Review: Eric Carlson, IDIS, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

At a glance

  • Workload:  Heavy-ish
  • Teaching Style:  Lecture
  • Interest in students: High
  • Relevance to outside world: Very high

Overall Professor Rating: 3.5 (the content is good, and he knows his stuff, but it’s a bit too much lecture)

Overall Course Rating: 4.5

Carlson teaches one of the IDIS 696 courses.  All of the 696 courses are “experimental” or something like that, and they have different subjects even though they are all 696.  This one is Social Benefit Entrepreneurship,

The Review

This is the latest of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. That database can be a bit hard to wade through, and the comments are short and often just link to other threads, which are themselves pretty short and superficial. Only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.  I also just write whatever it is that I think is relevant or will be helpful to others.  That is my overall goal.

The facts

I took IDIS 696 in Fall 2008, Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:20-8:35 PM, the second time slot each evening.  Professor Carlson is with the Science, Technology and Society department and has worked in the field of social justice and social benefit work for some time.

Them’s the facts (slim as they are). Now read on for the review.

The class

The class is pretty regular and straightforward, though stimulating and keeps you on your toes because of the sheer volume of information and the types of assignments.  It is based as a formal, MBA-level follow-up to an intensive 2 week program in the summer known as the Global Social Benefit Incubator, or the GSBI.  During this time, a dozen or so entrepreneurs bring forth their ideas, many of which are already in action, and are taught how to make that grassroots idea into a real, sustainable business.  They are taught concepts of marketing, finance, dealing with places with no infrastructure, etc.  They are given a loose framework of documents and try to flesh out their companies based on them.

However, the GSBI is only 2 weeks long.  IDIS 696 SBE is an effort to bring forth the “prowess” of MBA students to do a more in-depth analysis of the organization’s business plan or, as is often the case, to write up one in the first place.

The class uses really one main book – CK Prahalad’s The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramis – and uses examples and lessons from there as the basis of lectures.  We also use another book, composes of separate writings from MBA faculty from around the country, that apply for-profit techniques of marketing, management, etc to the world of non-profits.  For instance, how one might manage a board of trustees can be quite similar between the two.  Interestingly enough, neither book is quite right as far as the class goes.  Prahalad hoped that multi-national corporations would see his examples, realize the size of the market of 4 billion people (even if they are making $1/day), and enter with innovative and beneficial products.  The other book concludes generally that all for-profit techniques must be altered because non-profits are fundamentally different.  IDIS 696 believes that for-profit methods are directly applicable, and that one can make a difference with small, entrepreneurial efforts at the base of the pyramid.  Even a small group of people can make a big difference and capitalize on the market.

The classes are broken down into the components of a business plan.  So we might go over a company’s external environment and examine examples from Prahalad’s book during the week, then we analyze our GSBI project in terms of its external environment over the weekend.  This means that there is a fairly intense write-up due each week, on a slightly different topic.  It also means that one needs to look at the project from a fresh perspective each time.  The first write-up might indicate the project is sustainable.  The second might bring up major flaws.  It all puts together a complete image of the company in the end, but the process is a bit up and down.

In theory, one also interacts with representatives from the team that came for the GSBI, though I was unable to reach one of the founders of my target project due to civil unrest and lack of internet access in his area.

Bring all of this together and you are looking at a project, all of the various variables and components of a business plan, and determining whether the effort is sustainable or not.  The goal is to figure out if the project can make money, and keep making money based on its business model.

To be specific, the mechanics of the class are the papers (7 of them, I think) for each part of the business plan, each from 2-3 pages long, and a final analysis of either the entire business or just one part that perhaps needs the most attention.  It’s a decent amount of writing, but you are given the structure for the analysis each week, prior to writing the paper.

The Person

Professor Carlson is an approachable, affable professor that is clearly very passionate about his work, the development and growth of the GSBI (indeed, he is hoping to turn the curriculum into a starting point for other GSBI-equivalents around the country), and about how we, as MBA students, can add to and learn from the work of these entrepreneurs in Cuba, Africa, the Philippines and other parts of the world.  I don’t think I went to office hours even once, but I never hesitated to talk with Professor Carlson when I had a question, and he is very responsive over e-mail.

I don’t really have a lot to say here that doesn’t come forth in the other sections.

Some Metrics

Metrics are of questionable use, depending on professor and what classes I have and haven’t taken.  But they might be of interest so I’ll do what I can.  These are more like ‘comparisons’ than metrics but I like the word better :-).  Some rough parameters are:

  • Workload:  runs from heavy, which would be work in class, after class, individual and team, to just a lot of problem sets to basically just in-class discussion.
  • Teaching style:  spectrum runs from pure-lecture to interactive to all-over-the place.
  • Interest in students:  pretty obvious
  • Relevance to the outside world:  pretty obvious, though heavily restricted due to my background in academia

Workload: Heavy-ish
It is writing a lot of papers, but since an outline is given, and examples from Prahalad are cited, it isn’t as bad as it sounds.  And if one isn’t ready to write the final paper by the end of the quarter, then one hasn’t been doing all of the separate papers all along.  They really build up into each other.

Teaching Style:  Lecture

Interest in students:  High
It is a bit lecture-driven, but Professor Carlson clearly cares about whether we are learning or not, and is passionate about the subject and wants to pass that along.

Relevance to outside world:  Very high
If one can take a water pump and a design for a toilet and turn that into a viable, sustainable business in a country with little to no infrastructure and perhaps civil war, then starting a company in the US is easy in comparison.

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