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Written by Dawn Milne

Back in 2006, Ivey’s switch to a one-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) was seen as a radical change. But like the old adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same. The heart of the program and the overall experience still earn top marks from students and recruiters alike. The MBA Class of 2017, which graduated on June 9, is the 10th class of the one-year program. As we celebrate this milestone, we reflect on the program’s success.

Thirty years ago, there was only one way to do an MBA. You had to quit your job, move to where the program was, and take two years out of the workforce to do it.

By the early 2000s, it was a different scenario. MBA programs saturated the market, but the interest in them was waning. Blame the dot-com crash of 2000. Or the rise in dual-career households. Either way, a new kind of program was in order that addressed a way to minimize time out of the market – one that reduced the opportunity cost impact on students while still helping them to develop the essential skills, capabilities, and habits that leaders need to thrive.

Ivey’s one-year MBA was born.

"Moving to a one-year MBA was actually a growing trend while at the same time we were seeing a growing interest among recruiters to focus the volume of their efforts on undergraduates. Ivey’s student mix included a lot of MBAs and far fewer HBAs so we saw an opportunity to shift the mix," said Acting Dean Mark Vandenbosch, who previously served as HBA Program Director; Associate Dean, Programs; and at the time of the change sat on former Ivey dean Carol Stephenson’s task force that worked with McKinsey to ultimately decide to make this radical change. "The type of MBA program that we saw to be valuable in the future was one where you were out of the job market for less time. But we also had to pay special attention to the type of person we were bringing into the class. We need people with strong professional experience who have the right attitude and approach to make transitions."

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"Moving to a one-year MBA was actually a growing trend while at the same time we were seeing a growing interest among recruiters to focus the volume of their efforts on undergraduates. Ivey’s student mix included a lot of MBAs and far fewer HBAs so we saw an opportunity to shift the mix."

Acting Dean Mark Vandenbosch

Students tell their stories

Pushkar Kumar
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Michael Liebrock
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Kristen Sam
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As part of the MBA overhaul, Ivey reduced the class size and admitted only the highest-quality students. John Bayliss, HBA ’99 – now senior vice president of logistics at Walmart Canada – was then with The Boston Consulting Group. With feedback from alumni in many different organizations and industries, he helped Ivey develop a plan for defining a consistently high-quality class that was balanced with strong diversity across multiple dimensions. It took the School a few years to refine what makes the ideal Ivey MBA student, and recruiter feedback played a critical role. Now a score-carding process assesses candidates equally on leadership components, academic record, and work experience and helps the School to identify candidates that have a high probability of success.

"We still believe that if you bring in great people – and combine that with the Ivey experience – when these people hit the market, our alumni are going to be very proud of them and happy to advocate and sponsor them," said Sharon Irwin-Foulon, Executive Director, Career Management & Corporate Recruiting. "The big game-changer was not that we came up with a score card, but that within the School we came up with a shared narrative of what we all believed was a great Ivey MBA and aligned this with what recruiters believed, too."

Identifying the right candidates also contributes to the classroom experience.

"If you have the right talent, then the classroom work is more dynamic and that’s where the case-study work shines because people are communicating, bringing their personal experiences, and augmenting the discussion. This is a key ingredient to the transformational experience," she said.

When adjusting the curriculum to one year, the School emphasized Leadership Essentials – five interlinked capabilities that leaders need to thrive.

"Ivey Leadership Essentials is the differentiating feature. It has helped us to understand what makes for a successful candidate. What are the characteristics they should have coming into the program, what are the things we should be teaching them to augment what they bring to the program, and how do we get them prepared for careers afterward?," said Vandenbosch.

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"We still believe that if you bring in great people – and combine that with the Ivey experience – when these people hit the market, our alumni are going to be very proud of them and happy to advocate and sponsor them."

Sharon Irwin-Foulon, Executive Director
Career Management & Corporate Recruiting

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With a business background, and a passion for fashion, Stephanie Storie, MBA '09, found what she needed to grow her career in Ivey's MBA.

Stephanie Storie, MBA ’09, Director, eCommerce, Holt Renfrew

View Stephanie's profile

It’s not surprising that some of the top MBA programs today – such as the MBA at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France – are one-year programs. The streamlined format appeals to those who already have relevant work experience and want to move up in their organization or make a quick switch in role, firm, or industry. The timeframe is also perfectly aligned with one-year corporate leave policies, said David Wood, the current Ivey MBA Faculty Director.

"The one-year format has opened up the opportunity to create a leave of absence program for our students," he said. "It’s a great way to build relationships with our corporate partners as firms get back employees whose potential for growth and contribution is even greater than when they left. Those taking the leave of absence have specialized support in their career program and are encouraged to maintain connections across their firms and continue their career trajectories."

Since 2014, more than 90 per cent of Ivey MBA students have made at least one career transition.

By reducing breaks, Wood said Ivey offers almost identical content to the two-year program, in a one-year format.

"There’s a lot of unproductive time in a traditional two-year MBA that you can take out of the system. We’ve actually removed very little content, and what’s removed is the more mechanical fundamentals that the students already have," he said.

Although the summer internship is no longer part of the MBA, Wood said an internship isn’t as valuable for Ivey’s candidates because they already have prior relevant work experience. Ivey’s program isn’t for everyone. And that’s intentional.

"We have narrowly defined our target market and our value proposition. It is a significant advantage for the right candidates, but it’s not right for everybody," said Wood.

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"On the inbound side, we have students coming in every year from all around the world and that allows us to further expand the experience set of the class."

David Wood, Ivey MBA Faculty Director

The new Ivey MBA had to overcome some hurdles, particularly alignment with the recruiting cycle. The program initially had both a spring and fall intake, but in 2013 switched to a single intake in March. This allowed students to be better prepared to participate in recruiting opportunities that arrive on campus in the traditional, global fall recruiting cycles.

An exchange program was also re-introduced to the program in 2015 and Ivey now has 14 exchange partners. The exchange program offers dual benefits. Ivey students participating in it learn firsthand about business in other parts of the world. And incoming exchange students add another dimension to the class diversity.

"On the inbound side, we have students coming in every year from all around the world and that allows us to further expand the experience set of the class," said Wood. "They come from countries where we don’t necessarily see a lot of applications so that helps to broaden the diversity of the classroom from a geographic standpoint."

International study trip options have also expanded to include China, India, or South America.

Beginning in 2016, entrepreneurial-minded students were offered more opportunities to launch their own businesses than ever before. In addition to the suite of entrepreneurship electives, students can apply to transition their New Venture Project into a real business in the final term of the MBA program.  Students who have a viable business plan receive mentorship by faculty and alumni, dedicated space for their business, financing to get started, and course credits that permit them to work full time in their business before graduation.

Professor Fraser Johnson was MBA Faculty Director from May 2009 to December 2014. During his tenure, the use of technology in the classroom, the international makeup of the class, and even the physical building changed. The MBA program moved from Ivey’s Spencer Leadership Centre to the $110-million, LEED® Gold-certified Richard Ivey Building, which opened in 2013.

"Our alumni expect us to improve the program and change with the times. What have not changed are the basic principles and the experience. Regardless of when you graduated – whether it was five or 50 years ago, you should be able to have the same conversation about your experience," said Johnson. "The intensity of the program, the case-study method, being cold-called in class, the 24-hours reports, and your experiences with your learning teams have not changed. We have maintained what the strength of the Ivey experience is and has been and all the things that make our MBA program unique."

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"We have maintained what the strength of the Ivey experience is and has been and all the things that make our MBA program unique."

Professor Fraser Johnson
MBA Faculty Director from May 2009 to December 2014

Whether it’s high employment rates and salaries, student and recruiter satisfaction, or rankings success, the switch to a one-year MBA paid off. Some of the recent accolades for the program include:

  • Top Canadian school in Bloomberg Businessweek’s International MBA rankings three years in a row (2014, 2015, and 2016);
  • First in Canada in the QS 2017 Global 250 Business School report; and,
  • Third globally for student evaluation of the alumni network in The Economist’s 2016 Global MBA Rankings.

In a 2015 recruiter survey for Bloomberg Businessweek, Ivey’s MBA graduates also ranked first in leadership skills, strategic thinking, collaboration, and communications skills – among the most-wanted, hardest-to-find skills sought after by employers.

Alumni engagement is another key indicator of the program’s success. Whether attending Homecoming, referring candidates, or mentoring students, Ivey’s alumni pay it forward in a big way.

Irwin-Foulon said the annual MBA Get Connected event, offering three days of networking and information sessions with recruiters and alumni, is now so popular that it has a cap on numbers, with the flagship Monday networking night being MBAs from the last five years.

"Every year about 300 MBA alumni come back over three days to pay it forward and put themselves out there as mentors and sources of information. For me, that’s an indication of the pride in the program and the belief in what we’re doing here," she said.

All of these indicators of success come at a time when MBA programs around the world are under pressure.

"A lot of schools are struggling right now, but we’re not. The program is strong and it’s basically at capacity and the quality of our students is just as high as it has always been. We’re not sacrificing quality to get the numbers," said Vandenbosch. "We had some fits and starts. It was a huge change and we were leading. We were probably the most well-known North American business school to take this leap to a one-year format. Now it’s pretty clear the Ivey MBA has been successful."

Related Link

Learn more about the Ivey MBA.

10

years of the one-year program

3

years as the top Canadian school in Bloomberg Businessweek’s International MBA rankings

#1

IN CANADA AS HIGHLIGHTED IN THE QS 2017 GLOBAL 250 BUSINESS SCHOOLS REPORT

3rd

for student evaluation of the alumni network in the Economist's 2016 Global MBA RANKINGS

#1

in leadership skills, strategic thinking, collaboration, and communication skills in the 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek recruiter survey

90%

of our MBA alumni remain engaged with the School

80%

of MBA graduates rate Ivey six or higher on a seven-point student satisfaction scale

Looking back at the future

From its launch in 1948 to the groundbreaking move to a one-year program in 2006, Ivey's MBA program has evolved with the times.

  • Fall 1948

    The MBA at Western launches.

  • 1950

    Western grants first MBA degree.

  • 1951

    The first MBA class graduates.

  • May 2006

    Ivey admits its first class in the one-year MBA program at the Spencer Leadership Centre.

  • June 2007

    The first one-year class graduates.

  • March 2013

    Switch from fall and spring intakes to just one intake in March to better match recruiting needs.

  • September 2013

    Grand opening of the Richard Ivey Building – the new home of the Ivey MBA.

  • June 2017

    Celebrating 10 years of the one-year MBA as the Class of 2017 graduates.