A Year Later, Wake Forest’s Dean Reflects On The Decision To Shutter The MBA

Wake Forest Business School Dean Charles Iacovou

Wake Forest Business School Dean Charles Iacovou

It was just about a year ago that Charles Iacovou made headlines when he decided to shut down the full-time day MBA program at Wake Forest University School of Business. It’s a decision that Iacovou, dean of the school, still stands behind today, as it has allowed him to allocate valuable resources to other programs. Undergraduate business students at the university, in particular, have been among the students to benefit most from this decision, said the Greek-born Iacovou, a member of the school’s leadership team since 2007.

“A lot of curricular innovation is happening, and there’s a lot of growth that’s been happening in our established programs,” said Iacovou, who worked in the financial industry before joining Wake Forest as a professor of management in 2001.

Back when Iacovou was vice dean of the business school in 2012, he came up with a plan for a new strategic framework for business education at the school. Since assuming the deanship in the summer of 2014, he’s spent the last 16 months helping the school continue to realize that vision. He’s been on the frontline behind developing three new academic centers at the school, a new degree in business analytics and has helped grow enrollment in the school’s master’s and part-time MBA programs.

DEAN: MBA CLOSURE ALLOWED MORE FOCUS ON BUSINESS UNDERGRADUATES

“Wake Forest Business School and the university in general have been on a strong performance trajectory for the last decade or so,” he said. “I have the fortunate opportunity to contribute to that strong trajectory and elevate the quality of the program above and beyond where we are today.”

The undergraduate program, which has 530 students and is known for its small class sizes and strong career outcomes, is an important area of focus for Iacovou. In an interview with Poets&Quants, Iacovou speaks about how undergraduate students have been deepening relationships with recruiters, taking advantage of multiple workshops and student events sponsored by the academic centers and immersing themselves in innovative experiential learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom.

What is your school doing that distinguishes your program from other undergraduate business programs?

We are small and very agile and that gives us the ability to stay connected with the marketplace as it evolves. No clusters are taught by teaching assistants, we have exceptional facilities and small classes. That speaks to the quality of the instruction and learning that happens at Wake Forest. We teach our students not only the latest technology but how to apply the knowledge they acquire and be very competitive in terms of being effective business leaders in the different fields. We have a great connection to the marketplace, and we also have a deep connection to the liberal arts. A lot of schools say they invest in the holistic education of their students. In our school, students must complete two years in the arts and sciences and humanities before they are even able to join the business school. In fact, for some of our majors, students are required to take arts and sciences courses as part of the business curriculum. The integration of liberal arts and business preparation is deep and meaningful here.

Another thing that distinguishes us is the integration between market preparation and the education of students. For us, those two things are part of the same experience. At Wake Forest, you go to class and learn about what happens in the marketplace and then you apply that knowledge in case competition and internships. At the same time, you work with mentors and career coaches. This approach is all integrated within the student experience, and it is not an add-on. It is a seamless experience our students go through to prepare for the marketplace, and I believe it is unmatched.

What are some of the key features of the undergraduate business program’s curriculum? 

To have an exceptionally strong program, you not only need good design and curriculum structure, but also a strong culture that focuses on student success. We have built that culture and designed our program to focus on that mission and vision and give our students the things they need. For example, we incorporate a lot of experiential learning into the curriculum. There are internships, course projects and other things that all have the intention of ensuring that our graduates are competitive in applying their knowledge in the field before they even join an organization.

Another important feature of our curriculum is that we integrate intense ethical preparation to prepare them to be principled professionals as soon as they join the marketplace. We have an honor code, and the orientation programs and the curriculum experiences that we deliver throughout the program all work together to create an experience that is holistic in developing students as it relates to their professional mindset and ethical decision-making.

How has the elimination of the school’s full-time day MBA program impacted the undergraduate program?

That was a piece of a larger decision about how we manage programs and has had an impact on our programs, including the undergraduate one. We have a holistic management approach and we can shift our energy and resources to the programs in high demand. It provides an opportunity for us to excel in serving both our students and market partners.

We have three academic centers that provide innovation in the way we deliver curriculum in each of our program. The three centers focus on ethical leadership, retail commerce and the study of capitalism, and they provide innovation and student support in all of our programs. The resources available in the MBA program are shifting to those centers.  The shift in the program portfolio allows us to shift resources in a way that benefits the undergraduate experience so our students are always market relevant and more importantly, will be more successful in the long term.

We are about to launch a new degree in business analytics. We just hired a great group of wonderful faculty members to lead that effort. Those same faculty members will be one with our evolving undergraduate curriculum and delivering the curriculum to our undergraduate students.