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Florida's MBA professors are pushing the limits

The number of MBA degrees granted in recent years has grown — even as the immediate financial payoff has become more debatable. Partly in response, Florida’s universities are tweaking their MBA programs, coming up with creative specializations.

Instructors and students say the real advantage of an MBA is the practical application of what is learned. “We’re trying to get graduates out in the business community solving real business issues,” says Tim O’Keefe, associate dean and director of graduate programs at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.

Florida’s best MBA professors are focusing on teaching working professionals how to better manage teams, identify problem correctly and negotiate raises. At the links below, you'll find profiles of professors and learn how they approach teaching leadership skills.

Joseph Alba
Professor, Chair of the Department of Marketing
University of Florida Warrington College of Business Administration

Tallys Yunes
Associate Professor, Management Science
University of Miami School of Business Administration

Peggy Golden
Professor and Department Chair, Management Programs
Florida Atlantic University College of Business

Lonnie Bryant
Assistant Professor - University of Tampa

Scott Benjamin
Assistant Professor, Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship,
Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and New Business Development
Florida Institute of Technology

Maureen Ambrose
Gordon J. Barnett Professor of Business Ethics
University of Central Florida College of Business

Steven Christopher Ellis
Instructor, Department of Decision Sciences & Information Systems
Florida International University College of Business

John Riggs
Assistant Professor of Marketing - Nova Southeastern University,
H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship

Ron Satterfield
Instructor - University of South Florida

Joseph Alba
Professor, Chair of the Department of Marketing
University of Florida Warrington College of Business Administration
Courses: Problems and Methods in Marketing Management; Product Development and Management

Joseph Alba gets his students thinking about marketing by delving into consumer perceptions around product quality and brands. “We look at whether advertising can be used to get consumers to believe brands are different when they might be the same or similar,” Alba says.

Alba likes to use beer as an example. “I show the students the data on consumer’s ability to discriminate in a blind test. While they might know the difference between a stout and a light beer, even loyal drinkers can’t identify the difference when they’re choosing between low-priced beers.” Alba says the beer example gets them to start challenging their strong impressions about other products. “Some of them get really motivated and will go out there and pick other categories and see if they can discriminate between brands.”

Even if his students aren’t interested in marketing, Alba impresses upon them how it affects the businesses they work for — how pricing, advertising, distribution and branding help companies gain and keep a competitive advantage over the long term. “I want them to become better strategists and better consumers.”

Alba, a multiple recipient of the UF MBA Outstanding Faculty Award, says he enjoys online teaching because it has certain advantages in enabling students to ask questions and chime in on discussion boards. For each topic covered, he keeps the discussion board open for two weeks. “Unlike in the classroom, discussions are not time-constrained, and we see way more openness.”

Alba’s elective course in new-product development “lends itself to having fun.” He divides his students into teams and challenges them to redesign a commonly used product. The product must be something simple that has been around for many years. Students have redesigned, for example, a pizza box, a can opener, a coffee mug and a clothes hanger. “I ask them to increase utility and attractiveness and use techniques we have learned in class. When it’s time to present, I’m always impressed.”

Tallys Yunes
Associate Professor, Management Science
University of Miami School of Business Administration
Course: Management Science Models for Decision Making

Tallys Yunes begins each class with a discussion of a news article on a sector of the economy or a major decision faced by a specific company. “We look at the business problem, the techniques used to solve it and the outcome.” In some cases, companies may have saved millions of dollars, reduced pollution or increased customer satisfaction. Or the technique may have led to disaster.

Next, Yunes presents a business problem and guides students through the creation of a math model to solve it. Yunes then challenges the students: What do these numbers mean? If you were the decision-maker, how would you use these numbers? Do the numbers agree with your intuition about the problem? What if these additional complicating factors were introduced into the story? Could we still handle it? How would we modify the current math model?

“I encourage students to ask their own what-if kinds of questions and let them think about the answers for a while before I provide them the answer myself.” Often, he offers examples of how he solved a specific problem as a consultant for companies such as Caterpillar and John Deere and for Major League Baseball.

A company, for example, might want to market a new product but has a limited budget. Students analyze the reach and cost of each option. Perhaps a company wants to move goods to a certain destination. Students would need to apply math models, figure out how to choose routes and move goods but spend the least amount of money possible.

Yunes says a big part of decision making involves collaboration, so his students work in groups, like management teams in business. He says MBA students are eager to learn and don’t mind doing hard work (teaching evaluations from his class often say it’s hard work), as long as they can clearly see the potential and the applicability of what they are being taught.

Peggy Golden
Professor and Department Chair, Management Programs
Florida Atlantic University College of Business
Courses: Executive Forum Speaker Series; Global Strategic Management

In Peggy Golden’s class, students have to be ready to ask questions — whether to CEOs such as Jim Robo of NextEra and its FPL subsidiary or to other students with whom they’re collaborating on a problem-solving exercise. They also need to know their way around YouTube. Golden likes to show videos to spark discussion. In Golden’s spring semester Executive Forum Speaker Series, students hear weekly from business leaders and entrepreneurs. That class ends with an assignment that elicits students’ insights after reading a business leader’s biography, most recently that of Steve Jobs.

In the summer or fall — either on campus or online — Golden’s courses focus on global strategy management, learning how to identify business problems.

“I try to keep all my classes very friendly,” Golden says. “Students learn better in an environment where they are not intimidated.” Golden says the material she covers is challenging. However, “my students don’t come away saying it was a hard class. I keep the content interesting and get them to hone in on problem-identification skills.”

One focus for Golden is making students aware of the biases they can bring to identifying and solving problems. Golden says her students scrutinize why companies merge, diversify or change management. “I’ll ask them hard questions about the problem and the solution.”

Course materials range from articles in the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal to those YouTube videos. Golden wants her students to think innovatively about what’s coming next in various industries. She says her main goal is to impart on her students that regardless of what level of management they are in or what type of organizations — public, private, non-profit — they will confront problems that need to be identified correctly and solved.

Golden says she enjoys teaching at the graduate level because students can make the connection between classroom learning and business, which often creates great group discussions. “We have an information lock-down agreement. What happens in the classroom stays in the classroom. Nothing leaks back to an employer.”

Lonnie Bryant
Assistant Professor - University of Tampa
Courses: Corporate Management Strategy (Finance); Advanced Corporate Management Strategy

Lonnie Bryant teaches business professionals how to value a building, plant or company. “Most of my students are not math oriented, so the first month I’m building their comfort level with math concepts,” he says.

Students learn how to read an income statement and balance sheet and financial statements and understand the underlying information. “They need to know where the numbers come from,” Bryant says.

For Facebook’s IPO, for example, Bryant taught students how to examine who the stakeholders and customers are, how the company earns money, how much can be generated from advertisers and how the market values competitors such as Google. “We looked at an entry strategy — when to buy and when to get out.”
Bryant also showed students how to evaluate the cost of buying a corporate jet or opening an additional business location. “Sometimes finding data and implications in real time does take effort.”

Once they have the tools to evaluate decisions, the challenges begin. Bryant usually breaks the class into two teams — buyer and seller. Then he asks students to debate the value of a company. They have to convince the other side that their valuation is best. “Of course, one wants to buy low and the other wants to sell high.”

Throughout the rest of the course, he introduces scenarios for the teams to debate that could involve future projections and require negotiation skills. “It’s great because students want to engage each other and show how smart they are. The classroom is a smaller setting, and they can network and get to know each other’s skill sets.”

In his advanced course, Bryant teaches a higher level of strategy and different methods of valuing such things as buyouts, commodity companies or firms in financial distress.

Scott Benjamin
Assistant Professor, Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship,
Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and New Business Development
Florida Institute of Technology
Courses: Strategic Management; Business Policies; Business Plan Research

Scott Benjamin likes to get his entrepreneurial-minded students to get outside their comfort zones. His students spend a lot of time on the phone, on the web and pounding the pavement.

“I want students to create a business plan, but my approach is different,” Benjamin says. “I also want them to learn the soft skills of starting a business” — negotiation skills, conflict resolution and presentations, for example. Even more, Benjamin wants his students to experience failure in the sales process and learn how to bounce back.

In between classes, Benjamin sends his students into the field. Once they present a product or service they want to launch, he requires them to do market research by quizzing potential customers on what they would want in a product. They have to come back with a better version. After a discussion on product development, he asks them to find the cost of manufacturing by emailing manufacturers and getting real bids. To prepare a budget, he has them looking into the cost of renting space and negotiating with real estate agents and gauging how much customers will pay for the product or service by asking them. After a class discussion on funding, he requires students to talk to lenders and investors about backing their potential business. “You won’t learn these things in a classroom. You have to get out there and do it,” he says.

Benjamin says his students may spend more hours on his class than others they take but usually follow up by getting involved in the school’s incubator program. Benjamin has a doctorate degree in management and entrepreneurship and has also been a successful entrepreneur, owning restaurants, a real estate development company and a medical consulting business.

Maureen Ambrose
Gordon J. Barnett Professor of Business Ethics
University of Central Florida College of Business
Courses: Conflict Resolution and Negotiation; Organizational Behavior and Development

Before a classroom of 30 peers, a nervous MBA student is negotiating with her “boss” for a raise. She is way out of her comfort zone and isn’t convincing her supervisor. Instructor Maureen Ambrose is pleased. “Sometimes things go terribly wrong in negotiations, but at least the classroom is a safe environment and someone can learn why what they tried wasn’t effective,” Ambrose says.

For the last two decades, Ambrose has taught hundreds of business professionals how to come out ahead in various types of negotiations, including hiring and salary. Even seasoned managers say they have gained new perspective from how Ambrose presents negotiation techniques. “There is always opportunity to refine negotiation skills or develop them more fully,” she says.

Ambrose says her job is rewarding because she sees immediate reaction to her course material from students who apply the techniques. Over the 16-week course, Ambrose tackles various aspects of negotiation. “Most negotiations are multifaceted. They have a monetary component, but there are other issues as well.”

Often, she says, students are not comfortable with the negotiation process until they learn an approach that fits their style. “I want them to figure out how they can be better at doing this.”

Ambrose also teaches effective management. “There are a bazillion management books, but my job is to translate what works from a broad research-based perspective to information students can use and apply in their jobs.” She says her goal is for students to leave each class with something they can go back to their workplaces and try the next day, some insight that makes them better managers.

For example, she delves into how to talk to subordinates to make them feel heard and how to identify and focus on strengths rather than worrying about overcoming weaknesses. “We try out a lot of it in class. It’s very interactive
and intense.”

“People spend a lot of time at work,” says Ambrose, “and you want that time to be an enriching experience and for them to have a positive impact on other people’s lives.”

Steven Christopher Ellis
Instructor, Department of Decision Sciences & Information Systems
Florida International University College of Business
Course: Business Analysis for Decision Making

Steven Christopher Ellis says he’s discovered that game-playing is the ideal way for his graduate business students to learn. He’s created a Rubik’s cube competition for his students, organizing them into teams representing companies in the business of solving Rubik’s cubes using a five-step solution. Customers pay to get their cubes solved by the teams but receive discounts on the price if a team takes longer than promised to complete a cube.

First, teams must find out how long each worker takes to do each of the five steps, decide how many people to assign to each of the five steps and figure out who will actually perform each task.

Next comes the twist: Ellis preassembles the teams to run inefficiently. Team members aren’t allowed to sit together. This requires that each team assign a “runner” to get the cubes around from step to step — a waste of resources and time.

Then comes the negotiation: If teams can gather data on the impact of this approach and persuade Ellis how and why it’s inefficient, then they can change that rule and sit together — giving them an operational advantage in the next round.

“I’m not trying to fill my students’ heads with facts and figures,” Ellis says. “I want students to face the real challenges that an operations manager faces.”
Spread out over a semester, the Rubik’s cube game has five half-hour rounds that incorporate statistics and teach lessons about waste, productivity and collaboration.

In his executive MBA classes, Ellis challenges his students to design and manufacture three models of airplanes using paper airplanes as models. They have to analyze data around buying materials, assembling parts in various cities, shipping pieces to the assembly plant and using offshore labor.

One of the biggest lessons Ellis expects students to learn is how to work in teams and confront the problems that face team members at all levels. Many times, the student teams meet on the weekends to figure out how to manipulate data and improve their process before they get back to class.

John Riggs
Assistant Professor of Marketing - Nova Southeastern University,
H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship
Courses: Sales Management; Professional Selling

Having spent 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, John Riggs knows how to get his products into the hands of customers and how to manage a sales team spread across continents.

But Riggs says he only recently found his true passion: Teaching graduate business students how to become sales force managers and leaders. He covers all aspects of building and managing sales teams, from assessing who is most productive to figuring out the optimal size of the sales team. “It’s very case-study driven,” he says.

One particular area of focus: Human resources. Students, Riggs says, “need to know how to recruit the best salespeople, how to train a sales force and the impact of hiring decisions.” The HR focus extends to performance reviews. Riggs says he wants his students to learn how to write and deliver performance appraisals that will keep them out of court. Students role-play a performance appraisal while being videotaped. He provides them with individual coaching, even down to the tone of voice they use. “We get very interactive.”

Students also learn how to develop a commission plan or bonus plan to motivate employees while staying within a budget and keep them performing at a high level.

MBA student Kyle Lozito, an IT recruiting manager, found Riggs’ coaching helpful in motivating an underperforming team member. “He’s not just a professor teaching out of a book. He has spent time in industry and brings real-world advice we can put to use in our own daily activities.”

Ron Satterfield
Instructor - University of South Florida
Courses: Statistics; Lean Six Sigma Operations Management; Service Operations Management; Mathematical Modeling; Lean Management

Have you ever watched customers’ behavior when they wait in line to pay? In instructor Ron Satterfield’s graduate course in operations management, students watch and analyze how long they wait and how wait time affects sales. It’s called queuing analysis. “The goal is to try to make my students aware of problems when they see them and give them ideas on how, if they are managing a facility, they can improve the wait times,” he says.

Health care MBA students, for example, have applied queuing analysis to their experiences with patients waiting in hospitals or doctors’ offices. “Often they say they never realized anyone studied this and when they make changes, they see immediate results.”

Satterfield uses a combination of video presentations, classroom lectures and hands-on projects that emulate real business scenarios. By bringing those examples into the classroom, Satterfield proves to his students there is as much to learn from companies with inefficiencies as those that get it right. “Our textbook is just a secondary resource,” he says.

In his Six Sigma course, Satterfield has students dissect business processes, hunting for waste. “We’re looking at how to get the job done faster,” he says. In one class, Satterfield split the students into two groups, each charged with building the most pyramids out of paper. Classmates had to decide which students had certain skills, who would cut, draw, tape and how many students to assign to each area of operations to maximize production while maintaining quality control. “It required communication and adjustments as we realized certain complications impact production in positive and negative ways,” says MBA graduate Nick Vojnovic.

Vojnovic, president of Little Greek Franchise Development in Tampa, says the processes he has learned in the classroom have helped him identify issues around wait times and inefficiency at his restaurants and come up with solutions. Vojnovic credits Satterfield’s style of teaching with students’ ability to grasp even the more advanced concepts and give them real world applications. “He’s not a professor who is lecturing down to you. It’s a very interactive class, and a lightbulb goes off the deeper into class you get.”