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Q&A: This Exec Tests Business Students with a Real Board of Directors Meeting

Dr. Wlamir Xavier’s course teamed students for a simulation that ends with a tough presentation to “the board.” An extra catch? It was a hybrid class.

Educator

Wlamir Xavier, PhD

Associate Professor of International Business & Finance, Biola University, La Mirada, California

Post Doctorate in Business Administration, PhD in Management and Tourism, MS in Production Engineering, MBA in Management, BS in Chemical Engineering

Business students may not think of “managing emotions” as a vital part of their curriculum. But for Dr. Wlamir Xavier, adding this component to his capstone business course was a no-brainer. As a former IBM executive and IT business owner, he knows what it is like to face tough questions, criticism, or even anger when presenting to board members. And he wants students to learn how to navigate such emotionally charged situations before they face them on the job.

That is why, when creating this capstone course for Eastern New Mexico University, he built it around a simulation that mimics the entirety of a business setting: the good, the bad, and the final boardroom presentation. In it, students worked in groups using an online simulation to run a virtual company, making decisions and responding to the aftereffects. Perhaps most importantly, he followed the simulation with something even more real: a presentation to a board made up of business faculty members, many of whom have spent ample time in the corporate world.

“I created situations where these students could make decisions and develop their critical thinking skills,” says Xavier, who is now associate professor of international business and finance at Biola University in La Mirada, California. “I tried to help them develop their ability to work with peers and without authority. My idea was to equip them with important tools and skills to have success in the job market.”

Context

“I believe future business managers can benefit by having some experience in how to work in [difficult] situations, because that’s what they’ll be facing in the marketplace.”

— Wlamir Xavier, PhD

Course: BUSN 472 Capstone for International Business Concentration

Course description: Students will be expected to apply principles and skills learned previously into the design of a business plan. Students will learn to identify and screen potential international business ideas, and develop an idea into an opportunity for generating financial, social and spiritual returns. There will also be a focus on career preparation and finishing the E-Portfolio. The student’s E-Portfolio must demonstrate completion of the cross-cultural/overseas experience required of all International Business concentration students.

See resources shared by Wlamir Xavier, PhD

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How Xavier preps future managers for the boardroom

A capstone course should require students to show that they can apply all the concepts that they have learned throughout the whole four years, says Xavier. “In this course, I was able to have them use concepts for all disciplines,” he says. “It’s one of the benefits of using a simulation. I could mix concepts from finance, marketing, operations, and human resources.”

Course Hero recently asked him to share details of his business simulation exercise and how he made it work for a diverse and far-flung class. Here are some of his tips and insights:

Course Hero: Can you share an overview of your approach?

Wlamir Xavier: The course was divided into three phases: information, simulation, and presentation. In the information phase, I covered textbook material, held lectures to explain concepts, and gave tests and quizzes related to the concepts. We also had discussion boards and literature reviews.

Second was the simulation phase. At this point, the class divided into groups of four to play The Business Strategy Game from McGraw-Hill. In the game, each group owns a sports shoe company. In the beginning of the game, they all have the same resources, and they start with the same revenue, assets, and market share. They have to run the company and make decisions on every aspect of its operation for nine fiscal years, which takes two months in the classroom. Every round represents one fiscal year, and every three or four days, they make new decisions. And the groups compete with one another.

Third was the board presentation. For that, each group produced a 15-minute presentation at a simulated board of directors meeting. I invited all business faculty to attend the final presentations: They became the board of directors.

How did you decide which students worked together?

I believe it’s important to have a sense of what it’s like to work with peers who are not like you, so I tried to make the simulation groups as diverse as possible: different backgrounds, different ages, different ethnicities. This class was a hybrid, with some students physically in the classroom and others online. Many students were in the military, serving in the Middle East, Asia, or Europe. So I also included both traditional and online students in each group.

With some students in class and others online, how did they connect?

I established tasks; I established deadlines. But students had total freedom to decide when to get together and how to connect. They had to use technology, but I didn’t care whether they used Facebook, Skype, Google Hangout. The university also provided a tool called Blackboard Collaborate, which they could use for free. It helped them establish connections and have live conversations using video and audio, which they could record and review later. All students had to work together in sync to be a success—that’s the main goal of the simulation.

Were you concerned about equity in the group work?

That’s an important point. In teaching, more often than not, when you divide students into groups, sometimes there’s a “smart” student who carries all the work, and there are the “free riders” who just stand by and watch. But in this game, you can’t do that. There’s too much work for one person. And that’s on purpose. I wanted them to divide the activity.

I also graded in terms of how they behaved during the simulation. Part of that grade was defined by their peers. If they were lazy in the group, their peers know that better than me. So they determined that part of the grade.

What kinds of decisions did the groups face?

The students acted as managers. They made decisions on human resources, finance, operations, and marketing. This included things like whether to build a plant in Asia or South America, how many products to make, what the quality would be, which markets to serve, and where to build or upgrade plants.

Over time, their decisions made the company succeed or go bankrupt. At every round, they received information on their economic, financial, market, and operational performance. They had several different indicators to know how they were doing in every round, and an overall performance index based on the Balanced Scorecard.

When did you bring in the board members?

After the simulation competition was complete, each group gave a 15-minute presentation on their 9-year business results at a board of directors meeting made up of business faculty. The students had to deliver their message precisely and very quickly and defend their decisions.

They also had to summarize their results and present all supporting data. An executive report was also required to assess their business writing skills. During the presentation, each group must provide handouts that include financial statements (historic and proforma), an executive summary, and an industry analysis.

After each presentation, the board posed hard questions. They confronted the students on some decisions; they asked for clarifications on key decisions. It’s a very realistic simulation.

How did online students participate in this meeting?

All students had to be live in the classroom or live in front of their computer to face the Q&A session. That was more important than the presentation itself. That’s how we made sure that the students had gained the necessary knowledge.

What was your ultimate goal for this semester-long project?

I was not worried about the results of the simulation, per se. I didn’t care if a group came in first, second, or last in the competition; I wanted to know if their decisions were sound. I particularly liked if they were able to acknowledge a mistake that they had made, because that’s when students learn. We learn more when we make mistakes than when we’re successful.

What is next?

At Biola University, I am now in charge of another undergraduate capstone course, this one focused on international business, my research area of expertise. This course will be taught for the first time in the spring, and I intend to provide an immersion experience where students face a real problem in a real-data international setting. My goal is to create a set of high-impact practices to equip them for the additional challenges that international business imposes.

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