Australian/German/British by citizenship, but Canadian at heart, Jane Lê leads the Chair of Strategic Management as a full professor at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. With occupational psychology and management training, Jane has taught at universities in the UK and Australia before settling here in Germany four years ago. We spoke to Jane to find out more about her teaching style and what strategic management means for students in the MBA.
What are the most essential skills for MBA students?
When I think of a ‘market-ready’ MBA graduate, three key things come to mind: knowledge, experience, and interpersonal skills. Firstly, students must have the proper knowledge to approach new challenges effectively. Secondly, expertise is crucial, whether in strategy, finance, organizational behavior, or their chosen focus. The final yet critical component is interpersonal skills. This includes networking, relating to others, and strong leadership skills. Part of the reason why the WHU is such a well-regarded school is that it focuses on all three of these skills in combination. The community that WHU builds and develops is exceptional and offers a competitive advantage to others business schools. Indeed, our focus is more broadly on people and human dynamics – which we facilitate through our modules, the WHU Career Center, the network, and all on-campus events. As such, students receive critical training and experience that they can apply throughout their careers.
What is your teaching style?
I do applied interactive teaching. I like to give students little ‘teaser lectures’ that introduce the theory and quickly get into the nitty-gritty detail as we use theory in practice. I find it is helpful to set up the construct, look at why it matters, and then get right into the application. That’s also why I prefer real-time, live cases that are changing and developing in real-time. This allows students to see the complexity of such situations and build skills at responding to them. The goal is to see that the theory is not the answer but rather a tool to help bring them closer to the solution.
How did you start teaching?
I always enjoyed learning. I was one of those kids who loved going to school. Going to university was a thrill for me; there was so much learning to do, and it felt like it opened a whole new world to me. During my undergraduate studies, I started to assist in the classroom and progressively got hooked. During my Ph.D., I had the opportunity to do more applied teaching, and I found it exciting to see an immediate impact in the classroom. In the academic world, a lot of our work is multi-year projects – teaching balances that with immediate reward and feedback.
What is the Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge?
The Future Leaders Fundraising Challenge is a flagship course in the MBA that, over one week, leads our MBA students through the product development lifecycle. From day one of the program, we offer them a dynamic environment to learn and grow in – where they continuously and rapidly make key strategic decisions as part of a team. In addition to developing their business skills and getting a taster for all that is to come in the MBA, they also do it for the very best reason: To engage in leadership for good as they raise funds for leading charitable organizations. They make a real difference in the world, all while pursuing their personal and professional development goals. The great thing is that, regardless of whether your team wins or places in the bottom ranks, the learning is meaningful, and everyone contributes to the overarching cause. In September 2021, the students raised around 85,000 euros – an incredible amount in such a short period. It is probably no surprise that I am always in awe of our students and their energy and enthusiasm.
What about your other courses?
My other MBA course is strategic management. We have a modern take on strategy at the WHU. Traditionally, people think of strategy as something an organization has. In reality, strategy is something people in the organization do. In essence, we remind students that there is no strategy without people. This is the starting point for the course, and we run through different cases each week, with the students working through the material in real-time. At the end of the course, students work through a live case study. Last year we worked with Zoom. The company presented a strategic challenge to us, asking our MBA students to suggest courses of action. The final assignment was thus to work on this challenge for Zoom, writing feedback reports for the CEO of Zoom Germany, Peer Stemmler. These cases are important and insightful, as they move in real-time and allow the student to provide feedback directly to strategic leaders. This is also why I love strategy – It is applied and can have a real and immediate impact. It also offers another opportunity to engage and network with industry leaders. It’s a win-win!