Interview: Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon University’s MBA program is ranked second and third, respectively, by The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek for its IT focus. We asked Kenneth Dunn, the dean of CMU’s Tepper School of Business, what recruiters want MBA graduates to learn about technology, and how CMU has responded to their needs. Earning an ROI from IT investments, using IT for decision-making and soft skills are at the top of this dean’s list.

CIO Insight: What are you hearing from recruiters about the business and IT skills MBA graduates need today?

Dunn: The issue with MBA education is that it has become a commodity. Recruiters say there is not a lot of difference between students from school X or school Y, because the curricula at most business schools have become very similar. Not enough is being done, they say, to teach students how to manage well in the future, given the way technology is going to change the way business is done. Using technology for analytical decision-making is becoming very important. There’s no need to hire a manager who’s just good at shooting from the hip. You can make decisions using IT in real time and you don’t have to guess. We’re focused on equipping our students to be very good at technology-enabled decision-making.

What’s your approach to teaching IT to MBA students?

In most companies, senior management looks at IT as just a huge cost. They want MBAs who are trained and able to get a return from their IT investments and make good IT investment decisions. We try to equip our students with an understanding of what the real power of technology is and how they can turn that cost into strategic advantage.

Our readers say that business schools need to teach better project management and interpersonal skills. What’s your solution?

We have organizational behavior courses where students learn about leadership, management styles and social networks, but I think we also must teach differently. In our product development course, students from the college of education, the school of design and the business school work together to create a product. That’s how to experience team dynamics. There are other ways we address soft skills: Most MBA programs offer a communication course, but we actually have a partnership with our drama department to provide weekend executive coaching seminars. It’s the kind of training that many leadership development courses put on for executives: In order to learn how to play parts, dramatists have to learn how to read other people’s expressions and body language.

At a Glance

Background: Kenneth B. Dunn was appointed dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in 2002. Previously, he spent 16 years managing the fixed-income portfolio and mortgage-backed securities business at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Miller Anderson & Sherrerd. A former finance professor, Dunn has a Ph.D. in Industrial Administration from Purdue University and an MBA and bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ohio State University.

Career Highlights: Dunn built a $75 billion mortgage security business at Miller Anderson before it was acquired by Morgan Stanley, where he became a managing director. While a professor at Carnegie Mellon, from 1979– 1987, he received an excellence in teaching award.

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