Canada: Nirvana for MBAs?

Henry Mintzberg is on a rant about business education. "MBAs should be stamped with a skull and crossbones that reads, `Not Prepared to Manage,"' the McGill University business professor declares.

What Mintzberg offers up instead is his unorthodox International Masters Program in Practicing Management (IMPM). Founded in 1996 by McGill and five international B-schools (including France's INSEAD and the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore), IMPM puts 40 midcareer students from Fujitsu Ltd., Lufthansa, and elsewhere through a 16-month course on leadership. Rather than focusing on technical subjects, it tackles students' "mindsets"--one two-week module is called Managing Self. The path to management nirvana weaves students through meditation, acting, journal writing, and trips to primitive and high-tech businesses. "It teaches you to think first, and then manage," says Taizoon Chinwalla, 46, former participant and a director at Motorola Inc.

Canada is an odd place for insights into the training of the capitalist elite, considering its statist bent, complete with high taxes and national health care. But Canadian educators have been wrestling with new ideas in management since some provinces stopped funding graduate degree programs in 1995. Making ends meet meant steep tuition hikes and struggles to retain faculty tempted by high salaries abroad. So they opened their doors to a wider pool of applicants, admitting more foreigners than ever. More important, they jettisoned the old approach of specializing in such fields as corporate finance or brand management and replaced it with a new emphasis on producing big-picture leaders. "Canadians are less formulaic about education," says Gerald Ross, dean at McGill Faculty of Management. "We don't imitate what others do."

Back in 1995, the need to raise funds quickly was an effective spur to innovation. For Queen's School of Business, that meant leaving the herd. It refocused its full-time MBA program on students who specialize in science and technology. That let Queens offer more sophisticated classes and led grads to lucrative jobs. McGill offers an IMPM program in niche markets. It's already training execs in nonprofits and plans to target health professionals next. Who knows, Ross suggests, maybe priests, rabbis, and teachers could follow?

MBA TO GO. The programs are hitting the road, too. Queens invested $10 million in its Videoconferencing Executive MBA program and is now Canada's most subscribed, enrolling about 370. Unlike traditional programs, which use less technology, Queens' is a digital affair: Only three weeks of the 20-month program are in person with professors. That has caught the alliance-hungry eye of Cornell University's B-school, which could spread the high-tech program to the U.S.

Aiming at underserved markets abroad, the schools have planted roots in Asia. McGill runs an MBA in Japan for 50 students and expects to offer another in China. University of Western Ontario's Ivey School of Business set up a campus suited with videoconferencing technology and harbor views in the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center in 1998, making it among the first North American schools to open in Asia. Since then, it has followed the legendary Harvard case-study approach, producing 203 business cases on Asian companies. It has also sold 100,000 translated casebooks in China since 1997, sweetening the Ivey brand on the mainland.

The foreign programs pay off. Last year, Ivey generated $975,000 in revenues from the Hong Kong programs, with customers such as Reebok International Ltd. and Mattel Inc., both with big Asian manufacturing operations. The money helps, since Canada's B-schools are all financially squeezed. Queens has an endowment of just $17 million, for instance, vs., say, University of Michigan Business School's $268 million. But if their innovations catch on, Canada's B-schools could start raking it in.

By Mica D. Schneider in Toronto

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.