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Business Process Management: Future MBAs 'Learn by Doing' at McCallum Graduate School of Business

September 18, 2005

In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, two University of Southern California professors claim that business schools have 'lost their way.' The authors blame institutions for measuring quality solely by 'the rigor of their scientific research' and for hiring professors with limited or no practical experience. The result: Students graduate ill equipped to grapple with complex and largely unquantifiable management issues.


At Bentley's McCallum Graduate School of Business, a ready response to the professors' critique is available: all graduate programs are known for their dual emphasis on theory and practice. First-year MBA students begin their advanced business education in the cornerstone Business Process Management course, and second-year MBAs build on the business process knowledge in the capstone Management Consulting Teams course. Both yearlong courses include field-based learning experiences, a distinctive aspect of Bentley's fulltime MBA program


Arming Future MBAs First offered in 1999, the year-long Business Process Mangement course, team-taught by Associate Professor of Accountancy Catherine Usoff and Professor of Operations Management Mark Davis, provides an interdisciplinary perspective on business to arm these future MBAs with the skills demanded by companies in today's technology-driven global market.

During the first half of the course students explore the characteristics of business processes and the IT systems that enable them, and how all aspects of an organization -- operations, marketing, accounting and finance -- fit together. Students learn the tools and how-to of process mapping and measurement, benchmarking, problem identification and analysis, and process improvement; they also examine key business processes such as supply-chain management.

In the second half of the course, these future MBAs team with companies as varied as Reebok International, Massachusetts General Hospital and Seaport Hotel/World Trade Center, and apply their learning to make significant contributions to company-sponsored projects. In many cases, companies have been so impressed with the students that the team efforts have led to internship offers for students.


Personal contacts, Bentley alumni and the Bentley Office of Corporate Relations are all sources for potential corporate partners.

"We are challenged with identifying companies that have strong business process projects for the student teams," says Davis. "We want to offer these future MBAs a challenge and a quality learning experience that adds value to what they can offer a prospective employer."

One recent project reinforced several areas of expertise at Bentley: business and IT, global commerce and culture, and ethics and corporate responsibility. The Reebok/Fair Factories Clearinghouse project involved a collaborative industry effort to build a shared database for human rights monitoring of overseas factories. The student team worked with representatives from Reebok, Federated Department Stores, and World Monitors Inc., all of whom are members of Fair Factories Clearinghouse.


Rolling up sleeves "Documenting the factory monitoring process at some of these companies has given me insight into the supply-chain side of the apparel industry while allowing me to hone my flow chart, presentation, meeting facilitation and overall analytical skills," said Reebok/Fair Factories team member Peter Roaf, who worked for nine years in a financial services firm before choosing to pursue his MBA at Bentley. "Being able to roll up my sleeves and put my skills to use is preferable to merely reading about businesses in case studies."


According to Marianne Voss, senior manager of human rights programs at Reebok International, the challenge for corporate responsibility today is to translate a conceptual understanding of global supply chains into pragmatic processes that result in demonstrable outcomes.

"The participation of Bentley MBA candidates in the development of a multi-company collaboration to share information about factory workplace conditions benefited Bentley students and the Fair Factories Clearinghouse initiative," says Voss, who worked closely with the student team.


Usoff, the curriculum coordinator of the Business Process Management course, points out that before Bentley sends these future managers out to the corporate world, the graduate program needs to do much more than just talk about concepts and theories. First-year MBA students at Bentley get hands-on experience and insight into the universal problems of today's organizations, she says, and they don't have to wait until they graduate to apply their classroom learning


Learning by doing "Students apply their knowledge of business processes and information technology in complex environments in the first year of their program," says Usoff. "After all, it's a lot harder to actually 'do' something than just talk about it in class - and the 'doing' helps cement the learning."


The balance of theory and practice offered in Bentley's MBA program is the reason Nikki Parness chose the school to pursue her MBA.

"The program focuses on balancing real world and classroom experience and the Business Process Management course is a great example of this balance," says Parness, who completed the field work last May. "My team worked with Thermo Electron Corporation; the experience showed us that businesses are unique, but the importance of sound business processes is universal. Thermo Electron guided us but also let us get creative with our process implementation for the IT Asset Inventory, and they were quite pleased with the outcome."

Thermo Electron requested assistance with the development and implementation of a standardized process to identify, collect and maintain a centralized global IT asset inventory system.

"This was no small task, given the fact that our IT assets and associated staffs are distributed in 30 countries," said Josita Todd, vice president, information technology, at Thermo Electron. "The opportunity to utilize an un-biased pool of talent to attack this problem was a tremendous advantage for us."

Thinking outside of the box The student team divided the tasks into multiple threads of work that met Thermo Electron's objectives, as well as other requirements the company deemed to be essential to ensure the successful completion of the overall asset program, according to Todd.

"In other words, (the students) not only performed what they were asked to do, but went above and beyond, and demonstrated the power of thinking outside the box!" says Todd.


Organizations all across the Northeast are asking students from the Bentley MBA program to help them solve a variety of management challenges. Bentley graduate students have provided in-depth analyses and fresh perspectives on business problems and opportunities. Working in their teams with a faculty adviser, students identify and address relevant issues, offering recommendations that are well grounded in analysis to support managerial decisions.


A new first-year MBA class is now immersed in the Business Process Management course as last year's group eases into the yearlong Management Consulting Teams course. Wherever these future MBAs wind up, they'll be well-equipped to wrestle with complex and largely unquantifiable management issues thanks to the program's balance of theory and practice.


Says Usoff, "In a sense, these future MBAs are creating the case studies rather than just reading about them."

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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