MIT Sloan students study adversity as the new reality

Cambridge, Mass. — March 13, 2003 — In addition to accounting, finance, and other basic courses, MIT Sloan School students are now learning another skill essential to life in today's corporate climate: how to manage in adversity.

“We've always tended to view adversity as something different from the norm when in fact it has become the norm,” said William Porter Distinguished Lecturer Howard Anderson, who brings to the class more than three decades of front-line technology business experience. “When times are bad, managers must know how to take quick and decisive action. And they often have to make decisions with inadequate resources, inadequate money, and inadequate time.”

Anderson — a founding partner and the senior managing director of YankeeTek Ventures and former president and CEO of the Yankee Group — uses case studies of real corporate crises. One student is selected to be the CEO described in the case, and the rest of the class serves as the CEO's board of directors. “I try to push a CEO perspective,” said Anderson. “I want these students to have to face and handle very tough issues and questions. In one case, it turns out company officials were cooking the books. The bank is threatening to pull your line of credit, which will put you out of business. So just what are you going to do Monday morning?”

The students get to directly play out such situations, but Anderson also brings in a corporate who's who roster of guest speakers, each of whom describes how they dealt with real world cases of adversity. “Good CEOs succeed because they learn how to handle adversity,” said Anderson. “Over-reacting and under-reacting will both get you screwed.”

Guest speakers this semester have included Boston Scientific CEO Jim Tobin, Viewlogic; President and CEO Alain Hanover; former Banyan President David Mahoney; and Avici founder Hank Zaninni. Besides the learning they gain from such executives, Anderson's students also get to develop contacts that can often lead to direct employment. “My Rolodex becomes my students' Rolodex,” said Anderson.

Anderson, who launched the Yankee Group in 1970 and started Battery Ventures in 1984, attended Harvard Business School in 1968. “In general, I've found that business schools are two generations late in changing their curriculum to reflect changing times and circumstances,” he said. “We're training our students for some jobs that no longer exist. I worry about where today's graduates are going to go and how they will be trained. Rather than long-term planning, they need tactical skills that can help them right out of the bag, such as how to think about and handle adversity.”

And such skills can be taught, said Anderson. “It's like teaching emergency room medicine,” he said. “The goal of a CEO is to make sure the company first survives, because only then can you make it grow. By definition, every technology company will face adversity. It's the CEOs who don't recognize adversity — let alone deal with it — that get creamed.”

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Former MIT President
Charles M. Vest

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