A one-month program turns liberal-arts majors into execs

It's business boot camp for poets. On June 16, 83 liberal-arts majors arrived in Hanover, N.H., for a megadose of MBA basics. After a month, they hope to exit reprogrammed--their heads emptied of Shakespeare sonnets and turned into cool, calculating business machines.

Run by Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School of Business, the course is called the Business Bridge Program, and it's the first national effort of its kind. The mission: Take lean, green college seniors and recent graduates who have little business knowledge--but high academic achievement in areas such as literature and biochemistry--and turn them into productive junior executives. ''I'm a believer in liberal-arts education,'' says Tuck Dean Paul Danos. ''But at the end of the day, the vast majority of everybody is going to work for a business.''

QUICK FIX. Companies have been hiring liberal-arts graduates for years and training them in the ways of the balance sheet in-house or on the job. The Dartmouth program is just another way to do that. Most students, many of them unable to land jobs, pay their own way for the $6,000 session. But some big-name companies are sending students. Thirty-one of the participants in the first class are new hires at consulting giant McKinsey & Co. Says Charles McGill, senior vice-president of Fortune Brands, who advised Dartmouth on the program's creation: ''What I wonder is why someone didn't think of this sooner.''

The reason for the demand is simple: Companies want to hire the kind of bright kids who populate schools such as Princeton University and Middlebury College. And those bright kids want to get hired at good pay by those companies. Unfortunately, most could not calculate a percentage if their lives or livelihoods depended on it.

LOADED QUESTION. That was Owen DeHoff's dilemma. With a bachelor's degree in urban studies from Brown University, DeHoff failed to land a job after a half-dozen interviews. ''A lot of the interviews went fine for a while,'' says DeHoff, who is paying his own freight. ''Then they said: 'So, what kind of financial background do you have?'''

Over the next month, DeHoff and his classmates will spend five hours a day in class studying accounting, finance, marketing, and other MBA fundamentals. They'll work right through the weekends, too. ''It's gruesome,'' sighs Ashley Maddox, a Princeton art-history graduate McKinsey is sponsoring.

Meanwhile, Danos has grand schemes for the future. Next year, he hopes to add more sections and start a similar program in Europe. Exchanging a paintbrush for a briefcase may sound unromantic. Then again, you rarely see the word ''starving'' in front of ''executive.''

By Thomas Bartlett in Hanover, N.H.


Updated June 23, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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