.


“With the evolving complexity of today’s business world, business schools are

being forced into finding new and different ways of preparing their students

for a successful career in business,” says Dean Horváth. Many are coming to the

conclusion that the century-old case-study method is no longer adequate. Adds

the dean: “If you had to design and develop a program that would prepare

today’s MBA students for the demands of today’s business environment with

its emphasis on teamwork, speed and analytical agility, that program would be

the strategy study. It is the ultimate in integrative management learning.”



This year, the number of companies

and organizations that have taken

part in Schulich strategy studies will

surpass 2,000. Listed below are

some of the businesses, nonprofit

and public sector organizations that

have benefited from a Schulich

strategy study.

Art Gallery of Ontario

Atlantis Communications Inc.

Bank of Montreal

Cambridge Shopping Centres Limited

The Canadian National Institute

for the Blind

Chapters Inc.

Dupont Canada Inc.

IBM Canada Ltd., Toronto Lab

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Toronto Blue Jays


Metropolitan Board of Trade

If you believe your business or

organization would like to take

part, please call Mel Zwaig,

Schulich executive-in-residence and

former president, Arthur Andersen

Inc., at (416) 863-5795, or call Asaf

Zohar, director of the Strategy Field

Study Program, at (416) 736-2100,

ext. 55082,

All strategy studies remain strictly

confidential and cannot be discussed

without the consent of the

client organization. All participants

in the study, including students and

faculty, are required to sign confidentiality


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