The Commerical Appeal
By Daniel Connolly
Thursday, May 22, 2008

U of M to partner MBA students and businesses

For years, leaders in the local medical-device industry wanted the University of Memphis to create a degree that would prepare business students for the rigors of their profession.

Now the university has granted their wish.

On Wednesday, the Fogelman College of Business and Economics held a luncheon to unveil its new "Customer-driven MBA Program."

Students seeking a master of business administration will work closely with corporations during their academic training and work as regular employees for two years afterward.

A large part of the program focuses on the medical-device industry, but the university plans to adapt it to other industries, including logistics.

"I promise you, this is going to put the University of Memphis business school on the map," said Larry Papasan, a former executive with medical device maker Smith & Nephew.

If all goes as planned, about 40 students will enroll in the program in the fall of 2009, said Rajiv Grover, who last year became dean of the school of business.

The university is closing agreements with firms including big medical device makers Medtronic, Smith & Nephew and Wright Medical Group, Grover said. Other sponsors include Active Implants, a small medical device firm, and Franklin-based BioMemetics, a maker of drug-device combinations.

Under the agreements, sponsoring companies will pay the university $60,000 per MBA student.

Of that amount, $36,000 will go to the student as salary for working at the company 10 hours a week during the course of the 21-month program. The rest goes to the university.

It might sound expensive, but speakers at the luncheon said it's not. When medical device maker Smith & Nephew hires an MBA graduate today, it takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months to train the person to make good decisions in a complex, international medical device market, said Mark Stevens, a human resources executive at the company.

Anything that speeds up that process is "a value add to our company," he said.

AutoZone founder J. R. "Pitt" Hyde III, a backer of many initiatives to promote science-based businesses, presented a $250,000 donation to the university at the luncheon. Another $250,000 donation, from Chinese-born logistics entrepreneur Wei Chen, will fund scholarships in the university's international MBA program.

Another $25,000 came from Bob Compton, venture capitalist and former head of Sofamor Danek, the Memphis spine surgery company later bought by medical device giant Medtronic. An anonymous donor gave $150,000.

Hyde praised the new business school dean for meeting with firms and putting together the concept.

"He's done a great job in getting this program together," he said.

Compton said the program is part of a larger push to make Memphis the world's leading city in the orthopedic medical device industry, which focuses on healing problems of bones, muscles and joints.

He hopes Memphis will become the world's top school for MBA students looking to enter the medical device industry.

He said that when he was leading Sofamor-Danek, MBA graduates came in with good general knowledge, but couldn't immediately apply it.

"(A graduate) could have an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and an MBA, but he wouldn't know how to do product distribution in Japan," he said.

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