04 Feb, 2013
Giving the BCom program a cursory glance, it seems that after three to four years, you are given a piece of paper stating that you are now a proud double major in ‘writing’ and ‘recitation,’ with a concentration in ‘following instructions.’ In fact, I have overheard students from both Management and other faculties cynically refer to the BCom program as more of a vocational school for today’s apprenticeships than an actual university-level education.
To be honest, I fell trap to this very aspect, initially joining McGill because it apparently had a great finance-specific program and was internationally renowned by employers. Having been sorely disappointed, however, in what I was getting out of a semester full of finance classes (because who really needs a life outside CAPM regressions?), I decided to be radically explorative this semester and try new things. Which for me, being ever the adventurer, meant taking Applied Investments and a – wait for it – a Leadership class (gasp). Both classes pleasantly surprised me by demonstrating that the essence of management involves using more than just one aspect of business. It’s not just a math, nor a science, or even an art for that matter. It’s not finance, or marketing, or accounting. Instead, it’s a unique blend which is this program’s greatest potential.
In its current state, the programs offered operate as silos under the Desautels umbrella. For example, the finance stars focus only on banking, corporate finance, and capital markets theory, the accounting students focus only on IFRS rules and regulations, and so on. Furthermore, the attempt at building a base of knowledge via the mandatory cross-sectional core courses only encourages students to seek their own field faster, rather than tie a common thread between them all. For instance, with an average grade of 50% on the Introduction to Financial Accounting midterm, who would ever want to explore it further apart from the hardiest of accountants?
That said, there are a few rare gems that I’ve managed to find in my own finance field. Over the past four weeks, both Applied Investments and Leadership have explored a side of management that I’ve never experienced before. From day one of Applied Investments, the professor deliberately avoided theory (or even the actual management of a portfolio), and instead focused on the approach one should take to finance and markets in general, as well as recommended readings like The Ascent of Money and Moneyball. We were told that a good finance practitioner (if not people in general) should always be well-versed not only in finance but also in conceptual subjects like philosophy and physics.
The Leadership class offers even more. It allows students to discuss the concept of management with leaders in the business world . This is where the essence comes out—opportunities where you can sit down and actually understand how it all fits together—outside the picturesque world of academia. This offers the greatest value; not memorizing some set of equations to apply when the information is neatly presented in one paragraph. By listening to and researching the speakers, students gain a sense of how all the core courses mesh together, how a manager has to consider not just finance, marketing, or information systems, but how to juggle it all while dealing with people.
Ultimately, management is the art, science, and math of working with people. It borrows the curiosity to seek out problems from science, the rigor and persistence of dealing with abstracts from math, and a consideration of more than the current state from the arts. Would it not therefore be vastly superior to build this thread into the entire program? Rather than relegate such value to one silo of courses, why not ingrain these fundamentals in accounting, marketing, and finance classes?
So, at the end of the day, I encourage you all to take what is there for you, go outside the classroom and integrate it all into one giant, messy environment, because that’s what it’s like out there; not the clean, multiple-choice exam waiting for you in a few weeks. If Desautels really wants to say “Beyond Business As Usual” with conviction, they should build this vision of a holistic view to problems into the everyday core classes. It won’t be easy, but anything of real value rarely is.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.