mbaMission Exclusive Interview with Christopher Storer, Former Executive Director of Graduate Programs and Admissions at the George Washington University School of Business

Update: Christopher Storer left George Washington University School of Business in May 2016. 

Having joined George Washington University approximately two years ago, Christopher Storer oversees all the school’s MBA programs, working with students from when they are prospectives through the day they graduate. Chris took some time to speak with mbaMission at length about the university’s full-time MBA program and offer details about some of its standout features, including the following:

  • broad international scope
  • small class size
  • robust roster of concentrations
  • advantageous Washington, DC, location
  • unique consulting abroad program

Read on for the full transcript.

mbaMission: Thanks for joining us, Chris.

Christopher Storer: Not a problem. My pleasure!

mbaMission: We generally like to start by asking this key question: what do you think your program should be known for? What would you say are the strengths of the George Washington (GW) MBA program?

CS: I would say by and large, the program is known for its global focus, particularly the full-time program. The full-time program is called the Global MBA, and through it we have some distinct features, including international business course work that’s in the core, which is a bit different from many MBA programs out there, to the international consulting abroad project, which is definitely a strong feature of the program. And then all the opportunities in addition to those requirements that are part of the core—there’s a ton of optional activities where students can go even more global. Some of those optional activities include short-term study abroad projects. Last year, we ran more than 20 different short-term study abroad programs, where students go overseas and complete course work. One example is “Marketing in the Arab World,” a course that we offer in Dubai over two weeks. We’ve run [courses on] sustainability in the Amazon in Brazil, public-private partnerships in London. This wide variety of short-term, intensive courses that are done over either winter break or spring break are great options to round out your international experience a bit more and get some hands-on experience.

mbaMission:  Is there a limit to the number of classes like that someone can take? Could a student take one at Christmas and one at spring break both years and do four classes that way? Is that possible?

CS: There isn’t a limit. In the new tuition structure, the tuition itself would be included, but there’s also additional travel costs associated with these options. But is it feasible? Yes. There are definitely students that do at least two in addition to CAP [consulting abroad program]. So if you choose to do something really international, you can certainly round it out. There’s a sports management program as well, and those students went to Sochi for the Olympics this past winter.

Some students were just at the World Cup in Brazil, meeting with FIFA executives there, and there are students that went on both of those. And they don’t necessarily even want careers in sports—it’s just a really unique opportunity. It’s a cool international experience they can get. There’s also semester-length exchanges. We have nearly 20 partnerships with leading business schools around the world where people can spend a semester abroad in locations such as Paris, Taipei, or Singapore. So, the global aspect is definitely key. And one final global aspect I would mention is the opportunity for electives or dual degrees with the Elliott School [of International Affairs], which is a very highly regarded international affairs school housed here at GW.

mbaMission: Right. Does GW intend to always stay a comparatively small program? Do you have any plans to expand, or do you feel like there are advantages to being small?

CS: I think there are definitely advantages. It was a strategic decision when I came here two years ago to focus on making sure we were bringing in the highest caliber students we could, from the perspective of quality of student life experience and academic experience, but also with respect to career placement and outcomes. So, we were at about 115 and consciously decreased the size of the program to focus on those issues. And we’ve seen some good results from doing that, anecdotally from feedback from faculty and current students as well as what we’re seeing in terms of internship placements and the outcome of many of our graduates. I have a feeling we will grow, but right now, we’re focused on maintaining that quality. So it depends—if we can grow the pipeline, which is our goal, we certainly will take some more, but it will be incremental. It’s not going to be all of a sudden, we’re at 200 students like some of our peers.

Our focus in terms of growth actually has been in the specialized master’s area.  We’ve launched a new government contracts specialized master’s. There’s a new specialized master’s in business analytics that we’ve launched. We launched our online MBA. So those other programs are filling market demand and are extremely popular at the moment in management education.

mbaMission: Got it. And yet you’re still able to keep a pretty robust number of concentrations going—something like 12 concentrations. That works out to roughly one concentration for every eight people. That’s pretty impressive.

CS: It doesn’t actually work that way. The first year is a core cohort experience, where they’re studying in the full-time program. And then once they get into their second year, after they finish their internships, they have a lot more flexibility. So, we end up crossing populations with our other programs. That includes the full-time MBA but also all our part-time MBAs—our Self-Paced, Cohort, and Online populations. And then I mentioned all the specialized master’s degrees—we have all those folks, too. For example, we have a specialized master’s in accounting, so someone that wants to do an MBA concentration in accounting ends up taking some of their course work overlapping with all of those various MBA populations concentrating in accounting, plus the students that are doing a specialized master’s  in accounting. Seven of our concentrations are built off of specialized master’s. So those are courses we’re going to deliver for people doing those dedicated degree programs, and then there are five MBA-specific concentrations, which are supported by the MBA students.

mbaMission: That’s interesting. What a distinct model.

CS: It allows us to do a lot with the resources we have on hand, and this has all come out of a curriculum revision that the class that started a few weeks ago is experiencing. So, this is a new thing.

mbaMission: You mentioned the international influence in the program. I saw on your Web site that nearly 50% of your students are international. That’s pretty strong, among the strongest that I’ve seen. Is that by design? How are you driving such strong international numbers?

CS: It’s partially the market and partially by design. Most top-tier schools would tell you we have had a huge influx [in international applications]. If you look at GMAT test-taker data, the increase in applications from international students versus domestic students just continues to separate more and more. GMAC is actually having difficulty generating growth in the domestic GMAT test-taking market, and yes, we’ve expanded to take the GRE to help expand the pool of prospective students. But this is a shift that I’ve heard about when talking with colleagues recruiting on the road in the past two, three weeks—that their classes all have higher international percentages coming in this year than in past years. What my focus has been since being here is if we’re going to have this high international percentage, to make sure it’s diversified as much as possible. So the class that’s entering the institute [orientation] this month, they’re coming from 22 different nationalities.  You end up having 45 to 50 international students, but they’re very diverse in terms of where they’re coming from. It creates a much more diverse experience in the classroom in terms of working on teams and the perspectives you get. So that’s really what we’ve been trying to do on that front and further strengthen our globally focused program.

mbaMission: That’s really interesting. Is there any particular demographic that you’re trying to attract now, or are you just focused on getting the best applicants you can, in a broader sense? Do you have targets for a particular gender or nationality, anything like that?

CS: Honestly, we’re just seeking the best students from anywhere in the world. One of the things I would say is that we have certainly enhanced our outreach efforts and international travel since I arrived. We’ve expanded extensively in the Middle East and Latin America in terms of our recruitment trips. I was just in Tel Aviv about a month ago for an EducationUSA event. We were in Dubai two months ago. We regularly are in the Middle East but also in South America. We do recruit in Europe, and of course, everyone has to have Central and South Asia and India on their radar. So I would say outside of Asia, it’s focusing on diversity, so rounding out those perspectives in the classroom. And of course, finding the best students from those countries, but then in Asia, there’s such a huge pool of candidates, it really is about finding the best of those candidates by being there on the ground. And does DC play a role? Of course. I mean, DC itself is a global destination and is at the heart of where so many policy decisions are made. In terms of the MBA world, studying in a place where you get so much influence to policy and how it impacts business, you can’t really get that many places other than DC.

mbaMission: Right. I know firsthand that DC is spectacular and offers so much. So do you feel that there’s a DC advantage? Are you getting adjunct professors or speakers that you couldn’t get elsewhere? What exactly is the school’s relationship with DC?

CS: We’re truly embedded in this remarkable city. Whenever I’m talking with prospective students, I tell them we’re literally six blocks from the White House. And I continue and say that the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the U.S. State Department literally border our campus. So you’re walking by the World Bank when you’re going to lunch. I just try to give them perspective about how close to and “in it” you are. As a result, we get amazing speakers on campus. Ben Bernanke actually taught a course here last year during his lunch break. The Clinton Global Initiative was on campus. Last year when I was in France, it was funny, Christine Lagarde [managing director of the IMF] was here in DC. When Congress was in its stalemate, and she was hammering away at the U.S. government in her talks, that discussion was happening from GW’s campus, which was truly amazing. Joe Biden, he was here recently. Obama gave a major economic address in the past two years with our MBA students in the audience. Sonia Sotomayor sat down with some of our Slim Scholars—the Carlos Slim Foundation sponsors some Mexican students to study here with full scholarships, and she sat down with them. Yes, they had lunch with a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice! So in terms of the revolving door of amazing speakers on campus, it’s just crazy.

mbaMission: I noted that there are a few atypical hiring firms in your career report. Is this the result of off-grounds searches, or are people looking for these types of organizations coming in? Are these sponsored students? I’m just curious about how some of these firms are showing up in the report.

CS:  I wouldn’t say that those are our pipeline organizations, but I would say that our faculty, alumni, and career center have strong connections and relationships, whether they’re personal or professional relationships, with a lot of these types of organizations, both in DC and overseas. So those doors can be opened up to students that want to be in those types of organizations. And one of the things that we hammer home in terms of the career center and taking advantage of their education even prior to them landing on campus is the whole networking aspect. So, those types of organizations fit well with who we are, and when you see them in our career report, it’s those relationships playing out.

mbaMission: Right. So 36% of your class goes into consulting. Can you give us a little bit of background on the CAP [consulting abroad program] and whether that program is a catalyst for that career choice? The CAP strikes me as a fairly interesting and unique program to GW.

CS: Sure. The CAP, the consulting abroad program, happens during the second semester of the first year, so it’s part of the core curriculum. Basically, you have about 100 students in a class, and 20 go to each of five destinations. And then those 20 are broken into teams of five. So, you have four teams working per country. And over the course of the spring semester, they’re working under the advisement of a faculty member—a lot of times one from that region of the world—and working with their overseas client. And it culminates with them traveling abroad and spending about ten days on the ground working with their clients in country, making recommendations and doing presentations and things like that. It’s definitely different from programs where schools will just send people abroad for two weeks to do site visits. This is much more applied in its approach and thoughtful in terms of giving you hands-on academic consulting experience.

The other aspect about it that’s unique is the destinations. We go to Rwanda and work on microfinance, international development, and social entrepreneurship. This past year, we were in Turkey, and that was more related to marketing with a major retailer, and then the one that we ran in Argentina actually piggybacked off of one we’ve run for the past three or four years in Sweden. Sweden obviously is known for cleantech and renewable energy, and so some of those clients that we’ve been working with were doing some work and projects down in Argentina and asked us to take our group of students down there this year. Some really cool, unique experiences come out of that.

Another consulting-related aspect in our curriculum is that there are case competitions built in. So our students arrive on Friday for institute, and within two weeks of being here, they have an intensive strategy course that they do that is equivalent to one and a half credits. It’s basically a half-semester course that’s intensified and done over the course of a week. Deloitte hosted our case competition this year and judged it as well, so the class culminates with Deloitte coming in and doing an overview of the case, and the students are broken into teams. They have about 24 hours to prep, and then they present to Deloitte and alumni judges. That’s the kickoff of the program. There’s another consulting project that we work on in the second year, in the third semester, that serves as a capstone to this and highlights to our students how far they’ve come during the program. There are a lot of these types of activities. A lot of students go into federal consulting or end up at PWC or Booz Allen. We have strong connections in that area.

mbaMission: So is it an issue of the program satisfying that interest that already exists or the program actually generating that interest?

CS: Not everyone coming in necessarily wants to go into consulting, but I think the opportunities present themselves by the students’ being here in DC, which goes along with the job market in DC, and the opportunities we present in the curriculum certainly open doors in that area that can be helpful for students that want to get into that.

mbaMission: Sure. So in terms of finance jobs—I saw that 21% of your class went into finance—are those graduates going to Wall Street or more to organizations in and around DC, like the World Bank or the IMF or IFC that are all nearby?

CS:  Not usually Wall Street, but it is possible. This is a functional area, so mostly corporate finance jobs, I would say, or nonprofit finance. The World Bank and IMF certainly would fit that bill, depending on the functional area the students go into, but it’s generally not investment banking, and I try to be  very transparent on that. Now we do have an MSF [Masters of Science in Finance] that is wonderful for students wanting to go into that area, but the MBA program and the curriculum and just the nature of the class makeup, it’s not really designed for people to go into investment banking.

mbaMission: Right. Are there any professors with a distinct style or approach to teaching who you think might deserve a little highlighting?

CS:  Sure. I would say, for one, Scheherazade Rehman. She heads up our European Union Research Center and holds a joint appointment between the business school and the Elliott School of international affairs, tying in the policy side with business. Students also regularly see her on The Colbert ReportDonna Hoffman and Thomas Novak just joined the faculty this past year, and they are leading experts on social media, online consumer behavior, and digital marketing. They’re highly regarded and recognized in that area, and they’re a husband-and-wife team. Jennifer Griffin is known for her corporate social responsibility offerings. Christopher Leinberger, whose focus is on walkable urban real estate development. I sat in on one of his talks about the growth in the suburbs in the ’60s, whereas there’s a shift these days in terms of urban development. He’s done several reports that have gained good traction. And Annamaria Lusardi is another I would mention. Her focus is on global financial literacy, and she heads up the research center related to that.

mbaMission: Great. Is there anything we haven’t touched on yet? Anything you feel someone interested in the GW program should know?

CS: The one thing I would highlight that we didn’t talk about was from the concentration point of view. We talked about how we were able to do it, but I think one of the major reasons for having so many concentrations and delivering them that way is the focus on outcomes and the career-centric nature of the program. So what are you trying to accomplish with your degree? And then you can build the second portion of your degree after you get the core foundation through concentrations. You choose to tailor your experience to help set you up for the specific career path or job that you want. So whether it’s combining consulting with international development, global management with finance, or digital marketing and business analytics, consulting with finance, consulting with international business, those types of combinations, blending them really opens up different doors that weren’t available before. So I would really hit home on the concentrations and the career orientation and how it all works together.

mbaMission: Interesting. Great. This was super informative, and we really appreciate your time.

CS: Awesome. Thanks so much.

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