Summer Programs Keep the Business School Busy

Nearly 500 students graduated in June, but their departure doesn't mean Stanford GSB's Knight Management Center is standing empty.

July 01, 2011

Nearly 500 students graduated in June, but their departure doesn’t mean the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Knight Management Center is standing empty.

At least 1,600 people will be drawn to campus between June and August to attend executive programs, summer institutes, conferences, and alumni events that also will bring more than 50 faculty members back into the classroom.

Each week, participants attend programs that are designed for people from various professional backgrounds. Many summer sessions are executive programs for seasoned managers preparing to assume broader roles at their companies. There’s also instruction for entrepreneurial students from non-business majors who are learning business fundamentals for the first time. About 53 Stanford GSB professors teach in various summer programs.

All that activity produces brisk business at the Arbuckle Dining Pavilion, where students relax in wooden rocking chairs and enjoy their sandwiches while tapping on their laptops, and Stanford GSB professors hold lunch-table discussions with summer program participants in the eatery’s open-air lanai.

That’s where Mike Fero headed during a mid-day break from the Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship. The popular program is designed to equip current non-business Stanford graduate students and postdoctoral fellows with the skills they’ll need to turn innovative ideas into successful business ventures.

“It’s basically showing me a little bit about what I have to know to be a CEO of a startup,” said Fero, who has a PhD in physics and is learning accounting, finance, leadership, and negotiation skills. He hopes the knowledge and professional contacts gained during the program will help him in his quest to commercialize a technology to enable microbes to efficiently create biofuel.

“I’m learning so much that I never knew,” said Fero, a postdoctoral student at the Stanford School of Medicine Department of Developmental Biology. “It’s very useful to come and get into the language of business. It’s been an eye-opener.”

The month-long program attracts students and postdocs with backgrounds in engineering, medicine, science, humanities, education, or law. About 100 people are enrolled this year, up from 72 last summer.

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Goldman Sachs/Stanford University Global Education Conference attendees

Attendees of the Goldman Sachs/Stanford University Global Education Conference take a break.

The school’s new Knight Center, which opened in April, is 80,000 square feet larger than Stanford GSB’s former location, and the added size has enabled a jump in attendance for some summer programs. For example, the 600-seat CEMEX Auditorium — with about twice the capacity of the old Bishop Auditorium-accommodated nearly 500 educators and policy makers who came to a two-day Goldman Sachs/Stanford University Global Education Conference in June to hear how innovators around the world are aiming to boost student achievement. The gathering featured keynote luncheon speaker Cory Booker, the Stanford, Yale, and Oxford-educated mayor of Newark, N.J. who is well known for his support of education reform. Attendees listened to his speech while dining alfresco under a huge tent pitched in front of the Bass Center on the Town Square.

Some programs are aimed at alumni including the 203 people who arrived in June for the 25th reunion of the MBA Class of 1986. Their four-day event kicked off with a high-spirited welcome-back pajama party/frozen yogurt social as alums moved into the Schwab Residential Center for a reminder about what campus life is like. During the week attendees also learned from group discussions, including one led by George Parker, the Dean Witter Distinguished Professor of Finance, Emeritus, who related what it takes to serve on a corporate board of directors.

This year’s Class of 1986 reunion drew a total of 308 alums and guests-an all-time record exceeding the 228 who attended the group’s previous reunion.

Other Stanford GSB summer programs are customized to bolster the skills of specific professionals. In June, 36 people attended a three-day management program designed to help technology executives from Fortune 500 firms develop fresh thinking for the 21st Century. And in August, Stanford GSB will host 35 participants in its Advanced Leadership Program for Asian American Executives.

During the entire summer, the school’s Executive Education office is expected to host 14 programs ranging in length from two to 41 days, with nearly 700 participants scheduled to attend.

Cristina Ventura, a senior retail veteran who hails from Barcelona, is one of the 145 people from 33 countries attending the six week residential Stanford Executive Program, the school’s flagship executive program established in 1952. Ventura’s goal is to learn more about the tech world because the former Asia Pacific retail director for the Prada Group is about to join technology giant Apple, where she will oversee the rollout of Apple retail stores throughout Hong Kong.

Interacting with other attendees who are experts in industries from aviation to health care has given Ventura “another vision in life.”

She is learning about finance and ethics, reading more than 150 pages a day of business case studies, and listening as other participants share new developments in their industries. That bonding continues outside of the classroom as well. Ventura and her colleagues regularly meet up at 6am daily exercise workouts and recently took an excursion to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Ventura explained: “Once you are inside a company, you just see that part of the company, that industry, that point of view. Being with people who are completely different in terms of culture, background, and expertise broadens you and makes you challenge every belief you had before, which I think is extremely important for any leader to keep improving.”

Not far away, Kelvin Limonte, a 2011 University of Miami music performance grad, is attending Stanford’s Summer Institute for General Management, designed for people just beginning their careers. Through courses taught by GSB professors, group projects, and other activities, college juniors and seniors and recent college graduates get a solid grounding in business fundamentals. Other highlights of the month-long residential program included question and answer sessions with industry leaders from electric carmaker Tesla, organic foods firm Earthbound Farms, and internet heavyweight Yahoo.

Limonte, who aims to work for a non-profit that does educational outreach, is energized by a summer at Stanford GSB.

“Everyday I’m learning, not just from the faculty but also from the students who are from all over the world,” he said. “For me to be exposed to people from the Far East, or Europe — it’s been a great learning experience. We have group projects and we all bring different things to the table. It’s really cool how we work together.”

By Michele Chandler

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