Advanced Sustainability (4/5)
By the time the second half of RSM’s MBA program rolled around, burnout had nearly set in for many students. The break from July 21 – August 25 couldn’t arrive soon enough. Before that break could be started, we had to get through our choice of “advanced” courses from June 11 – June 29 and subsequently had to get through our “Living Management Project”, or LMP, from July 2 – July 20. June and July represented the toughest stretch to get through, especially considering the lack of a break from Term 2’s coursework (which ended on June 8th).
The advanced courses centered around:
- Advanced Finance
- Advanced Marketing
- Advanced Strategy
- Advanced Supply Chain Management
- Advanced Sustainability
Given the short duration of the advanced course period (3 weeks), there was not nearly enough time to take a true deep dive into any of the selections. I just wasn’t convinced that taking any intensive quant course, such as Advanced Finance, was the most effective use of time given the amount of high-quality information that can be found online these days. Particularly for finance, high-level teachings can easily be found from highly regarded sources (khanacademy.org for example) and have demonstrated more effectiveness than the professors themselves more times than they should. Regarding the Advanced Strategy course, the minute I saw that the students were expected to compose a biography of a CEO of their choosing by the end of the course period as their final project, I immediately crossed that course off of my list. Given the collective education and professional experience that comprises the MBA class, I found it to be embarrassing that we had the option of a course requiring such a seemingly elementary final project that provides relatively little value to the student. Regarding Advanced Supply Chain Management, supply chain has historically been the furthest from my interests, so the course was never going to be an option for me. That left me with only Advanced Marketing and Advanced Sustainability to choose from as viable choices. While my experience with Marketing during the second term was great and left me anticipating what could be in store for the advanced course, the dealbreaker between the two was the fact that the Advanced Sustainability course allowed for an opportunity to directly learn from and speak with numerous business owners and high-ranking leaders based in the Netherlands, as well as an opportunity to have class in Amsterdam for certain sessions. Being in Amsterdam for any legal reason is never a bad thing.
Accordingly, I chose the Advanced Sustainability course because of the perceived additional value that the course provided relative to the other courses. It was the only course that moved away from problem-solving from the employee’s perspective and focused on problem-solving from the employer’s perspective. It also helped that the professor for this course was the same one from the Business Sustainability course in the first term, so I figured that the familiarity and known expectations would be an advantage given the short period of time we were working with. Unfortunately, the daily schedule was still mentally taxing, as most days (Monday – Friday) began around 9AM and ended somewhere between 4PM – 5PM, before even considering the time needed after that to do the group assignments or individual assignments. Since the Advanced Sustainability course changes its overarching theme every year (for example, this year’s theme was sustainability within the fashion industry), it’s not worth detailing the hard content of each class. However, the way the classes are fundamentally run will most likely remain intact so I will focus on that aspect.
The value of the Advanced Sustainability class proved itself through its nuanced and relevant projects. For example, the group project that was disseminated on the first day of class centered around our respective groups aiding a start-up in the expansion of their sustainable fashion operations into India. This provided us with a golden opportunity to not only network within the company that we were aiding, but to also take a dive into solving the complex problems that surround the founding of businesses in difficult environments such as India. We had the full three-week period to complete this team project. Although the directions were broad and consequently made it difficult to know where to limit our scope (the directions were essentially “tell us how to expand successfully”), especially since it included the composition of a paper that needed to be 3,000 words long and a presentation that needed to be at least 15 minutes long, I appreciated the creativity it allotted us. The individual project that we were also assigned (also 3,000 words but no presentation) provided an even greater opportunity for autonomy, as we were expected to either submit a business proposal, a company analysis focused on their sustainability strategy, or a broad academic take on sustainability within companies. From the beginning, the professor was more than willing to aid in the development of either individual assignment choice, and even showed some flexibility with the due date that was originally set at two weeks from the start of the first class. The assignments provided great opportunities to put ourselves into the entrepreneurial mindset catered more towards our own interests. I chose to go the route of creating a business proposal as my submission and felt that the feedback provided by the professor was invaluable. This in itself will carry significant value far beyond the conclusion of the MBA coursework.
Too often throughout this MBA, I’ve felt that the coursework was too focused on explaining what happened in the past. While I understand that looking at the past is necessary as a reference point, I’m all about putting most of the focus on the present and the future. Contrary to the classes I took before it, the day to day work within the Advanced Sustainability course was all about solving current problems faced by proven business owners who were more than willing to consider the ideas we put forth in an effort to improve their future operations. During one class, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ruben van Veen, who co-launched the Dutch sustainable fashion brand SKOT. After presenting to us how he got his start, what he’s done to maintain his place within the industry, and where he’s looking to go, he tasked us with aiding him in figuring out his next move to expand internationally. We broke into groups and spent 45 minutes in his shoes to figure out the best strategy to expand the brand on a larger scale. Each group received valuable feedback regarding their approach, and the group with the most feasible strategy won a free SKOT button-up shirt for each member. These types of interactions were par for the course more days than not, and they opened us to not only creative approaches toward solving complex issues that business owners are currently facing, but also to relatively unknown industries and opportunities that could be revisited in the future. In addition to hosting the SKOT co-founder during the three-week period, we also enjoyed a tour of the Port of Rotterdam, visited Amsterdam’s Impact Hub to learn about B-Corps, TheRockGroup (a sustainability consultancy firm), and the issues facing Yoni (a start-up focused on organic tampons), visited Interface (a sustainable carpet tile company), watched the “Closing the Loop” documentary at RSM’s on-campus theater, hosted the VP of Sustainability from Tommy Hilfiger, and hosted the Senior Global Lead Water and Global Lead Environment representatives from Heineken. Suffice to say, there was plenty of relevant content and learning opportunities abound packed into the three-week period, and I finally felt that my MBA expectations were being met.
To top it all off, the professor hosted a cookout as a show of appreciation for our hard work. Each person brought a dish and/or drink, students from the previous year’s cohort also attended, and it turned into a great way to cap off three weeks of intense work. I deem the overall advanced course experience from June 11 – June 29 as being among the best offerings up to that point in time. Between the many places and faces we were able to get acquainted with, the hands-on approach we were able to take within the lectures, and the overall lack of monotony that was present throughout thanks to the diverse structure set up by the professor, I was very pleased. Hopefully the other advanced courses enjoyed a similarly enriching experience.
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