What Makes Stevens' Analytics MBA Special — And More, With Ann Murphy

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In her roles of educator, researcher and industry consultant, Ann Murphy sees the integrality of business analytics in identifying problems and formulating solutions on a daily basis. That's one reason she can speak to the advantages conferred by an Online Analytics Master of Business Administration from Stevens Institute of Technology.

Her nine-year tenure as Associate Dean of undergraduate business at Stevens is another; Murphy knows the quality of the faculty, facilities and academic philosophy of the institution as well as anyone. She shared her insights into the power of analytics and the advantages of a Stevens degree during a recent conversation.

Why do today's managers need to be fluent in analytics?

MBAs need a full grasp of analytics so that they can leverage technology to solve complex real-world problems. We have more access to data than ever before. Still, it takes an experienced professional armed with analytical tools to harness that data in a way that helps solve real business problems and solve problems for society.

Your area of expertise includes leadership and strategy. How do analytics figure into those fields specifically?

Analytics are central to my fields, whether I'm guiding students, conducting my research or engaging in my consulting work.

When I work with consulting clients, I often focus on helping organizations create a better future by establishing a long-term vision, along with a roadmap for achieving that vision. That involves setting priorities and goals and developing strategies to accomplish them. Analytics come into play in every step of that process. It starts before we try to identify a vision, set concrete goals or develop an action plan to achieve those goals.

From the outset, we need a solid foundation. That means understanding the current state of the business. We also need to know what's happening externally in its ever-changing industry, and we need a survey of the competitive landscape. We also need to know what's happening internally in the organization. How does it develop new products and services? How does it position itself in the market? Analytics are the tools to answer those questions.

Later in the process, analytics drive what the firm should seek in terms of goals. They help choose the appropriate tool kit for creating strategies and action plans.

How do your consulting clients regard analytics? Are they enthusiastic about their potential?

They appreciate what analytics deliver. I hear "We need better analytics" a lot. Sometimes there's confusion over the definition of the term. What does it mean when you 'have strong analytics' or 'apply analytical tools'? The term 'analytics' can be too broadly defined.

My clients appreciate it when I emphasize the specific and practical aspects of analytics. I say, "Here are your key issues and problems and here are some specific ways we can address them." In that conversation, I guide them to how we can leverage analytics and similar tools. Some of these analytical tools rely on advanced digital transformation tools like AI, wearable technologies or data visualization tools like Power BI or Tableau. Others, however, involve tried and true tools that have been available for a while. They provide powerful frameworks and ways of understanding a situation, organizing the analysis and drawing conclusions. We're learning different ways to use them, and we're employing them in unique ways.

Turning to your research, you recently presented a paper exploring how investors react to the appointment of minority CEOs. What did you discover?

We found that investors reacted positively to the appointment of Black CEOs,and that this in part was due to Black CEOs being especially well qualified.

It's long been understood that minority professionals are put through the paces more than their white counterparts. They are subject to a higher bar for advancement in many organizations, which occurs at all levels. What this means is that minority candidates for CEO jobs have been tested over and over and over for each milestone promotion. There's empirical research — not mine, but it's out there — showing that they are subject to a higher set of performance standards and are penalized more severely for mistakes.

Our research found that these candidates were exceptional because of all the additional higher bars they needed to clear to advance to reach the CEO post. Compared to a sample of white CEOs selected for comparability, the Black CEOs were more experienced and had more advanced degrees. All that is consistent with the positive reception they received. We found that the Black CEOs were well received not because of any positive bias but because they appeared to be more prepared for the job.

Much of your research focuses on leadership roles. Would you discuss your work concerning boards of directors?

I just published a study that looks at the effectiveness of an individual director. Boards of directors oversee firms by monitoring and advising the top management team to ensure they make decisions that are in the best interest of shareholders.

In this study, my colleagues and I focus on the effectiveness of an individual director changes over their tenure as a board member. My coauthors and I argue for and present a theoretical model showing a curvilinear pattern to their effectiveness. At the start of their tenure, they aren't that effective. They probably have a ton of experience, which is why they were appointed, but they don't yet know the firm well and have difficulty applying their expertise to its needs. By mid-tenure, which usually is about seven or eight years, they really hit their stride; they can utilize their experience and are familiar with the firm. Later, there's tailing off in effectiveness because they tend to not be as engaged and become too cozy with management, completing the bell curve. Our study identifies factors that help board members maximize their period of effectiveness by getting up-to-speed more quickly and taking measures to stay engaged.

Do students need analytics skills coming into the StevensOnline AMBA program to succeed?

Some real-world professional experience – even an internship - is always helpful for students to understand the practical applications of the tools and techniques we convey in the classroom. That said, professional experience is not required, and students without experience often do quite well in our program.

As far as having an analytics background, that's not as necessary. We teach students what they need to know in the program. I wouldn't want to scare off history majors because they could undoubtedly succeed here. Anyone ready to work hard and throw themselves into the curriculum can do well because everything they need to succeed is in the curriculum.

What makes Stevens Online special?

For one thing, we teach our classes live. We simulate what would happen in the live classroom. In other words, you get the real classroom experience in our online program which I believe is far superior to an asynchronous delivery mode.

Also, we keep our courses small. I've taught classes with only 10 students; most of my courses range from 20 to 35 students which is quite small compared to other programs. Our smaller class sizes allow for a richer exchange. That's important because I believe that the value in any MBA course, whether it's in management, leadership, or something more analytical, is derived through discourse. Without that, it's like a correspondence course. Our courses emphasize participation. We want students to comment, ask questions and offer examples. We make sure to use a variety of teaching techniques and vary the way assignments are completed. It's a very dynamic approach that creates a more exciting and effective learning environment.

Stevens is also more connected to industry than your average university. Even for online students, our proximity to New York City, arguably the global capital of business, is a boon. We regularly have guest speakers and real-world projects that stem from our connections. People associate this area with finance, and that's undoubtedly a big business in this region, but it's hardly the whole ballgame. Many major pharmaceutical companies are headquartered nearby in New Jersey. This is also a media capital — all the major networks have a huge New York presence. That means there's also a massive public relations industry here. Also, professional services. Think of the Big Four: KPMG, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte all have big offices in New York. There's a significant fashion industry here as well.

Finally, I'd point out that Stevens is oriented toward application. We're not teaching theoretical up-in-the-sky material. It's grounded in the real world.

The 39-credit-hour, 100 percent online Analytics MBA from StevensOnline offers a unique focus on data, business analytics, artificial intelligence and design thinking that you won't find in a conventional MBA program. Led by industry executives and academics, the AMBA blends theory and general principles with real-world practical solutions. No wonder US News & World Report ranked the Stevens Online MBA among the best of its kind in the state of New Jersey. The influential publication also ranked Stevens' Online Business Analytics program among the nation's top 20.

The Stevens' AMBA curriculum centers on three skill areas: communicating complex ideas and information to business leadership in terms they understand, anticipating and applying innovative technologies to deliver competitive advantage and working with data to drive strategy and planning. Applicants must arrive with a background in financial management, accounting, and economics; if they haven't previously completed these courses. they can take them before starting the MBA program. Students typically complete the program in two to two-and-a-half years.

According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council's annual salary and hiring report, MBA salaries are, on average, $50,000 per year higher ($115,000 vs. $65,000) than salaries for those with bachelor's degrees. That's an additional $3 million in lifetime earnings (over a 35-year career). But an AMBA does much more than fatten your wallet. It provides insight and skills that empower you to succeed and reach your full potential. That means not just a more lucrative career but also a more satisfying one.

If you're ready to start your AMBA journey, you can apply online today.