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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Sep 22, 2020

Patricia O’Connell interviews returning guest, John Byrne, CEO and Founder of Poets & Quants and CEO of C-Change Media, Inc. They discuss what is happening in business schools and what applicants, students, and graduates can expect in the near future and beyond.


Listen in to learn about the prospects for business school graduates in the pandemic and resulting economic depression.

Key Takeaways:

[:25] Patricia O’Connell welcomes John Byrne back to CEO Stories on This is Capitalism.

[1:05] For the past four to five years, we’ve seen a significant decline in applications to full-time MBA programs. But the better schools are starting to see a boom in applications during the pandemic recession. This year could be one of the most competitive, ever.

[3:00] There has been tremendous growth in online MBA programs. You can still maintain your job and get your MBA. If you don’t have a job, you might be better off going to a full-time program. You’ll have the opportunity to meet a parade of employers who come to campus for interviews. You can do summer internships.
[4:26] In an online MBA, what you sacrifice in in-person learning and networking, may not be as great as a lot of people think. Surveys show that people who go to an online MBA program are pretty happy.

[4:49] Most business schools are trying to go hybrid with a combination of in-person classes and online. Some schools, such as Wharton, Stanford, Georgetown, Michigan State, and others, have already had to cut back on planned in-person classes because the novel coronavirus is not allowing them an alternative to ensure safety and health.

[6:08] These full-time programs will be largely remote instruction, not designed as online classes. John explains some of the differences between a well-designed online course and remote learning in a full-time program.

[7:53] The pandemic is temporary. John discusses choosing between a designed online MBA and a two-year MBA program that is restricted for one year to remote learning classes. Remote instruction has evolved over the summer to be better than the suddenly remote classes with glitches students experienced in the spring of 2020.

[9:37] During the summer, schools have trained their faculty to use the remote technology up-to-speed. Professors have practiced and tested it with volunteer “guinea pig” students. That will make a difference.

[11:42] Wharton planned its return in the fall without consulting its students. There were no students on any committees. They announced their plans with no outreach to the students. This was before Wharton decided to go fully online. Students felt disenfranchised.

[12:28] Stanford organized panels to plan for the return to school in the fall, and students formed the majority of the panel participants. They were actively engaged in all the decisions. The school made many changes that would otherwise not have been done, because of the students’ involvement. That was stakeholder involvement.

[15:02] John doesn’t think schools will return to the way they operated before the pandemic. Remote technology has become easier to use and much more effective. There are things you can do virtually that are more accessible for greater numbers of people than you can do in person, such as small group virtual meetings for applicants.

[16:16] Admit weekends, where you tour the campus and admit students, can be done virtually. Guest speakers are much more accessible through virtual sessions.

[17:36] John explains the concept of flipped classrooms. There has been a lot of talk about them but few teachers put them into practice. John says there will be more use of them as we go forward. John details the benefits of flipped classrooms.

[18:53] The pandemic will inform what is being taught in B-School, including how we manage people and organizations through a crisis. There are long-term impacts of remote work. John would not want to be an investor in commercial real estate right now.

[19:56] As companies return to work, John foresees employees working three-days in the office and two days at home, and staggered schedules. John expects to see changes to urban centers where young people want to be. John thinks people will move away from congested, expensive, and problematic cities. People will work remotely.

[22:07] The business school community is extremely important because you create connections with people you will network with for the rest of your life, based on friendship and encouragement, that are going to help your career. They may be your future employers, co-workers, suppliers, customers, or investors.

[22:51] Community is essential to the value proposition of what an MBA is, particularly at a good school. John does not see that disappearing. It will still be very desirable to attend big-city schools.

[23:52] Everyone is risk-averse. A good business school typically expects you to have gone to a highly selective undergraduate school. Employers look at graduate school as a filter that produces only the most select employees. John talks about how a business school education smoothes the rough edges of their students.

[25:44] Employers look at the business school from which you graduated. Very few people get into a top business school whether attending virtually or in person. Remote learning at a world-class business school is not inferior to attending in person, as far as employers are concerned. A virtual global curriculum may even be better preparation.

[26:53] A lot of the high-value activity at a business school occurs outside of the classroom. Much of that is student-centered, organized, run, and led by the students. Students are going to have to re-imagine all the extracurricular activities so that the virtual models of what happened on campus may be of comparable quality.

[28:21] How will the pandemic affect business recruiting as they move into a fully-virtual environment?

[29:36] A lot of getting a job is about story-telling. Upcoming MBA graduates will have powerful success stories to tell!

[30:58] How the B-School application essay questions may change, related to working through this unprecedented confluence of a recession, a health crisis, racial injustice, and a highly polarized political society.

[32:05] John discusses the current application essay questions. They are open enough to include discussion of crisis navigation.

[33:28] Despite the challenges, this is also a time of great opportunity. Adversity, such as unemployment, inspires people to stand up and do new things that can be wonderful and magical, which benefit many and generate meaningful employment for others.

[34:13] Education is essential to social mobility in our country and to live a more fulfilled and productive life. A graduate degree provides another level of productivity. John shares his thoughts about the importance and value of a business degree.

[37:17] Why is immigration in this country so important? America has been able to attract the world’s best and brightest, decade after decade. They’ve come here, they’ve created businesses, and they’ve sought higher education to make themselves live a better life than they otherwise would have. Immigration is vital.

[38:52] International attendance at B-School is way down. It’s been more difficult to get a student visa. Gaining employment after graduation has become more difficult. Many schools have started a STEM designation program that allows two additional years of employment in the United States on an H-1B visa.

[40:11] Patricia thanks John Byrne for being on the podcast and John shares website information.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Poets & Quants

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Georgetown University McDonough School of Business

Michigan State Eli Broad College of Business



J.P. Morgan

Goldman Sachs


Procter & Gamble