Executives in Rotation
How can a business school expose students to real-world practitioners, actively engage its advisory board, and control costs, all at the same time? At Woodbury University in Burbank, California, the School of Business established a rotating executive-in-residence (EIR) program in which 12 members of its advisory committee sign up for one-week shifts to visit campus and interact with students. The program launched in the fall of 2017.
Dean Joan Marques believes that by introducing students to so many business leaders with widely varied backgrounds, the School of Business will better prepare them for their future in the work place. “Today’s employee will hold roughly 14 jobs before the age of 40, which translates to two or three different careers,” she says. “Professions become obsolete on a regular basis, while others that we cannot even conceive of emerge. By hosting a different executive every week, we expose students to a variety of angles from the professional world.”
The school did not have an EIR program before the fall semester, instead exposing students to business leaders by hosting an Entrepreneur Lecture Series and by inviting business speakers to come to class. But Marques was interested in establishing such a program because the school was looking for ways to enhance student involvement in real-world business—particularly as it had recently decided to discontinue relying on the GMAT test for screening MBA students.
“We had discovered that having to do this pre-admissions test wasn’t optimum for adults already in the workforce who were seeking advanced degrees to move up the ladder,” she says. “In speaking with other business school leaders who had dropped the GMAT, we found there were more effective ways to ensure an appropriate level of student preparation and performance. Among these well-received strategies was the executive in residence, because this person can provide a practical background to complement students’ education.”
As Marques began considering an EIR program, she says, “I had two thoughts. One, how can I be economically responsible while implementing an executive-in-residence concept? And two, why not approach our business advisory board to get a diversified and valuable program at no charge?”
Marques found her advisory board members highly enthusiastic about the idea and had no trouble getting volunteers to commit. “Quite the contrary,” she says. She had become aware that many of her advisory board members felt “they were not being used to the school’s maximum advantage. Some openly expressed their desire to do more with and for the school. Others had curtailed their involvement because they hadn’t felt fully engaged. Our closest business representatives expressed a desire to become more involved as well.”
So many board members signed up that Marques filled the fall slate immediately and had to promise others they would get the first slots for the spring semester. She and her leadership team managed the calendar by creating a Google Doc and inviting board members to indicate their preferred dates.
Executives who commit to the program are asked to be present between three and four hours per day when they come to campus, and those days are varied to give access to as many student as possible. Office hours are scheduled at the school’s new Center for Entrepreneurship at different times of day—morning, afternoon, and early evening—to accommodate the schedules of both traditional and nontraditional student populations. The school uses emails and fliers to inform students about each upcoming opportunity, “recapping the date, time, name, and expertise of the next week’s EIR,” says Marques.
While on campus, the executives have a variety of responsibilities. These include holding one-on-one interactions with individual students who sign up for meetings and participating in informal 20-minute career dialogues with classes that are in session during their visits. “Additionally, we plan to have a ‘Shark Tank’ type of event in which advisory board members and some of their associates provide our budding entrepreneurs with feedback and possibly some support,” says Marques. Executives also will act as judges in the business plan competition.
So far, the rollout of the rotating EIR has gone smoothly, and Marques would highly recommend that other schools try similar programs. “Advisory board members want to feel valued,” she says. “They are busy people who don’t want to merely hear about projects that they are detached from. They want to be engaged. This is a win-win-win situation. Students win because they get exposed to a wealth of professional knowledge. The school wins because its students obtain better preparation and guidance toward their future careers. And board members win because they are able to give back to emerging leaders in a meaningful way.”