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Master educator Featured

10:04am EDT January 27, 2006

Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.”

Idie Kesner, Ph.D. and chair of the MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, has done plenty of mind-stretching over the past 25 years. But as successful as she’s been, it wasn’t her original choice of a career.

“I fully intended to get my degree and join the ranks of Corporate America,” Kesner says. “It was only after a professor saw me do a presentation and suggested teaching that I began to consider academia as a career. It’s a great job with plenty of variety — I’ve never regretted my decision to become an educator.”

The Kelley School of Business MBA program is ranked 18th nationwide by Business Week, and has been in the top 20 seven of the eight times MBA programs have been ranked.

“We are especially pleased since these latest survey results come just a few weeks after having received the No. 1 ranking by the Princeton Review for best-quality MBA teaching,” Kesner says. “We hope to continue our upward momentum ... as we continue to provide a great educational experience for our students and prepare them to take on top leadership positions in national and international companies.”

Smart Business spoke with Kesner about how she keeps employees motivated and how she deals with funding constraints.

How do you measure success?
Surveys are the typical measure used in today’s environment. Early on, these surveys probably provided useful information. However, in my opinion, the litmus test for success should be the improvement of knowledge and skill level of the graduates.

How do they serve the business community? Where do the graduates end up, and how do they contribute to the success of their organizations?

How do you keep your staff motivated?
I have 19 full-time and 15 part-time student staff members. I am very fortunate to partner with Terrill Cosgray, who is the Program Director. Terrill does much of the day-to-day management, which allows me to focus on curriculum development and interface with the faculty and community.

We are a participatory group of people dedicated to being responsive to the needs of the students. My position as chair of the MBA program runs for a three-year period. With this limited time, I’ve had to rely heavily on the experience and expertise of my staff to help me move down the learning curve quickly.

What has been your greatest challenge?
Overall, applications for MBA programs have dropped over the past few years, for three reasons: It is more difficult to obtain visas, so international applications have declined; the U.S. was in a recession, so people were hesitant to give up their jobs; and demographics changed so that there are fewer MBA-age students.

It has been challenging to keep the momentum in light of these changes. Thankfully, each of these three factors is changing, and the future looks brighter. Operating in a resource-constrained environment can also be an obstacle. Funding to public higher education has been cut back considerably, which makes it difficult to compete with privately funded schools. Enthusiasm and commitment are great, but ultimately, resources are needed, and they are often in short supply.

Who’s leadership style has inspired you?
The CEO of a board I served on several years ago was the best leader I have ever seen. He was extremely balanced in every respect. He maintained a calm demeanor, supported staff and was a thoughtful decision-maker.

It was ironic — here I was on the board of directors, and yet he taught me more than he ever knew through his modest and unassuming style. It goes to show that great leaders have quiet strength and confidence that inspires staff and generates loyalty.

How important is an MBA for a businessperson?
The average salary pre-MBA was $50,000 last year. The average starting salary following an MBA was $82,000. Many of our MBA graduates in some industry sections earn base salaries well over $100,000, with bonuses on top of that.

I think it is deeper than a money issue, however. MBA graduates enjoy work that is strategic in nature, and therefore, more rewarding. There are doors that open which would likely remain closed without the degree.

How to reach: Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, (812) 855-8100 or www.kelley.indiana.edu