The One Planet MBA is known for combining academic excellence with practical relevance.
The program focuses on experiential career development. It’s designed for participants to acquire cutting-edge knowledge, professional skills, and apply their learning to real life situations, in partnership with corporate partners.
With this in mind, it created an annual corporate challenge a couple of years ago. It initially worked with Coca-Cola, then with IBM, and more recently, with The White Company, a retailer that specializes in supplying stylish, white, designer-quality items for the home at an affordable price.
We caught up with Nicolas Forsans, director, One Planet MBA Programs, University of Exeter Business School. Below, he explains the value of the school’s corporate partnerships.
What is the goal of the corporate challenge? What are you hoping the students will learn?
This year’s challenge took place over a full week in December when Will Kernan, CEO of The White Company visited the One Planet MBA and shared with our students the challenge that the organization faced, and what was expected from them. The challenge was simple at first: “How can the White Company deepen its engagement with its customers?”
This may sound like a marketing assignment, but it goes beyond that and our participants ended up analyzing the business model of the organization in what is a highly-competitive industry. They also identified new areas for the organization to expand into, to generate growth.
Participants had five days to present their strategies back to the senior management team. So our MBAs not only learnt about the challenges faced by the organization in real time, but they also made good use of their MBA learning, while leveraging their own knowledge, experience and background, to generate the highest possible impact.
How can One Planet MBAs benefit?
First, they get exposure to the senior management team of a high-profile organization, which is a great way for them to start discussing opportunities for summer internships, consultancy projects and placements. Second, they evidence achievement and add further valuable skills and experience to their CVs. Third, they get to appreciate the challenges organizations face in a sector that may be different from the one they come from. This enables them to demonstrate how their skills and experiences can transfer from one environment to another.
But ultimately, the corporate challenge is about evidencing that our MBAs have the capability to apply their cutting-edge MBA learning to a wide range of organizations and sectors, whatever the challenges they face and the constraints they operate within.
The White Company sought consultants to deepen its customer engagement. Why did it turn to the One Planet MBA?
It is the experiential nature of our MBA that attracts our corporate partners, because they get exposure to high-quality talent that we develop.
Today, all organizations in all sectors experience a wide range of global challenges and ultimately disruption — to their supply chains, their business models and their strategies. The impact of “digital”, made possible by the fourth industrial revolution, is wide ranging and not fully appreciated. We develop professionals and future leaders to appreciate the global challenges that companies face and develop the business models of tomorrow. We call it “creative business intelligence”.
This is one of many One Planet MBA projects involving the White Company. How would you describe the business school's relationship with the company?
While we’ve got long-standing partnerships with many blue chip organizations, our partnership with The White Company is a recent one. The CEO of the company found out about the One Planet MBA and he liked the sense of purpose attached to the program. This isn’t your typical bog-standard MBA — it focuses on innovation and new business models to promote change for good.
Their experience of the One Planet MBA, through our corporate challenge last year, was a very positive one, which has led the company to deepen its involvement with the business school.
We take a similar approach with potential new partners that share our sense of purpose. This coming year our MBA corporate challenge will be set by Unilever.
How do corporate partners enhance the MBA learning experience?
All our partners are leading, progressive organizations that work hard to promote change for good. They contribute to developing our MBA talent by co-delivering our modules alongside our expert faculty. For example SAP, Accenture and The Fairtrade Foundation co-delivered our “scene setting” module at the start of term.
Other partners contribute to the program through mock interviews, which help our MBAs refine their interview techniques. They all deliver guest lectures and workshops. All of them also offer consultancy projects, which are great opportunities for our MBAs to experience a different sector while working on a real life organizational challenge. PwC, IBM and Accenture, for instance, design and develop workshops to prepare our MBAs for the demands of their consultancy projects.
The MBAs pitched their proposals to the company's CEO and senior team. How valuable an opportunity was the project for high-level networking?
This is a very valuable opportunity for our MBAs to stand out, generate value and get noticed by the senior team. The proposals they pitched were all innovative. We always try to conclude the day with a networking reception for our participants to engage with the sponsor organization, and discuss potential avenues for professional development. One of our course participants landed a fully-paid summer internship linked to a consultancy project over the summer following the corporate challenge, which shows the value of getting our partners to experience the course and interact with our talent. This year we placed most, if not all MBAs for internships and summer projects!