EVANSTON, ILL. -- William K. Lakenan of Knoxville, Tenn., dreams of running a big factory that makes the best product of its kind in the world. Kevin Lee of Phoenix is turned on by high-definition television and hopes to land a key management position where he can help compete in this important new field.
To achieve their goals, they are striving for their master's degrees in manufacturing at Northwestern University.
They are among about 60 students expected this fall for the first such program offered at the Evanston campus. They represent a shift in thinking among academics and business students about future roles for those earning master's degrees in business administration.
It is a shift that may signal an important change in the U.S. economy. Business schools found their reputations tarnished in the 1980s, when they turned out hundreds of graduates lured by the prospect of making millions on Wall Street by buying and selling companies.
The collapse of the takeover business and layoffs on Wall Street, though, have made investment banking less attractive. Now, business schools, eager to reverse their images as the breeding grounds of greed, are putting more emphasis on the running of companies that produce goods.
"In reading two-year-old catalogues of business schools, I discovered they stressed finance and investment banking, and that's where their graduates were headed," said student Charles Meyers of Broomfield, Colo. "That's changing now because the U.S. economy is changing and the world economy is changing. With capitalism's victory in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, we must compete, or we'll be pushed out. Business schools are beginning to realize that."
Meyers predicted that other business schools soon will be joining Northwestern, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie-Mellon Institute in stressing manufacturing.
The expansion of such programs is a tacit admission by major business schools that U.S. manufacturers sorely need reorganizing and lack analytical skills and strategic focus for competing in an increasingly hostile global environment.
Northwestern's program is unique in that it offers an MBA degree in management and manufacturing, a joint venture between its Kellogg School of Management and McCormick School of Engineering. The candidates must have a scientific or engineering background.
Co-directors Philip Jones, an engineering professor, and Eitan Zemel, a business professor, believe they can make a difference for the country in training students who will apply management and engineering techniques to running U.S. industrial companies.
They say the United States can win back many of its lost markets, but they caution against expecting fast results in improving U.S. manufacturing efficiency. "There's no quick fix," Jones said. "What we see too often is manufacturers trying to make the quick fix, a couple of robots here or flexible manufacturing system there."
Turning around the average company in manufacturing takes five to 10 years, Zemel said.
Indeed, one emphasis of the program will be combining all aspects of the industrial corporation -- engineering, design, sales, planning, finance and accounting -- into a more functional unit. As Lakenan puts it, these splintered hierarchies of companies hamper efficient production.
Harry Davis, deputy dean at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business, which also is expanding its programs in manufacturing, said management techniques will increase focus on measuring both quality and productivity.
"It's just enormously important," Davis said. "Part of the reason the U.S. got into trouble was in lagging in developing consistent quality -- having lower cost and higher quality at the same time. A very important part of that philosophy is data. You've got to measure things, the right things. Chicago as a school has enormous resources in statistics."
"I found that as an engineer, it was like steering a cruise ship with a rowboat," said student Charles Meyers. "I wanted to get more involved in management of manufacturing."
Lakenan is openly ambitious about running or owning a manufacturing firm, something he could not do with an engineering background.
He believes there's no reason the United States can't regain some of its market share by applying technology and proper management techniques.
Co-directors Jones and Zemel feel the same way, although they believe it will take time. They note that some 30 industrial firms that make up the advisory panel for the program are watching closely to see whether this new crop of students can make a difference.