Universities have had to face up to the facts these past few years. Society has changed. People want education they can apply directly to career ambitions. And they want to be able to do it without having to take out a second mortgage or rearrange work schedules to fit weekday-morning-only class schedules.

Jaishankar Ganesh, dean of Rutgers School of Business-Camden, wants these people to know that he is listening. In fact, in less than a year Ganesh and his colleagues at Rutgers have put together a new professional MBA (PMBA) aimed squarely at what the school has found to be the most under-served segment of the business community — the upwardly mobile executive who hasn’t quite hit the CEO level yet.

The program’s first go-around begins on Saturday, August 20. And though it is the product of Rutgers-Camden, classes will be held in Princeton, at the Wyndham Hotel and Conference Center on Scudder’s Mill Road. And possibly China, but we’ll come back to that.

In a nutshell, the PMBA is a 21-month, 14-course program that immerses 25 to 30 executives among their peers. Students from divergent backgrounds and levels of corporate and business experience will collect every Saturday to study case histories and real-world business scenarios (some taken straight from students’ careers) and participate in group projects that meld the theoretical with the practical.

“We want the people in this program to be able to apply what they learn almost instantaneously at work,” Ganesh says. When they leave Saturday afternoons, he says, he wants the students to know that they can change their ways of doing things when they walk into work on Monday morning. “It will change the way you think.”

Changing the way we think is one of Ganesh’s pet interests. He says that universities — particularly state schools like Rutgers — have to stop relying on old models of doing business. “Historically, and not just at Rutgers, state universities thought their mandate was to provide high-quality education,” Ganesh says. “And most state schools have done a very good job with that. But most state schools never thought about being more efficient.”

Ganesh, who took over as dean last August, walked into his new job and immediately started asking questions about how well the School of Business ran as a business itself. State universities, he says, “were never held to the standard of running schools like a business.”

Since the beginning of the Great Recession, Ganesh says, the thought process has changed at state schools all across the country. States are in the same financial upheaval as businesses, colleges, and families. For colleges, the reliance on states to fund new and innovative programs like a PMBA is growing ever more arcane. State schools, out of necessity, have had to re-examine how valuable they really are to the communities they serve.

“The big difference now is that it’s not just how effective you are, it’s how efficient,” Ganesh says. “You have to ask ‘Are the programs innovative and entrepreneurial? What is the value proposition for the community?’”

Ganesh set out early last fall to get answers to the latter. He had just come to New Jersey from the University of Central Florida, where he had converted a decent business school into one of the most profitable and sought-after centers for business education in that part of the state. He wanted to know just how New Jersey’s residents saw Rutgers as a neighbor and source of higher education. More importantly, he wanted to know who represented the most under-served segment of the business community and what the Rutgers School of Business-Camden could do to reach them.

The early-career, upwardly mobile professional leapt out at him immediately – folks who have a few years’ experience in the working world, but aren’t yet in the upper echelons of their companies. Still, these are the executives with the most potential to be C-suite (CEO, COO, CFO) in a few years. They have young families and lots of initiative, Ganesh says. But not much free time.

They also don’t have copious amounts of money lying around. Middle-rank executives make good money in most companies, but not the kind that can cover the costs of standard MBA programs, Ganesh says. Many of the MBA programs he found during his research cost between $80,000 and $150,000. True, such programs put you in the same room with some powerful people, he says, but still. “These are some pretty pricey programs.”

On top of the money, the time factor is not merely a matter of how many hours a week you can devote to class. It is also a matter of how long it will take to get through the whole program. Masters’ degree programs, ideally, take two years to complete. But the reality, Ganesh says, is more like three or four years for most people. Students attend programs part time, at night, occasionally on weekends. Often they have to wait until a needed course comes back around in the cycle, and sometimes the wait is a whole year.

Executives on the rise, Ganesh says, do not want to wait any longer than they need. Spending an extra year in an MBA program might just open the gates for other executives on the rise to take jobs that would have been yours had you just gotten your ticket punched sooner.

With all this in mind, the first thing Ganesh and his team in Camden wanted to do was make a convenient, efficient MBA program. “We do it on Saturdays so you don’t have to take days off,” he says. “And you don’t have to drive to Camden.”

Ganesh says he wanted the program to occur in Princeton for a few reasons. One, Rutgers’ Camden and Newark campuses already have MBA programs aimed at businesspeople, but the school does not have much of a business presence in central New Jersey, despite its main campus in New Brunswick. There are MBA programs there too, he says, but they follow the traditional academic timeline.

Princeton, he says, puts Rutgers right in the heart of New Jersey’s most important executive epicenter. And for area executives looking to get an MBA in the most efficient way possible, Ganesh feels it is a big draw to have such a program located minutes — not hours — away.

There also will be a spring version of the PMBA offered in different towns, Ganesh says. The first will be next April in Atlantic City, and the following spring’s program will operate somewhere else. But the fall program has a permanent home in Princeton, he says.

But what about that China thing? Part of the Rutgers PMBA involves study abroad (air and hotel costs are inclusive in the program’s $58,800 price), a concept that supports Ganesh’s feelings that many teachers are better than just one. The PMBA has 14 courses overall and each will be taught by different Rutgers professors. But none can teach what it means to actually do business internationally.

Immersing students in the business cultures of growing economic powers like China, India, and Brazil, Ganesh says, will give them firsthand experience in the all-important global marketplace. “International business cannot be taught,” he says. “It has to be experienced.” There are cultural issues in international trade that simply must be learned by being directly involved in them.

Ganesh says the school has not yet decided on a destination for its first class. It will be an emerging economy, though, and it will be a nine-day trip during the second half of the program. Unlike the rest of the program, though, the international portion will not be taught by university teachers. Students will learn straight from international businesspeople, almost like an internship, not from teachers in foreign countries.

The 46-year-old Ganesh is no stranger to the international scene. Born and raised in India, he earned bachelor’s degrees in information technology (from the Madras Institute of Technology) and physics (from the University of Madras). He began his career in engineering, working for Hindustan Computers Ltd.-India, before coming to the United States in the early 1990s to study for an MBA. He began his studies at George Washington University and then moved to the University of Houston, where he earned his MBA and a Ph.D. in marketing and international business there.

He moved into academe when he joined the University of Central Florida in 1996 and taught graduate and Ph.D. classes in business subjects. But it was his move into the administrative side at UCF that made the biggest splash.

As the associate dean for administration and executive education at the UCF’s College of Business Administration, Ganesh turned a $300,000 operation into a $3.5 million enterprise over five years. He accomplished this by revamping the school’s Executive Development Center, designing and developing graduate programs with the biotechnology department, establishing corporate partnerships with the school, and developing career management services that got students working upon graduation.

A self-proclaimed “academic entrepreneur,” Ganesh fused his parents’ backgrounds into his own career path. His father studied economics at the University of Virginia in the 1960s and worked in the field until returning to India to be a college professor. He retired as the president of Vivekananda College in Chennai. Ganesh’s mother also was a teacher and a scientist. She taught high school physics.

Ganesh credits his parents with infusing him with a love for education. His parents’ example taught him empathy and his father’s idea that knowledge is more important than the size of one’s bank account has stayed with him for years.

Last year he accepted the job at the top of Rutgers’ Business School in Camden and set out to duplicate his successes in Florida. And he wanted to apply the principles he learned as a businessman to higher education. He moved to Pennington, where he now lives with his wife, Anu Vedam, an IT project manager, and their daughter, Sandhya.

Though it’s too early to know how things will play out, Ganesh says the initial response to the PMBA has validated his thoughts about its value. The announcement of the program has brought in about 250 information seekers over the past five months, about 10 percent of whom will kick off the program.

The selection process is rather involved. For starters, “every qualified applicant is interviewed by faculty members,” Ganesh says. “It’s a time-consuming, demanding exercise, but interviews tell you more about the candidate than his application will.”

At the bare minimum, candidates need to have at least three years of “full-time, progressive, relevant work experience,” according to the program criteria guidelines. They also need to have at least a bachelor’s degree, a good academic record, and good scores on graduate-level standardized tests such as the GRE.

But that’s just the minimum. Ganesh says the first round of students average about 10 years of professional experience. And what Rutgers is looking for is evidence that students can bring as much as they will take from the program. Drive and a desire for an MBA are givens. What Ganesh wants is a mix of passion and pragmatism.

“This is a very rigorous program,” he says. “This is going to take a lot out of you. The last thing we want is for people to start dropping out.” The interview process, he says, separates those who are aware of the time and academic pressures the program will exert from those who think it might be nice to get a master’s.

“We ask ‘What does this person bring to the table?’’ Ganesh says. “What are their career goals and how will this program help them get there?”

He also wants high-energy individuals who will inspire their classmates. Negative people, he says, sap groups, so to get into this PMBA, you need to show that you will be a positive influence.

“You have to be serious to do this,” Ganesh says. “This is equal to a 25-hour-a-week job. You are going to have to reconfigure your life and find 25 hours or it will hit you with a sledgehammer.”

The skeleton of the program itself was inspired by Rutgers’ existing MBA programs, Ganesh says, though it is similar to executive MBA programs that use the Saturday-only schedule. Such programs are growing in popularity in business hubs around the country. Rider University, in fact, has had one in place for three years (U.S. 1, August 11, 2010), though Ganesh says Rider’s EMBA program did not serve as a model for Rutgers’.

The main difference in how this program came together compared to most other schools, is how fast it came together. Ganesh attributes the speed to his background building similar programs in Florida. “This isn’t something from scratch,” he says. “I have six or seven years of putting such programs together. People say academe moves slowly, but in six to eight weeks our initial proposal was submitted, revamped, and approved. By any standard, that’s remarkable.”

As for the launch of the program itself, Ganesh says “I’m very pumped up.” Mostly because he’s confident that the program’s teachers will be able to fill students’ heads with supremely valuable information. “I would have to live my life 25 or 30 times over to get the level of experience that class is going to get,” he says.

#b#Rutgers University at Camden#/b#, 303 Cooper Street, Camden 08102-1519; 856-225-6095. Wendell E. Pritchett JD PhD, chancellor. camden.rutgers.edu

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