Leadership Dynamics / Back to school

Everyone from corporate veterans to aspiring entrepreneurs can benefit from the region's many leadership training programs

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MBA programs and continuing education courses on leadership are a thriving business for many universities in the Pittsburgh region, making it possible for thousands of corporate professionals and entrepreneurs each year to choose a program that best fits their individual learning styles and career goals.

The two largest programs based on enrollment are at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

Pitt's Katz School of Business offers an MBA degree focused on students getting hands-on experience coming up with solutions for real companies with real challenges. The Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at Pitt is designed for people who have started businesses, while the MBA program at CMU's Tepper School of Business leans toward a scientific method of business leadership.

"We have a very analytic approach to business because we believe if you can understand the data, you can understand business," said Michael Trick, senior associate dean for education at CMU's Tepper School of Business and professor of operations research.

CMU takes credit for having always been a different kind of business school from its very beginning in 1949.

The college was founded by an eclectic group of people who included economists, psychologists and optimization experts. The modern model for business education -- using analytics to make business decisions -- traces its beginnings to CMU. One of the university's biggest claims to fame is having eight Nobel laureate graduates.

"Before us, a lot of business schools were taught by people telling stories about a business and its challenges," Mr. Trick said. "We created a course of study which aimed to understand the scientific principles behind management. That scientific approach is now the common paradigm for understanding business today."

But the MBA program at CMU's Tepper School has evolved over the years, Mr. Trick said. "Now we do have more of an emphasis on leadership skills so that our students can really change businesses. That is what I think the real strength of our program is. We combine analytics to understand business with leadership to change business."

Each year, CMU admits about 210 full-time MBA students to its two-year program. About 70 evening and part-time students go through its three-year MBA program. Now the university has a new online version of the Tepper MBA that also will last three years starting this fall; about 40 students are expected to participate.

Taking a hands-on approach, the University of Pittsburgh's Katz School of Business finds opportunities for its students to work on field consulting projects for local businesses.

"The core of what we do is called experienced-based learning," said Bill Valenta, assistant dean of the Executive MBA Worldwide and the Center for Executive Education at Katz. "Companies come to us with about 12 to 14 projects every semester dealing with issues related to divestment, acquisition, operations and pricing.

"You name any type of business challenge and our students have addressed it."

The Pitt MBA program can be completed in either one or two years full-time or in three years part-time. The 60 to 80 students enrolled in the program are organized into teams. Each semester they compete in case competitions to see who did the best job of addressing a company's problem. The winning team is awarded the McKinsey Cup.

"What this does is puts the student directly in the same position they will be in when they leave the program," Mr. Valenta said, adding that Pitt students have traveled as far as Brazil and China to meet with clients. "They have to solve problems and make decisions on incomplete information. The challenge of leadership is to continually move forward, find solutions and solve complex business problems."

The Executive MBA program lasts 19 months and is designed for people who already have some leadership experience and hold senior positions within companies. This program is much more concentrated on understanding international affairs and building international relationships among students around the globe who also are studying for MBA degrees from Pitt.

"Leadership is about recognizing the global economy and taking advantage of opportunities the global economy creates," Mr. Valenta said. "We bring together these different students and cohorts in a way that allows them to work together, learning different cultures in each location and networking on a global scale."

Meanwhile, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at the University of Pittsburgh takes aim at training the next group of leaders already in business, said Ann Dugan, executive director of the leadership training course that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

"Our focus is not so much on academics," she said. "We train people who have started businesses. Our education and consulting programs are focused on the business leaders of today, not tomorrow or the next generation. Business owners use our programs to grow their business to the next level."

In the course of a year, Ms. Dugan said up to 800 people are involved in the non-degree program.

They learn from experienced entrepreneurs. They leave the classroom each month with an action plan to implement in their own businesses right away. They also have the benefit of networking with other entrepreneurs, helping each other brainstorm and comparing real-life experiences in management and leadership.

"People go to MBA programs to get the academic tools to develop business management skills," Ms. Dugan said. "In our program, they immediately apply the skills they learn in their own businesses."


-- Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591 First Published May 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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