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The Makings of a Good MRA Candidate

By Samantha Beavers

Between succession challenges, supply chain ecosystems and uncertainties about geopolitical events – not to mention a pandemic in the rear-view mirror – organizations across sectors are realizing the indispensability of risk management in strategic decision-making. Data analytics, too, has become essential – as it gives business leaders the ability to make proactive, informed decisions and respond to complex challenges.

To develop leaders with these core competencies, Poole College of Management launched the Master of Management, Risk and Analytics (MRA) program. The program educates students in state-of-the-art analytics techniques to meet the growing demand for analytics talent, as well as robust enterprise risk management (ERM) skills to position organizations for long-term success in an uncertain and ever-changing world.

With such a specialized curriculum, what kinds of candidates are the right fit for the program? Is it more suited for recent undergraduates, young professionals or seasoned leaders? What kinds of skills, passions and professional goals should they have? MRA program director Ericka Kranitz provides some answers to help prospective students weigh their options. 

EK: We specifically developed the MRA program with working professionals in mind – so we offer it in a part-time, asynchronous, online format that’s more conducive to someone with a busy schedule. This may include people interested in changing careers or moving into a leadership role within their organization – as well as those already in leadership roles who are taking on additional responsibilities. Perhaps they’re the point person for implementing ERM in the organization, or they’re trying to strengthen existing ERM practices.

Looking at the marketplace, we saw the opportunity to meet the needs of two different pools of people: professionals who are two to three years into their career (and who are interested in the risk management arena) as well as individuals with more experience, say 10-15 years, including experience within ERM. The younger professionals can open more doors for the future by developing some of these in-demand skills we’re offering in the MRA program, whereas more experienced professionals – whether they’re in a senior role already or just a few steps away from one – can become more successful leaders by developing a risk mindset and/or sharpening their analytics skills. Wherever they are in their career, they’ll graduate with the core competencies needed for more effective leadership.

EK: Because ERM is relevant to any type of business or industry, there’s no specific background that’s required. In our current cohort, we have people from a variety of industries – including finance, engineering, healthcare and more. Ultimately, every kind of organization in every industry faces risk – so we discuss various types of businesses and do not gear the program toward any particular one.

We also have people from a variety of different roles, which I think illustrates the nature and purpose of ERM. It’s meant to bring together people from across the entire enterprise – whether HR or IT or supply chain. In that sense, our students can come from all kinds of backgrounds and walks of life. That’s what we’re seeing right now in the program – and that’s how it would  be in any organization. 

EK: The MRA program is different from some other master’s programs, like the MAC program, where there’s a large population of students who come in straight from finishing their undergraduate degree. Most people in our program work full time and come in with some industry experience. That said, we don’t want to discourage recent undergraduates from applying – because, for some, this program is a good fit for their professional goals and a unique opportunity to launch their career.

However, I think that students will get the most value out of the program if they come in with at least two to three years of experience. That experience gives them a better understanding of how organizations work, the challenges they face and the types of risks they’re exposed to. And with that perspective, they’ll have some context to ground the things they’re learning in.

Another thing that’s important to consider is that coming in with experience allows students to learn as much as possible from one another – especially because ERM draws people from different roles, backgrounds and industries. Students with at least a few years of experience are going to value and appreciate that opportunity more than a fresh undergraduate would, and it also gives them something to bring to the table. 

EK: The short answer is no – we don’t expect students to come in with any particular skills or experience. Students who do have experience in accounting or statistics can really hit the ground running, but it’s not something that’s required to enter the program. However, having some exposure to these areas may make them feel more comfortable depending on their learning style or how long it’s been since they’ve taken something like statistics – so we do offer some self-paced courses that can help them get up to speed. This is optional pre-work that can help students develop some foundations – but again, it’s not necessary.

I think it’s important for prospective students to realize that we’re not trying to turn them into data scientists. Similar to a foreign language, we want to give them some basic proficiency. They should learn to ask the right questions in order to leverage the data at their disposal. They should know how to do basic analytics techniques using some of the major tools companies are using today and be comfortable working with large, unstructured data sets. Additionally, they should know how to communicate with and work alongside data scientists – so if what they’re trying to do is beyond their expertise, they can work with data scientists to get what they need. Ultimately, we want them to know what data is relevant for supporting strategic decisions and to be able to communicate that to someone at a higher level.

It’s also worth mentioning that we don’t expect students to come in with a foundation in ERM or be familiar with ERM language and frameworks. Because risk is woven into our world, most people probably know more than they realize and understand risk management on a conceptual level. The MRA curriculum just puts a framework around it. 

EK: What’s unique about the MRA program is that there are no set paths and very few limitations – students can go in a lot of different directions. The skills they’ll develop are relevant for every role in the C-suite, as well as mid-management positions – and transferable to all kinds of industries, geographic areas and organizations. Whether they’re with a public company, nonprofit or governmental organization, risks will emerge across the entire organization that will be strategic and get in the way of the organization being successful.

Because of that, we encourage students to keep an open mind. With so many new skills and tools, an opportunity may present itself and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I hadn’t thought about that’ and realize it’s a good option – whether that’s moving up or moving into a different role. Notably, there’s not another master’s program out there that’s anything like the MRA program. It’s very, very difficult to find our closest peer – which means that it opens a lot of doors for graduates.

EK: A willingness to listen and strong communication skills are two of the biggest characteristics we’re looking for. Regardless of what particular direction students take, ERM requires leaders to listen to teammates and colleagues in order to see the big picture, learn about emerging risks and examine strategic risks from different angles. Similarly, ERM requires leaders to communicate in a clear, succinct, timely way so organizations can respond to emerging risks strategically and promptly.

We’re also looking for candidates who will be good collaborators. Throughout the program, students will work alongside others who come from very different perspectives and backgrounds than they do – so we want candidates who are eager to contribute to the team and learn from and work well with others.

Finally, we’re looking for candidates with curiosity, personal drive and commitment. Our students will only get as much out of the program as they put in, so we’re looking for people who ask good questions and have a passion for learning – and who demonstrate that they’ll stick with it.