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Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 185: Changing the Education Landscape with Coursera's Jeff Maggioncalda

July 27, 2022  |  By Matt Waller

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This week Matt talks to Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, one of the largest online learning platforms in the world. They begin their conversation by discussing Jeff's career at Financial Engines and how he became the co-founder of it. Maggioncalda then describes how his life-long career at Financial Engines eventually led him to becoming CEO of Coursera. The pair also share the importance of relationships and establishing a long-term reputation with others. Finally, he shares how Coursera is changing the way people learn online and shaping the future of worldwide education for all. 

Episode Transcript

Jeff Maggioncalda  0:00  
Sometimes it's just lack of product market fit. Like you, you just didn't figure out what problem you can uniquely solve. And so you've got to be agile and you've got to change.

Matt Waller  0:10  
Excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. These are the values the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business and the lives of people we meet every day. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College, and welcome to the Be Epic podcast. I have with me today, Jeff Maggioncalda, and he is the CEO of Coursera. He has an incredible background, including being a board member of Silicon Valley Bank for almost 12 years. He's been at Coursera for over five years. And he was at Financial Engines as the founding CEO for 18 years. And we'll talk about that a little bit as well. But first of all, thank you so much, Jeff, for taking time from your extremely busy schedule to talk with us.

Jeff Maggioncalda  1:09  
Matt, it's a pleasure to be here. I'm always excited to talk about entrepreneurship, and and anything else that might be interesting to you and your and your listeners. 

Matt Waller  1:18  
Well, thank you. I, I mean, one of the things I definitely want to get to is the future of education, and you being the CEO of Coursera. You think about it, you're inventing it. And I want to I want our audience to really hear your thoughts about the future. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  1:27  
Sure thing.  

Matt Waller  1:28  
Jeff, if you don't mind backing up a bit. You are the founding CEO of Financial Engines. And you were there for 18 years. And you co founded it with Nobel Prize winner, econ, Nobel Prize winner, Bill Sharpe. I'd like to hear a little bit about your experience with that and talk a little bit about what Financial Engines did.

Jeff Maggioncalda  2:00  
Yeah, well, thanks for having me again, Matt. I am I'm happy to share these stories. I hope I hope that they're valuable. I actually, you know, when I went to college, I loved English, and I was an English major. And my dad said, I'm not paying for Stanford's tuition if you're just gonna get an English degree. So I ended up doing English and quantitative economics. And I don't know why I did that. I just thought that'd be kind of interesting. And it turns out, it served me well. In 1991, when I graduated, I went to my econ graduation ceremony, and the keynote speaker was Bill Sharpe, who had just won the Nobel Prize for the capital asset pricing model in 1990. And he was like a hero to me. I then worked a little bit, went back to the business school at Stanford. And when I graduated, was planning to go to McKinsey. And I got a call from a guy who I'd worked with Joe Grundfest, who is at the law school at Stanford and former SEC Commissioner, and he said, "Hey, Bill Sharpe and I are starting this company. But we don't have a business plan. We don't have any funding. And you know, we both have full time jobs. So are you interested in, you know, writing up a business plan and trying to get it funded?" And I thought, you know, how often do you get a chance to work with one of your, like, personal heroes. And so I talked to my wife, and we had two little kids at the time. And she said, "Hey, you know what McKinsey can live without you. That's a great firm. How many chances will you ever get to work with a Nobel Prize winner?" And so she was very supportive, and I jumped in. I'd never hired or fired anybody before, I'd never written a business plan. I'd never done anything really, I was just fresh out of school. And but I thought, hey, this is just a an incredible opportunity. And, and it turned out to be that way. I mean, Bill is not only a brilliant person, but he has an incredibly kind heart. And he's such a modest thinker. He's so open minded, and he just listens to and incorporates every, every new idea into his own thinking. And so it was just really a privilege to work with him. I did raise some money. We had many, many iterations on our business model. I tried five different business models. Surprised I didn't get fired. I mean, I mean, we failed so many times, but had just enough money to get to the next try. And then we figured out product market fit and it kind of clicked and we went public and it turned out really well. But I mean, it was quite a journey. And it was really a privilege as well.

Matt Waller  4:26  
Well, you know, as you mentioned, Bill Sharpe is a Nobel Prize winner. And he was one of the originators of the capital asset pricing model. But he also created the Sharpe ratio for risk adjusted investment performance. And what was it like, you know, really, was he, was he involved in really setting up the business model and stuff or did he kind of leave that to you?

Jeff Maggioncalda  4:54  
You know, I went into his office to interview and I saw on one wall with the picture of him shaking the king of Sweden's hand receiving the Nobel Prize. I'm like, wow, okay. And then on his bookshelf, he had a book called Compilers for Basic, you know, Bill Sharpe. And the next to it was a book called Investments, you know, by Sharpe, and like, literally the book on investments that he published. And then I go, Bill, what's, what's this book on compilers, he wrote one of the first basic compilers that that ever existed, and then wrote a book on it. So he's all, he's an incredible thinker. When he ended up hiring me, and of course, he hired a guy who had no experience. But he said, like, Jeff, I don't want to deal with the people stuff. I want to work on research, I want to work on algorithms, I want to help figure out how to give good investment advice at scale, I want you to deal with all that business, money, you know, personnel stuff. And so we had a great relationship. And it was he was super involved in the, in the actual research. And in fact, there was a lot of what we were building was optimization. And we went from one optimization model, which was quadratic programming optimization to one which was integer programming. And the integer programming model allowed for discrete steps and the optimizer and there are certain portfolio constructions with like minimum investment constraints that you can only do with integer programming. But it's pretty compute intensive, and back in the day, you know, computers were much slower. I still remember, but many 401k plans had hundreds of options. So the optimizer was like breaking. Was like, we can't, it's too big of a problem. And so he set out with one of our mathematicians to go try to figure this out, like, how can we write an optimization routine that can actually optimize arbitrarily large universities of investments using integer programming. And I still remember the subject line has said, eureka, and I'm like, from Bill Sharp, eureka. And he's like, I just figured out how to do this optimization. And I thought, boy, this is the value of having one of the smartest people in the world, you know, working on some of the problems that we're facing.

Matt Waller 5:42

I mean, you have almost 20 years of experience there. So you know, this business inside and out. What what happened after you moved on?

Jeff Maggioncalda 7:17

Well, I had, I had an incredible team that I had hired, and you know, most of what I learned about being a CEO, and an entrepreneur and a manager, and even a teammate, because it was like one of the first jobs I ever had, came from learning from the people that reported to me. I hired people who were very experienced and very smart, and, and frankly, very candid. They gave me very candid feedback, which I sucked up. I mean, I was like, look, I felt like I didn't deserve to get this job as CEO. So kind of my thought was, I owe it to Bill and to Joe Grundfest to try to earn this job every day. And one of the nice things about this is that the team was together, most of us had worked together for over a decade by the time that I left in 2014. And the, my successor, Larry Raffone had worked at Fidelity, I had hired him in 2001. He had been working for me for 13 years. And most of what I learned, I learned from him and his colleagues. And so when I left, the team just kept going, you know, Larry stepped into the CEO role, and the team just kept moving right along. So they just they kept going along. And they ended up acquiring a company called the Mutual Fund Store. And then they actually were bought by a private equity firm and went private. And I believe that Financial Engines is still a private company, and is still one of the biggest registered investment advisors in the country.

Matt Waller  8:41  
Well, congratulations, what a success. And you in the process, were named on 11 patents as an inventor.

Jeff Maggioncalda  8:52  
Yeah. That was super fun. I mean, when you're working with super brilliant people, and I'm just kind of chipping in ideas here and there, but there's like some UX patents and things. Yeah, it was, it was it was really, it was really fun. And it was a little bit at a time when, and at a company where the IP was more patentable, then say, what we're doing at Coursera, which is more about content than about, you know, the, like algorithms and real IP.

Matt Waller  9:18  
And you've also been a board member on Silicon Valley Bank for 11 years, almost 12 years. So you've seen all kinds of interesting deal flow, I would imagine.

Jeff Maggioncalda  9:31  
You know, I, we were, I became a customer of Silicon Valley Bank when we first started Financial Engines back in 1996. At some point of whatever, 12 years ago, I was still the CEO of Financial Engines. We had gone public, so I had public company experience. I was in financial services doing asset management. And there was a new CEO that had just stepped into the role at Silicon Valley Bank, Greg Becker and Greg and I are about the same age. So I was a public company CEO, had been for quite some time. At the time, it was probably, oh gosh, I don't know, maybe for for 12 years, I was the CEO of Financial Engines. I was also a customer of Silicon Valley Bank. And Greg and I were about the same age. So as he stepped into the role, the board was thinking, hey, it'd be kind of nice to have a board member who was a customer of ours, who understands FinTech, who is a CEO who could kind of see Greg's side of the equation, even though he's a board member, and and, you know, it's been just a privilege. And Greg has done an amazing job. The bank has grown incredibly since, you know, I joined. And it to your point, it is fascinating, because because Silicon Valley Bank has has expanded globally, we are in almost every major innovation region, and at an almost every innovation sector. And the scope of services has really grown from just doing lending, to doing all sorts of things, including SVB Capital, which is kind of, you know, in the on the investing side, the banking, of course, the private, private wealth, investment banking, we've we've started doing investment banking, as well. So it's become, it's become a pretty big operation. And it's been really fun. I'll tell you, I highly recommend anybody who's a CEO, it's really neat to be on a board because you can actually see what it's like to be on the board side. And frankly, anybody who's on a board, I would say, try to get a CEO on the board, because they'll be able to see, you know, other perspectives, because they sit there in that operating seat, which is sometimes pretty lonely. And there's a certain amount of empathy that you can have as a board member, when you know what it's like to be there as the CEO.

Matt Waller  11:45  
So now, you've been with, you've been CEO of Coursera, for five years. What made you interested in Coursera? Because I mean, Coursera was founded just a few years before you joined, I guess, right? Maybe five years or so?

Jeff Maggioncalda  12:01  
Yeah, I have three daughters. And my wife and I both, really, we're big proponents of taking gap years. So each of my daughters between high school and college took a gap year and they did different things. Some of them wanted to travel, some of them wanted to do, you know, sort of public service. Some of them took care of my nieces. But I was always wanting a gap year, like, I want my gap year, I never had a gap year. And so when I finished at Financial Engines, which was, by the way, kind of my wife said, "Hey, Jeff, time to hang it up at Financial Engines. You've been doing this for 18 years." My oldest was born when I was only 22 years old. And so we never really had a newlywed period. And, you know, starting a company was really busy. So Ann my wife was like, hey, we should go travel, we should do stuff together. Now that the girls are a little bit older. So I was doing this gap year, which turned into what was going to be three years and two years into it I got a call from a recruiter saying that Coursera is looking for a new CEO, would I be interested in applying? And I always wanted to be a teacher, I guess there's a few things. One is I always wanted to be a teacher, I thought I thought that that opportunity had passed me by and my wife is a, has a PhD and she has been a professor and I've always just loved education. And when I was going around the world with Ann we went to almost every major region and you know, traveled for weeks at a time. It just seemed like, you know, the world is facing a lot of challenges, whether that's poverty or inequality, or or war, and or, or injustice and tolerance. And I thought, you know, education is kind of the root cause of goodness and human prosperity, like when education is more available, humans flourish. And the chance to try to put my time and talent on something that could impact a lot of people and deeply create, I think, you know, social justice and opportunity for more people. I just thought that that was amazing. So I ended up begging for the job. I didn't really have any credentials in higher education. But I you know, I had experience with growth companies and so and so they ended up giving me the job. And I'll also say that the lead investor in the series A round, Scott Sandell, who co led the round with John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins. Scott, who he runs NEA now, back in 1997, when he when Scott Sandell had just joined NEA, his first due diligence was on Financial Engines. So when he was a brand new associate, and I was literally just starting my CEO-ship, Scott did the due diligence on Financial Engines before NEA invested. So I had known Scott for 20, 20 years. And so Scott was like, "Hey, Jeff might not know a lot about, you know, higher education. But he's, he's a he's a good person, a smart person, and you know, he'll he'll be a good leader for us." So I think it helped that I knew Scott, in getting this job.

Matt Waller 13:32

Well, that's a great story. It's amazing how so many of these stories I hear you, you see where relationships, I mean, relationships, create opportunities, but you've got to be competent, to be able to leverage those opportunities. It's kind of like, when luck comes around, you need to be ready to take it.

Jeff Maggioncalda 15:25

Totally. And, you know, I think you said relationships. And I think that that's really important. Sometimes people talk about your personal brand. I'm not a huge fan of that. I mean, I'm like, What do you mean brand? I can think about my personal reputation, I can think about my character, I can think about my identity, I can think about my values as a person. But when you talk about relationships, I think what's really important about relationships is the reputation that you establish with other people over a long time horizon. When times are good, yeah. But especially when times are bad, and especially for entrepreneurs. It's not how do you perform? And how do you act when things are going well? It's how do you act and how do you perform when things are going poorly?- And I do think that there's a lot that can be said about relationships that have survived the good and bad times, and you see how people are and how they behave. And I'll say, starting with a marriage, you know, that's, for me, that's my relationship with my wife, and my kids are the most, that's the most important relationships. And you know, I've learned, you never can take them for granted. I mean, you always have to invest in them. And especially when times are tough, you got to say, you know, how can I do better? And how, how can I nourish this relationship, but I'd say the same thing on the business side, but personal brand to me sounds so superficial, and transactional, relationships, and reputations are earned over a long period of time.

Matt Waller  16:57  
I completely agree. Creating a personal brand seems to dehumanize someone as well. But you know, that that point you made about long term, uh, relationships, is so important. And I think what it does is it engenders trust, because, you know, trust requires confidence that you are competent, and long times, show whether or not you're competent. And it's built on the idea that you have the best interest of the other in mind. And the third thing is that you're you have integrity, you'll do what you say.

Jeff Maggioncalda  17:40  

Matt Waller  17:40  
And if you observe someone long enough, you can't fake those things. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  17:46  
You got it! That's right. By the way, Matt, you articulated better than I ever have. The, those three different elements of trust. It is competence, it is alignment, and it is integrity, like doing what you say you're going to do.

Matt Waller  17:59  
Well, you know, the other thing, I think about you, you got out of school, you started a company with a professor, you stayed there 18, almost 19 years, that all of a sudden, that's a pretty big stamp of approval, you know, a test of how trustworthy you are. And then, of course, your personal relationships are as well. And so I could see how, although you hadn't, you met Scott a long time ago, he probably used all of those as signals when he encouraged you to take the job as CEO.

Jeff Maggioncalda  18:41  
I think so. And I think I think that Scott and you know, John Doerr, and frankly, a lot of good VCs, they look, they know that businesses generally don't get figured out right away. And businesses will have good times and bad times. And when you have bad times, a lot of the reason you're having bad times might be external, but sometimes it's just lack of product market fit, like you, you just didn't figure out what problem you can uniquely solve. And so you got to be agile, and you've got to change. And, you know, over those 18 years, I mean, I was facing failure all the time. And this question is like, well, what, what do you do when you're facing failure, and when your team is facing failure, and you're facing, you know, potentially being fired and things and what I tried to always do is just say, stay dedicated to the mission and dedicated to my job, which is, hey, look, I'm not gonna give up. I'm gonna try to figure this out. If it's not working, I'm gonna try to be realistic and honest about that. I'll try to get help where I can, and I'm gonna give it another go. I mean, honestly, like, just survival and persistence counts a lot, I'd say for entrepreneurs, like, can you survive and persist, which has a lot to do with like learning and changing? And then can you maintain kind of positivity and creativity even under very adverse circumstances because that's what you need most, when you are facing like a near death experience in business is you need to stay positive, you got to be honest, you got to be realistic, but you have to be optimistic and positive as well.

Matt Waller  20:10  
Just like all the pivoting you do for your first product market fit, you're kind of doing that your whole life. You know, and because, because sometimes companies find product market fit, but they don't find the right business model. Well that's really exciting, okay, now Coursera. You know, if you look at the model of higher education before the industrial revolutions, you know, it was really letters it was it was the classics. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  20:47  

Matt Waller  20:40  
And the Industrial Revolution really drove the need for universities to change. Took around 90 years for the Industrial Revolution, to have enough influence on morphing, if you will, pivoting the way universities operate. But there's still universities today that operate the way they did pre Industrial Revolution. Now, with the Industrial Revolution we're going through now, which is more digital, knowledge based. I've heard it said by several people, and it really caught my attention. That, you know, universities adapted for the industrial revolution, but in the future education is going to be driving the industrial revolution. But I'd like your, your thoughts on those kinds of ideas and where we're going with this. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  20:49  
Yeah, well, when I think about educational institutions, you know, systems of education, and we operate all around the world, we have over 100 million learners, 80% of whom are outside the United States. And we also in addition to that B2C offering, which Andrew and Daphne started at Coursera, 10 years ago, we're now 10 years old, you know, and by the way, Coursera, started, as an experiment at Stanford with two computer scientists who said, I'm going to put some of our most popular lectures on the Internet for free. And the same thing happened over at MIT and Harvard. And that gave rise to edX. And Sebastian Thrun from Stanford launched Udacity, around the same time, so there was kind of this explosion of what people called MOOCs, these massively open online courses that happened in 2010. But it came from higher education. And I think the recognition at the time was the technology is allowing for the supply of high quality education at much lower cost to a much broader audience. But sometimes I think people miss, that the need for that is greater than ever, because the world is changing so quickly. Turns out knowledge can change faster in a digital world, then machines can change in the industrial revolution in the industrial world. I mean, things didn't change as fast.

Matt Waller  22:49  
That's an interesting point. I had not thought about that.

Jeff Maggioncalda  22:52  
Yeah. So there's a rate of change problem that employed that that companies are facing, which is they're all trying to deal with this digital world where you got cloud computing, every job is now basically digital in terms of getting information, using software tools. And a big part of this, too, is not just the software and the programming piece. But the fact that every job role has some decision making otherwise it's going to get automated if it's not a decision making and decision making increasingly is informed by data. And so the proficiencies required and the way that people do jobs and the way that jobs are being automated. It's just changing so fast, that in order to keep up with these types of skills, companies are getting into the education game. Companies, employers are looking for educational systems to say, how can you help me keep up by teaching your students things that you weren't teaching five years ago? It was when I first joined the company, I was down in Mexico and I heard a phrase that really stuck with me. I was in Monterrey, Mexico at the World Congress of Higher Education. And the rector of Los Angeles University in Colombia was named Pablo Nobis. We were having breakfast, and I was pretty new in the job. And he said, Jeff, the next great revolution in higher education is collaboration. And I laughed because I thought, how could that be a revolution. But what he was really on to in my mind was on the research side, there's always been reasonable collaboration among principal investigators. I mean, universities in my opinion, research universities have done a good job of finding collaborations among principal investigators. On the teaching and learning side, not so much. Almost that was an afterthought. But what I think is really exciting is the ability in a digital world to enable on the teaching and learning side, a level of collaboration where a university can actually use online courses, labs and other materials created by other universities. So not every university and every professor has to create all their own material. And then similarly on the collaboration side, not just among universities, but having industry and universities or higher education systems collaborate with each other, where it's not just oh, you learn this kind of stuff in college, and then you learn this kind of stuff, once you get a job. We have professional certificates and other types of advanced computing courses from Google and IBM and Microsoft, and others that are being taught in universities who are subscribing to Coursera's online courses and integrating not just other university courses into their curriculum, but also industry curriculum and hands on skilling into their curriculum as well. So platforms are a great way to facilitate collaboration. And collaboration is a very good way to keep up with high rates of change.

Matt Waller  25:52  
We have a really close collaboration with a number of companies in the area, our collaboration between our College of Business and their company, has given both of us an advantage. There's there is a lot of industry University collaboration, but it's pretty limited. And,

Jeff Maggioncalda  26:12  

Matt Waller  26:12  

Jeff Maggioncalda  26:13  

Matt Waller  26:13  
A lot of times it's dependent on personalities, or certain relationships, you know, benefit you see from it sometimes is remarkable. And, you know, it's just like you were talking about earlier, as a leader, you hired people that you were learning from. In other words, you hired people that knew more than you did about various things. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  26:36  

Matt Waller  26:37  
All good leaders do that. Not all leaders do that. But all good leaders do that, because no one is complete. We're all incomplete. And similarly, all entities of higher education are limited. And and so your point about the opportunity being in collaboration, I think it makes sense. Really, we can collaborate on education, because there's, there's gonna be an infinite number of combinations of capabilities that are going to be needed in the future that we don't know about.

Jeff Maggioncalda  27:16  
Yeah, yeah. You know, I look just on the content side, we've got now 175 universities and 85 industry partners who are publishing on Coursera, over 5000 courses. And then we have over 4000 businesses, over 3500 academic institutions and hundreds of governments subscribing. And what's really cool, as you say, Okay, wait a sec, if you've got on the publishing side, both academia and industry, and on the subscribing side, you have both academia and businesses. Suddenly, on the publishing side, and the subscription side, you're getting collaboration. And now what we're starting to see is companies creating content for their own employees, of course, licensing other content as well, but then saying, "Hey, Coursera, can you play some of my content into the university from which I hire talent, so that students have this very rich experience of not only earning the college degree and learning from their professors on campus, you know, from the domain of knowledge is that's present there, but also getting access to not just industry content, but literally content from those employers that hire from those universities." And so it really is an incredible bridging. And I also, I often like to say too that one of, everybody knows that cloud computing is a big deal. Everybody knows that machine learning is a big deal. It's going to transform the way that the world works, and, and all that. I think to some degree, people have underestimated the impact of the platform business model as one of the biggest and most powerful innovations of you know, the 21st century. And I like to say that platforms enable other people to create value and solve problems. So our customers are using our platform and our partners content in ways that we've never conceived of, they're solving problems we didn't know existed. That's to me, one of the most exciting things about a platform that facilitates collaboration is not that we can say, "We want you guys to collaborate so you can go solve that problem." It's, here's the platform, use it to solve whatever problems you see emerging in whatever novel ways you can use our platform. To me, that's really exciting. And I think that's the kind of model that can help institutions keep up with this rate of change.

Matt Waller  29:34  
Your comments about platforms and how they transform industries is so interesting. Of course, the example of Airbnb that really transformed the hotel industry. It actually allowed a bunch of capacity to come online. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  29:50  

Matt Waller  29:50  
And it allowed for cities, wouldn't need to build hotel capacity to maximum. The same thing is true with Uber and Lyft. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  30:00  

Matt Waller  30:01  
But you see it in the newspaper industry, the music industry, the so many industries. So we're just now starting to see it in higher ed, where do you think this will go?

Jeff Maggioncalda  30:15  
Well, I, there are a lot of folks who say, "Hey, Jeff, you know what? Higher education hasn't changed in hundreds of years. And it's not going to change for the next hundreds of years." And I say, "You might be right, but I'm almost sure that you are mistaken." So they might say, "Well, why do you, why do you think it's different this time?" And  the reason why is because the demands on higher education from the employer side who essentially buys the product, I mean, for most people who go to college, they want to start a good career. And that's kind of that's kind of what it's about. So when the employer is kind of looking at, okay, what kind of product are you producing? And then the customers who are the students were saying, you know, what's the likelihood that I'm going to be able to be well positioned for a good career? I think higher institutions are at once facing, you know, pressure from employers to say, I would like your students to have a different set of skills, maybe just augmenting some of that what I think, you know, as an English major, I'm a big fan of liberal education. But I also believe it should not be exclusive and like, hey, just to be an English major, and don't learn any statistics, I think there's basic fluency and data. There's basic fluency in business, there's basic fluency in computer science that every student should have, in my opinion, when you graduate, you should, it's like learning how to read and mathematics like basic fluencies in business, technology and data science that I think you should have, that employers are looking for. And then the the students are going to be putting pressure on institutions, higher education institutions that don't change. But there's another couple of factors. One is, there's a level of competition for content and credentials, that higher education has never faced before. There's coding boot camps, there's industry microcredentials, there are all sorts of alternative mechanisms to train people up. And not for the most elite universities, but for a lot of other vocational schools, community colleges, state colleges, frankly, they're feeling competition, for one of the first times ever, so now you have demands from your employer saying we want you to innovate, demands from your students saying I want you to innovate, competitive alternatives, where the students will say, if you don't give me something that's going to help me in my job, I'll go someplace else. And by the way, with online degrees, the competition is not just coming from the outside, it's coming from within the industry, because certain higher education institutions are innovating, and they are collaborating, and they are putting in industry micro credentials. And so it's not really an equilibrium anymore. It to some degree, all the on campus programs, were a little bit like local monopolies, you know, you basically serve the students who live near you. But when degrees and educational materials can move online, not just the content, but the credentials too, suddenly students have choices. And that's going to create pressure, I think, on institutions to say, I've got to make sure I understand who my customer is, I understand who, what they need from me, and I need to change my offering and differentiate to stay in business, I think they're going to be more institutions will be subject to more of the similar market forces that other industries have been subjected to for quite some time, but probably for the first time ever really following COVID. I mean, there's a very, there's a whole new set of realities that academic institutions are living in now compared to five years ago.

Matt Waller  33:43  
Well, you know, you mentioned that when you joined Coursera, that you could make a big impact by helping deliver on the founders mission. 

Jeff Maggioncalda  33:52  

Matt Waller  33:54  
How have your hopes and dreams for Coursera changed over the five years that you've been there?

Jeff Maggioncalda  34:01  
Wow, well, I'll tell you what the pandemic I mean, has affected and had a major impact on on everything, including how I perceive not just the opportunity for Coursera, but almost the responsibility of Coursera to think a lot bigger than where we were before. You know, when I joined, the promise that I was so attracted to, was the promise of more equal educational opportunity. As you go through COVID, and you see that learning moved online, but you know what jobs moved online too, the possibility of remote work and hybrid work has created I think, an incredible chance to not only say you have learning opportunity, equal, more equal learning opportunity, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, it has enabled the possibility to say you have more equal job opportunity, no matter who you are, or where you are, and to some degree, I think to a large extent is the return on learning used to be constrained to the job opportunity set within your local environment. Which which jobs are available if you live in a rural area in Egypt? Well, not a lot. So what would be the value of becoming a data scientist? Well, you could move to some other country, but a lot of people say like, if I learned those skills, it's not gonna really do me much good. But suddenly, if I could become a data scientist and quadruple my income or more, and still work remotely, and stay in my own community and funneled the resources back into my community, maybe build a company in my community. Now there is an I think, an obligation and opportunity for Coursera, not just to create more equal learning opportunity, but more equal economic opportunity. And then going one step further, I've kind of said, Wait, this is not just about even economic opportunity. If you look at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, there are 17 of them. Goal number four is education. Education is the path not even just to economic opportunity, it's to global flourishing and protection of the planet. I mean, education is the source of understanding health and how to improve people's lives, how to end poverty, how to keep our oceans clean, how to build stronger institutions. And so now I'm really seeing that the job of Coursera is to advance the UN sustainability goals, you know, as quickly and as materially as we can. So, you know, my expectations have grown, my sense of responsibility has grown and my sense of urgency has grown along with it. 

Matt Waller  36:28  
Well, Jeff, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today. Really appreciate.

Jeff Maggioncalda  36:34  
It's been a pleasure, Matt. Thank you.

Matt Waller  36:36  
On behalf of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching Be Epic. B-E-E-P-I-C.

Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Be Epic Podcast

We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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