Lessons from Jack Welch and the Online MBA

Business guru, Jack Welch, recently announced that he’s launching an online MBA program (“The Jack Welch Institute”). This event is pretty interesting to me given that he doesn’t even have an MBA. However, Welch is clearly no stranger to business school. He’s hired MBAs for the past 20+ years and has spent the past 3 years at MIT Sloan’s School of Management teaching its most popular course. I think there are a couple of lessons to be learned here:

1. Power of Brand
As we all know, brand is important, that’s why applicants try to flock to the top schools and top firms. Jack Welch has impeccable business brand, with a resume including being the CEO of GE, being Fortune “Manager of the Century”, writing an award winning business column for BusinessWeek; a new show on MSN; and the most popular course at MIT Sloan. With this type of business brand, it’s clear why Welch has gotten so much traction with his idea. What I think is particularly interesting is that Jack Welch has garnered all of this buzz even though he will not actually be teaching a course at the school.

2. Importance of Leadership
Welch is know for his management and leadership techniques. In a recent interview, Welch said that his MBA program would be based on his philosophy of leadership and human resources. While many businesses and schools tout the importance of analytical skills, Welch is attempting to demonstrate through his curriculum that management and leadership skills are equally as important, just as they were in his career progress.

3. Upside in Online Education
Online education is a hot industry. Take the University of Phoenix (UoP) as a case study. UoP today has nearly 400,000 students and 200 international locations, only 20 years after the online campus was established (1989). What’s also impressive is that UoP has not been affected by the economy. Since the downturn in 2008 until now, UoP hasn’t declined in profitability but rather grown 20%. According to U.S.News & World Report, more than 4 millions Americans took an online course last year, up from less than two million in 2003. These types of stats are unheard of in today’s economy.

4. Leaders Take Risks
Creating a new business school today is a really risky endeavour. Nearly all the top MBA programs have been around for about 100 years (Stanford ~85 years), and were originally built with bricks and mortar … not with wifi, internet applications, and software. And while UoP is a great case study for online education, it has not established itself as a top MBA program, so the Welch institute would be the first. Clearly, Welch has an appetite for risk and doesn’t mind spending a little money in hopes to revolutionize the industry.

5. You Don’t Need an MBA
Another lesson to learn is that you don’t need an MBA to be a leader, not even in the business school industry. Don’t get me wrong, an MBA is incredibly useful and the brand of a top school can’t be denied. However, in America an MBA is not a necessity for advancement. Welch’s career is proof that business skills, leadership lessons, and management techniques can be learned on the job.

Sunday, July 5th, 2009 Business School


2 Comments to Lessons from Jack Welch and the Online MBA

July 19, 2009

Most b-schools have video archives of guest-speakers – I found a few vids where JW was invited to talk about his career and promote his new book "Winning". I like his style although it seems a little harsh/direct – he's a leader of the old school. Bought his book, but still have to read it.

July 21, 2009

I've heard about his "direct" style, would have been fun to have taken his class. I hear that was by far the most popular course at Sloan. And it got really good reviews.

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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