Neil Blumenthal didn’t enter business chool with any plans to launch a busi- ness. He was looking for formal training in finance, accounting and marketing. But along the way to his master’s degree in business administration, he met three classmates who shared his passion for entrepreneurship and social change. The buddies honed a business plan and launched focus groups. They asked classmates at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to evaluate product prototypes. And before they
received their MBAs last spring, Blumenthal, 30, and his partners had launched
Warby Parker, a company that sells stylish prescription eyeglasses for a mere
$95 a pair. The New York-based business has 12 employees and a mission: to
donate a pair of eyeglasses for each pair
sold. To date, that’s about 15,000 pairs.
Business school—rich in opportunities for networking, hands-on class
work and access to scholars and industry
experts—was the catalyst that transformed a brainstorm into a business.
“Having all the pieces together
allowed us to shoot off like a rocket
ship,” Blumenthal says.
A graduate education in business has
long been considered the golden ticket
for bright innovators such as Blumenthal
and those seeking access to top-echelon
jobs in banking, marketing, finance
and consulting. But as the economy
continues to lurch and wobble, fewer
prospective students are placing their
confidence in an MBA degree. Business
school admissions directors expected a
surge of applications from laid-off workers and edgy employees looking to gain
an advantage in a competitive labor market, but that swell never materialized.
In fact, applications to full-time MBA
programs have been dropping since 2008,
according to the Graduate Management
Admission Council. The University of
Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of
Business, for instance, had roughly the
same number of applications to its full-time MBA program in 2010 as in 2009,
and 2011 looks to continue that trend,
says Director of Admissions Sam Kang.
Perhaps the cost, which can top
$100,000 for tuition at a top-tier school,
is giving prospective students pause.
Seeing the Business World
through Green-Colored Glasses
Increasingly, MBA students are demanding sustainability
courses—and it appears to be paying off
Spotted owls versus loggers. Polar
bears versus oil companies. For one
to prosper, the other has to take
a hit—or so the thinking went. But
as an increasing number of MBA
students sought ways to turn those
conflicts into win-win situations, business schools began creating programs in sustainability and corporate
“I don’t believe you can
be an effective leader or
manager in the world today if
you don’t understand these
issues,” says John D. Sterman, a management professor who is one of the leaders
of the sustainability initiative
at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology Sloan School
Last spring, MIT Sloan
debuted five courses in sustainability. A sustainability
expert will soon join the faculty, and dozens of students
are wait-listed for sustainable
The University of North Carolina’s
Kenan-Flagler Business School has
offered courses on the intersection
of business and social responsibility since 1999, through its Center for
Sustainable Enterprise. About 20
percent of full-time MBA students
opt to earn a concentration in sustainable enterprise, says Jessica
Thomas, the center’s managing
director. And more than 30 percent
of the incoming class of about 280
students has expressed interest in
sustainable business strategies.
The fledgling Center for Social
Value Creation at the University of
Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of
Business was developed in response
to demand from students and faculty.
“The goal is to give students the
skills to be change agents in their
organizations,” says Melissa Carrier,
the executive director.
Warby Parker eyewear is an example of new businesses with an eye on profit and social responsibility.
As recently as a few years ago, business students who wanted careers in
sustainability had to resign themselves
to lower-paying jobs than their peers
in finance, consulting and banking.
Now, employers in a variety of fields
are hungry for eco-minded B-school
graduates who can promote energy
efficiency and preserve resources
while boosting the bottom line.
“Companies are hungry for these
skills,” says Sterman, who predicts
that corporate C-suites will eventually
include chief sustainability officers—
business-savvy top executives who
see the world through green glasses.