Australian Financial Review Interview with Professor Patrick Butler, Director MBA Programs

What is the profile of your student body?

We averaged 50 per cent women for the past three years. About a third of the class of 50 are international students; 21 from 17 countries, this year. We are big on experience: we require a minimum of three years, but the average is seven to eight years, and we seek people with a wide range of sectoral experience and professional backgrounds and qualifications.

We do lots of applied project work, so that diversity adds to the quality of the output and the peer-learning experience of the class

What do the students want from a face-to-face MBA?

These are smart, experienced, ambitious young managers who are investing in their future. Monash MBA students have elected to do a highly applied program that features a suite of four consulting projects, rather than a more classroom based, or case study-based, or online program. They want the right balance of knowledge and competencies.

In our view, an MBA should not be regarded as some kind of corporate training experience. Our program is intellectually and academically rigorous. The consulting projects provide the depth of experience and skill sets demanded of practising managers.

What does the typical learning experience look like for your students?

It’s highly experiential, with an emphasis on peer learning. Two critical differentiators are our use of integrated subjects and applied projects. Module 1 has business models, strategy and marketing, and accounting as an integrated suite. In many classes, the three professors are in the classroom together working on live cases and facilitating presentations by leading business practitioners.

In Module 2, students study an integrated program involving design thinking, commercialisation of technology and business finance. This gives them a knowledge base to undertake the next project with a tech company seeking to commercialise its technology in the marketplace.

As for projects, the MBA is built around a suite of live consulting projects - one in each module. They are in four areas: business strategy in an Australian corporate; commercialisation of technology in a high-tech firm; entrepreneurship, where teams work with the founder of a start-up tech venture; and international business, where students work with an Australian firm seeking opportunities in China.

What are the benefits of an immersive campus experience?

A successful management career requires deep engagement with a wide variety of organisational players. While case studies can be an effective means of applying ideas, a practice-based program provides the most effective and successful model of learning. Interaction with other experienced managers on the program and with project sponsors provides the right training ground for more strategic and consequential work.

What’s your view on having a set order in the way that MBA courses should be taught?

Our MBA program is based on four key learning platforms that inform all content.

  1. Focus on next-generation problems: an emphasis on new thinking and new business models for the next generation of successful enterprises and executives. The program features technology development, design thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity.
  2. The MBA of management practice: the hallmark of a successful executive is the proven ability to strategise and execute. Practice-based models should supplant case-based and classroombased learning models.
  3. Global orientation and international experience: the MBA community of students, professors and business partners comprises people from varied nationalities and cultures. The program involves international projects and study in overseas markets.
  4. Leadership and personal development: development of critical executive capabilities and personal style. The leadership program is integrated into all modules and the career advancement program runs throughout the MBA.

What do your students say they value most from your program, and what do they find most challenging?

Students find the practice-based model challenging and rewarding. We need to stretch the students in terms of their work for our business partners and ensure they deliver high-level, professional consulting findings and reports on complex business problems. But we also need to support that work. Accordingly, students have weekly progress meetings and reviews with a team of professors of practice who are experienced management consultants and coaches.

One thing the students really value is the career opportunities that arise from such a program experience. Nine of the MBA classes of the past two years have achieved new positions in the major consulting houses - EY, KPMG, PwC/ Strategy& and AT Kearney. Other students have recently been recruited into management roles at Google, Transurban, BP and Linfox.

What do employers like best about your program?'

The intellectual maturity and practice competencies of our graduates. Once a manager has several years of experience, they should be in a position to take on responsibility for both internal and client-focused projects. Employers report that our approach in providing opportunities to tackle real and difficult client problems provides them with that extra confidence and authority.

As a manager matures, they should be working on increasingly complex and strategic projects; developing a reputation for this kind of work is precisely what senior executives seek as they recruit and promote talent.

Being able to manage project outcomes and client relationships is the kind of skill set employers seek at this level.

– Patrick Butler spoke to Sally Patten