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Florida MBA Standouts

As the economy struggles to rebound, Florida's universities are working harder to attract students to their MBA programs.

Schools are adding international components to their programs, including more study abroad, and recruiting international faculty who bring global perspective and business cases to the classroom.

Deans at Florida's business schools say they are tailoring curriculum to meet demands of both the market and the students. Strong growth in Florida's healthcare sector has led Florida International University and the University of Miami to offer MBA programs in healthcare management. Nova Southeastern University in Davie now offers a concentration in information security management, among other specialties.

Online/hybrid programs also are becoming more popular, providing instruction over the internet along with some classroom learning. Saint Leo University in Pasco County launched its first online MBA using this model last fall.

Across the state there also are more partnership programs in which students can earn two master's degrees at the same time. Jacksonville University, for instance, has a joint MBA/master of nursing.

By definition, an MBA is a generalized degree, "but schools recognize employers are looking for some degree of specialization," says Dan LeClair, executive vice president and COO of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, a Tampa-based global accrediting organization.

One popular specialty is entrepreneurship. "Students in particular are looking for opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills to start a business," LeClair says.

He also noted that more Florida universities with MBA programs are offering courses at locations outside their home base. "The boundaries have been blurred," he says.

STUDENT PROFILE
Rebecca Menditto
University of North Florida Coggin College of Business, Jacksonville

Rebecca Menditto juggles a full-time job, extracurricular activities and MBA courses at the University of North Florida.

The 24-year-old University of Florida graduate, originally from Lakeland, moved to Jacksonville from Washington, D.C., where she had a hotel management job.

She goes to class two nights a week and expects to graduate next year. "For someone with a full-time job, it's great to have evening classes. You can fit it into your schedule," says Menditto, who is a sales assistant at Cox Media Group and an officer in UNF's business fraternity.

Headed for a career in sales, she enjoys the challenge of work and school. "It is a ton of fun, and you meet so many people," Menditto says. "What keeps me going is having great mentors and leaders."

Rebecca Menditto
[Photo: Will Dickey]

DEAN PROFILE
Eugene Anderson
Dean, University of Miami School of Business Administration, Coral Gables

Eugene Anderson
After a decade of senior academic leadership experience, Eugene Anderson took over last August as dean of the University of Miami School of Business Administration. Anderson, most recently at the University of Michigan, believes Miami can compete globally for faculty.

Even more, Anderson sees opportunity to emphasize global business management and leverage UM's location as the gateway to Latin America by expanding international opportunities to its students. For example, the University of Miami's global executive MBA program is designed for highly experienced Spanish-speaking executives. Classes are taught in Spanish. "We try to prepare our students for a world that's more global, not just with hard skills but with practical skills that make them successful," Anderson says.

Anderson believes his background of business and academics is perfect for the dean's job. "This is a challenging period for business schools. To be successful, they have to be better tied to the marketplace and the needs of business. That means they have to have leaders who can build relationships to the business community and at the same time stay true to the academic mission."

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STUDENT PROFILE
Nick Vojnovic
University of South Florida, Tampa

Nick Vojnovic
In June 2009, Nick Vojnovic found himself at a crossroads. He had spent six years as president of Beef 'O' Brady's, guiding the chain's growth from a 30-unit company to a business with 270 stores in 23 states grossing nearly $250 million annually. But the chain had been bought by a private equity firm, and Vojnovic had a non-compete contract.

Vojnovic decided to return to school to pursue an executive MBA while he looked around for his next venture. "One of my personal values is constant growth. I want to keep myself fresh." As an older student with business experience, Vojnovic found he was able to apply classroom lessons to real life scenarios. In addition to learning from professors, Vojnovic enjoyed learning from classmates who confronted myriad business issues in their workplaces. "It was a great opportunity to meet new people, and it opened my eyes to what was happening in other industries."

Now, after looking into more than 100 food concepts, the 52-year-old is busy with a new venture — teaming with a partner to head up the franchising of Little Greek, a fast-casual dining restaurant headquartered in Tampa. The chain has a location in Dallas and seven in Florida. Vojnovic says he has put his MBA lessons to practical use, using statistics to develop better ways to create a menu and strategies from his negotiations course in his franchising arrangements. The business plan for Little Greek calls for 25 restaurants in five years and 100 in the next 10 years. His classmates now are his bankers, his consultants and his restaurant customers.

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DEAN PROFILE
Caryn L. Beck-Dudley
Dean, Florida State University College of Business, Tallahassee

Caryn L. Beck-Dudley
Florida State University students can earn an MBA on campus, full or part time or through an online program "taught by our regular faculty," says Dean Caryn L. Beck-Dudley. The university also has an accelerated program that students can finish in a year. "It's fast and furious," Beck-Dudley says.

A student investment fund allows students to manage more than $1 million. They work with the FSU Foundation's investment board "so they get good coaching and mentoring," Beck-Dudley says. They outperformed the S&P 500 index in 2011, with a 2.7% return.

Popular courses include finance and risk management as well as knowledge management. "It's one thing to collect the information and another thing to use it," Beck-Dudley says.

The school has a full-time employee who guides students in developing career plans. "Part of that is helping them find jobs," she says. "It's really a networking base."

Beck-Dudley favors a more holistic approach to her own job. "Most business deans should have some academic background," she says, "because you are in the business of educating students, and that's quite different than making a profit."

STUDENT PROFILE
Anna Zalesova
Saint Leo University Donald R. Tapia School of Business, Saint Leo

Anna Zalesova
[Photo:Jeffrey Camp]
Anna Zalesova came to the United States from Russia at 19 to get a business education. After earning her undergraduate business degree from Saint Leo University, she went directly into the MBA program and graduated last December.

Already, Zalesova has landed in a job that will put her on a path to the position she seeks, which requires an MBA degree. Zalesova, now 26, is an assistant to the administrator at Springbrook Hospital in Brooksville in Hernando County. Her goal is to become administrator. "I would not have this position without a master's degree," she says. "I would have had to start at the bottom, and it would have taken much longer."

Through Saint Leo, Zalesova learned of an internship at the hospital, which eventually led to her current position. She also held a job at Saint Leo University while she attended classes in the MBA program. "It is challenging to work while getting an MBA, but it benefited me by being able to interact with professors. I learned a lot while doing research."

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17,772 Number of GMAT score reports sent by all Florida residents from July 1, 2010, though June 30, 2011

11,516 Of the 20,383 score reports sent to Florida business schools during the 2011 testing year, 11,516 came from Florida residents.

60% Of the nearly 2,700 students who received master's degrees in business from State University System schools in 2003-04, more than half were working in Florida five years later and earning an average $84,000, according to the Florida Department of Education's Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program.

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DEAN PROFILE
Joyce Elam
Executive dean, Florida International University College of Business Administration, Miami

Joyce Elam
Fifteen years ago, Joyce Elam took over leadership of Florida International University's College of Business. She transformed it from a conventional undergraduate teaching school to a leading international business school. Elam says she realized she could capitalize on the international business and trade location in the Miami area by attracting faculty, business partners and students with global perspectives.

The school now serves about 6,000 undergraduate students in its R. Kirk Landon Undergraduate School of Business, about 2,000 graduate students in its Alvah H. Chapman Graduate School of Business and about 500 business executives in its professional and executive education programs each year. Under Elam's leadership, FIU launched a full-time international MBA program that includes both a master's of international business/MBA track and partnerships with 39 schools around the world. An online MBA was launched two years ago and now enrolls 700 students. In December, the school graduated its first students with a healthcare MBA.

Elam says FIU's MBA programs emphasize leadership development and close ties with business partners who provide input on curriculum.

The trend at FIU, Elam says, is more students getting an MBA general management degree and then enrolling in a specialty master's program such as a master's in finance or information management systems. "I actually believe that is a really good model," Elam says.

Elam plans to step down as soon as a successor is appointed. "I'm proud of what I accomplished and excited for the future," she says. "I will still be involved and on the faculty, but I thought it was time for a new dean."

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STUDENT PROFILE
Michael Cocuzza
Florida Atlantic University College of Business, Boca Raton

Michael Cocuzza
[Photo: Thomas Winter]

Michael Cocuzza started his MBA in 2009 in forensic accounting but soon found himself heading in a new direction.

Through a friend, he met a man who had a patent and was interested in starting a business. "I decided to take it on myself to write a business plan for him," says Cocuzza, who switched his specialty to entrepreneurship "for the sake of learning how to raise capital, how to write a business plan and how to market."

While still a student, Cocuzza moved forward on the plan and with partners raised more than $2 million for the company. The patent for strengthening metals has applications in areas such as medical implants, aerospace and power generation.

Cocuzza says he's "extremely" optimistic about the future of Expatial Performance Alloys, which he began working for full time in December. "The biggest challenge is to establish the market," says Cocuzza, 38, who has had a variety of jobs including bartending and positions at FAU.

A part-time student now, he expects to graduate with his MBA this summer, and he intends to go back for a second master's in accounting.

STUDENT PROFILE
Colin Myers
Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business, Winter Park

Colin Myers
[Photo: Brook Pifer]

As a communications officer aboard a nuclear submarine, Colin Myers, 28, had a difficult time finding one source where he could gather information about local elections in his hometown.

Now, Myers — along with another student and two Navy pals — is launching a website and mobile app called SunVoter designed to be a one-stop source for Floridians who want to know more about candidates — focusing first on Orange County and Orlando.

The site will feature answers to questionnaires, but "there will be no interpretation," says Myers, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, who spent 5½ years in the service. "I really have a passion for entrepreneurship," says Myers, who's concentrating on finance and hopes his venture will provide a valuable service.

In addition, the MBA "provides me with a great way to connect with the Florida business community," he says. "I knew I wanted to live and work in central Florida, and going to school here is a good way to meet people."

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DEAN PROFILE
F. Frank Ghannadian
Dean, University of Tampa Sykes College of Business, Tampa

F. Frank Ghannadian
[Photo: University of Tampa]
The University of Tampa's MBA program underwent a major transformation two years ago. "We revamped our vision and our mission. We want to be recognized as a leading business school preparing future world business leaders," says Dean F. Frank Ghannadian.

The school added a professional development program that lets students take a course or focus on an area they're particularly interested in under the guidance of an adviser. "It's a good way to create more leeway," he says.

One goal is to expand the study abroad component from 20% in the MBA to 50% in graduate and undergraduate programs within five years.

Ghannadian says the most popular courses are entrepreneurship and specialized courses in finance and marketing.

As for a dean's job, Ghannadian says part of it is to structure an academic program to meet the community's needs. He has a 25-member advisory council made up of executives who help in strategic planning. "It's a good way for the dean to receive ideas," he says.

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DEAN PROFILE
Shawnta Friday-Stroud
Dean, Florida A&M University School of Business and Industry, Tallahassee

Shawnta Friday-Stroud
[Photo: Alex Stafford]

Dean Shawnta Friday-Stroud has taught business courses, consulted and worked in pharmaceutical sales and as a systems engineer. Along with her doctorate, she holds an MBA from the school she now guides. "My background has helped me to be able to tailor programs," she says.

Friday-Stroud says she believes in a well-rounded MBA program with exposure to all disciplines of business — management, marketing, accounting, finance, logistics, supply chain and information systems.

In addition to its traditional degree, FAMU launched an online MBA program last fall. Students take most courses online but come to campus for four days at the beginning of the program and do an international residency the last semester.

A MBA degree can translate to about $10,000 more in pay right out of school but brings the biggest benefits two or three years later when students show they have the knowledge and skills to advance, Friday-Stroud says. More important, she says, are the connections they make to other students, faculty and the school's business partners.

In the down economy, the dean has seen more business school students going directly into the MBA program as they wait for the hiring market to improve. "Our alums are getting job offers," Friday-Stroud says. "It might not be the offer they wanted at the salary they wanted. They will see the value once they start moving up."

News & Notes

» Nova Southeastern University in Davie has added six MBA concentrations, says Huizenga Business School Dean D. Michael Fields. The new programs include logistics, process improvement, supply chain management, business intelligence/analytics, conflict resolution and information security.

» Stetson University has added online components to its joint JD/MBA program. In addition, this year the EMBA international program based in Celebration will include Istanbul and Budapest for the first time.

» Florida Southern College in Lakeland is putting a new emphasis in several areas, including live case studies in which students work with companies on real-world problems, providing each student with an executive mentor as a personal career guide, and offering day, weekend and online course work to complete an MBA in 16 months.

» Florida State University's MBA program is now open to applicants with non-business backgrounds. The college no longer requires business prerequisites and focuses instead on work experience, GMAT score, demonstrated leadership and past academic strength. The school's online MBA program is ranked No. 20 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, which based its rankings on faculty credentials, training and online teaching experience.

» The University of Florida now provides students in the internet MBA program with an Apple iPad2 when they enroll. UF MBA's history with Apple products began with iPods, which also were given to internet students when the devices first came out.

» The University of West Florida and the Transatlantic Institute of the Universities of Applied Sciences in Ludwigshafen and Worms have entered their 10th year of providing the UWF MBA to German working professionals. The program is aimed at midlevel managers.

» The University of Miami launched a global executive MBA program taught entirely in Spanish that draws executives from Latin America as well as Spanish-speaking executives from Florida.

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Of the 227 MBA programs in Florida in 2010-11:

» 85 were traditional full-time

» 61 were part time during the days

» 55 were part time during the evenings

» 11 were online

» 15 were distance education, off campus and partnership

» The top three areas of study were general business, finance (including banking) and management, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the Tampa-based global accrediting organization.