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Pursuit of Excellence

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A strong trend throughout the United States is to improve the educational system and to search for outstanding individuals. Studies have been made at various levels and areas of specialization. Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., together with a group of scholarly business observers, did an in-depth study of twenty-one American companies. In order to qualify for the study, a company had to be in the top half of its industry.

The researchers identified eight characteristics as contributing to the excellent performance of these companies:
  1. They acted. When they had a problem, they got on it immediately. They had reputations for innovation and research.

  2. They listened-to customers and employees.

  3. They believed that productivity is generated through people.

  4. They encouraged experimentation and innovation among their employees and tolerated a reasonable number of failures.

  5. Most of their top-level managers came up through the ranks and had hands-on experience.

  6. Their organizational structure was lean. They worked hard to keep things simple in a complex world.

  7. They had not tried to grow by acquiring companies from unrelated industries.

  8. Their management style was simultaneously loose and light-flexible.

The characteristics of excellence identified by Peters and Waterman reflect another study made of business education a good many years ago. In that study, schools of business were criticized for two things:
  1. Narrow interpretations (vocationalism) with emphasis on business routines rather than on how to meet business needs for imaginative, flexible, and creative managers.

  2. Overemphasis on training for specific jobs, which blocked intellectual growth. This was thought to be especially true of business education for women, which encouraged them to prepare for office work.
"Integrity in the College Curriculum: A Report to the Academic Community," is a 1984 study that is also sharply critical of narrow training in some technical and professional areas. It recommended required courses to develop critical thinking, writing, and communication skills, numerical understanding, and historical perspective. It emphasized the need for a liberal education that teaches ways of understanding and communicating, thus providing access to the world in which we live. Businesses and business schools got the message and now select candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines.

Executives who have received incomprehensible memos or illogical reports support these recommendations. They recommend in-depth study, value systems, science, international studies, logic and basic reasoning, and communication skills. Executives suggest that students be provided with educational experiences that will result in nine basic skills:
  1. The ability to think abstractly and perform critical analysis

  2. Literacy in writing, reading, speaking, and listening

  3. Understanding of numerical data

  4. Historical awareness

  5. Intellectual ease with science

  6. Values and the capacity to make informed moral choices

  7. Appreciation of the arts

  8. International and multicultural experiences

  9. Experience of the personal joy that comes from in-depth study
Studies by the National Institute of Education ("Involvement in Learning") and by William J. Bennett ("To Reclaim a Legacy") both decry the present tendency of college students to take narrow, vocational courses that are too specifically job oriented. The National Institute of Education urges all students to take at least two full years of liberal arts courses, even if it takes them an extra year to get their degree.

A Typical Program

An undergraduate program may involve 120 semester hours or 186 quarter hours, depending on whether the term is ten or fifteen weeks long. Such a program results in a bachelor's degree in arts, sciences, or some other special areas. Requirements for graduation are specified in a college catalog and may include English composition, health and physical education, science, math, or history. The following is a typical undergraduate business curriculum:

General Education

Semester Hours

1. Humanities and fine arts (including English, language, and literature)


2. Natural science and mathematics (including calculus and finite math)


3. Behavioral-social sciences (including elementary economics)


Total General Education Component


Business Studies
  1. Fundamental computer concepts, introduction to financial data, finance management, introduction to financial accounting, computer-based business systems, systems and operations analysis, and financial analysis for managerial decision making

  2. Management accounting systems, fundamentals of management, production and operations systems

  3. Business communications, business environment, and business policies

  4. Marketing concepts
Total business studies component = 48-54

Recommended Electives

Mathematics in business applications, elements of statistical methods, principles of economics, psychology, sociology, or anthropology

Total elective component = 15-21

A minimum GPA (grade point average) of 2.5 is usually required for continued registration and for graduation (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, and D = 1). Failure to maintain a 2.5 cumulative GPA automatically puts the student on probation. Students who want to specialize during their undergraduate program may select an option in a department, for example, marketing, accounting, or computer systems.

A trend in business administration emphasizes computer and quantitative math aspects through such courses as discrete mathematics, data structures, algorithmic languages and compiler design, numerical calculus, database systems, introduction to the theory of computation, and symbolic language programming. More general, computer-based courses are management information systems and information systems technology.


Experience is an actual living through of events. It affects judgment, skill, and knowledge; facts and events are observed firsthand rather than related by others. Experience results when you are personally responsible for getting something done-you meet a deadline, finish a task, or earn money. A sense of responsibility and confidence originate from business experience. As a result you become more employable-more dependable.

Experience should be an integral part of your education. The problem is how to get it. How should you select business experience-or any experience-so that it supplements your education?

Business recruiters who periodically visit campuses to inter-view potential management candidates express amazement that there are college graduates who apply for jobs with no previous work experience. And, of course, this is unfortunate because organizations will take recruits to train, but they are understandably reluctant to employ one who has not even had a chance to observe what is out there. There are a variety of ways to gain experience, including part-time work and internships.

Part-Time Work

Part-time work can provide valuable business experience, but it does require a commitment. How you handle part-time work while you are in school depends on your other priorities. Some students are able to balance homework, social activities, and a part-time job; others find that either their academic work or their social life or their job performance begins to suffer. If you would rather not work while going to school, work during the summers, or take a semester or a year off to gain experience that will help you land your first job.


Internships and cooperative education programs are provided by some schools. An internship may be an extended period away from campus spent on a job-a quarter, a semester, or a year. A cooperative education program is more like a part-time job. Occasionally business organizations sponsor students who live in foreign countries and work there for a semester or a year; students learn the methods and techniques used by specific businesses abroad. Student exchange programs sometimes offer students a chance to work-either in the sponsoring family's business or in the community. All types of experience are helpful.
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