Goizueta Faculty Interview: Andrea Hershatter and the Evolution of the BBA Program (Part 1)

Andrea Hershatter is Senior Associate Dean and Director of the BBA Program in Emory’s Goizueta Business School. She has led this program for approximately two decades and has helped to achieve nine consecutive Businessweek ranking in the Top 10, a distinction held by only four undergraduate business programs in the world. Speaking with business librarian Nora Wood, Professor Hershatter discusses her journey to academia and the evolution of the BBA program at Goizueta.

GBL: When you first started out in your career, did you expect to end up in academia? What was the path that brought you to this position?

AH: I think almost everybody who works in academia backs into it in some kind of way. My personal story is that I went straight from an undergraduate degree in business and into an MBA, which you could do at the time. I graduated with the MBA at just barely 23-years-old without really any meaningful work experience. My course focus was in finance, but I was really interested in brand-management. But my then fiance, now husband was doing an internship and residency at Duke Medical School, which meant I needed a job as long as it was in Durham, which meant either mid-level commercial banking or textiles or tobacco, none of which was particularly intriguing to me. But while I was in my last year of business school, I heard from a gentleman in my entrepreneurship class who ran a telecommunications company that had recently acquired a radio station in Burlington, NC and I had a lot of experience – I had on-air experience, I had music experience, I had even serendipitously worked in a record store. It was a lot of parts of my life that interested me – and I went up to him after he spoke – ripped jeans, sweatshirt, and all – and said “I have to work for you.” Through a lot of perseverance, I was hired as the marketing and promotions director of this 50,000 watt station that was transitioning itself into a 100,000 watt rock station. I did that for a year and had a wonderful time, but it wasn’t particularly intellectually stimulating, and I was bound to Durham.

As it turned out, Duke had an opening in admissions and there were not a lot of alumni hanging around, so I was able to get the job pretty easily. But, about 3 years later, when we were ready to move to Atlanta, my intention was to get, what I called, a “real” job, and I looked around, but at the time I knew a lot of people who were similarly doing graduate admissions, and we all traveled together – we were like family – and the word got out that Emory had a new dean and the person who had been doing admissions was no longer staying. And I actually got a call from three or four people about the job. And, to be honest, I went into the interview with a little bit of an attitude like “Ah, I come from Duke, they’ll be lucky to get me here!” and about 30 seconds after meeting then Dean John Robson, I knew I had to have this job. I was lucky enough to be hired as Director of Admissions and Student Services for the school, which was one person and I was then given permission to hire an associate director, and in another stroke of very good fortune for me, Julie Barefoot (who has been here as long as I have), was looking at the directorship, so the way it worked out is that I came in as director and she was my associate director.

So, over time, the school grew, the job grew, I did admissions and student affairs, and I had some functional roles across the school doing program management, and in the mid 90s – I decided that if I wanted to stay in academia I really should go back to school. I simultaneously decided that I really wanted a vertical slice, that I wanted to be in charge of something. So through much conversation with some really wonderful people, I worked out a deal where I could scale back for the short term and I started the PhD program and took over the BBA Program, which at the time had something under 200 students a year and had not had any concentrated care and feeding. It was also the case that right about the time the school got named and the East wing of the first building got built. So on the campus at that time, there was a whole lot of visibility for the first time for the business school at the undergraduate level. And I don’t want to discount all the pockets of excellence since the school was founded in 1919, but in the 80s period when I first got here, it was not considered a particularly elite choice of majors at the undergraduate level, so it was easy to make small scale changes that created a big impact on how the program was perceived, how the students experienced delivered value to them, and all of the many things that one does when one runs a program, which was a good thing because frankly while I had program management experience, I had never taken on that faculty role of addressing curricular issues, so I was able to experiment at a time when the cost of experimentation was low. So that evolved to where it is today.

GBL: You have been in the business school for three decades and leading the BBA Program for over two decades. What would you say are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed and helped implement during that time?

AH: The first step really was to assure that we were doing as good a job delivering professional development and training as we were with delivering academics. And I do have to say that the curriculum that is in place to this day, in its framework, was put into place by faculty before I got to the program, and it has been wonderfully accommodating as a framework. So, many changes have occurred, but we’ve been able to do that with a very open and flexible curricular framework that has allowed for it.

So, the first thing that I intentionally did was to advocate to bring in career resources for the BBA program. At the time, there was only one centralized career services option for the entire university. I first argued for a person who could do specific advising for BBAs who wanted careers in business and over time we were able to develop our own career center. We still have a hybrid structure that I think works very well where on-campus recruiting occurs through the Career Center, so all students on campus have access to these opportunities. This is also a huge benefit to us because of the quality of all of the students of the senior class, not just the business school. So I would say professional training was first, and we have offered up a very holistic approach to leadership development. We were one of the very first undergraduate business schools doing this leadership and development. Taking the lead from the MBA program – this has always been a very hands-on, nurturing environment. We were lucky because we were already accustomed to providing very individualized support for Gen X and as expectations changed when the Millennials came in, we were prepared to support them at that same level.

GBL: In that same vein, I see from your bio that you led three programmatic initiatives (e.g., creation of multiple liberal arts/business integrative initiatives with Emory College, the development of the BBA Capstone course, and the implementation of a Master in Professional Accounting degree program) – could you tell me about the development of those and your vision for how they might bring the school forward?

AH: I would say that the concentrations that we have established with the College are crucial to what we are able to deliver to Emory students as a whole and also to our future.

The first was a film and media management concentration – the fact that Atlanta has become such an essential hub for movie making was secondary to our first observation that we had a lot of alumni out in LA, both business and film studies alumni, who were extraordinarily professionally successful in their industries, in spite of the fact that Emory had offered them nothing at the time that they went through. So film studies and the BBA program worked very closely with a hand-picked group of alumni to think about what business students needed to learn about film and what film studies students needed to learn about business. That program has been wildly successful and is in its seventh year.

Shortly thereafter we added arts management and environmental sustainability management, both of which play to arenas of Emory’s strength. Of late, the arts management (which includes dance, theater, art history, and music) has been gaining a lot of traction. There are a lot of students who are really interested in the crossover between arts and business. Also, the university has identified arts as an arena where Emory can have an impact.

There are so many wonderful things going on with environmental sciences at Emory, that the need for those students to cherry pick business skills has not been high on their list of priorities but it remains an interesting offering for us.

More recently, we added health innovation, which is one of Emory’s pillars, Doctor Leopl is one of the world’s foremost researchers on predictive health and Emory, of course, has such a robust set of resources and such a big knowledge base in health, separate from healthcare which belongs outside of the undergraduate arena, but human health and wellness is a very sweet spot for us and that started only 2 years ago and is almost the same size as film and media.

And just this last fall, the board of trustees approved our first co-major. We now have an integrative co-major with Quantitative Methods (QTM) with Emory College. I believe these will continue to grow and I think there is no limit to the number of ways that business knowledge can impact what liberal arts students learn and the ways they learn to be good stewards of the resources they work with which they are entrusted, and I believe that every single liberal arts class our students in the business school take adds enormous value. But beyond that, if they are going to work within an industry, they really ought to understand the core discipline within the liberal arts. So I am very excited about those.

We now have our Masters of Public Accountancy Program, which leads to a BBA plus a MPA in 4-5 years, which has been wonderful for helping students accelerate through – this has been a great offering and a labor of love by the Accounting Department.

Most recently, we added a BBA MSBA (Master of Science in Business Administration) and the MSBA program has allowed our students to go through at an accelerated rate.

Right now, the thing I’m working on the hardest is trying to figure out how to bring design thinking more effectively into the program and then the school. Within the program, I am starting in two places – in my own entrepreneurship class and then also programmatically we’re doing our strategy and planning for the BBA program council for this year using design thinking methodology. My hope is that we’ll be able to create some in-the-box templates and resources so that faculty teaching in any area who want to take advantage of design thinking methodology can borrow a slide deck or use our prototyping. Concurrent with that, we are in the middle of a faculty BBA program review which will take a look at the fundamental structure of the curriculum to see if any changes are warranted.

GBL: In your article that you first published in 2010, Millennials and the World of Work, you highlighted how millennials have what you referred to as a “sixth sense” in their incorporation of technology and their expectation of organizational accommodation. You updated the article in 2016 – were there any big changes or shifts in generational attitudes and perceptions that you’ve noticed since you first published? If not, how have you noticed these two overarching attitudes evolving in your time at Goizueta?

AH: The first millennial that is largely acknowledged is the high school class of 2000 – so the first college grads to enter the workforce were around 2004. So by the time we wrote that article in 2010, almost all organizations were finding the need to adjust their thinking about the talent pipeline and how to accommodate their newest hires who at that moment would have been at the oldest about 32 years old, but were mostly younger and were mostly new hires and were not yet the dominant wave of the workforce. So the two things that I believed then, I still believe now, in terms of defining characteristics (e.g., relationship to technology and the expectation that that technology will be integrated into every aspect of their personal and business environment, but secondly and more important to hiring managers, is that millennials are used to being exposed to organizations that were eager to modify themselves so millenillas could reach their full potential), and there was in that moment in 2010 a very strong clash between organizations as they were and the expectations of millennials. I would argue that it got miscoded – baby boomers and especially  gen x thought millennials were entitled or spoiled or needy if they asked for things in the workplace, but really what millennials were saying is that there is a lot of work to be done and I want to be effective and successful as possible and here are the conditions under which that will be possible. That idea has evolved in significant ways since the publication of the article – first of all there are plenty of millennials in middle management. And there are organizations that have been designed by Gen X not really to meet the needs of millennials but to meet their own needs in terms of flexibility and work environment and focus on the task instead of the structure that turn out to perfectly match how millenials prefer to work and now, of course, millennials are creating their own organizations. There are still some companies that hold onto their own rigid structures, but I suspect that most of that will erode over time. And I don’t mean that every company will have kegerators in the break room, but there are few if any companies that at least don’t have a casual dress day of the week. There used to be rules about no denim that have disappeared, the idea that it’s possible to be effective when working remotely has evolved, the value of collaboration, etc. all the things that millennials have advocated for are coming to the fore. What’s interesting is that we who look at generations had always said that 2001 signaled the end of the millennial generations and the birth of the next generation. PEW Research which does very robust generational research has identified 1998 as the last year of millennial births. So that makes college students now – sophomores and below – the next generation. So the question of the evolution of the workforce now addresses this group of people. One thing that has absolutely changed is that it would be very rare for a Boomer to be the parent of a student who is graduating from college now. So, Gen X is now leading edge of the parents – and they have raised their kids to be more pragmatic, they have received a lot of resources and attention from the family, but they were a little less coddled and carry the burden of being financially independent. I think it is no accident that the word adulting has popped into our vocabulary as a primary skill that young people need to develop and are not expected to stay at home for the next ten years.