The following are remarks from Susan Fournier, Allen Questrom professor and dean of Boston University Questrom School of Business. They have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Over its 105-year history, Boston University’s Questrom School of Business has introduced five versions of the MBA to address unique segments of business learners, and now continues to expand its portfolio, utilizing new technologies to reach the global online segment.
Our portfolio strategy comprised a multi-year process that helped us recalibrate degrees that have been around 50 years or more, aligning them with what leaders need today and level setting in today’s environment. This led to the launch of our online MBA.
When designing the online MBA, the flagship degree for business education, BU Questrom started with a clean slate and focused on bigger interdisciplinary themes in redefining the learning outcomes delivered by the degree.
We focused on the idea that yesterday’s view of business education is very disciplinary, very siloed and very focused on a given value-creating function like marketing, or finance, or supply chain or operations. We stepped back and thought about the broader capabilities leaders need to build, and designed the program with an interdisciplinary mindset—cutting across all those silos.
It’s a different way of thinking that focuses on problems with the recognition that, as a leader or business manager, you don’t come upon problems in a silo, you come upon problems that cut across silos, like growing the business, or stemming customer decline. That’s not a marketing problem. It’s not a strategy problem. It’s a business problem.
As an example, one of the six modules is integrated risk management. If a student wanted to learn about that in existing programs, they would have to take a number of electives and put it all together themselves.
Teaching in this risk module are marketing professors, finance professors and operations professors thinking about variability in production capacity and processes. Accounting professors think about risk management from the perspective of compliance standards and reporting.
With a passion for marketing and branding I see my job as building the reputation and brand of the Boston University Questrom School of Business, as embodied in the stakeholder behaviors, quality of students, faculty and research.
You can’t have a strong brand without a laser focus on relevance and differentiation, and that’s what I do every day. My branding research and career have been invaluable in providing frameworks and perspectives that really help guide us forward.
1. Designing A Holistic Business Education
BU Questrom is redefining business education in the microcosm of the online MBA in terms of innovation and thinking holistically about the leadership styles required for innovation, the skill sets that enable it and the marketing prowess required for identifying new unmet needs and segments to address with new products.
Another way in which the online MBA takes a holistic approach is in shaping social impact, which includes themes as varied as corporate sustainability, sustainable energy, social impact investing, ESG measurement, diversity and inclusion and stimulating investments to solve major challenges in the world.
These are all bigger themes where BU—a university with 18 schools and colleges—can powerfully come together to solve grand problems and challenges informed by partnerships.
The Questrom School of Business also aims to be distinctive in digital business while interfacing with the parallel world at the university level. Our scholarly and academic focus on digital business plays out in digital health, Fintech, in the economics of platform markets, digital marketing and addressability.
Another area of focus is on education informed by research, an additional way that the academic research enterprise has an impact that goes back into the classroom. Why have an academic research institution if there are no direct feeds between partnerships and collaboration with their alumni, corporate partners, industries and internally with other schools and professionals?
It is through those partnerships that we cultivate hands-on projects, speakers for our classrooms, members of advisory councils and committees that help us make our programs relevant and resonant with the changing world of work. These ideas are penned inside our strategic plan called Questrom 2030. These are the pillars of strategic priority that guide our investments as we go forward.
2. Navigating The Evolution Of Work During The Pandemic
As dean, I find every day filled with challenges, with a mandate to innovate or die in a world of increasing competition and a continual search for excellence.
Career-wise, there’s nothing like a global pandemic to put a few challenges on the table. Take a terrific faculty used to teaching the way we have always taught, and force us to innovate with new technological tools and grow pedagogically with different ways to think about what we do and how we do it.
That made me question what it means to go to work today, how to think about a distributed workforce, how to maximize partially remote teams—especially as a historically residential campus. How do we redefine the residential academic research university, now that the genie is out of the bottle, the world has changed and it’s not likely we’ll go back?
I admit I have found the softer sides of culture very challenging, especially when one can deliver a class remotely and not necessarily partake in the vibrant residential community that was always at the heart of all educators do.
The future of work, the evolution of work and the community that binds us all is a monumental challenge, both on the faculty side and the staff side. How do we keep from becoming a transactional culture and how do we become a communal culture again, with new norms that we can embrace?
Top business schools face immense pressure to build their talent and improve their programs, all of which costs money. My final challenge is to continue to fund the school’s appetite for research and innovation through new revenue sources.
We need to continuously source new funds and new programs, and we are judicious in this activity. We have a business analytics masters degree, a very powerfully differentiated math finance degree, a social impact MBA and a health sector MBA. Fundraising behind ideas that can have traction among stakeholders is key.
3. Taking A Student-First Approach
As an academic research institution, BU Questrom is all about the students, and so pursues a students-first approach to education.
We’re in that tier of large schools committed to research and teaching. Sadly, you can see tradeoffs in these missions, but not here. Here it is all about the students and excellence in the classroom—the attention, the concern and the degree to which we are guided and driven by students is palpable and noteworthy.
BU Questrom’s mission statement calls for using the power of business to create value for the world. Business as a force for good, building business skills such that all organizations can operate as drivers for change.
BU Questrom highly values its collaborative community built on respect and appreciation for everyone’s contributions. We recently appointed our first-ever associate dean for diversity and inclusion on the leadership team.
We have 160 full-time faculty members and we’re all about teaming. For better or for worse, you learn how to work on those teams. It’s amazing to operate as collaborative spirits, and that culture bleeds into the students.
Another fundamental value of BU Questrom is the emphasis on supporting first-generation students. The leadership team is disproportionately first-generation, including myself; I am part of the Questrom diversity and inclusion story.
How can you be student-first, if that hasn’t been your career? There is a commitment from the top. Our strategic plan has six priority areas. The sixth area is about culture. There is formalization around our collective commitment to articulating what we believe in our incentives and reward structures. We formally encourage the things we believe in—students first, pursuit of excellence and respect for everyone.
4. Embracing Risk Over Tradition
BU Questrom’s leadership team is also remarkable for being more risk-embracing than others and in leaving the school better than when we got there.
Some of the legacy we look to leave is to be willing to think differently, to engage bigger ideas and to take risks. The online MBA priced at $24,000 is a great example of that. No one else has done that while also supporting a robust full and part-time MBA. We did, and we’re very successful at it.
As a global business school, Questrom ranks in the top five in the attraction of international students. It’s remarkable when I travel abroad to Korea and Indonesia. People know BU in the middle of Bangladesh.
BU also has a school of global policy and international relations and is working on ideas to ready global leaders, who will need to understand the global economy and operation of multinationals in the context of politics, how that affects regulations—as well as the softer skills of cross-cultural competency.
It’s an exciting time to be in education because we have the ability to change the course of human events, to really influence the next generation of leadership. It’s great to be on a team that embraces that rather than hides from it. It has been inspiring and motivating to be part of our amazing team.