Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Bruce McKern, Director of the Stanford Sloan Master’s Program. If you are a manager with more than eight years of impressive professional growth and interested in accelerating that growth by studying for a Masters of Science in Management, then you should be very interested in this Q&A, especially the A. Warning: Long, but highly informative, post
How much experience do Stanford Sloan Fellows typically have on average?
The average amount of full-time work experience for Sloan Fellows at Stanford is 15 years. They typically are mid-career managers aiming to move into senior management.
Sponsored fellows are clearly expected to move into more senior leadership positions.
What is the role of sponsorship in the Stanford Sloan Program? The web site says many Fellows are sponsored, but clearly not all.
We do have a range of sponsorship arrangements. We don’t dictate what that should be. A more modest arrangement is leave of absence. Then there are sponsorships where the employer pays full tuition, fees, and a stipend or living allowance. The most generous employers pay tuitions, fees, and expenses, and continue to pay the employee a full salary. Most companies will continue health and retirement benefits. It varies and the sponsor and the candidate decide between them.
We also have self-sponsored students. About 30% of Fellows are self-sponsored. Among the self-sponsored, some come from big companies, often in specialized or technical fields. They now want to go into general management. The Sloan program helps them make that move.
Other self-sponsored Fellows are entrepreneurs who may be between ventures. Their intention is to finish the program and start another company. A sub-group of the self-sponsored consists of those coming from family businesses. Technically sponsored by their companies, they are somewhat of a hybrid between self-sponsored and company sponsored. They make up 5-6% of the Sloan class.
We started admitting self-sponsored students in 2002, which represented a big change for us. The change has been good for Stanford’s Sloan program. Entrepreneurs entered the program, and they enrich the class with their perspective. As a group they are very bright and entrepreneurial, but they also benefit greatly from their exposure to sponsored Fellows from large companies or government. The mix of people coming from corporate backgrounds and entrepreneurial backgrounds, coupled with the mix of cultures from 20 countries, enables both groups to learn from each other.
Does sponsorship play a role in evaluating a candidate for admission?
Not really, but we do have a slight preference for sponsored candidates because that’s the Program’s tradition and we know that sponsored applicants have been through a rigorous internal vetting process. However, our overriding goal is to admit people with maturity and demonstrated potential for leadership.
What attributes do you want to see in an applicant?
We want to see demonstrated maturity and leadership. Where have they been? What have they accomplished? For which organizations? We look closely at the essays and recommendations to see if the candidates present those qualities. We also interview everyone.
What about academics? The GMAT? I noticed that the GMAT is required.
Yes, it is required. The median GMAT score is 675. We require the test because we want to know Fellows can cope with the academics, which are demanding and rigorous.
We will also look at the applicant’s undergrad record, but a low GPA doesn’t doom someone if they have a competitive GMAT and demonstrate maturity and leadership. We find that some blossom late in life, so we don’t penalize for a mediocre undergrad record. We take it into consideration, but it is not determinative. It is looked at in combination with the GMAT specifically and in the context of the overall application.
Again, our main criteria: maturity and leadership potential.
The Stanford Sloan Master’s Program has a single class of 56 students. All core work is completed together with other Sloans. There are 13 core courses which Sloan Fellows undertake in their own classroom, in an area of the Graduate School of Business that is separately set up for them. Their core professors are the same professors who teach in the MBA program, although the Sloan program tends to attract professors who like to work with executives and more experienced students.
Students take at least five electives in GSB with Stanford MBA students and both groups enjoy the interaction with each other.
What methodology is favored by the Stanford Sloan program? Cases? Projects? Lecture and reading? A combination of all the above?
The Stanford Sloan Master’s Program mirrors the methodologies used in the MBA program at the GSB, which is quite diverse. Each faculty member determines his or her teaching style and methodology; the School doesn’t dictate it. As a result, it varies, usually by topic. In quant courses, a professor may use problems, supplemented by discussion and lectures, as well as student presentations.
In management and strategy courses, professors use case studies more. In all classes, we emphasize student participation. All professors grade on class participation, and we encourage vigorous discussion in classes.
Can you describe the classroom atmosphere for me?
Intense, enjoyable, participative and stimulating. The professors are excellent teachers who engage with the students. Students themselves participate actively in class. For example, they do presentations. Frequently competition develops to prepare the best, most entertaining presentations. The participatory nature of the classroom creates a warm and enjoyable atmosphere. We want to see issues debated in a friendly environment.
That brings me to the cooperative nature of the program. Stanford GSB has a non-grade-disclosure (NGD) policy. Students do not compete via grades. They are simply not disclosed. Fellows are encouraged to excel and learn for learning’s own sake, not for grades. The NGD policy further nurtures the cooperative atmosphere and contributes to friendships for life.
I mentioned that we use study groups a lot. Each Fellow is part of study group of six. The study groups are assigned at the beginning of each quarter, and they help students prepare for class. Since the groups change quarterly, by the end of the year Fellows have participated in groups with roughly half of the other Fellows, which first and foremost encourages Fellows to share abilities and experiences and additionally allows them to get to know each other well. The groups give Sloans the experience of working in a high performing, diverse team of peers, which is exactly how managers work today.
The final function of the study group members is to provide feedback on performance. It is an additional element of the 360-degree feedback required before the Program begins, as part of our Sloan Leadership Seminar.
You are anticipating my next question. Could you describe the leadership aspect of the Stanford Sloan Master’s program? I know it is an important element.
Before I focus on leadership development at Stanford Sloan, let’s take a step back. The Stanford Sloan Program is a program in general management. Leadership is of course a critical component in genera
l management, and it is in that context that we work on leadership skills among the Fellows
Through the core, Fellows receive a foundation in basic business functions. In addition throughout the Sloan Program, all Fellows participate in the Sloan Leadership Seminar, which actually starts before they arrive in Palo Alto, and continues through the entire program.
Stanford Sloan’s Leadership Seminar is a 3-pronged program in which Fellows:
- Learn more about themselves and how they are perceived. Entering Fellows undertake 360-degree feedback in their organizations before coming to the program.
- Study how scholars and managers have viewed leadership over time. We study personality, contingency, and post-heroic theories of leadership. Sloan Fellows also complete several self-administered instruments to help assess their preferences on issues relevant to leadership.
- Meet top business and governmental leaders and learn how they view leadership. Fellows meet with leaders such as Andy Grove, Craig Barrett, Dr Ben Bernanke, and Dr. George Shultz. At the meetings, Fellows usually hear a presentation from such preeminent leaders, followed by Q&A and a reception, which enables them to hear the leaders’ personal views.
How does the self-evaluation part of the Leadership Seminar work?
Before they arrive, Fellows’ direct reports fill in a feedback form about the Fellows’ leadership style. Human resource consultants review the surveys, interpret them, and analyze the feedback with the Fellows. Using the six different leadership styles identified by Daniel Goleman of EQ fame, Fellows are encouraged to consider their leadership styles and strengthen those areas that need to be strengthened, so that they can draw on them in the appropriate situations.
What is the purpose of the study trips that are an integral part of the Sloan Program?
The study trips are part of the Leadership Seminar. They provide for the Fellows a powerful opportunity to meet leaders in their own environment and to discuss their views on strategy and implementing strategy. On the international study trip, Fellows gain an appreciation of the nuances of leadership in different cultures, as well as gaining an understanding of those cultures and the opportunities for doing business.
We have four study trips.
- Silicon Valley. A short visit to companies such as Intel, Cisco, HP, SAP, and others.
- Portland and Seattle. To Nike in Portland (the Chairman is a Stanford GSB alum); and in Seattle we visit Boeing; PACCAR (Mark Piggot, Chairman, is a Sloan grad) and either Costco (alum is CFO) or Microsoft.
- Washington, DC and NYC. Meet with such leaders as Dr. Ben Bernanke, Justice Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court, and often a senator or congressman. Sometimes we meet with cabinet members, heads of major NGOs such as the Red Cross or the World Bank. We also meet with the CEO of Lockheed Martin, which is headquartered in nearby Bethesda. In New York City we meet with the CEO of the NYSE and the leaders of Goldman Sachs, Ogilvey and Mather, AIG, or other major corporations.
- Post-Graduation International Field Trip. Every second year, we travel to Asia (Usually China and India. Sometimes Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong or Singapore). While there we meet with business leaders and government officials. We also do a little sightseeing. In India we met with the heads of major Indian corporations such as Reliance, Infosys Ltd and the Tata Group, as well as studying communities in poorer areas where cooperatives created by women are helping each other to set up businesses using microfinance. In China, we usually go to Beijing and Shanghai, and sometimes Hangzhou or Chengdu. In India the study trip would usually include Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi, as well as one or more cultural sites such as Agra.
Every other year, the study trip focuses on a different region of the world. These included Eastern Europe and South America. Again we meet with executives, governors of central banks, and government leaders, including the occasional President. This year we are going to Moscow, Prague, and Bucharest.
When I look at the class profile for 2007, it seems that the class is heavily tilted towards general management and technology. Is that correct?
Correct. The Stanford Sloan program is not specifically focused on technology, but the self-sponsored students like the entrepreneurship courses in the school. There are extraordinary opportunities in the Silicon Valley area, of which Stanford is the center, to connect with hi-technology companies and entrepreneurs..
Sloan Fellows make connections quickly and develop networks with incredible speed. Their Stanford location and its reputation give them remarkable access to people in venture capital, other entrepreneurs, and major technology companies headquartered in Silicon Valley.
These people are open to being approached by Sloan Fellows, and the Fellows as a result develop a great network.
Does the Stanford Sloan program include a capstone-type project? I didn’t see anything about a thesis.
No. We do have strong strategy courses, but we do not require a mini-thesis or project. People can do a project in place of an elective under the supervision of a faculty member if they choose. The project can be a business plan or a consulting project for a company, usually their sponsoring company. For example, one Fellow examined the potential for expanding into a new product line for his sponsoring company.
Alternatively, a Fellow can explore a field he or she is interested in entering, if self-sponsored. For example, one Fellow had an idea for a hedge fund. He researched the idea under the supervision of a faculty member and worked with a Ph.D. student to explore and test its validity. On leaving the program he set up the fund.
What does Stanford Sloan offer entrepreneurs?
- Excellent courses in entrepreneurship anchored by Stanford’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies with its outstanding instructors. We have a good number of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who co-teach with faculty. For example, Andy Grove, formerly Intel’s CEO and Chairman, co-teaches “Strategy and Action in Information Technology.” Mark Leslie, former CEO of Veritas, teaches two courses at Stanford, including Entrepreneurship: Formation of New Ventures. Eric Schmidt from Google has co-taught “Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital.” Other faculty have developed innovative courses in bio-design, and the design of highly affordable products for developing countries, some of which are taught in conjunction with students from engineering and medicine.
- An incomparable network. Everyone has access to the alumni network: 1600 Sloan alumni and 20,000 Stanford MBA alumni. In addition, Silicon Valley is the heart of start-up activity in the world today. The Stanford brand plus Stanford’s Silicon Valley location make it easy for the budding entrepreneurs to develop a strong network.
Do Stanford Sloan Fellows have access to career services?
Only self-sponsored Fellows have access. They have full access to the Career Management Center. In addition the Sloan Program also runs specific activities for the self-sponsored Fellows. For example:
The Career Management Workshop. Over 6 weeks during one quarter, a group of consultants help participants reflect on their professional goals, how to achieve them, and the network they will need to attain them.
I had been running for the last two years with a local venture
e capitalist, who was one of our successful Sloan graduates, an optional seminar on entrepreneurship for self-sponsored students. The seminar will provide an exchange of ideas on the key issues in setting up a new business, which is helpful for entrepreneurial Fellows before they undertake GSB electives in entrepreneurship.
What do you see for the future of the Sloan program?
I am stepping down in June as Director, but I see the Program as very well positioned and continuing to attract a mix of sponsored and self-sponsored students. I also see the continuation of a growing trend where new companies from outside the US, for example from China and India, are sending excellent candidates to the Program.
Finally, I see the curriculum evolving to reflect the evolution of the Stanford MBA. We are not changing the Sloan curriculum yet, but it will change over the next couple of years, and the new Sloan Program administration will lead that development.
What distinguishes Sloan Fellows from Stanford MBAs?
The obvious differences are: The MBA is a 2-year program for young, bright people in the early stages of their careers. The Sloan Program is a 10-month program for experienced middle managers who are preparing themselves for a more demanding leadership role.
How would you distinguish the Sloan Fellows Program from an EMBA program, or would you?
They both attract similar applicants with similar aspirations: people in mid-career who want to move into senior management positions and need to expand their business foundation. However there are significant differences:
The first is that the Sloan Program is a full-time program, so there is an opportunity to go into much greater depth in each topic area and work on areas that take time and reflection, such as leadership. Also, the typical EMBA program relies mainly on candidates who are local to the area, so is not as diverse as the Sloan Master’s Program. With students from 20 different countries coming to the Program with their partners and families, there is a very rich mix of backgrounds and experiences, which is much more. diverse than most EMBA programs.
Our faculty decided against offering an EMBA because we don’t believe there is sufficient time in an EMBA to ensure the same quality and depth that we can provide with a full-time program. The EMBA is a good compromise, but we believe that the full-time program is much richer and stronger. It is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself deeply in general management, leadership, and business.
What distinguishes Stanford’s Sloan Master’s Program from London Business School’s and MIT’s Sloan Fellows Programs?
Because Stanford’s Sloan Program offers residential accommodations, 70% of Fellows and their families live on campus. Consequently they become very close. We also offer social programs for partners and children. Because Stanford Fellows are not commuting, unlike those at MIT and LBS, the bonds are exceptionally strong and deep.
I , would like to correct some errors in the remarks made elsewhere about Stanford’s program. We have about 70% sponsored candidates at Stanford and the years of experience are certainly comparable to that of MIT’s Sloan Fellows.
I would argue that Stanford’s requiring the GMAT, which MIT does not require, ensures academic rigor and a high academic standard. We reject some applicants because of a low GMAT.
We haven’t discussed international business or globalization much in our conversation. Is it an important part of the Stanford Sloan curriculum?
It is an integral part of the curriculum, in the classroom and out. Our approach at GSB is twofold:
- Faculty are encouraged to include international issues in all appropriate courses.
- The GSB is enhancing and sharpening that focus as part of the new curriculum. Related to this focus was the creation of a new centre for global business and the economy which has stimulated opportunities for students to engage in international activities, such as internships and projects with international companies and exchanges with other institutions.
It’s not by accident that the Stanford program culminates with an international trip focusing on leadership around the world. This is an important part of our global orientation. In addition, with 60% of our student cohort coming from 20 countries outside the United States, Sloan Fellows have a continuing multicultural experience throughout the year and develop a broader global perspective.
What do you wish I would have asked you?
What do people think about program after they leave?
OK. What do people think about the program after they leave?
We just surveyed our Sloan alumni from the last 50 years, since it’s our 50th anniversary year in 2007.
I am proud to say that we received 600 responses to 1600 surveys sent out. One of the questions is “Would you do it again?” 95% said “Yes.” And 98% said they would recommend the Stanford Sloan program to others.
Another question asked “What’s the highest level position you attained?” Over 80% have reached senior management. Almost one third have founded their own company.
Our alumni look back on the Stanford Sloan Master’s Program as a transformational experience.