J&W upgrades its management school

Sandrine Delos enrolled in the management program at Johnson & Wales University because of the school’s reputation for getting students quickly into the working world. Little did Delos know she would be making business trips as a member of Textron before graduation.

“The program has given me an opportunity to apply the knowledge I have learned in the classroom to the work being done here at Textron. The experience I’m getting now is valuable,” said Delos of her internship.

A year ago, the chance to work at one of the state’s top companies would not have been available. It’s just one of the many benefits of Johnson & Wales’ transformation of its management department to the School of Global Management.

Along with the name change, university administrators have been beefing up management studies this year with the goal of filling a gap new grads and business executives know all too well.

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“There is an understanding here that we will close that gap between what businesses demand and what a normal college achieves. There needs to be a seamless entry to the workplace,” said Doug Fitzgerald, chairman of the school.

Hopeful of making that smooth transition, the university’s new program is weighed heavily on partnerships with the business community. Internships with greater emphasis on the basic goings-on of a company and classes taught by people in the business community is now stressed.

The school has also created four centers that specialize in international management, entrepreneurship, organizational development and financial services.

The need to retool the program was obvious to the administrators who took part in a recent self-evaluation of the university.

“In the fall of 1998, when we looked at the vision points we saw that we were not measuring up properly. What we wanted to do is create an entity that could live up to those goals,” said Fitzgerald.

The school of global management has 850 students, roughly a third of the students enrolled in J & W’s business college.

To many people’s surprise the business college is bigger than the culinary and hospitality colleges, which often comes to mind when J&W is mentioned. Folks at the management school know it is vital for their success to get their business message out there.

“We are in competition with 2,800 business schools throughout the country. It will be our students who will distinguish us from the others, because we are measured by the success of our students in getting a job and succeeding once they get the job,” Fitzgerald said.

He said management students from the university have stood out in the eyes of executives at Textron and Fidelity, which recently partnered with the school, because they “don’t mind getting their hands dirty.”

Fitzgerald said, “We don’t want students in the boardrooms during (internships) we want them on the factory floor, in the offices, in the places they will work when they get out of school.

“There are a lot of students in business schools today who think they should start at upper level management. They don’t want to learn at the bottom, which we stress is important.”

Fitzgerald added that it is more important for an intern to be working in the production plants, for example, than it is to be a gofer for a company executive.

David Mitchell, director for the Center of International Management, said managers at various companies have told him that they see a different attitude with Johnson & Wales students.

“Textron, for example, has been very receptive to the students, because they are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved with the operations of business opposed to the management and marketing theories,” he said.

Delos, for example, has been working on a number of operations management related activities, including her current project concerning process improvement workshops. And some times she has been called upon to help the company in areas not necessarily related to her internship.

“I’ve been asked to translate for them on a couple of occasions,” said Delos, who speaks French fluently. “It’s not really related to my internship, but it helped the company. That is a big reason why I am here.”

Mitchell said in most cases graduates right out of school are placed in the lower levels of a company and don’t have the practical knowledge to be productive right away.

“The mission is to make sure there is not a gap between graduation day and productive employment,” he said.

He said prior to this year Textron had never taken a Johnson & Wales student. Now they have two and that number will grow. Later in the year an advance seminar in international operations will be held that will involve from 8-10 students going to Textron facilities in the United Kingdom and France.

Ken Proudfoot, director of the Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship, is also heading up an international study program that is expected to benefit numerous local companies.

In July, students in the entrepreneurship major will travel for three weeks to Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Along with classroom instructions, the students will visit local entrepreneurs and tour businesses. Before making the journey the students will team up with Rhode Island companies that do business or plan to do business in Eastern Europe.

Along with helping companies here learn more about the foreign market, the students will get acquainted with a diverse group of people who have been successful in their business ventures.

“Entrepreneurship, for example, is more than just having certain skills, but it is also an attitude about what is possible,” he said. “We want our students to meet the people with the right attitude. We also want them to relate their struggles and successes. Students find it fascinating to learn how a company got where it is today.”

Proudfoot said that exposure is designed get the students’ own dreams rolling.

“We want them to realize that there are no limits to what they can do. By the time they graduate we want them to have a completed business plan for the business they want to start and also they should have financing in place to start the business,” he said.

The classroom lesson will continue to be strong as more and more faculty with business experiences lend their expertise.

For example, John R. Gounaris, the former president of Apex with 32 years of management experience, is an assistant professor of international business.

“I think it all starts at Johnson & Wales with the faculty. We all have a minimum of 10 years in industry and a master’s degree. Most of us have 20 years experience and that much experience is bound to rub off on our students,” said Gounaris.

One thing Gounaris said he learned from traveling to 60 countries is that the business world is not that big.

“We are slanting every course to what we see as a very small world. We want the students to understand the importance of global business,” he said. He added that at a minimum students will spent four weeks abroad by the end of their sophomore year.

Gounaris said schools often tout its ability to place students out of school immediately after graduation – Johnson & Wales is no exception — but he believes a greater emphasis should be put on what they do once they’re employed.

“We want to focus more and more on what you must learn here and with that company to continue your growth. Finding a job is important, but understanding that you will be working for 45 years and should be doing something to your potential is also important,” he added.

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