When people speak of what they learned in business school, they usually speak of the skills they gained. Clearly, a technical knowledge is not as important in business school as it is in medical school or law school. In many ways, this distinction is even more evident at Darden, where skills like teamwork and persuasion are emphasized in learning teams and in the classroom (versus completing a problem set by yourself). Still, for me, much of the value of this last semester has been actually learning new business concepts that I can apply in the future. I mention this because I think in the application phase people never really get a sense for what they’re going to learn in business school, which is important (although I’m not sure it differs that much by school). Some of the most useful things I’ve learned or best individual cases:
- Monetary policy, in Economics. Even as someone that came from a stint in capital markets, my knowledge of how what central governments do effects the world was pretty lacking. It’s a real point of emphasis in Economics (“GEM”) for first-years – a point that is hammered home every class. Obviously, it’s an important thing to know regardless of what you do after school.
- Industry Analysis, in Accounting. We had one case, almost a game, where we were given key financial metrics (think gross margin, cash as a % of sales, dividend payout, fiscal year end, PP&E as a % of assets) for 14 industries and had to match the industries to the financial metrics. It’s my opinion that maybe the single most important thing to learn in business school is how different industries work, and how they differ. We obviously do this through cases as well (though only to a certain extent: the cases tend to be a little shorter, which hurts your ability to build up knowledge of a company or industry), but this case was really challenging and forced me to think about what was going on with each underlying business.
- Operating a Call Center, in Operations. I had no idea that there was so much math involved in determining staffing levels of a call center, or any other process where waiting time is involved. As you start to think about a management position, or think about entering consulting and face process improvement engagements, this is an interesting skill set to learn. At least for me, it helps me think about staffing and things like variation and utilization a little bit differently.
- German Reunification, in Economics. Though this was an especially useful case because (a) Germany is such an important country, and (b) this had an element of history in it, which I enjoy and won’t soon forget. In the case we discussed the issues facing the nation as East Germany and West Germany came back together (West Germany had developed its industries considerably and was much wealthier; the German government had to incentivize Easterners not to flee to the West, which might further the gap). When I was going through this case, I remember thinking that I wish I’d known this when dealing with Daimler as a client in my previous job.
- Private Equity Speaker, through Darden Private Equity Club. One of Carlyle’s Managing Directors came in and went through a deal, then answered any questions students had about the industry or the deal itself. I bring this up not to say how awesome or necessary a knowledge of private equity is, but to point out that whatever your interests are in business, at business school you have access to leading minds in any industry. At Darden, I know other first-years have done breakfasts with CEOs of large industrial corporations. Business school (whichever top school it is) provides a unique opportunity for students to learn more in whichever business subjects pique their interest.
Keep in mind that the list above probably differs for each student. Other students have found that learning more in finance and accounting has been especially important: for me, I majored in those subjects in undergrad, so it would be a bad sign if I was seeing these concepts for the first time. Also, I’ll mention that I’ve probably learned the most in marketing this fall (with the possible exception of GEM), but no single case or concept stuck out from the others.