Volume 29 - Number 11 - Thursday, February 27, 1997

Taking care of business

by Daniel McCabe

In a recent issue of Canadian Business, the magazine's executive editor, Ian McGugan, mulled over the future prospects of the country's business schools. The way McGugan sees it, there just aren't enough potential management students in this country to sustain all of Canada's existing commerce faculties.

Some schools will prosper by offering programs of international quality--programs so good, students from outside Canada will line up to enroll in them. As for the schools that fail this test, McGugan predicts many of them will simply vanish.
Dean Wallace Crowston will manage the management faculty for another five years


It's a forecast for the future shared by McGill's dean of management Wallace Crowston. "Five years from now, Canada will have four or five very good, internationally competitive business schools. And we'll have a lot of mediocre business schools. Eventually, it just won't be possible for all of those schools to remain in operation."

Not surprisingly, Crowston is determined to position McGill among the very best management faculties in the land. He first became dean in 1987 and has recently been reappointed for another five-year term.

Over the course of Crowston's deanship, the number of endowed chairs and donor-supported research centres in the faculty has quadrupled, a successful redesign of the MBA program was completed, and the faculty has cemented its reputation as one of Canada's most internationally active management schools.

The next major challenge will be an ambitious restructuring of the faculty's undergraduate programs. Starting in September, management students seeking a BComm will have three new streams of studies to choose from.

The first stream, General Management, "will offer students the opportunity to build their own programs," explains Crowston.

"For instance, if a student is thinking about a career in the mining industry, she'll be able to take several geology courses." There will be still be core management courses that students have to take, but they will have much greater flexibility in choosing the sorts of courses that suit their individual needs. "They know their career goals better than we do."

The second stream, Majors and Honours, goes in the opposite direction. Students in these programs will receive an intense and very focused training in preparation for certain types of jobs.

"Some fields have become extremely technical," says Crowston. "The old programs didn't allow students to go deeply enough into these disciplines to get the skills they needed. Students want specific types of expertise for certain careers--chartered accounting, for example."

The third stream, International Management, will equip students with a detailed understanding of certain regions--East Asia or Western Europe, for instance. This stream involves a close collaboration with the Faculty of Arts.

Undergraduates seeking to specialize in a particular area of the world will be able to take a host of arts courses about the region in question--political science, language, geography, history, etc. These students will also take commerce courses with a special emphasis on international management issues.

Another new feature will be introduced to undergraduates this fall. "We'll be experimenting with work-study programs," says Crowston. Roughly 45 students will be given three months off from McGill to take on a temporary position in industry. The students will be assigned a faculty member who will keep tabs on them during this period and each of the students will have to complete an essay illustrating what they learned during their time away from the University.

"We're doing this on a trial basis for now, but if it works well, the plan is to expand it to as many students as we can," says Crowston.

Crowston's most controversial move as dean relates to the recent introduction of several specialized programs in his faculty which charge students the full cost of their education. These programs eschew funding from the Quebec government in order to levy high tuition fees.

The master's program in economic policy management--which also involves the Department of Economics--costs $44,000 over two years. Its students are typically promising mid-level economists and policy analysts from Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and they're usually supported by their governments as well as by organizations such as the World Bank and the African Capacity Building Foundation.

The international masters program in practicing management--spearheaded by management professor Henry Mintzberg--charges companies $150,000 to train five of their executives. Other full-cost programs include a joint MBA/medical program and a master's program in manufacturing management--collaborations with the Faculties of Medicine and Engineering respectively. Come September, the faculty will also increase the tuition fees it charges international students studying for MBA or BComm degrees.

While most management professors backed these moves, Professor Richard Loulou, the faculty's associate dean (academic), says some faculty thought Crowston was moving too far, too fast.

"He pushed for those programs. Some members of the faculty were uncertain," recalls Loulou. "He's always pushing forward--and there are professors who prefer a more cautious approach. If he thinks he has a good idea, he moves quickly to implement it. Not everyone is entirely pleased by his style--he sometimes leaves some professors feeling a bit overwhelmed."

For his part, Loulou thinks Crowston had the right instincts. "Faculties have to come up with strategies for raising revenues. This hasn't affected the quality of our student body at all and it hasn't affected the level of interest in McGill among potential students."

Crowston has no second thoughts. "If we just sit here and swallow one 10% budget cut after another, year after year, there is just no way that this faculty can remain strong. If we followed that path, [the faculty] had to get worse. For McGill to remain McGill, we have to explore many new ways to generate revenue.

"Some have argued that this is an access issue, that most students won't be able to afford the fees," continues Crowston. "But if you look at most of these programs, they're aimed at particular types of students who wouldn't come here ordinarily. This would be a much duller faculty without them. The information they bring us about what is going on in their parts of the world enriches the whole faculty."

Crowston's chronicle

When it comes to talking about himself, Wallace Crowston is all business--he'd rather discuss his faculty, thank you. All he'll admit to is a fondness for gardening and good detective stories.

John Dobson, the founder of the Formula Growth investment firm, has worked closely with Crowston over the years. A member of the faculty's international advisory board, Dobson was instrumental in establishing the faculty's Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies.

"We've been in a few jams together and I notice he never takes things too seriously. He always keeps his sense of humour intact."

While many praise Crowston's work on the international front, Dobson says the dean has had a major impact closer to home as well.

"I work just across the street from the faculty and I can tell you that street used to be awfully wide in the old days. The people in a faculty of management ought to interact with the people in the business community and that wasn't really happening before he arrived. That has changed quite dramatically."

Crowston did an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, moving on to graduate degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie-Mellon University, where he earned his PhD.

He started off his career as an industrial engineer, but his interest in how factories were organized led him to focus on management instead. His papers have appeared in such influential business publications as Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review.

Before joining McGill in 1987, Crowston had just completed two terms as the dean of York University's Faculty of Administrative Studies.

Currently the national coordinator of the CIDA-sponsored Canada-China management education program II, Crowston directs a project involving approximately 50 universities. He also developed collaborative projects with universities in Thailand and Pakistan and is a consultant to CIDA on the design of management training programs in developing countries.

Crowston says more full-cost programs are on the horizon. Talks are under way with the Faculties of Dentistry and Environmental and Agricultural Sciences about joint MBA programs. A McGill MBA program will be available in Bombay in 1998 and in at least one other Asian country soon after.

"The program will be exactly the same as what we offer at McGill. The admissions standards will be the same. McGill professors will be teaching in these countries. Students will have the option of starting their MBA studies in one country and finishing the degree in another."

Most observers credit Crowston with playing a leading role in steering the faculty towards becoming, arguably, the most international business school in Canada.

Forty-two per-cent of the students in the faculty speak three or more languages and McGill MBA students offer their services as consultants to clients in Mexico, Pakistan, India, Poland and Thailand. Many, if not most management professors have research projects involving other countries.

David Culver, the former president of Alcan, sits on the faculty's international advisory board. Says Culver, "He has a vision for the faculty--that it should be Canada's most internationally active business school--and I think he's on the right track. He's been very strong on that front. There are so many business schools out there. You need to have a special niche if you want to be successful."

Crowston says that one of the strengths of his faculty is a student body that knows what it wants from McGill and is willing to put its money where its mouth is. "We have some of the best computer resources in the country, because our students decided that's what they wanted. They raised the money and made it happen." More recently students lobbied for the creation of a new employment centre which will be located on the first floor of the Bronfman Building.

There is one area where Crowston acknowledges other business schools have an edge over McGill. "The facilities we're teaching in aren't what they should be," says the dean. "Our competitors have much better facilities. In this city alone, some of our competitors have $100-million facilities. We're overcrowded and our classrooms just don't match up well against other management faculties."

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