Guided By A Compass

By: R. Bruce Hutton, Ph.D., Paul M. Bauer, Ph.D., Michaele E. Charles, Editor Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

How the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver is Teaching the Next Generation of Business Leaders to Successfully Navigate Unchartered Territory

Guided By A Compass

As the Daniels College of Business celebrates its centennial, the business world today is a very different place than it was 100 years - or even 100 days - ago. Just one week’s worth of news in the New York Times today is estimated to contain more information than one might have learned over the course of a lifetime in the 18th century.

The rapid growth of technology has created millions of jobs and countless opportunities for people and businesses all across the world - yet, its constant evolution means that the top 10 jobs that will be in demand in 2015 do not exist today and that the amount of new technology information doubles almost every two years.

And since the turn of the century, numerous accounting scandals, the credit and mortgage crises and the financial meltdown on Wall Street - all situations resulting from a lack of values and ethics - have proved that the importance of teaching ethics in business has never been greater.

How is it possible to prepare future business leaders for jobs that don’t yet exist, or teach them the skills necessary to lead ethically in an exponentially changing and competitive business environment? How can colleges properly educate students to solve problems that are not problems yet, to use technologies that haven’t been invented, and to interact with people whose language we do not understand?

At the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, these very questions were raised by the team of more than 20 faculty members tasked in 2006 with redesigning the school’s educational model to prepare students for such a world, teaching them to be nimble when faced with uncertainty, but also grounded in their values and ethics. The Daniels Compass, introduced to students starting master’s programs in the fall of 2007, is a set of six courses (25 percent of the Daniels MBA curriculum) that integrates the fundamental business disciplines - finance, marketing, accounting, operations - with the areas of leadership, self-awareness, teamwork, sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, innovation and ethics. The idea: to offer a values-based business education that teaches current and future generations of business professionals how to make complex, multifaceted decisions while leading with integrity.

The Compass sequence includes the following six courses:

• The Essence of Enterprise:

Teaching students the historical context for doing business in the 21st century and how to take a world view of business.

• Leading at the Edge:

An introduction to leadership and teambuilding through experiential learning and community engagement.

• Ethics for the 21st Century Professional:

Teaching students how to apply ethical concepts and values-based leadership to actual business settings.

• Creating Sustainable Enterprises:

An in-depth study of the interdependency of economic, social and environmental systems.

• Global Enterprise Challenges:

Applying the Daniels Compass tools to global case analyses.

• Innovation Design and Execution:

Teaching students to distinguish between invention and innovation, and better understand how to add value through the execution of innovative ideas.

Innovation in education...Value in Business and Society

From their research, a key conclusion was reached by the Daniels’ curriculum task force: Conventional workforce training and education is quickly becoming obsolete, if it hasn’t already. First, people’s values and priorities in the workplace are increasingly crossing over into their personal lives (and vice versa), causing many professionals to reconsider how they define - and fuse - personal and professional success. Second, the specialization of skills, while still important, is no longer sufficient in an increasingly interdependent business world. Accountants must learn more than accounting, operations professionals more than just operations.

In Daniels’ view, progressive organizations understand the importance of creating shareholder value, but realize that value is built and grown in many ways. Employees, for example, are much more than a “cog in a wheel,” but rather the primary source of an organization’s productivity and success. Thus, it is important to educate the leaders of today and tomorrow about the significance of viewing value creation from a multi-stakeholder perspective, particularly when the students of today want to make a living and a difference in the world.

To that end, the Daniels Compass blends the teaching of the technical skills necessary to do a job with the softer, but no less important leadership skills. In doing so, Daniels will create visionary leaders who recognize that a profitable bottom line is easiest to achieve (and more sustainable) when placing value on people, community and the natural environment.

The compass itself is the perfect metaphor for such a business model, as it provides both direction to the destination ahead and a back bearing that detects where one has come from. The Compass courses are designed to do the same: provide vision and direction for the future, a perspective of the greater world and a sense of history to guide students along the way. The directional points on the Daniels educational compass represent the four categories of values that business leaders must deal with as they navigate an uncertain future: Nature, Enterprise, Self and World.

A Three-tiered Approach To A Solid Business Education

Daniels takes its new integrated coursework beyond the walls of the classroom, offering multiple opportunities for practical application in real-world settings. In a world where business education is a contact sport, Daniels students practice their skills by developing themselves in three distinct areas:

The Global Perspective.

Daniels graduate students are taught to view entrepreneurship on a global level, considering all sectors of a working society - private, public, nonprofit - while addressing issues such as sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. In the practicum component of the Enterprise Solutions course, students must partner with an organization or nonprofit to help them address an opportunity or challenge and provide specific deliverables to the organization. And while many students choose to work with local organizations, more and more are opting to take their initiatives across the globe.

In August 2008, graduate students and professors traveled to Tanzania to work with Peace House Africa, a humanitarian non-profit organization dedicated to educating orphans and other vulnerable children in the area. While not the first trip of its kind (Daniels also has a collaborative partnership with Newmont Mining to allow graduate student groups to do project work at mining sites in Ghana and Peru, and undergraduate classes have traveled to Albania for several years to do community development work), the unique aspect of the Daniels-Peace House relationship is that it echoes the themes of long-term sustainability - both in substance and form. Over the next several years, faculty and students will assist Peace House in designing a curriculum for secondary school students in the areas of business, ethics, leadership, teamwork and sustainable development. The idea is for each class of Daniels students to build upon the previous class’s efforts.

The partnership offers students the chance to apply business acumen to the area of innovation at Peace House, while adhering to the Compass values. Eventually, students will create a business plan for a Center for Innovation and Job Creation, whose aim will be to create jobs and sustainable solutions to development issues throughout Africa.

Another example of such hands-on global fieldwork is the Daniels partnership with Deutsche Bank, a two-course sequence in which students work with DB managers to perform due diligence on loan requests from microfinance institutions (MFIs) all over the world. As part of the class, students travel to MFIs in developing countries. In 2009, the class will be on the ground with DB in Cambodia.

The Experiential Learning Perspective.

To foster innovation, leadership and teamwork, as part of the Leading at the Edge course, all Daniels MBA students spend three days in the mountains, working in small teams to solve a variety of problems in a challenging and unpredictable outdoor setting. But this isn’t your typical ropes course - students are taught to apply the principles embraced by the 10th Mountain Division, the first mountain ski force that was trained at Camp Hale, Colorado during World War II. Just as this unique environment required the men of the 10th Mountain Division to embrace creativity, mold strong teams and above all else, communicate, the aim of the Leading at the Edge weekend is to challenge students to be innovative and confident, increase self-awareness, adhere to their personal values and practice teamwork when leading - regardless of the circumstances.

In the fall of 2008, Leading at the Edge students spent three days at The Nature Place, a conference facility and training center in Florissant, Colorado. Maria Mata, MBA student, calls the excursion a “wonderful experience for students.”

“Our trip to The Nature Place allowed us to gain a better understanding of ourselves, our personalities and how we each relate to others,” says Maria. “We received a practical, real-life demonstration of how people with various leadership styles interact with one another. The experience provided exciting opportunities to test our developing teamwork and leadership skills, and helped us understand the importance of developing positive interpersonal relationships.”

The Community Perspective.

The Compass curriculum was designed around a mission of inspiring students to be responsible citizens and make a positive difference both in the workplace and the greater community. More than just lip service, this goal is embodied by capstone projects required of all MBA students - projects that show students how to contribute to the public good using business skills.

Executive MBAs participate in a five-quarter, applied learning team experience called the Action Leadership Project (ALP). The goal of the ALP is to invest social capital in an organization to achieve measurable results. One example is a project undertaken by students in the fall of 2008 with Denver Children’s Home (DCH) to help the organization enhance its experiential music therapy program for traumatized children. The goals of the team included developing a brand around the value of the program, capturing the unwritten program goals and key performance indicators, defining a strategy for sustainability and scalability and ultimately, delivering a strategy for grant-writing.

All other graduate business students must complete a similar assignment: the Community Capital Project (CCP). The CCP begins with the careful exploration of community issues in the Denver metro area or other parts of Colorado, whereby student teams must identify and define a specific community capital gap that their team could address. The results of that analysis (and ideas for closing the gap) are shared with the entire Daniels community as well as other members of the Denver community at the Community Capital Fair just one quarter into the project. The following quarter, teams pick up where they left off and design a solution to the gap identified.

At the fall 2008 CCP Fair, gaps identified were as diverse as non-profits unable to go green due to a lack of resources, the difficulty for poverty-stricken families of finding affordable child care, parents of English-as-a-Second-Language children struggling to stay involved with their children’s educations, and the challenges small businesses face in engaging in sustainable business practices. More than 360 graduate business students participated.

Looking Forward

Daniels continually reassesses and adjusts the program to achieve maximum learning outcomes, top of mind is the startling conclusion reached through practice and extensive research: When it comes to properly training leaders to lead in today’s complex world, higher education risks becoming irrelevant. Colleges and universities that ignore the importance of integrating knowledge - unfortunately, the majority - inadequately arm their students with the skills necessary to be successful professionals and the values necessary to contribute to the greater good. For that reason, Daniels has embedded in the Compass a steadfast commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and practices.

The University is also responding, integrating curricula across schools that have historically remained separate - Daniels is in talks with the University’s School of Art and Art History to address a widening gap in the art museum world: CEOs with little to no business experience. Soon, administrators hope to offer a dual art/business major to bridge the two disciplines.

DU has also created a University-wide Sustainability Council - an effort driven by a number of student organizations passionate about the environment and sustainable development. The Council is in charge of developing and assisting in the execution of a strategy that incorporates the principles of sustainable development - environmental integrity, social equity, and economic health and stability - into the operation of the University. In fact, DU has conducted a campus-wide sustainability conference to help set the agenda for future action, and is even developing an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in sustainability. The Council consists of 25 members, including faculty, staff, undergraduates and graduate students.

One thing is clear: without a compass and a vision, even the most astute of business leaders would struggle to navigate today’s constantly changing business environment.

Just five quarters in, the new Compass curriculum has redefined the value and purpose of an education at the Daniels College of Business; however, constituents and administrators agree that the future is crucial. To continue to be recognized as one of the best business schools in the world, Daniels must never forget their initial goal of preparing professionals to lead and add significant value to business and society.

R. Bruce Hutton, Dean Emeritus and Piccinati Professor in Teaching Innovation, is the leader in sustainable development education for graduate and corporate programs at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Paul M. Bauer is a clinical professor in the Department of Information Technology and Electronic Commerce at Daniels. Michaele E. Charles, Voice Communications, is a freelance writer in Denver. To learn more about the Compass Program, visit