Phil Powell Talks Kelley School Advantage On CNBC Power Lunch

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CNBC’s Power Lunch continued its “Back to Business School” series with Kelley School of Business Economics professor Phil Powell as the day’s featured guest.

Throughout the week, the “Back to Business School” segments have highlighted top trends in education at the nation’s premier business schools. In addition to Kelley, faculty members from Stanford, Columbia, Notre Dame, and NYU have appeared on the program.

The segment began with host Tyler Mathisen asking Powell about online education and its potential to disrupt the education marketplace. Kelley has been the market leader in online education since Kelley Direct was started in 1999. The program is currently ranked No. 1 overall by U.S. News & World Report, and No. 1 for research by the Financial Times.

“We were early in this marketplace,” said Powell, who joined the Kelley faculty in 1996 after receiving his Ph.D. in economics. “Our faculty quickly embraced it, because we live and die by innovation. We have to practice what we teach. And we teach our students to be disruptive in order to beat their competitors. So if we’re not doing that, if we don’t embrace that, then we’re not being true to our mission. So absolutely, that culture of disruption defines who we are at the Kelley School.”

Mathisen, though, suggested that there have to be members of the Kelley and Indiana University administrations who don’t embrace online students because they don’t allow the university to fully utilize its physical capacity. Powell countered that at Kelley “we’re not our buildings.”

“We are what we teach. We’re the knowledge that we deliver to our students,” Powell said. “And we have to rise to the occasion and set the example of how you compete in the marketplace. So our faculty celebrate the sort of liberation of new ways to teach that technology delivers. So there’s no fighting the old. We’re embracing the new.”

As the faculty chairperson for Kelley Direct, Powell directly oversees an innovative part of the curriculum called AGILE — Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education. The program allows Kelley Direct students to gain real-world business experience by taking on high-stakes problems in emerging economies throughout the world.

Mathisen asked about the advantage of making students “uncomfortable” by sending them to “stressful business zones like Botswana, Ramallah, or any number of countries in Latin America.”

“If we want our students to have extraordinary solutions, we have to provide an out-of-ordinary experience," Powell said. "When you take students out of their comfort zones, they have to question their assumptions, and they have to think on their feet. And they have to apply what they've learned. Everything they've learned in the MBA program fuses, and they have to deliver a solution for a small business on the ground.”

“When those stakes are high, failure is not an option, and our students rise to the occasion. They come back to their job, they come back to the campus, and they’re better managers than they were before. It’s a truly transformative experience for them.”

Finally, Mathisen asked Powell about Kelley’s cutting-edge MBA program for practicing physicians. Launched in September 2013, the Business of Medicine MBA is a two-year program designed specifically to address the changes happening in the health care industry.

“In our curriculum, we purposely do not use health care examples,” Powell said. “Our students want to learn examples from other industries. They feel that the market and the industry is so dysfunctional, that they want outside ideas. We purposely structure the curriculum so that they’re working in teams. They’re learning to be managers through examples and through cases. So they can go back into the clinic and be better doctors in terms of arranging the resources that their patients need.”

Because the Business of Medicine MBA cohort is made up of physicians from across the country, Powell explained that Kelley is able to leverage its expertise in delivering online education. The hybrid delivery format of the program includes a combination of online learning and monthly in-residence sessions in Indianapolis.

“We purposefully structure things so that they can go back to the clinic on Monday or Tuesday and apply what they've learned,” he said. “Not only are they healing people, but they’re managers; they have employees; they have budgets; they have contracts to sign.”

“We encourage them that when they head back they use their clinics as the classroom and apply what they’re learning. We see a very rapid transformation in their ability to deliver health care in an efficient and even more patient-friendly way.”