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Allan Afuah

Assistant Professor of Corporate Strategy at the University of Michigan Business School

Allan Afuah has made the rounds of higher education. A graduate of MIT’s MBA and Ph.D. programs, he migrated to the Midwest in 1995, and hasn’t looked back since. “I could have gone anywhere after MIT,” says Afuah, who has been a finalist twice for UMBS’s Student Award for Teaching Excellence. “I came here because I think it’s a cool, globally minded place.”

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Remove Road Blocks
Have an open mind. Lot of students arrive and they have taken an MBA class somewhere or have some work experience, and they think they know it all. They may have taken a strategy course somewhere or worked in a strategy planning group somewhere, so they start off with a closed mind. When the professor trys to teach a concept, or when their classmates speak out, they don’t take them seriously.

You are now learning from some of the best brains in the world. Listen to your professors because you are going to learn a lot from them, and that is going to save you time. And saving time means survival around here.

Learn Co-opetition
People think competition is the name of the game. Of course, competition is very important and we teach that here at business schools. But there is also something called “co-opetition,” which means cooperating and competing with people at the same time. When you get to business school, you need to work very hard to practice that

Let’s say that four of us meet to discuss a case and I already know 80 percent of the material, and the other three people only know 20 percent in return. We meet, and I end up giving them all the 80 percent of the material they need and I only get 20 percent from them. Some people may say, “My God, I’m giving away everything. Why do they have to rely so much on me?” Then they may decide that they don’t want to participate because they think the other people are too far behind.

Well, guess what happens? If you don’t work with a team you are stuck with the 80 percent that you already know. If you do participate, you are going to learn that 20 percent and ultimately end up with 100 percent. All of you are all better off.

Build Brand You
When you help teammates achieve 100 percent, they’re not going to forget who you are. Eight, nine, 10 years down the line these guys are going to call you when they need that top executive, when they want that one person they can really depend on.

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You may be very knowledgeable. You may have everything in your head. You may be wonderful. But you have to somehow get it into people’s heads that you are the one person that they can depend on. You are the one person they should call on. There is no better time to start building that brand than during an MBA program, because your classmates are the ones who are going to go out and spread the word.

Suffer Now, Succeed Later
Some students arrive here and say, “My God, the work load is so heavy. Let’s try to get away with whatever we can.” Well, it’s great to network, but when you divide up work in order to survive, you are only avoiding immediate pain. When you graduate you are going to find out that you really should have paid a little bit more attention or worked a little harder when you were in school. If you don’t pay now, you’re going to pay later on.

Have the Talk
If you have a significant other, prepare them before you even start the MBA program. Students bring a spouse here and the spouse thinks they are going to have fun Fridays and Saturdays frolicking in the Great Lakes. But the workload doesn’t allow for a lot of time with loved ones.

You must tell them, “Honey, it’s going to be very hectic there, but there is a reason for it. We are both investing a lot of money and time in our future.” If you don’t prepare them, you may find your relationship going to pieces.

Become a Problem Solver
We see a fast changing world where the Internet plays a critical role and where globalization plays a critical role. We are also looking at an economy that is more knowledge-based than the capitalist world has ever seen before. UMBS believes we ought to prepare our students to be very good problem solvers so they can excel in this environment.

One way we do that is through a program called MAP — Multi-Disciplinary Action Project. Toward the end of their first year, students spend several months actively involved in projects at different firms all over the U.S. They work in groups literally solving problems at firms that require them to use the multi-disciplinary skills that we’ve taught them. The firms love it. Our students love it.

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