Photography: Sarah Brooke Lyons
Of the more than 12,000 business schools across the globe to which a potential MBA candidate can apply, only 607 are accredited through the prestigious AACSB International, the premier accrediting agency for business schools. San Antonio’s own St. Mary’s University is home to one of those accredited business schools.
Under the direction of Dean Tanuja Singh, DBA, and former USAA Director of Ethics Ernie Broughton, the Bill Greehey School of Business is injecting new life into the MBA program that builds on ethics and corporate social responsibility, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.
This new MBA delivers within the overall mission of the school that emphasizes ethical leadership, global awareness, professional orientation and technical excellence.
Singh came to St. Mary’s in 2009 from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., where she served as the chairperson of the department of marketing and focused on international marketing, digital media and strategy for more than a decade.
Originally a physicist in India, Singh realized she was more of a people person and needed more social interaction. Having already completed an advanced degree in physics, she pursued a certification exam in banking, where she remained for a period.
After a successful segway into business via banking, she ultimately pursued a master’s in business administration from Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., where a professor suggested she continue on to a doctoral program.
Having always enjoyed marketing and communications, Singh chose to focus on those sectors during her doctoral studies, ultimately opting to do her dissertation on cognitive entropy at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill.
In layman’s terms, she combined her physics and marketing knowledge to create a scale to measure cognitive entropy in an effort to assess how and why advertising’s effectiveness ultimately wanes.
Singh is not as in touch with her physics roots these days, but she does try to keep up with new discoveries. Her area of expertise, aside from managing a premier MBA program, is international marketing strategy and how digital media can more effectively be utilized in the business arena.
In 2009, she collaborated with Joe Cullinane to write “Surfing the Rift: An Executive’s Guide to the Post Web 2.0 World,” a book on how to use social digital media. They labeled it “participant media” because participants co-create the content and the tools in most social media environments.
Singh has also published a number of articles on blogs and social media and held workshops on Internet marketing and retailing. It is her belief that companies and people do not use digital media strategically.
Although digital media is considered commonplace now, after talking with senior executives at large companies, Singh realized that they understood its importance, but were uncomfortable making the switch to digital media. This premise was the catalyst for collaboration between Singh and Cullinane.
A passion of Singh’s is how digital media is affecting education. Digital media has morphed into far more than Facebook and social media. It has become an interactive, multidimensional tool to co-create, co-consume, share and disseminate content and ideas in an interconnected world.
“If you look at thought leadership in the area of digital media, it is obvious that the educational space is moving to a much more global, participant-driven, efficient and interactive arena challenging our established educational models.”
For example, through a bit of research on the Udacity, Open Culture and Khan Academy websites, one will find free online classroom instruction from premier universities around the world. This high-quality instruction available for free and updated constantly creates challenges for static models of traditional education.
“The mode of educating those willing to learn is changing through digital media. We are witnessing the democratization of education through participant media, and as a traditional academic institution, we will be left behind if we don’t start incorporating some of these technologies and facilitators into how we create, share and deliver the message to our learners.”
With big risk comes big reward. Collaboratively, Singh and the faculty members in the Bill Greehey School of Business realized that while the MBA program was strong, it did not adequately respond to industry needs and could better reflect the values-driven culture of St. Mary’s University through a major overhaul.
Over the past year, Singh has breathed new life into the DNA of the Greehey Business School with the help of her advisory board, industry executives, faculty and the newly hired MBA director Broughton. The completely revamped MBA program delivers an industry-focused, values-driven and experiential education in a hybrid format over an 18-month period.
It is Singh’s opinion that once candidates reach the MBA level, their IQs are typically pretty high. Such elements as their ability to work in a group setting; their ability to lead, deliver a compelling vision, innovate and resolve conflicts; and their behavioral skills will determine their success in their professional and personal lives.
Singh agrees that these are innate skills not typically instructed in a classroom setting, so, usingthe expertise that has driven the marketing maven to the top of her field, she, together with Broughton, developed the acronym “ABS,” which translates to advanced behavioral skills.
Broughton and Singh believe that students with strong ABS will have a strong core that provides tools essential to successfully leading in the business world in an ethically responsible manner.
Another key element of the program is its focus on experiential learning. The revamped MBA still emphasizes key skill sets typical of any MBA program, but is heavily focused on applying these skills to solve real-world problems in a lab setting.
Real, solution-oriented projects from companies will be assigned so the students develop business solutions with a focus on the core three characteristics of ethical leadership, social entrepreneurship and sustainability. Singh and Broughton believe this vision for the program will raise the MBA program to a preeminent status.
In differentiating the new program from those already in existence, Singh notes that the areas the program focuses on are fundamentally different from a linear learning model. It is a lock step model of parallel learning, tangible experiences and a hands-on approach with active corporate partnerships.
The projects to be assigned and completed by students in the program are being solicited from companies and are non-mission critical, yet important for the respective company in its problem-solving process.
Although the program focuses on sustainability, social entrepreneurship and ethical leadership, Singh stresses that it is not a not-for-profit MBA.
“The program responds to the most critical needs of the industry and society by focusing on a values-driven approach,” she says. “We believe that if you want to change the criticized business model, you have to change it from a values-driven perspective. You have to ask why sustainability matters, why social entrepreneurship is relevant and why ethical leadership and corporate social responsibility are central to resolving some of the issues facing our society today.
“For example, sustainability is a double bottom line. It adds to your profit, as well as the well-being of society. The goal should be to create ventures that are successful and sustainable and take care of the limited resources of the earth. You can work for any company and they would benefit from the kind of MBA we are launching this August.”
In spite of her demanding agenda and overachieving spirit, Singh is a lighthearted, gracious woman who loves to travel, read and laugh with those around her. She is not actively teaching; however, the cohort of students this fall will receive quite a treat when they discover the international marketing maven is co-teaching the marketing class in the MBA program.
Interacting with students and faculty is an aspect of Singh’s job that she does not take lightly. It is evident that working with the faculty and students at St. Mary’s is a joy for her.
“St. Mary’s has the most cohesive, caring group of faculty I have had the privilege to work with,” she says. “The people who are here are there for the united reason of living the DNA of St. Mary’s. The aspect of ‘what am I doing that is making a difference in someone else’s life’ is central to their mission. The faculty cares deeply about the value of what they teach and how it will be perceived.
“It has been my experience that the best ideas come from a diverse group of people. So it is very typical for educators to disagree. However, a cohesive group that is driven by the same values will work together to deliver programs and ideas that are best suited for their students and the society. From my perspective, I work with the best people in academia and wouldn’t change anything.”
Be it traveling abroad, teaching a class or simply sharing time with those around her, Singh does everything with conviction and passion. In her words, effort and passion matter, and when interwoven into the thread of our daily lives, positive results cannot help but follow.
For more information on the Bill Greehey School of Business at St. Mary’s University, visit www.stmarytx.edu/business.