Episode 73: Vikas Anand
Vikas Anand is the Executive Director of MBA Programs and Graduate Innovation at Sam M. Walton College of Business. He is also a professor in the department of strategy, entrepreneurship, and venture innovation. His passion for student success has made the program successful in providing value to both students and companies.
00:07 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be Epic, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today.
00:28 Matt Waller: I have with me today Vikas Anand, who is the Executive Director of the MBA Programs and Graduate Innovation in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He's also a professor in the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation, which is a new department. But today we're gonna be focused on the executive MBA program. And our executive MBA program is really a phenomenal program. It's designed for working professionals and it's a hybrid of face-to-face once a month, and online as well, and it takes two years. You come in one Saturday per month, and it's really been transformative for lots of people. But Vikas, thanks for joining me today.
01:18 Vikas Anand: It is my pleasure, Matt.
01:20 Matt Waller: Vikas, I know that you have a real strategic mind and you've come in, and really, you've had your hand in both our full-time and our executive MBA program for quite a long time. And you've taught many courses in it, you recruit students, and you speak into the overall strategy of the program. And so, I wanted to really focus today, if you wouldn't mind, on which students would... Potential students, which people that are out there will benefit the most from this? I know we've got a range of students in the program, but the average number of years of experience is pretty high. I don't remember, I think it's like 10 years.
02:01 Vikas Anand: A little more than that.
02:02 Matt Waller: More than 10 years. And a lot of them are working for consumer packaged goods company, supply chain companies, logistics companies, retailers, food manufacturers, etcetera, etcetera.
02:14 Vikas Anand: Right.
02:15 Matt Waller: But what I'd thought might be beneficial to people that listen to this is, to think about it from the perspective of a potential student, what problem does this solve for them? One. Two, I wanna think about it from the perspective of a company. Why would they want their employees going through this program? What problem does it solve for them?
02:39 Vikas Anand: Matt, there are two levels to your question, and I'm going to spend some time on the first, but a little more on the second. The first level is what we hear about in the newspapers, where the MBA program is seen as a program to enhance your career, where they focus on the kind of jobs that you get, what are the starting salaries, and so on. So with respect to that, in the executive MBA program, the ideal student is a student who has a job or a company that they are comfortable with or an industry that they are comfortable with, and they are looking to enhance or accelerate their growth within that organization. Every few years we do a survey of alum who've been out for five years. We completed one a few months ago, where we asked them that as a result of your executive MBA program, did it increase your salary? Did it lead to growth in the organization? Did it make you better at your job? And we asked them to rate that on a scale of one to 10. In the survey that we just completed, on all of those questions, almost 85% plus chose either a nine or a 10.
03:53 Vikas Anand: And unlike the full-time MBA program where the end product is almost always a job, more than 50% of our students have their tuition reimbursed by their employers. As a result of that, they often have to sign a three-year contract with their employers to stay with the company. So most of our executive MBA students don't look to get placed, so we don't have data on what job they got after their MBA. Because this is a question that sometimes people confuse, it's a difference between the full-time MBA and the EMBA. The second phase is, what does it do to a student to go through our executive MBA program? We had 43 different companies represented in our class of 75 in the cohort that started last fall. They are in class for one Saturday every month for two years. They go on a global immersion together, they have networking events together, many of them, every Saturday after the class ends at 5:00 hang out together. And when we put all that together and couple it with some of the projects they have to work in, they're forming networks with people in such diverse organizations.
05:11 Vikas Anand: Yes, we do have a lot of domination from consumer products, marketing, supply chain companies. We also have people from the FBI, from the banks, we have people who fly in from North Carolina, and Minnesota, 25% of our students are not from Northwest Arkansas. So what the students go with is a really strong network, which when I talked to some of our students on the alumni advisory board who've graduated in 2003 and 2004, is still with them. And if you look at some of the research and knowledge management, we have two forms of knowledge in our head. There is the internal knowledge, which is the knowledge we know and the knowledge we can pull out from a computer. And then there is the external knowledge, which is, "I've had this challenge in China. Do I know someone who has experience in China? Can I just shoot them a quick text message and have a coffee with them and tap their brains?" What this network does is enhance your external knowledge to make you far more effective decision-makers to solve complex problems. This is not something that comes out just from the classroom, but the classroom becomes a vehicle to do this.
06:28 Matt Waller: And I would think this is more important than ever, given that we have so much disruption in industries as a result of digitization and computer power and the ubiquitous nature of information right now.
06:46 Vikas Anand: Absolutely. In fact, who would have thought when you were a digital photo frame maker that your biggest competitor was going to be Apple. [chuckle] Right?
06:57 Matt Waller: Yeah.
06:57 Vikas Anand: You don't know where your competition is coming from, you don't know what knowledge you're going to need three or four years from now, but it happens fast and you don't have time to build a fresh new network. And that is something that you get so much out of this program. We, as a program, really try to bring our best faculty to teach in, and this faculty, not only are they very good, they are well-connected, so they bring in some of the best guests speakers into the classroom. We've had the CEO of Walmart, USA, we've had the head of supply chain of Disney, we've had the first Minister of Scotland to come and talk about Brexit. I mean, when I talk to our alum, what they're most excited about is not just those instrumental things about growth in their career, they are excited about how excited they were after those sessions, how their brain started thinking differently. You know, when you've been working at a job for a while, going in, meeting the same people, same databases, there's a element of staleness that comes to your head. And coming in and getting exposed to these ideas from people all around, it re-energizes, it's almost like, let's move our neurons all over the place and see what else we can come up with.
08:16 Matt Waller: Yeah. I know, of course, I haven't taught in the EMBA program for a while, quite a few years, because of the administrative positions I've had, but I used to love it. And one of the reasons I loved it was, we would be talking about a case or something in the news, and the talent in the room was so phenomenal. You'd start talking about it and I would learn so much. Here I was the professor, I think I learned as much from the students as they learned from me, probably more.
08:49 Vikas Anand: So when I used to teach strategic management in the Executive MBA, and this was a few years ago, you may recall there was a recall of toys which had paint from China, there was lead in it?
09:00 Matt Waller: Oh, yeah. I remember that.
09:00 Vikas Anand: So we were doing that case in class, and as the class discussion is going on, we had one of the students raise his hand, "Well, when this was going on, I was the buyer at Walmart, and let me tell you my perspective." Immediately a student at the back who had moved here from China, he was working with SC Johnson, he said, "When this happened, I was working with a paint manufacturer in China, let me tell you."
09:23 Matt Waller: Are you kidding?
09:24 Vikas Anand: We also had a buyer from Target in that class, but my favorite part at that point was when all these people had said, "You have to listen to me because of this... " One of our students raised her hand and she said, "And let me tell you, I was a mother with two kids." [chuckle] And to me...
09:42 Matt Waller: Well, that's a good point.
09:46 Vikas Anand: Where do you get that kind of a discussion? And I love that. Several of our classes are designed to do these kind of case discussions.
09:54 Matt Waller: Yeah, so valuable. These people would normally not meet one another.
09:58 Vikas Anand: No. And if they did, they would be talking about their current jobs, not about such global issues, which they are forced to do in the classroom.
10:05 Matt Waller: Yes, that's right. In teaching supply chain, right? I mean, most of the students in there weren't going into supply chain, but I always had people in the room that were unbelievable experts, either because of their work at a carrier, or a shipper, or for some reason, they had a lot of experience. But if you're in sales, for example, understanding logistics and supply chain is pretty important.
10:32 Vikas Anand: Absolutely.
10:33 Matt Waller: Even if you don't wanna go into it, but these people would not dig into this level of detail had they not taken the class. I know one of them in particular, Fred Bowman, who was in a couple of my classes, this was years ago, this was like, over 20 years ago, but he was with Pillsbury at the time and he was in sales, and he took the supply chain class and he said, "I think I like this. I wanna go into supply chain." He then took another class in supply chain. And when Diageo then bought Pillsbury, and they eventually sold it I think a year later to General Mills, but he became the first supply chain manager on the combined team of Pillsbury and General Mills, which was a big deal. And today, he's a senior vice president at JDA, which is the largest supply chain software company in the world.
11:25 Vikas Anand: Okay.
11:27 Matt Waller: So, you know, you never know where these paths are gonna take. Sometimes... His experience in sales helped him succeed in supply chain. But similarly, just knowing something about finance or accounting or strategy or ethics or whatever the case may be...
11:44 Vikas Anand: It is critical.
11:45 Matt Waller: It'll help you in any functional area, if you are planning on moving up.
11:48 Vikas Anand: In fact, I think you're well aware of the McKinsey classification of the "I" skills versus "T" skills.
11:56 Matt Waller: No.
11:57 Vikas Anand: That when you start in a functional job, you have deep skills in one area, so your skill structure is an "I" skill, but in order to take on leadership roles you have to know a little bit about all the other areas converting your "I" skill to a "T" skill. And in the absence of "T" skills, it's very hard to take a leadership role in an organization, because that will allow you to take your knowledge, connect it to a wide variety of other knowledge that is needed to run the organization. And that's what we do in the EMBA. We are also forcing them to talk to each other, so not only is the "T" skill happening, their ability to communicate across their silos is increasing. Think of it from the company's perspective, they are getting people who now know not just accounting, but they can relate accounting to manufacturing, sales, marketing, and engineering.
12:52 Vikas Anand: They're getting people who have built this large external knowledge, which improves their decision making. When I looked at the surveys and I looked at the qualitative feedback, the number of people who were talking about how energized they were as a result of the program, how they could talk better, how they could act as a leader in the company, it was... I don't want to use the word "mind-boggling", because at some level I knew it was happening, but it was very gratifying. It made me feel very proud.
13:22 Matt Waller: The other thing I've noticed as a student in graduate school, when I... It was a long time ago, but I remember thinking the people in this class, most of them are much smarter than me, who are just... Listening to the way they thought about analyzing the cases, but what I've realized is that's always the case. You can always learn from other people. So just hearing people think out loud and process their ideas about a case, it's so valuable. And I know you're particularly good at drawing that out of people.
13:57 Vikas Anand: It is. And you know, one of the challenges we came up as our program became stronger and attracted more people, we were admitting people who were one or two years out of undergrad, and we were admitting people who were 30 years out. And we had toyed with the idea that we do have two sections: Do we create a different class of more experienced students versus... And keep the younger ones. And it was the more experienced people when we polled them, they shot it down. They said, "I wanna learn what this Twitter is about." And that, I think, is the unique thing, that it's the diversity, not just from the industries, it's the diversity from the generations that we have. People who've been exposed to different ways of thinking and are willing to share that, and then also, we have geographic diversity in our classroom. So that, all that helps.
14:50 Matt Waller: For a long time I was surprised that we would have people flying here once a month from so far away. I thought, "Why are they doing that?" But I think it really was, especially, like with the CPG companies, they knew this was the best place to go where you could have colleagues from a lot of different industries. Because there are people from companies that we would call CPG that are working for high-tech companies, Hewlett-Packard and various companies. On the other hand, you've got some that are making ice cream and selling it. And so, it's a wide range.
15:35 Vikas Anand: It is. In some areas you're going to get the best-in-class here.
15:39 Matt Waller: So, what problem does this program solve for employers?
15:45 Vikas Anand: One of the key issues it solves for them is, it identifies problems they may not have even discovered. With their employees getting exposed to better ways of doing things, they may be able to spot efficiencies. We have a mandatory global immersion. Several companies have their employees, when they go for the global immersion, they look for a problem or an issue or an opportunity that they can address in India and China. And there's one company, for instance, Marshalltown, which sponsored its student to look at partnerships in India. And then the two years, maybe three years now since that first student went in, they've made their first shipments to India, they have a strategic partnership with a company in India. And they have also imported stuff from Indian companies to distribute in the United States. And that's been just one of those examples, but this is one which has had very tangible results.
16:51 Vikas Anand: I can also tell you, and this... I can't share the name of the person, but he has told me multiple times that as a result of the EMBA programs, he was able to spot some ethical violations, which were inadvertently being committed by his company and could have got them in major trouble. But having been exposed to some of the issues in HR and a couple of other classes, he was able to go and help address and avert what could have become a very major issue for his company in how they were handling personnel and other things.
17:29 Matt Waller: What a great story. Speaking of ethics, of course, it comes up in every course, you can hardly teach the MBA course without ethical issues coming up. And I remember, especially, as a new faculty member many years ago. I remember realizing that by the end of that year, ethical issues come up in every case that you look at.
17:50 Vikas Anand: Absolutely.
17:51 Matt Waller: You almost can't get around it. And now I think it's even more so, because we're not just thinking about pure traditional ethics, we're thinking about sustainability and how do these decisions affect people, how will it affect future generations?
18:11 Vikas Anand: It is one of the most important things. We've... I have classmates from my MBA program who went to jail for inadvertently engaging in unethical actions. I absolutely believe this is something that has to be embedded in our courses. We've sort of addressed this through cases in multiple courses in the Executive MBA.
18:35 Matt Waller: You're on the Faculty Advisory Board for our ethics initiative. We're calling it the Business Integrity Leadership Initiative.
18:46 Vikas Anand: You know, a few years ago in the full-time MBA program, because sometimes students when they are very young don't take ethics as seriously, in my opinion, as they ought to. We started the practice of flying in an executive, who had gone to jail for ethics violation. And after that, he had taken a decision to share what made him make those decisions, so that people don't fall into the same trap. So we would fly him in for a session. And multiple students have told me how much it shook them, because the person was not unethical. Sometimes you're just back into unethical situations and sensitizing people to that is critical. It's something that we do in the Executive MBA, but I think we need to emphasize that even more.
19:35 Matt Waller: Well, Vikas, the executive MBA program, we have great faculty teaching in it, but I actually think the thing that really makes it the best are the students that we have.
19:46 Vikas Anand: Absolutely. Absolutely.
19:48 Matt Waller: I know you put a lot of effort into making sure we have a good distribution of students in many, many different ways. And is that very hard to actually execute? It would seem to be.
20:01 Vikas Anand: I don't know how to answer that question exactly. It's not necessarily hard, chiefly because we have amazing students. Our alum are amazing, they are our biggest advocates. To a large extent, our alum are so committed that even our Alumni Learning Series, they are the ones who are coming and speaking. We had Shree Iyer from Facebook. He heads a major component of their analytics group, come in and talk to our alum about how Facebook is now handling its analytics. It just makes me feel very, very proud to be part of this program.
20:38 Matt Waller: Well, you've created MBA Alumni Advisory Board?
20:41 Vikas Anand: Yes.
20:42 Matt Waller: And many of them have senior positions with some of the largest companies on earth, and they take time to help with this. I'm so grateful for that.
20:56 Vikas Anand: No, they are an amazing set of people.
20:57 Matt Waller: And I say that... But you've also got tremendous entrepreneurs. Yeah, so they're not all working for these big companies. It's a... Again, you've created a board that has quite diversity.
21:10 Vikas Anand: Yes, that diverse knowledge base is critical. It is critical in the classroom. That diversity aspect, it's critical in the topics we teach, in the thought leadership, and we've tried to do that at all levels in the MBA program.
21:29 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be Epic Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching "beepicpodcast" one word. That's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic.