We recently sat down with David Liu, Knewton’s Chief Operating Officer and a graduate of Columbia Business School, to talk to him about his MBA experience.
Why did you choose Columbia Business School? What makes it different from other business schools?
I wanted to have a business education in the business capital of the world. Being in NYC was a big factor in my choice of b-schools. Columbia also had a very good percentage of top international students which provided a better perspective on the global economy. What makes Columbia different from other business schools is that it is in Manhattan and it has such great alumni and corporate partners to connect with. We could do a case study about how Colgate-Palmolive handled a go-to-market strategy for a new product in the morning and be at their headquarters in midtown speaking with their marketing team by the afternoon. The list of examples of like that go on and on (in Finance—I-banks, hedge funds, private equity shops, etc.). It is similar to what Stanford has with respect to its computer science department and being immersed in Silicon Valley.
Businessweek reports that Columbia uses a relatively mixed set of teaching methods, at least compared to some institutions—Case Study: 40%; Experiential Learning: 7%; Lectures: 38%; Team Projects: 15%. Can you tell us how you felt about the academic experience?
It was a top notch academic experience. What I liked about the program was that it was not rigid about how it approached teaching. The methods were different for different courses and that made for a more dynamic environment. You never felt force-fit into a case study method when that may not have been the right way to teach a topic, but case study materials were always available.
What about your professors?
We had top professors from around the world in every discipline.
Do you have any comments on the facilities at the school?
The facilities were a bit cramped when I attended, but I understand that the school has expanded its facilities in recent years.
And on the topic of your physical surroundings, what kind of advantages did you experience getting your MBA in New York City? Disadvantages?
Being in NYC certainly had its advantages in terms of being able to easily connect and network with people in the majority of industries that students wanted to learn about and get into. Meetings are a subway or cab ride away. Columbia tends to have a lot of alumni in NYC so we had very good access to companies/execs to enrich research projects and case studies.
The size of a graduating class at Columbia is roughly midway between that of a graduating class at Harvard (around 900 students) and at Stanford (roughly 375). How did you feel about the size of your class?
The class size was about right. We had around 450 students in our graduating class (with the January starts, we had about 600). The class was subdivided into clusters of about 60-70 students. We took all of our 1st year courses with people from our cluster.
Business school can be a very social experience. Can you describe your interaction with your classmates?
At Columbia, the b-school can be as social as you want it to be. The experience is social at its core and you could easily make new friends, while those who had been living in NYC could continue to have a life outside of business school. As at most business schools, there was no shortage of opportunities to socialize.
And of course, quality of alumni networks is a big factor in a choosing a business school. Have you utilized Columbia’s alumni network?
I end up tapping into every network I have in some way. Whether it’s Columbia classmates, former colleagues, or friends, the quality of the network is a function of what you put into maintaining it.
Is there anything else that you feel illustrates your MBA experience?
I had a great time in business school. It was competitive, intellectually stimulating, social, and fun. I would recommend Columbia to anyone interested in getting an MBA.