‘Profound Shifts’ Require a New Strategic Roadmap for Owen


Students work on projects at BrandWeek 2014, part of a set of MBA immersion experiences that take place each October.

It has become almost cliché to point out that the world of business — and business education — moves fast. But over the past several years, we have witnessed several rapidly developing, profound shifts that I believe will have a lasting impact on Owen’s future, as well as on the larger universe of management education.

Today’s business students have become increasingly interested in new business roles, as well as a wider range of industries. For example, while financial services remain a top draw for students, there is a quickly growing appetite among employers and prospective students for expertise in areas like health care, technology and organizational development. The timing of when these student want to develop business skills is also changing. Students finishing their undergraduate degrees are increasingly interested in adding skills like accounting, finance and marketing before heading to that first job.

Perhaps one of the biggest developments in education overall is the technology that’s transforming traditional classrooms. From massive open online courses (MOOCs) to live streaming video inside a classroom, technology is changing when and how we teach. It is also driving many important questions ranging from ways to use new tools to enhance education to rethinking basic ideas such as redefining what should constitute a for-credit course.

Business itself is also changing dramatically. We have seen a strong resurgence of a global, startup-driven tech economy that will continue to alter the business landscape. I’m not talking about here-today-gone-tomorrow companies. Amazon, Apple, and Google have become the modern equivalents of what GM, GE and IBM were three decades ago. As technology, and the role it plays in business, continues to evolve, we will see even greater changes in the years ahead.

It is a compliment to the quality of the Owen School that these new economic titans have become a major source of employment for Owen graduates, and that students come here knowing their Vanderbilt education will help secure positions at these top firms. Yet the questions arise: Are we equipped as a business school to meet the new demands of students and employers? What kind of knowledge and skills do these new roles require (e.g., data analytics, programming)? How do we develop entrepreneurial thinking? What new or different expertise is required of our faculty?

Strategic Planning

These are some of the major streams of thought that have occupied my mind over the first 15 months of my tenure as Dean of the Owen School. In addition, I have been privileged to play a role in helping shape Vanderbilt University’s new Academic Strategic Plan, which focuses on improvement in four core areas: Trans-Institutional Programs, the Residential Experience, Education Technologies, and Health Care Solutions. (Read more about the plan here).

Bringing these disparate threads together, I have launched a strategic planning initiative for Owen that will help us smartly embrace new opportunities and position the school for meaningful, long-term success that’s in keeping with the high bar of excellence set by Vanderbilt as a leading educational institution.

On campus, we have formed committees led by key faculty and staff to explore some of the most pressing issues we face. We will also be working with alumni, recruiters and other key stakeholders to understand the various needs and viewpoints of a broad swath of those closest to Owen.

You can read more about our strategic planning on the Owen website or stay tuned to this blog and follow us on Twitter (@VanderbiltOwen and @DeanEricJohnson) as we go through this process, forging new paths in these exciting areas of graduate management education.


  • Paul Antaki

    October 31st, 2014

    Dear Eric,

    (Pardon my informality)

    Pardon also my being direct: it means no disrespect or thoughtlessness.
    I felt the strategy outlined, even though work in progress, seems not to take into account any “global” issues, focusing mainly on the US market.
    I also feel that what is trying to be addressed are present concerns, meaning that Owen would be just “responding” to current challenges.
    I would love to see Owen leading, and leading from a vision of future that is grand, passionating. A future of different paradigms, not linear but complex, holistic.
    I believe Owen could teach students about emotional intelligence, non-cognitive skills.
    Here is an inspiring text that speaks of a different road and future: http://www.peaceproposal.com/maxneef.html. This is just one example of what I believe is a pervasive emerging approach to life.
    It is not a pie in the sky, and the effects on the economy and businesses are absolutely disruptive. That would be something that Owen could slowly develop a program for: a different world.

    My warmest regards,


  • Eric Johnson

    November 6th, 2014

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks so much for your comment. You raise a very important point. I want you to know that expanding global offerings ‹ both in terms of U.S.
    students going abroad and international students coming to Owen ‹ is a key part of our strategy discussion. Please take a look at the MBA Education Strategy section outlined here:


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