The Most Innovative Leadership Programs at MBA Schools

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I’ve always said the difference between a good manager and a great leader is the ability to inspire others. But can leadership be taught solely in the classroom? Today’s business schools are more than just “MBA Factories” churning out polished future executives. Rather, business schools are enriching their programs with opportunities such as global travel, entrepreneurship mentoring, and social welfare initiatives to build future world leaders. NerdWallet’s MBA Comparison Tool focuses on the quantitative comparisons of salaries and job placements, but here we feature the innovative qualitative programs that are successfully training tomorrow’s global leaders.

Top International MBA Programs

Business has gone global, no doubt about it. Most MBA programs now incorporate international travel to help build compliment time on-campus. Experiences range from several weeks to multi-continent rotations, focused on facilitating relationships among students to solving problems in developing nations.  Among all the business schools, international MBA programs represent the most global experiences.

The Thunderbird Executive MBA Program is consistently rated among the top international programs in various business school rankings. The Thunderbird program has two unique characteristics that distinguish it from other global executive programs: Students can experience field seminars in any of the BRIC countries in addition to the Middle East. Additionally, the Thunderbird E-MBA program has a second-language proficiency requirement. Students that do not already have proficiency in a language besides English can choose to take courses in one of 8 languages including Arabic and Mandarin.

The Georgetown ESADE Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) is an intense 14-month program that includes six modules spread across four continents. Students begin their studies in Washington DC but spend time in Spain, South America, India, and China. Students spend 50% of their time in emerging markets, where modules are designed to take advantage of the resident location. Participants investigate the local political economy in addition to industries and firms, all while being fully immersed in the culture.

Top Social Welfare Programs

Although Wall Street salaries may grab headlines, many students are motivated to earn their MBA to benefit and improve the world. Today’s business schools offer incredible opportunities to better society with programs that enable students to improve the quality of life for those individuals and markets most in need.

One of the most unique and innovative programs I came across was at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The MBA program at MIIS offers a customizable curriculum with opportunities for students to specialize in social entrepreneurship and sustainable business. Students can participate in the unique Frontier Market Scouts program in which students work as investment managers and talent scouts in low-income and capital weak regions of the world. The institute provides preparatory training and ongoing support as students live within indigenous communities for 2-6 months. Scouts seek out enterprising people, help shape business plans, and generate potential opportunities for social and commercial investors.

Many of the top MBA programs have strong international programs, but Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business emphasizes social enterprise through their GLOBASE program. Students are matched with businesses and NGOs in Guatemala, Ghana, and India, applying their skills to improve the competitiveness of small business enterprises. The program stretches 7 weeks, enabling participants to truly experience the local culture. Ben Cober, a recent Kelley graduate, culminated his South American experience by traveling alone down the Amazon River and interacting with various tribes.

Strongest Entrepreneurship Focus

One of the strongest sources of innovation and leadership is with entrepreneurs, so it is no surprise that top business schools across the country are expanding programs and support for students looking to start their own companies. In many cases, business schools are not only a source of education but also provide the foundation to launch The Next Big Thing.

The University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute of Entrepreneurship Studies goes even beyond helping students start their own companies. Part of the Ross School of Business, the Zell Lurie Institute manages three student-led venture funds that provide real-world venture capital experience to MBA students. Participants manage all aspects of the investment process, from sourcing deals and negotiating terms, to conducting due diligence and participation on the boards. The three funds specialize in early stage investment, social enterprises, and great ideas within the surrounding community. Besides a great growth experience for the students, the funds now have $6.5 million under management, and have experienced exits with return comparable to top professionally managed funds. The Zell Lurie Institute is structured to provide students the necessary experience to become future venture capitalists and impact investors.

Some MBA programs have such a strong entrepreneurship focus, they spawn successful companies, as in the case of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Jennifer Beall, CEO of CleanBeeBaby, leveraged input from over 40 of her classmates to write a business plan, solicit investments, and launch the company. Kellogg offers several school-sponsored entrepreneurship programs as  well as many support programs for young entrepreneurs to build upon their ideas. As Beall puts it: “I took advantage of every entrepreneurial resource Kellogg had to build a solid plan. All I had to do was execute after graduation.” CleanBeeBaby, now two years old, is raising a second found of investment to expand beyond Los Angeles and franchise.

Know of an unique program that we should feature? Email us at education@nerdwallet.com.