By: Drew Henry
In a traditionally formatted MBA course, students might expect the syllabus to include textbook readings, lecture schedules and exam dates. However, the Clemson University MBA program is anything but traditional. Clemson consistently seeks to develop innovative approaches to learning, from integrated e-learning and face-to-face instruction to real-world project applications.
One professor is driving classroom innovation even further, taking a more strategic approach to his Strategic Management MBA 8700 course. He’s trading reading assignments for a high-stakes strategy simulation, where every student’s decision could make or break their simulated company’s future.
“I believe active engagement is essential for students to develop a deep appreciation of strategy. Rather than just reading, they must apply concepts, analyze with frameworks and reflect on insights,” says Zeki Simsek, Ph.D., professor of management and the Gressette Endowed Chair at Clemson University.
Simsek joined the Clemson Family in 2016 and was appointed in 2019 to a lifetime URSAAA research society designation. He also received the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business Senior Scholar Research Award, recognizing his impactful research in competitive strategy, business innovation and corporate entrepreneurship. He teaches Strategic Management in Clemson’s MBA program and leads doctoral seminars on strategic leadership.
Instead of taking a traditional approach with limited opportunities for students to actively engage, Simsek designed a hands-on course with two main components: a strategy simulation where students run a company in a risk-free environment and an integrative reflection assignment considering real-world approaches.
Rather than learning about a case study secondhand, the strategy simulation provides a constantly evolving demonstration in which to participate. Students take on strategic roles, gaining experience in decision-making and strategy implementation over six simulated business quarters. “The simulation exposes students to the whole picture of how strategic management works while supplying enough detail to help them understand the nuances of tactical decisions, including operations, product development, web sales channels, finances, accounting and marketing,” explains Simsek.
The second coursework component is the integrative reflection assignment, where students consider their learnings and applications to real-world strategy. Students can complete one of three options that align with their personal objectives, including strategy development, strategy implementation or strategic leader interview with generative AI or Large Language Models. “Instead of mandating a uniform outcome, I’ve designed the assignment to offer three distinct options,” says Simsek. “This approach grants students the autonomy to select an option aligned with their career aspirations and constraints, thus enriching the depth and relevance of their strategic framework.”
In his course, Simsek creates an opportunity for experiential learning that combines strategic analysis, critical thinking and challenge-solving proficiencies to build a foundation for future success. “Throughout the curriculum, students assume the role of strategic decision-makers, grappling with strategic choices, decisions and reflections,” says Simsek. “By the conclusion of the course, they developed a robust framework for future strategizing, especially in high-stakes scenarios that they can employ in their future careers.”
The flexible skill of strategic thinking yields success in any position. “The course aims to equip students with critical skills whether they plan to work on Wall Street, start a business, assume a leadership role, join a non-profit or work for a Fortune 500 firm,” adds Simsek.
Students agree that the course prepares them well for what’s next, “Simsek’s class challenged me to apply the competencies I acquired throughout my MBA journey in the real-life scenario of starting a business, breaking into the market and adapting to shifts in demand and industry,” says Clemson MBA student Katie Vogl. “This experience reinforced the importance of having a clear business strategy and bolstered my confidence as an entrepreneur.” Clemson MBA candidate Kimberly Heilman adds, “It’s a hands-on, dynamic and engaging experience that sets it apart from other courses in our MBA journey.”
One of the most impactful parts of the Clemson Experience is students coming together and approaching problem-solving from diverse backgrounds and careers. “I don’t see anybody at the top winning alone,” says Heilman. “Simsek’s class was my favorite teamwork experience, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, negotiation and collective decisions, all essential skills for future managers. We had great synergy and fun!”
Real-world strategy implementations and business ideas are born in classrooms from these experiences, and Simsek’s class structure further ignites the spark of innovative thinking among students. Simsek concludes, “One of my core objectives is to empower students to discover and nurture the strategist within themselves. If students can discover and grow as strategists through application and reflection, that is successful teaching.”
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