MBA Primer ~ Part III: Delving into Disciplinary Foundation

For part three of my MBA primer blog series, I will lay out the structural foundation of what you would encounter. The evening MBA program at ASU consists of 13 lockstep core classes (it’s really 12 but ethics & law were combined as one entity at the time) spread out across six 10-week trimesters with four-hour classes two nights a week. In addition, there is a 12-credit requirement that can include an optional emphasis of nine credits. The first year the sessions were held on Mondays and Wednesday from 6-10 p.m., and the second year it was Tuesdays and Thursday nights. So, in summation, that is 48 credits in about 18 months with a three-month summer break.

Those were long nights, but you had some time in between to prepare for the next class and a week off between trimesters. You also had the summer off unless you wanted to do all your electives then and pay more. Most students opted to spread out the four elective classes during the trimesters and the week break between them. Primarily, the elective was an intensive crash course of three or four consecutive full-day sessions on Saturdays with a couple of evening sections between them.

Going in, you know you will be confronted with the fundamental coursework of accounting, finance, economics and supply chain, but there also the “glue courses” that merge these disciplines into the big-picture “managerial mindset”, and these include entrepreneurship and strategy.

There are the “softer courses” of organizational behavior, ethics and marketing, but often these provide the engagement and creativity necessary to complement the often brutally cold mechanics of finance and accounting.

Generally, the two courses assigned for each semester have a yin-yang kind of balance so as not to overwhelm first-year students or send them to a stress counselor. What this means is you are slapped in the face with statistics starting week one, but can rebound a couple nights later with some cordial group discussion about organizational culture and mores.

The second trimester continues this format, as one may struggle with financial accounting yet find some joy with this historical nuances of microeconomics. Then there is the headache of managerial finance for those without that aren’t wired to deal with an assortment of formulas and complicated bond, interest and perpetuity word problems, followed by the “let’s have some fun” marketing management class.

You get the picture for the first year; the second year framework is very similar but you delve into the “manager” layer of disciplines with managerial accounting (much friendlier and less mind-numbing minutiae than financial accounting), management strategy (broad discussions of operational objectives and processes) and business law.

For the most part, if you can get through the first trimester, it gets better, and if you get through the first year and put forth your greatest effort in completing the required work and participating all discussions, you are bound to average at least a B. Tomorrow I will write about the 12-credit emphasis or secondary specialization, but here is a brief snapshot of the core courses:

  1. Statistics for Managers – Abstractions like Z & T-scores, confidence intervals and general standard deviation madness; sample sizes, histograms, probability and data qualities.
  2. Organizational Behavior – The warm, fuzzy discussions the Human Resources department would like you to have and believe in when living the culture and adhering to communication standards of an organization; espoused vs. enacted values; managing diversity; social filters.
  3. Financial Accounting – You will be inundated with debits and credits ad nauseum; know the ins and outs of the balance sheet, cash flows and digesting an annual report.
  4. Microeconomics – price equilibrium; scarcity; opportunity costs; supply & demand; diminishing returns; complimentary goods; economic system progression; price elasticity.
  5. Managerial Finance – Calculate bond coupon payments, stock valuation, pensions, annuities, loans and cost of capital structure.
  6. Marketing Management – SBUs (strategic business units); four “Ps” (product, place, price and promotion) and three “Cs” (company, customer and competitor); market structure – leaders, challenges, followers, niche; customer lifetime value; targeting/segmentation/positioning; perceptual map; conjoint analysis
  7. Macroeconomics – Know the core KPIs for economic measurement (GDP, CPI/inflation, unemployment rate) and role of Federal Reserve.
  8. Managerial Accounting – Activity centers, cost drivers; direct labor, overhead costs; break-even analysis.
  9. Information Systems – Aligning IT strategy with business strategy; finding value and controlling costs of IT by focusing on execution and process excellence; managing outsourcing and partner alliances.
  10. Essentials of Law for Managers – Treaties, contracts; intellectual property; antitrust; patents; fair use; types of corporations (LLC, S-Corporation, partnership)
  11. Ethical Issues for Managers – Conflicts of interest; moral obligations; industry standards; providing accurate information to consumers; deception in advertising; ethical leadership of company culture.
  12. Strategic Management – Defining strategy for companies; determining profitability; assessing general manager vs. functional skills; creating competitive differentiation.
  13. Supply Chain Management – Inventory management; discounting; total cost function; find the bottleneck; streamline your process and figure out what the ultimate goal is.

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