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Business Schools Do Their Part to Better Corporate Competitiveness

October 28, 1992

DETROIT (AP) _ When the automotive division of Allied-Signal Inc. needed to revise its budgeting process, company executives handed the project to a group of University of Michigan business students.

The arrangement was part of a growing effort by businesses to help train business school students in real world problems. Backers say the plan benefits both the boardroom and the classroom.

″We were spending five months on a budgeting assessment that sometimes is good for only a month or two,″ said Mike Fettinger, manager of financial operations for the Southfield, Mich.-based division of Allied-Signal.

″This presentation made headquarters see we could do it in less.″

The students’ solution reached the Morristown, N.J.-based manufacturer of aerospace, automotive and engineering materials within seven weeks.

The seven students studying for a master’s degree in business administration were part of the Michigan Business School’s first Multidisciplinary Action Project. The program puts teams of six or seven MBA candidates on factory floors for the last quarter of their first year.

About one-third of Michigan Business School’s 440 MBA candidates signed up last semester for the project. It’s required for all first-year students this fall, said Jim Danko, the program’s coordinator.

Rich Schneider, 25, of Weston, Conn., parlayed his project work into a summer internship at Allied-Signal, one of 21 corporate sponsors.

″Allied-Signal took this project so seriously,″ Schneider said. ″We didn’t know what to expect when we went in. They laid down the framework and said this is what we want.

″In one sense, we learned about the total-quality program that Allied- Signal is implementing, and we also learned ... how to manage expectations of what the customer - Allied-Signal - wants.″

Redefining business education is a matter of recognizing what companies look for, said Tim Renn, an assistant dean and director of communications at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University. The Kellogg School offers a master’s of management in manufacturing, combining marketing and finance with manufacturing and technological skills.

″They want to see people who understand the broad spectrum of business and can go in there and integrate the business-making decisions ... with an emphasis on quality,″ he said.

″The critics of business schools have said you’re doing a good job of giving people instruction in these technical skills - accounting, marketing, finance. But we’d like to see the business graduates be better able to apply these skills in practice,″ said Charles Hickman, projects director for the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business in St. Louis.

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, which offers several courses and degree programs pairing ″suits″ with ″gearheads″ from the Engineering School, focuses on global competition.

″We’re American business schools, and our companies are operating in a worldwide business climate,″ said Associate Dean Charles Bonini. ″Most schools are making an attempt to internationalize the viewpoints of their students.″

Peter Hoglund worked on a project team at a Rochester Hills, Mich., Kmart store. Its project was to streamline the process of keeping minimal inventory while maintaining well-stocked floors and accurate accounting.

″You go to business school and you start learning all these high-falutin’ academic tools that will hopefully make each student a successful manager,″ Hoglund said. ″When you go into the real world, it’s hard to implement that sometimes.″

Schneider, who worked in investment consulting for three years before returning to school for his MBA, said the Michigan project opened his eyes to manufacturing.

″We actually saw a lot of the total quality things we learned in our classroom settings implemented at a corporate level,″ he said. ″Words like ‘continuous improvement’ were not just words, they were actually being used.″

Joe Hilger, director of marketing and planning for Chrysler Corp.’s automotive parts division in Center Line, Mich., and a sponsor of the Michigan program, praised efforts of business schools to bolster corporate change.

″It’s the right way for business and education to start working together,″ Hilger said. ″We’ve got to do better between government agencies, education and business. It’s the only way we’re going to compete.″

End adv for AMs Wednesday, Oct. 28

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