Rotterdam School of Management MBA ’19 Review: Halfway Point (Uncut)
“Look at the valedictorian, scared of the future while I hop in the DeLorean” – Kanye West
Rotterdam School of Management (“RSM”) is a business school for MBA candidates within the larger Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Worldwide rankings (inclusive of the United States) for the school vary, as the Financial Times rank it as a top 40 school while The Economist ranks it as a top 60 school. There is less variance in its recognition as a top-tier school within Europe, as it’s consistently viewed among the top 10 schools on the continent by the Financial Times, and Forbes views it as a top 10 school amongst all international schools outside of the United States. The most important takeaway is that it’s universally reputed as a high-quality education, which is deemed even more valuable when considering its one-year duration combined with its low cost (€47,000) relative to other top programs. Two classes are generally active Monday through Friday between 9:00AM and 4:30PM, with an hour and a half lunch break in between. The cohort of over 130 students this year is split between two sections, and the two classes that are taken per day are alternated between the two sections after the lunch break. The course timing for the academic year is broken down as follows:
- Term 1: January – March
- Core classes
- Term 2: April – mid-June
- Core classes
- Term 3: mid-June – August
- Advanced course selection (1st half of term)
- Corporate Finance
- Supply Chain Management
- Living Management Project (2nd half of term)
- Advanced course selection (1st half of term)
- Term 4: September – December
- March 2019 (no classes in 2019)
My entire decision to pursue an MBA came together in a matter of six months from beginning to end, starting with June of last year and concluding in December. I went into June starting from ground zero regarding any sort of plan, and from that experience I don’t recommend anyone to ever put themselves through that kind of pressure if it can be avoided. I didn’t begin my 2+ month GMAT class until the second week of June and I left myself with enough time to take the GMAT only once, which I did in the first week of October. When I was going through the prep work leading up to the GMAT, I was simultaneously searching for schools that made sense for both my finances and my ambitions. I was focusing my school search only on New York (where I was living) and California since I wanted to remain on a coast for the foreseeable future, however, the high cost of every school I looked at was consistently giving me apprehension. Granted, I was only focusing on consensus “top” business schools, but even many lower-tiered schools were making me wonder how many organs would need to be donated in order for me to afford their programs. My higher education knowledge was only limited to the United States going into the summer, so I decided to seek help from events within New York City that were geared toward people in my situation. This is how I encountered the QS World Tour in September, where the ultimate connection to RSM was made.
The QS World Tour is a free, periodic event that allows for the opportunity to meet with MBA admissions officers and alumni from top business schools around the world. I secured one-on-one interviews with several admissions representatives from various schools, both foreign and domestic. This event significantly broadened my scope of MBA programs and allowed for a first-hand sneak peek into the culture that schools want to have disseminated to prospective students. Of the several international schools that I spoke with, RSM by far made me feel the most comfortable because the conversation centered more on my aspirations, what I sought to obtain out of the MBA program, and how they could help to get me there through their offerings. Beyond that, the conversation overall was just pleasant and welcoming. The same feeling that I got at the World Tour event continued through my subsequent interactions with other representatives of the university. Conversely, many of the other top international programs that I met with, all of them universally ranked higher than RSM, focused their conversations more on metrics and how great their school was from a quantitative standpoint. I didn’t get as much of a personal vibe from them. Although I came away from the event still strongly biased towards domestic schools, I at least came away from the event feeling like I had a strong, cheaper alternative abroad that was equally as competitive as the domestic options.
The October GMAT test came and went. I took it and did decent enough to allow me to feel confident applying several high-quality schools located both domestic and abroad. By that time, I had narrowed my choices down to the University of California – Davis, Fordham University, and RSM. I got into Fordham and RSM and had a decision to make between staying in-state around familiarity and finishing school by May 2020 for $100k+ or going abroad into the relative unknown and finishing school by March 2019 for €47k. Not surprisingly, I chose RSM.
Term 1: Core Course Review
The core course-load within Term 1 is static for all students and consisted of classes concerning Business Sustainability, Financial Management, Management Science, Organizational Behavior, and Quantitative Platform of Business (Business Statistics). In addition to these classes, there was a course that stretched across both terms called Personal Leadership Development. Its purpose is to hone in on the student development of some of the crucial soft skills paramount for effective leadership. All of these will be detailed below. The first sentence overviews found in the course reviews below are in the manner in which the professors themselves would briefly describe the aim of the course. I’ll rank each class on a five-point scale based on my opinion of the overall experience of the class, regardless of the grade I received.
Speaking of grades, it’s worth noting that I’m by no means the poster boy for pristine grades. I’ve never been a guy who could be depended on for much more than a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. In fact, 3.0 is exactly what I got in high school and as an undergraduate. I’ve always been significantly better at figuring out life outside of school than at doing actual schoolwork. This MBA experience has been no different, as I’m currently hovering somewhere between a 2.5 and 3.0 on a 4.0 scale halfway through the program. There’s a very good chance that I end up with a 3.0 when it’s all said and done…yet again. So, on a five-point scale, we can rate myself a solid 3/5 since I can come through with some nice work in the clutch even after an entire term or semester of relative disinterest.
- Business Sustainability (3/5)
- Much of the focus was on theory and explored the connections and the challenges between what is understood by sustainability, and how companies may incorporate sustainability into their overall corporate structure. There was no formal test for this class, however, there was an extensive individual essay due at the end of the term in lieu of an exam. The professor was very knowledgeable and went beyond the set guidelines of the class to delve deeper into some of the issues concerning sustainability within the business world. Class discussions were generally enriching as a result. The main group project due toward the end of the term, which was a case study we were meant to solve for a regional business that required a video presentation and accompanying essay, was very boring in subject matter. That project alone represented a big drawback to my overall class experience.
- Financial Management (3/5)
- The focus was to provide students with a conceptual and theoretical framework for understanding the basics of financial management. This centered around financial statement analysis and core fundamentals of finance. From a personality standpoint, the professor was absolutely fantastic. They were very engaging and made very uninteresting material at least tolerable to soak in. The student body consists of a very diverse set of backgrounds, from engineering to healthcare to everything in between, so knowing the complete ins and outs of finance and accounting was not going to be accomplished in such a short time span. The professor focused extensively on core elements of accounting and finance as opposed to barely touching on subjects within a large volume of material, and this proved to be an agreeable method by the students as they came away with a firm grasp of the essentials. The biggest hinderance from this class, though, was the professor’s general disorganization. There were numerous mistakes found within the professor’s slides and the book for the class, which was an unfinished and unedited self-authored composition. This led to more frustrating moments than there should be for such an important class at this level. Nonetheless, the class was very enjoyable, and a highlight was one of our group case studies that required an acted-out video presentation.
- Management Science (4/5)
- Emphasis was placed on analytical modeling of business problems from marketing, finance, operations, production, logistics, and performance measurement. Even though I didn’t know what was going on in class half the time due to its highly technical nature, I thoroughly enjoyed this course because of the high-level challenge it presented. The professor was extremely sharp and thorough. However, they often moved very fast through material that was very difficult to comprehend the first time through. I seemed to be joined by many students with that sentiment, as many classes were spent in joined survival mode. Thankfully, there were enough engineers in the class to simplify things when the going got tough. The handful of cases that we had to work on throughout the term would not have been understood at all by me if it wasn’t for the help of the super-engineer within my group.
- Organizational Behavior (5/5)
- This class concentrated on human behavior at work and its relevance for the management of human resources – a key factor in organizational success. I was pleasantly surprised by this class because it challenged my behavioral assumptions through the support of research. It felt like walking into The Matrix and being asked “you think that’s air you’re breathing?” by Morpheus masquerading as an MBA professor. Much of the class centered around theory, and a highlight was yet another video we had to create as part of a group assignment that required the acting out of one of the studied theories. My absolute best advice to anyone taking this course is to take the in-class quizzes and the final exam very seriously, assuming that the class structure remains the same going forward. Again, this is The Matrix we’re dealing with and things are not what they appear to be in this class. Overall, it was very enjoyable due to the professor’s engaging teaching style and sly sense of humor.
- Quantitative Platform of Business (5/5)
- The aim of the course was to develop quantitative decision-making skills by acquiring knowledge about basic statistical methods and techniques, identifying applications and use of these methods in business practice, and developing a critical appreciation of statistics as a management decision support tool for regular use within our future careers. In a nutshell, this class was hard. The class moved at a breakneck speed, and there was an enormous amount of material that needed to be covered in a short period of time. There were two major group projects that leaned heavily on research and the need to properly articulate the statistical methods used to support the research’s conclusion. Between the time consumption of those projects, the mid-term, and the final, there was very little time to enjoy life. With that being said, I enjoyed this class very much because the professor had a good sense of when the class was collectively drawing a blank with regard to their teachings and went to great lengths to ensure understanding among the masses. Although I was often not among those masses who understood, I still appreciated the efforts. The professor was extremely kind-hearted, bright, and did about as good of a job as anyone could possibly do to explain an extremely complex subject to a classroom full of students who lacked substantial experience in the field. Thankfully, there was an abundance of resources made available by the professor that helped tremendously outside of the classroom.
Term 2: Core Course Review
The core course-load within Term 2 is also static for all students and consisted of classes concerning Accounting, Economics, Human Resource Management, Marketing Management, Operations Management, and Strategic Management. The second half of Personal Leadership Development took place during this term. My ratings for the term’s core courses are as follows:
- Accounting (1/5)
- The aim of this course is self-explanatory. This course was a complete deep dive into accounting, which is important given the fact that accounting is generally seen as the language of business. In short, the execution of the course experience represented the worst part of the entire MBA to this point. The fact that an accounting test worth a substantial amount of our final grade was required from us before we ever stepped foot in a classroom should’ve been a harbinger for things to come. Granted, we were provided with a book to study from so a lack of materials wasn’t the issue. The problem was that for a cohort consisting of such a diverse set of work experiences, the test was significantly biased towards individuals such as myself who already had substantial experience within finance or accounting. That advantage was always going to exist, but to exploit that advantage before we ever entered a classroom was a little unfair to others in my opinion. Furthermore, there was very little teaching beyond the book that was done. In-class quizzes, which occurred at the beginning of class, depended on how well one understood the material from the readings or from other classmates. That wouldn’t be a problem if the supplemental in-class teaching of the reading material didn’t occur after the quiz was taken. This means that students had one shot at understanding the material without the benefit of the requisite lecture before getting graded for it. This is backwards to me and again, I felt bad for those who didn’t have the luxury of working within the profession for multiple years to ease the learning curve. Although I like the professor personally, their teaching style and structure of the class did very little to inspire engagement and interest.
- Economics (2/5)
- The purpose of the course was to outline the key principles that will be of use to people in their business lives. Although the professor did a solid job of explaining key fundamentals of economics and their importance in relation to businesses, I didn’t like how there seemed to be little desire from the professor to deviate even the slightest from the syllabus. Part of what I typically enjoy about the MBA experience is the opportunity for open discussion amongst the class and professor when a topic of great interest is presented. In this course, these opportunities often presented themselves, yet, were generally shut down or kept to a minimum.
- Human Resource Management (4/5)
- The course’s purpose was to provide a language update to our understanding of the concepts concerning HRM, equip us with important tools that would help us tackle various HRM problems, and develop a critical mindset for “evidence-based management”. Similar to Organizational Behavior, this class challenged us to push our biases and assumptions aside in favor of research-based solutions to complex problems concerning employees within the workplace. The professor was very engaging, and the class was generally interactive. For example, some group cases required live class dramatization of the detailed problem and recommendations we came up with.
- Marketing Management (4/5)
- This course fixated on a broad understanding of market and competitive dynamics. The professor has such an infectious personality that a student can’t help but be engaged in what’s being taught. The entire course is taught around a marketing simulation game, where the grade is determined by how well each team has done relative to other teams within the cohort. Lectures mix the results and takeaways from the game with real-world practicality and the introduction of new concepts that could be applied to the game and real-world businesses alike. The repetitive nature of the game wore on me by the end, considering how it stretched over an entire term. However, I still viewed it as a very rewarding experience and wholly learned new customer-centric strategies from the course.
- Operations Management (4/5)
- The course’s goals were to aid students in understanding the fundamental criteria for designing and managing operations, become a systems thinker, and to continuously analyze and work to understand any operations being observed. The professor’s course structure made this a surprisingly enjoyable course to take. More times than not, the lecture was split between a half where the professor taught, and a half where groups solved cases based on the readings and the professor’s teachings. The conclusions drawn from those cases were presented in front of our peers toward the end of class. A class presentation was also required for the term’s major group assignment. It’s safe to say that this class provides the most opportunities within the first two terms to sharpen up on presentation skills.
- Strategic Management (2/5)
- The focus in this course was to recognize the core sources of business-level competitive advantage in a company, find the competitive and cooperative aspects in every inter-organizational relationship, explain how the boundaries of the firm should be drawn, adapt a firm’s global strategy to the demands of local environments, and to analyze real-world business cases from each of the aforementioned angles. While the professor was an extremely nice individual, they taught the class in a very detached manner. Every three-hour class was taught with us receiving massive amounts of information from the professor and their powerpoint with little variety in the class structure. Although there were many opportunities that could be identified for in-class group work that would’ve done wonders for breaking up the monotony, those opportunities were rarely capitalized on.
All in all, my experience at RSM as an MBA candidate has been positive and worthwhile to this point. Even though Term 2 was more of a mixed bag in terms of course quality compared to Term 1, what hasn’t changed is the collection of wonderful people that I get to spend every class day with. The opportunity to befriend such a diverse assemblage of talented individuals who represent nearly 40 nationalities doesn’t present itself often in life, so I feel fortunate to have connected with very bright minds who are also looking to be forces for positive change.
Beyond the standout classmates, I’ve found great value in the Personal Leadership Development program overseen by the Career Services Center. Spread over two terms, this program challenges students to be introspective and search for what truly motivates them. Moreover, there are numerous workshops held as part of the coursework that emphasize universally accepted “professional” etiquette through all forms of communication. These invaluable trainings typically make the difference between the perception of good and bad experiences with professional contacts. Soft skills have commonly been cited as the thing that makes the decided difference in management perception, so these courses go a long way in aiding us in our quest to be the most effective leaders we can be.
I very much look forward seeing what’s in store for the next two terms. One week into my Advanced Sustainability course, I’ve already seen tremendous value from the exposure we’ve had to business owners who are looking to us for aid with their complex business obstacles. I’m also very pleased with my Term 4 elective choices and anticipate continued high-level growth and learning throughout the remainder of my MBA experience.
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