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Mendoza College of Business

Chicago is Notre Dame’s Kind of Town

By Margaret Littman and Carolyn Woo

The success of Mendoza ’s first Chicago Executive MBA (EMBA) class shows b-school education doesn’t have to be business as usual


It was 2001. For a decade Darren Hodgdon (EMBA ’03), a successful business owner, had craved the kind of feedback which those in corporate America often receive but entrepreneurs often lack. “It is hard when you are a business owner to have objective measures of yourself as a manager,” says Hodgdon. In addition to critical give-and-take, he also wanted to acquire what he calls “tangible skill sets”—the tools to analyze how world economic trends could impact his business. Hodgdon, whose LifeStart Wellness Network firm is based in Chicago , had looked at some of the Executive MBA (EMBA) programs in the area, including the Kellogg School of Management and the University of Chicago . Then he heard about the impending launch of an EMBA program by the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. He followed up on ads in the Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio to give the ND EMBA program a closer look. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

The concept for a new Chicago EMBA program was spearheaded by Leo Burke (ND ’70), who joined Notre Dame as Associate Dean and Director of Executive Education in December 2000. After two decades in corporate America , including a stint at Motorola during which he received the Presidential Award, Burke has an extensive knowledge of global executive education.

First item of business for Burke was to rally a team of faculty to design an EMBA program for Chicago . While the Chicago market made sense for Notre Dame’s expansion, it was not a no-brainer. “It is a natural market for us. Chicago is a key national business center; we have a large alumni base there; there is strong brand recognition and proximity to the South Bend campus,” says Burke. “But the competition was also formidable.”

Working tirelessly and challenging existing practices, the faculty curriculum team created an innovative program that was approved with enthusiasm by the entire faculty in April 2001. “To create and approve a completely new program in just four months is unheard of in academia,” says Carolyn Y. Woo, the Martin J. Gillen Dean and Ray and Milann Siegfried Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies. “This accomplishment reflects the culture at our College. The faculty put program objectives ahead of how implementation might affect them or their areas. The result is an EMBA curriculum unlike any other in the market. The beauty is not that it is different; it is about us being faithful to the Notre Dame message: success with integrity. Success with integrity is what the faculty used to drive the design of the curriculum.” “Innovation is not just about creativity; it also requires honest evaluation, trust and commitment to a common goal.”

As in all new product launches, there are unplanned challenges. A full-blown ad campaign hit the newspapers and airwaves in August 2001. The first information session took place on September 13th.

September 11th terrorist attacks did not stop prospective students from attending. Somehow, by January 2002, when Notre Dame welcomed the first class, which included Darren Hodgdon and 41 others, we reached our enrollment goal. “I give the students a lot of credit,” adds Barry Van Dyck (MBA ’86), director of Executive MBA Programs. “We asked them to be a part of something they’d never seen. We asked them to buy into our dream. They did.”

The Chicago Executive MBA Program: an original

The Chicago EMBA program runs for 18 months—from January to May of the following year. It is organized around ten modules. As Management Professor Jim Davis, who teaches Strategy, explained, “the modular format enabled us to create something more focused, tighter and cover more material. The format is also fluid—we designed a structure that can adapt to change.”

The shorter length of the program is also a plus to students like Debera Hinchy (EMBA ’03), an executive at Ryerson Tull. “Some day I would like to run one of Ryerson Tull’s business units. And right now with two children, completing an EMBA program in 18 months is definitely preferable to a two year program.”

One priority in the design of the curriculum is the integration of the functional disciplines (e.g. accounting, marketing, finance). In life, of course, managers do not experience problems separated by functional disciplines. More important, they cannot afford to solve problems in disconnected pieces.


Bridget Donovan (EMBA '03)

As Finance Professor and Notre Dame’s Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said, “The purpose of these classes is not to develop number crunchers, but to help students understand the numbers, know what questions to ask and navigate through complexity.”Such judgment and intuition can only be developed when students abandon neat divisions and pre-packaged frameworks to embrace inter-dependencies and some degree of messiness and ambiguity. They have to find their own way to structure information and give shape to amorphous issues.

Integration of the functional disciplines is achieved in three ways: First, the ten modules are not organized by function. They are designed around challenges that managers face. The first module evaluates the financial performance and the market position of a firm. The second and third modules provide the tools to understand the competitive environment of the firm and introduce corporate finance and ethics. The fourth module covers information technology and its impact. The next three modules address the different responsibilities of the general manager, including value chain analysis, strategic marketing, operations management, negotiation and leading change. The eighth module is devoted solely to the topic of “integral leadership,”one of the most distinctive features of this program. The last two modules bring everything together and add the topics of corporate governance and managing the firm vis-à-vis alliances, mergers and acquisitions and innovation.

Another way that the curriculum integrates the functional disciplines is what Notre Dame calls the “weave.”The “weave”takes on big picture topics that invite multi-disciplinary perspectives, sustained conversation and thoughtful reflection. It is also a critical vehicle to implement Notre Dame’s message: leading with integrity. To lead with integrity, one must have a sense of the common good.

The goal is not just an integrated curriculum, but an integrated person. In addition to ethics discussions in the modules, topics in the “weave”are specifically chosen to highlight the role of values and the impact of business on society. The topics include ethics, values-based decision-making and emotional intelligence. As one class participant, cardiologist Dr. Catherine Pesek Bird (EMBA ’03), says, “Ethics are an integral part of the new EMBA curriculum. Since the Enron and Worldcom scandals, most business schools have added an ethics’component to their curricula. But ethics have always been a part of the values-based learning curriculum at Notre Dame. The ethics [component] made me more certain that I was doing the right thing.”


(left to right) Pat Horgan, Terry Flanagan (EMBA '03)

Executive Integral Leadership Program

I f there’s one thing MBAs don’t seem to like, it’s touchy-feely experiences. These don’t typically resonate with folks who look to statistics and Phillips curves to make decisions. So, in searching for the tangible results of a week-long, intensive MBA experience, one does not expect to hear about one alumna’s ability to get over her fear of starting her own business or the success of another’s weight loss program.

But Mendoza ’s Executive Integral Leadership Program (EILP), like the entire EMBA program, is not about what’s expected. The week allows EMBA students to explore values-based decision-making in the context of multidimensional business conditions and facets of human development. The students undergo a 360-degree review process, self-administered assessments and one-on-one leadership coaching. There is also health and wellness coaching. The result is a program that enables students to lead their organizations more effectively.

“It certainly provided insights that I never thought of,” says Debera Hinchy “I found it very worthwhile as a person; the course gave me a different perspective about leadership.”

That’s the idea, says Racquel Dolson, president of Executive Leverage, Inc. in Barrington , IL and a member of the EILP design team. After helping to shape the week-long program, Dolson is now conducting extensive program evaluations.

“It takes a lot of courage for Notre Dame to do this,” she says. “It is a big investment away from the office and people want to know that it will have some kind of practical application.”

Dolson’s research suggests that practicality wins. One EILP graduate attributes a 22% increase in his company’s sales to the EILP; another believes that the program saved his company literally millions of dollars. The EILP convinced one participant to get rid of a couch in his office when he realized that guests were not sitting in a position of equality, thereby hindering the kinds of conversations he wanted to have with his employees.


Tracy Benson (EMBA '03) right, trains an employee at Urban Epicure.

Tracy Benson, (EMBA ’03), decided to quit her corporate job and start her own business during the EILP. One of the course’s coaches said to her, “I don’t know what your business plan is like, but I don’t know what’s holding you back. You’re ready for this.”

Benson, who had pined to open a gourmet store/take-out restaurant for years, finished her business plan in class and never looked back. Urban Epicure opened in November 2003. As her eyes literally well up with tears, Benson talks about the e-mail message she sent to her classmates when Urban Epicure opened in Chicago . “I heard back from all but two of them within a day. They were all rooting for me and telling me that I inspired them.”


Tracy Benson (EMBA ’03) and staff at Urban Epicure.
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