Brave New Business | Leeds School of Business

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As the lines between business and business schools blur, the innovation and adaptability of Leeds keep alumni on the cutting edge.

In the business world, change was once considered constant.

Today, that word fails to capture the relentless pace of disruption, in which a company’s fortunes can change seemingly overnight, as the result of an innovation that opens up a new market, new ways of connecting with customers, or radically realigning established industry categories.

Businesses are being forced to find new ways to be agile, anticipate change and reconsider risk as they navigate this new world. A key part of their strategy is finding ways to partner with business schools that have created and revised programs to ensure graduates are adding value from the moment they start work.

With a focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, technology and analytics, it’s no surprise that Leeds is a frequent partner for companies looking for nimble professionals.

“The field is always moving so quickly – something new is added every year,” said Dan Zhang, interim chair of the Leeds Department for Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Operations. He brings his extensive consulting experience to bear by refreshing his Advanced Data Analytics course every summer, and “If you don’t do regular updates, you can’t stay at the cutting edge of the industry. It’s a necessity.”

“Data does not go away”

Libby Duane Adams poses on a company stairwell.Industry, on the other hand, appreciates Leeds’ willingness to anticipate the new skills that businesses will need in the years to come. Libby Duane Adams, Alteryx’s Chief Advocacy Officer, has been at the forefront of changes in the industry since she and Dean Stoecker (IntBus’79) co-founded the software company. Alteryx has grown and started offering bursaries to schools like Leeds to ensure graduates have the right skills for a workplace characterized by change.

“Data doesn’t go away,” she said. “The ability to work with data is a required skill today – and as more students invest in these skills and develop their ability to work with data, their career opportunities are richer.”

Alteryx also co-sponsored a conference in Leeds over the summer that brought business analytics program leaders together to address and solve some of their common challenges. The two-day event, attended by representatives from nearly two dozen nationwide programs, also featured industry input through panel discussions and a keynote address. Kai R Larsen, Faculty Director of Leeds’ Masters in Business Analytics, said industry involvement shows the scale and pace of change that has disrupted businesses across the spectrum.

Poet warriors, meet Python

“Every time we ask chief information officers what they want from a recent grad, it’s always the same. They want a poet warrior,” Larsen said. “But what they really want is a warrior who can also program Python, and they test that in their interviews.”

Tim Weiss is in the Optera offices.  He wears a baseball cap with the company logo on it.Data and analytics are, of course, driving the conversation in business. But that’s not all you need to keep up to date. Tim Weiss (MBA’16), Boulder-based Optera’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said that in his industry, new regulations and changing attitudes about climate are leading to increased interest in the sustainability management software provider’s services.

“Leeds taught me new business skills and how to market myself to potential opportunities and become more involved in the Bouldering community,” Weiss said. He added: “I don’t know of any programs that specifically teach what you need to know for this industry. It’s going too fast.”

Faces of Leeds: Meet Tim Weiss

However, a look at the company’s roster reveals more than just a few CU Boulder alumni. “When we hire, we try to hire the whole package — which means making sure we have fundamentally good people for whom values ​​aren’t an option,” Weiss said. “There are a lot of great people from CU Boulder who fit that mold. While we need to train them in sustainability, they bring the skills they need to adapt quickly.”

find good people

The desire to hire good people – not just qualified people – is an important consideration given changing attitudes towards ethics in the workplace, said Joshua Nunziato, assistant professor in the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability in Leeds and director of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Collegiate program. Skilled workers increasingly want to work for companies that value their values; Just ask Theranos, Facebook, or Uber, who have all landed in hot water over behaviors coming out of their C-suites.

In Nunziato’s classes, he sees a subset of students with a deep desire to make a positive social and environmental impact.

“But what interests me are those students who instead see sustainability and ethical leadership as inseparable from their own career aspirations,” he said. “It’s exciting to teach them because they understand that ethical leadership is not an either/or decision.”

A focus on values ​​helped Jenny Gerson (EBio’06; MBA’14) transition from working as an ecologist at the US Forest Service to creating a sustainability role at Zayo Group.

Jenny Gerson in a data center.She is now Director of Sustainability at DataBank; The company’s data centers enable the kind of cloud storage and computing power that has made data available in so many companies.

Too much information

“One of the ways I’ve stayed up to date with all the changes in my industry is something I learned at Leeds – networking,” she said. She founded a group for sustainability professionals of more than 100 people—including more than a few Leeds alumni—mainly in small to mid-sized tech companies in the Denver area.

“When you have that kind of network, every time a question comes up, you can go straight to someone and get a different perspective on what that means for your own work,” Gerson said. “There is so much information out there – really too much – and having colleagues who can help you focus is incredibly valuable.”

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“The work has almost become a continuation of business school. Things come at you fast and you have to figure out how to prioritize, problem solve and plan ahead.”

Jenny Gerson (EBio’06, MBA’14), Director of Sustainability, DataBank

Leeds are also listening to their network, which helps shape their approach to academic programmes. For example, the school recently created an MBA Natural and Organic Products path to respond to the needs of both small local businesses and large international corporations seeking insight into an organic stronghold like Boulder. Students in this program spent their summers internships at companies such as Jack & Annie’s, Danone and Clorox – proof that the perspective taught in the program is sought after in companies of all sizes.

“Because natural and organic products have become so competitive, it’s much harder to turn a passion project into a thriving business,” said Heather Kennedy, teaching assistant and consumer marketer who has held marketing leadership positions at Whole Foods and Kraft. “These entrepreneurs need business acumen to bring their products to market. On the other hand, large consumer goods companies are seeing the growth of the natural products industry and realizing that they need to move in this direction to remain competitive.”

This of course speaks for the blurred boundaries between business and business school.

“The work has almost become a continuation of business school,” Gerson said. “Things come at you fast and you have to figure out how to prioritize, problem solve and plan ahead.”

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Curriculum Updates

In Leeds, faculties use industry relationships to ensure changes to the curriculum reflect both current and future needs of the workplace.

Joshua Neil, faculty director of the Master’s program in Accounting and Tax, said input from both Big Four professional services companies and changing requirements for the CPA exam prompted Leeds to add more technical courses to the curriculum.

“Accounting firms have probably been asking us what we’re doing in this space for the last five years,” Neil said. “For analytically inclined students, we were able to steer them into some specialized electives. But data has become more mainstream over the last 18-24 months — you now see textbooks with tools like Tableau embedded in them, you hear from our students asking them to use tools like Alteryx for their internships.”

This fall, an analysis course for master’s students in accounting, offered by Kai Larsen, will be modified with a focus on involving people from the industry to show how these skills are used to help accountants do their jobs better .

“The CPA is doing the same thing – responding to the industry by saying we need a licensing track in this area,” Neil said. “We’ve gone from being a novel hybrid to realizing that we’re going to need a lot of jobs in this space, and you could be at a real competitive disadvantage if you don’t have those tools.”

Leeds are also increasingly looking to hire industry qualified trainers who will bring practical knowledge on subjects such as licensing requirements and disclosures – which can change faster than a textbook can reflect.

ahead of the curve

Strong industry links and a range of top faculty have helped Leeds create programs that meet or anticipate real-world needs. Some examples:

BASE. The sophomore year that every Leeds student completes, BASE – or B-core Applied Semester Experience – follows industry-intensive dives into each business discipline. Students learn to combine lessons from these disciplines into a real-world project that will help them determine their areas of focus as seniors.

Industrial engineering. Much of the change driving the business world comes from technology and engineering. This program – symbolized by the new Rustandy building – provides structured opportunities for collaboration between business and engineering students and faculty.

Buffs with a mark. This program, developed by the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship in collaboration with CU’s Athletics Department, gives scientists and athletes tools to help them navigate the new rules around the use of names, images, and likenesses. This foresight helped CU partner with INFLCR to create the Buffs NIL Exchange.

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