My interpretation of the word capstone is to examine concepts that come from all of the business disciplines. Students are required to have completed core classes before taking the course. Strategic management provides a set of theories and concepts that facilitate thinking about organizational issues from many perspectives. Students are required to use tools they have learned in accounting, economics, marketing, finance and management.

Functional Discipline Integration

Those who teach strategic management tend to use comprehensive case studies, and I am no exception. I use the word comprehensive in that these studies include information from various functional disciplines. Students use a multi-perspective lens to analyze a case, which creates a foundation for assessing a firm’s current and future actions.

Externally, students examine the markets and industries of the firm. They use tools from both economics and marketing to do this. Unless students have strong knowledge of industrial organization economics from a previous course, some of this information will be new to them. Students are also required to look at socio-cultural, political, legal, and technological forces influencing the firm, thus introducing management topics.

Looking inside the firm, students examine a firm’s financial statements, human resources, leadership, products and services, advertising and distribution, manufacturing processes, reputation, patents and trademarks, and relationships with stakeholders. This helps them determine strengths and weaknesses of the firm and its competitive position.

What should the firm do next? The field of strategic management has isolated many strategies firms might pursue. I discuss some 30 different strategies that are grouped into subcategories like corporate strategies, competitive strategies, global product and market strategies, and dynamic strategies. Some of them are domestic and others have an international orientation. Students evaluate strategies that a firm might pursue in the context of actual firms through case studies. They use information from their external and internal analyses, and additional research, to conduct these evaluations and make recommendations.

In my class, a financial plan is required in the implementation section, and students also develop a marketing plan where changes to marketing are needed. In addition, students learn how to use organizational structure, culture and control systems to implement strategies and effect change in organizations.

Teams and Classroom Dynamics

Half of the work in my course is done in teams.  These teams are multi-disciplinary, including students from both the quantitative and non-quantitative disciplines. Case discussions allow a company to be examined from multiple perspectives. Students typically approach case work from their own functional perspective, which stimulates debate. It is important that the capstone be required of all disciplines; if a discipline were missing the richness of discussions would diminish.

Why Strategic Management Professors?

Strategy professors typically teach the capstone. This probably has to do with the history of the field. Early in the last Century business schools began to add a variety of functional business courses and degrees, but the curriculum was lacking a course that pulled each discipline together. Harvard was an early pioneer developing a Business Policy course to help students evaluate policies applied to the whole organization. Gordon and Howell, in a landmark study of business curricula, said “the business policy course can concentrate on the integrating what has already been acquired and on developing further the student’s skill in using that knowledge.”

By the 1970s both strategy consulting firms and academics had developed a number of tools to help executives manage the entire enterprise. Top academics, consultants and practitioners met at a conference at the University of Pittsburgh in 1977, and the field of “Strategic Management” was born. The field was and is multidisciplinary. Ph.D. students studying strategic management are required to take courses in all of the functional disciplines of business, and research frequently draws from multiple disciplines. Strategic management is about examining strategies from a number of perspectives.

Is the Capstone redundant?

To some extent, redundancies are inevitable because it is an integrative course. However, students are actually using the tools and perspectives they picked up in their discipline courses and applying them to real companies through cases. In addition, there is an important body of knowledge about strategic management that goes beyond what is taught in other business courses. Without the core of strategic management theory, the course would be reduced to studying cases from multiple perspectives without any integrative models to pull them together.

Epilogue

I encourage everyone to attend the McWick Case Competition on April 21 at 5:00 p.m. in Queally Hall room 271. Although the presentations are not as comprehensive as the longer papers required in BUAD 497, you will still recognize their multidisciplinary nature.

My strategy colleagues and I have established some basic features that each section of the course should have. We are continuing with this coordinative effort and I welcome discussion with anyone who would like to suggest improvements.