MBA prep

Welcome to pre-MBA boot camp

July 25, 2012: 2:43 PM ET

Strong in marketing but weak in accounting and finance? A new online MBA prep course aims to help.

By Rebecca Reisner

(Poets&Quants) -- When Devi Vallabhaneni was accepted to Harvard Business School in the third round, she figured she'd sail through the MBA program. After all, she was a quant -- a facile-with-numbers CPA who had spent four years working for Arthur Andersen in Chicago, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The daughter of an academic entrepreneur who had four master's degrees on his resume, Vallabhaneni had moved to Chicago from Hyderabad, India as a child and took an early interest in business. By the time she was 14, she had excelled in Junior Achievement, helping to develop a device that indicates when houseplants need watering, and her father had mapped out her educational and career path from high school to MBA on a chalkboard in the family kitchen.

Yet, soon after plunging into Harvard's MBA program in Boston, Vallabhaneni sensed that she was adrift, often befuddled by words, ideas, and concepts. "I felt that I didn't have the core building blocks to take full advantage of the curriculum," she recalls. "I did well in accounting and finance, but the first few operations classes were like another language." Terms like "queuing theory" and "cycle time" assaulted her like hailstones, and she scrambled to catch up.

She often found herself working "two to three times" as hard as other classmates to keep up with the engineers in her operations management class and with the Procter & Gamble brand managers in her marketing class. Of course, she got through it, graduating in 1997 and quickly embarking on a career with The Gap and as a dot-com entrepreneur in the boom years of the Internet.

But those early struggles at Harvard stayed with her. Realizing that many other MBA students, even those who studied business as undergrads and had solid work experience, lacked fluency outside the scope of their particular specialties, Devi and her father, Rao Vallabhaneni, an author of textbooks on accounting and auditing, began to devise a program to strengthen students' overall business acumen.

A pre-MBA B-school workout

In 2009, Wiley published Devi's book What's Your MBA IQ? and in 2011, with the help of Rao and her business partner and fellow HBS alumna Melissa Hayes, she launched MBA IQ, an interactive online curriculum designed to give students baseline knowledge in 12 core areas of business before they start their graduate degrees. More

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