If you’ve been following my recent blog posts, you know I’m back at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business teaching second year MBA students the CEO and Board Leadership course. The great Neil McReynolds, my co-teacher from last year, decided to retire after 17 years. That means I have a new co-teacher this year. Eileen Odum has served as a guest speaker in past years and has agreed to take on the duties of co-teaching with me this term. It’s quite an honor to have someone with so much board experience working with me and the students.
Eileen’s career spans over 30 years with CEO, COO, President and Board leadership roles in the Telecom and Investor-Owned Public Utility industries. Her experience is a vital perspective on the CEO and Board roles for our students. Her background combined with my VC experience feels like a natural collaboration, and I’m grateful she decided to come on board.
The essence of being a good board member and CEO is to ask thought-provoking questions and listen well to the answers. Therefore, we have set up a structure for the class where students are challenged to think on their feet and respond quickly to various scenarios around current corporate governance events. We also bring in current CEOs and Board members to share their experiences with the class.
One of my favorite parts of the class is spending an hour each week with a small group of students for more in-depth discussions. They can ask questions, discuss current class topics and get more one-on-one insight and attention. Their enthusiasm and interests drive so much of what we do in the class given our open-ended discussions. We like to see and hear how they think and how they come at problems.
Several of the students have already started their own companies during their time as an MBA student. Because the UW has created a program that is extremely collaborative, all the students have the chance to work together in small groups throughout the MBA program. Getting to know each other and work together has sparked new ideas for technologies and businesses. It’s been exciting to watch. We offered advice on how to get the companies going and guidance when they have questions or challenges. But mostly, I’m very proud of the creativity from this group. I may even invest in one or two of them.
The MBA students come from different backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences. But we are so impressed how when they break into small groups, they naturally choose to work with a diverse team. They don’t gravitate into “alike” groups, but seek different perspectives. That is so far removed from how corporate America works today, and it gives us great satisfaction to think of them as future leaders of businesses, non-profits and start-ups. Given their intelligence, energy and focus it was easy to see why virtually all of our 2nd year students graduated with exciting job commitments awaiting them.
By the way, being a professor is a lot of work! Both Eileen and I travel to Seattle each week to teach the class. Getting ourselves to Seattle, plus class prep time and spending the time with the students not to mention grading papers and quizzes means we’re devoting most of our time to teaching right now. On the other hand, these future leaders have us completely inspired with their intelligence, diversity and possibility.
I’m so honored to be part of the UW’s MBA program. These are small, selective classes that allow us to give one-on-one attention and work on real-world problems as presented by today’s CEOs and leaders. In a larger MBA program, students would be in a room of hundreds hearing about case studies rather than actively engaging with the real-life people involved in those studies. We’ve brought in some impressive speakers and CEOs, and the students let us know how valuable it was to interact each week with the nation’s top executives and board members. Most of the speakers stayed on to spend extra time with the students and answer their questions in small groups or one-on-one. What an extraordinary opportunity!
I’m convinced the University of Washington’s MBA program is one of the best kept secrets in global education. It’s been exhilarating and challenging to work with such a strong caliber of students, professors and visiting speakers. This MBA program is second to none.
If you ever feel down on the world today, spend some time with the future leaders. They’ll restore your hope in what’s to come. If this UW MBA class is any indication, things can only get better.