Harvard business grads teach for charity

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the past 11 years, using the case method pioneered at Harvard Business School, graduates of the school have taught decision-making skills to mid-career executives in the Charlotte area.

Working as volunteer faculty through the Harvard Business School Club of Charlotte, those alumni, including presidents and founders of companies, have taught executives from over 120 local firms.

Students this year paid $2,700 for a 13-week program from early September through mid-December that focused on two Harvard Business School cases a week.

And based on nominations from current faculty, which now totals 26 instructors, and a vote from anyone who has taught in the program, the Harvard Business School Club uses roughly 90 percent of tuition revenue to makes grants to local nonprofits.

Those grants typically total up to $5,000 each for six to eight nonprofits a year.

In its first 10 years, the program invested over $300,000 in nonprofits, and has focused in recent years on agencies that serve children and the homeless, says Bill Berry, a director of the Management Development Program and a professor emeritus and director of the Executive MBA Program at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte.

Charities that have received grants range from A Child’s Place and Charlotte Rescue Mission to Crisis Assistance Ministry, Jacob’s Ladder Job Center and Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center.

The Harvard program has increased its tuition over the years so it would have more to contribute to local nonprofits, says Berry, who received a PhD in business at Harvard and previously taught at Ohio State University and Wake Forest University.

“We keep increasing tuition and expenses don’t go up that much,” he says. “We increase it to have more for charity.”

Expenses include several thousand dollars to buy the 26 cases studies from Harvard, plus a light dinner and other refreshments for students and faculty.

Queens University donates the use of classroom space for the Harvard program.

Harvard’s case method is the heart of the management program, which covers topics that include marketing; financial reporting and control; leadership and organizations; manufacturing and service operations; competition and strategy; and ethics.

Each case study looks at an actual business situation or problem that typically has no single correct solution. Each participant is expected to identify management implications and recommend what action he or she would take, Berry says.

Two Harvard business graduates who work at local companies are invited to speak to each class, with each speaker focusing on one case study.

“The program is like coming to a seminar where you have 26 speakers,” Berry says. “The main thrust of the case method is that participants do the discussion and come to a conclusion, and the instructor mainly is a guide to ask penetrating questions. It’s very Socratic.”

The Charlotte program is modeled on one that Harvard business grads launched in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1951 and since have started in San Diego, with a new effort being developed in Atlanta and considered in other cities like Miami.

“We all went to Harvard and realized this is a wonderful way to learn,” Berry says. “We want to share that.”

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