“Here we are, on January 2, 2018,” Scott McDermott tells his part-time M.B.A. students on October 3, 2016. The Carroll School professor is not confused about the calendar. He is leading a class, The DNA of Business, which simulates the competition of six fictional companies over an imaginary eight years. And he's unveiling the results of the first “year” of competition among student teams acting as top executives of those companies.
“No team has messed up,” McDermott says during the Monday night lecture in Devlin Hall, citing measures of performance such as sales, profits, and market share. “No one has burst out into an enormous lead. Nobody has cratered, which is good.” Afterward, each team goes into executive session in Fulton Hall to plot its next moves.
Long a staple of military education, simulations have been growing in popularity among business schools and corporate training programs. The idea is to give students a more holistic understanding of how businesses operate and compete, and to do so in an experiential and hands-on way not possible in a pure lecture format. “Cross-functional” and “multi-disciplinary” are how McDermott describes the approach. His class uses an interactive software program called Global DNA, developed by Illinois-based Capsim Management Simulations, a creator of simulation games for schools and employers.
“The environment is as real as can be without using someone else’s money,” said Christopher Wild, M.B.A. ’18, who took the class during its first iteration last summer. A global sourcing specialist with a Massachusetts-based supplier of electrical connectors, Wild added: “A big part of it is team dynamics. You’re not trying to write a paper or put a PowerPoint presentation together. You’re trying to manage a business. It’s a different kind of academic learning.”
In the simulation, firms compete in the medical technology industry, specializing in genetic testing devices. They start out on a level playing field with identical balance sheets and a single product sold only in the United States. Immediately, the teams begin making decisions in four basic areas—research and development, operations and production, sales and marketing, and financing—as they explore global markets.