Category: Business School

Conversation with MPA CEO Charlie Rivkin

Charlie RivkinI had the opportunity today to participate in a Zoom call with the Chairman and CEO of the Motion Pictures Association, Charlie Rivkin. Among his many prior roles, Rivkin served as the U.S. Ambassador to France and the CEO of the Jim Henson Company. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School. We had a lively discussion about trends in the entertainment industry and the value of an MBA.

Entertainment Industry Trends

Many people associate the movie industry with movie stars. But Rivkin points out that the industry is filled with over 2.5 million “below the line” blue color workers. Movie-making therefore provides a significant economic boost to local economies. Similarly, piracy hurts many people, not just wealthy stars. Trying to combat piracy is like “whack-a-mole”; when one technology that enables piracy is shut down, another pops up.

Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets, was the most creative and inspirational person that Rivkin knew. He fondly remembered that Henson would bounce ideas off a worker in the company boiler room. When Rivkin asked Henson about this, Henson stressed that you can learn from anyone. Collaboration is important in the MPA. Rivkin has to get the six member companies (Disney, Paramount, Sony, Universal, Warner Bros., and Netflix) to work together on common goals, even though they are business competitors. Of particular importance now is the trend to streaming and other alternate delivery mechanisms.

Rivkin’s Opinion of an MBA

I asked Rivkin how important an MBA will be for young professionals who wish to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. He said that he considers an MBA essential. An MBA gives you a chance to think about where the world is heading and how you can contribute. Rivkin also believes that you will learn valuable skills that you won’t be able to learn on the job. Even though an MBA is not a traditional path for a career in the entertainment industry, Rivkin highly recommends getting an MBA.

Conversation with Goldman Sachs’ CEO Solomon

Goldman Sachs CEO David SolomonI had the opportunity today to participate in a Zoom call with Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO David M. Solomon, moderated by CNBC anchor Sara Eisen. Since becoming CEO in October 2018, Solomon has navigated the 152-year-old investment bank through economic change and the pandemic. We had a great discussion about the economic environment, a post-pandemic world, and the value of an MBA.

Economic Environment and Leadership

Solomon is optimistic about the medium-term prospects of returning to normalcy. He said that we have faced other challenges before. His worst memories are of seeing the devastation in Downtown Manhattan on 9/11. Despite the horrors of this pandemic, we need to move forward. He thinks that more economic stimulus is needed, but it should be more targeted and thoughtful than the $1.9 trillion package under discussion in Congress. Solomon thinks that future generations will pay the consequences of such a heavy debt load.

Solomon emphasized that a company needs to be led with purpose. Employees want a clear purpose and want to contribute to that purpose. Social impact is important. Solomon believes that companies should contribute broadly to the societies in which they operate. He is especially proud of an initiative that he spearheaded and announced in January 2020 – Goldman Sachs will not take a company public unless it has at least one woman or non-white member on its Board of Directors (two starting this year).

Solomon’s Opinion of an MBA

At my request, moderator Sara Eisen asked Solomon about the value of an MBA. Solomon said that one of his biggest personal regrets is that he didn’t go to business school. All of his peers found value in the personal growth they experienced during their MBAs. Solomon said that he highly recommends getting an MBA if you are fortunate enough to have that opportunity. You will be working for many years, so taking a couple years to build a personal network and develop life experiences is invaluable in his opinion (and ours too!).

Stanford GSB Dean Levin Discusses Future of the GSB

Stanford GSB Dean Jon LevinI had the pleasure of meeting Stanford GSB Dean Jon Levin yesterday in La Jolla over lunch. We previously met last March. This time, we had a splendid discussion about some of the trends that he considers vital to the future of business education and at the GSB in particular. These involved two primary themes: technology and the “challenge of opportunity”.

Impact of Technology

The expansion of technology continues to create greater opportunities in business, but also creates some challenges. One of the biggest challenges according to Dean Levin is that of privacy. Business leaders need to think through privacy issues inherent in their product and service offerings in order to protect their customers and employees and to maintain trust with these stakeholders. This has led to changes in the types of skills that future business will need. Dean Levin referred to this as the “ascendency of the MBA skill set.”

What skills will take on greater importance for business leaders? Dean Levin believes that collaboration and teamwork, leadership, and analytical skills will be essential to manage projects that will inevitably be of greater scope and complexity. Furthermore, business leaders will need to be versed in data and information management. Ethics will also play a role, as leaders need to think about how to deploy technology in a responsible manner. The GSB is adapting to these challenges through curriculum changes. Data Science is now a required course for all first-year students. Courses such as Startup Garage have incorporated an ethics component. Electives are being added in Artificial Intelligence, such as the AI and Humanity course taught by Professor Jen Aaker. Finally, a Stanford-wide human-centered AI initiative is expected to launch in March.

Challenge of Opportunity

Dean Levin believes that liberty and opportunity are two great features of capitalist economies. But this leads to the “challenge of opportunity” – are we creating enough opportunity in society? This is an important question in training the next generation of business leaders. As such, the GSB emphasizes “purposeful leadership” as a theme. Future business leaders need to understand their role in creating equal opportunities in society. This entails teaching the importance of values and responsibility. The GSB is incorporating this topic in its curriculum through class discussion as appropriate. The GSB is doing its own part to broaden access to a Stanford MBA by offering more fellowships so that financial constraints don’t prevent worthy candidates from attending the GSB.


Finally, we talked about globalization as a further challenge that business leaders need to manage. The current first-year class at the GSB hails from 60 different countries, allowing for greater discussion of global issues during class. As more opportunities for healthy debate arise, Dean Levin believes that it is important for students to engage in a respectful manner: stay calm, listen openly, and clearly articulate their thoughts and vision.

Stanford GSB Dean Levin Shares His Insights

Stanford GSB Dean Jon LevinI had the opportunity to meet the new Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Jon Levin, yesterday morning over breakfast. Dean Levin shared a lot of insight about admission trends at the GSB, factors that make Stanford a leader in business education, changes underway at the GSB, and his vision for the future of the GSB.

Admissions Trends

The class size at the Stanford GSB has grown at an average of 1-2% per year. With 418 students matriculating in Fall 2017, the GSB has reached maximum capacity, despite the growth afforded the GSB with its relocation in 2011 to the new Knight Management Center. Stanford’s incoming class last Fall included 41% international students, representing 61 countries, and 40% female students. Dean Levin hopes that the GSB can increase the female percentage closer to 45% (consistent with some Chinese MBA programs) under Kirsten Moss, the new Admissions Director at Stanford.

The full-time MBA applicant pool for U.S. programs overall has declined by 30% over the past five years. Only Harvard and Stanford have been immune to this trend and have seen a growth in applications. Last year the GSB accepted just 5.9% of its applicants, its lowest acceptance rate yet. Over 85% of those accepted ended up matriculating. The biggest source of competition for accepted students is not other MBA programs, but rather job opportunities that these applicants have. Dean Levin recognizes that Stanford must demonstrate the ROI from its MBA program in order to maintain such a high yield rate.

This past year represented the first admissions cycle under Admissions Director Moss. Dean Levin expects that Moss will reevaluate the admission process before the new admissions year. One change that Stanford has already implemented is supplementing the traditional alumni interview with more structured staff interviews.

Financial Aid Policies

Stanford has recently been in the news for its financial aid policies. Dean Levin readily admits that the GSB previously lacked sufficient protection over sensitive data, a deficiency that has since been rectified. Dean Levin also agrees that the GSB needs to be more transparent about how financial aid decisions are made. Yet the issue has been presented a bit inaccurately by some media outlets. At most other MBA programs, a substantial portion of financial aid grants are discretionary and are specifically structured to draw candidates that the program deems attractive. In contrast, the GSB determines the total amount of financial aid for each candidate strictly based on a needs-based formula. What has been discretionary at the GSB is the split between loans and scholarships, not the total amount of aid given. Going forward, Stanford will be more explicit about how these types of decisions are made.

What Sets the GSB Apart

What sets the GSB apart from its peers? Stanford offers a more immersive learning experience than other MBA programs, and Dean Levin expects this trend to accelerate over the coming years. Almost 50% of GSB classes are experiential based. Many classes have co-teachers, a traditional professor paired with an expert in industry. One example of Stanford’s commitment to experiential learning is its innovative two-quarter Startup Garage course, during which students design and can actually launch startup companies. Last year, over 70 second-year GSB students participated, creating several viable new businesses.

New classes are often driven by student requests and the latest faculty research. Two such examples are upcoming classes on Blockchain and on Artificial Intelligence. Stanford also offers many short two-week courses that allow students to dive into specific topics that wouldn’t present sufficient content for a full quarter. Furthermore, this format allows Stanford to attract highly-qualified lecturers from industry who could not dedicate a full quarter to teaching.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-LavigneOver 20% of GSB students take advantage of the opportunity to pursue a joint or dual degrees at Stanford. The most popular joint degree has been with the School of Education. Other students pursue joint degrees in Law, Medicine, or Environmental Sciences. Dean Levin anticipates a greater interest in the future for joint degrees in Public Policy, as Stanford improves its offerings in this area, and in Engineering, due to the valuable skills that this combination would provide.

New Leadership

Dean Levin is part of a new leadership team at Stanford University overall. Stanford has a new President, a new Provost, and four new Deans at its various programs. I had the opportunity to meet Stanford University’s new President, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a week and a half earlier. President Tessier-Lavigne, Dean Levin, and the other leaders at Stanford are currently involved with a long-term planning process to help shape the future of Stanford. Based on what I’ve heard from President Tessier-Lavigne and Dean Levin, I am confident that the future of Stanford and the GSB rests in excellent hands.