Face to Face with Dr. Douglas Shackelford, Dean of UNC Kenan–Flagler Business School
Jan 30, 2018

Author: PersonalFN Content & Research Team

Dr. Shackelford is a seasoned academic leader, business education innovator and internationally recognized tax scholar.

He has published widely in accounting, economics, finance, and law journals. He’s also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge.

Below is the transcript of the interview.

PersonalFN : Thank you for joining us. Many education institutions across the globe have changed their format of teaching in the last few years - a number of courses/programmes have gone online today. Technology and the internet are playing a key role in imparting education.

So, is online a threat to residential Business-schools offering offline programmes? And how do you think the online medium can transform education in comparison to the traditional offline classroom format?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: I don’t think it’s a threat; I actually think it’s (online education format) an improvement.

We moved online ourselves in 2011; but I always like to explain what I mean by online, because it means different things to different people.

In our case, we teach in three parts: we have taken what you would think of as traditional one way delivery - lectures and so forth and turned that into video, like a documentary. We use video cameras––an eight person production crew essentially––and create original, broadcast-quality video lectures students watch on their computer. Students have over two hours of material to review, and then we have 90 minutes of synchronised classroom time that’s like video conferencing.

During the synchronised classroom time students are together; we limit each class to fifteen students and a professor. So, there are sixteen faces on the computer screen, a very small class. And then we get the students together every quarter in various locations around the world; because some things are learned better together. So, our online is really a blended form.

Now, since we started the programme in 2011, we have about one thousand graduates and we have about thousand students currently enrolled. The way I always talk about the programme is, it is a good format for earning your MBA if you like the job you have.

And because of flexibility of the online format they are not committed to coming to campus for a full-time or an evening or a weekend programme. So, this programme is one that works for a particular sector of the market; and it works for lot of students.

The traditional residential programme is the right kind of programme for another sector of the market. And our amount of applicants for our residential programme has risen quite a bit during the same time with our online programme.

So, I don’t see online programs as substitutes, but reaching different market segments.

PersonalFN : Today there is no dearth of MBAs ––there are millions who pass out each year. In fact colleges are rolling them out like MBA factories – in India and abroad. And it has become one of most popular degree to earn a big fat pay check. But when corporates try to recruit candidates, they find correct application and approach lacking amongst candidates.

What are the reasons for that, and the factors student need to take into account to change?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: I understand; but that’s not been our experience. I can’t speak for all schools here or any other place in the world.

We are experiencing extremely high demand from employers. I actually encourage our students to go home and tell their parents “thank you” for when they were born. Part of the high demand for MBAs from UNC may be a reflection of a very strong global economy right now.

But I think our students are coming out in the job market well-prepared for what the employers are looking for. And our current employers are very happy with the students they’re getting. So, job placements have not been an issue for our students; most of them have job offers from great companies, and they are in a very good position.

PersonalFN : So, what’s your message for the education institutions in India and for students overall. What should they be doing to improve on this scenario?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: I don’t know if I can really speak to that situation; since that’s not the one that I experience.

PersonalFN : Despite the large base of internet users in India, only 30% or so have access to the internet. In rural India, access to the internet is low.

Given the context, what do you think India needs to do so that more people can have access to online education?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: That’s a great question…

Same thing in the United States of America: not every place in the United States has access to the internet. But I believe it’s become a dividing line between those who have opportunities and those who don’t. It’s very much like the opportunity to electricity, or the opportunity to running water… that some people take as a given or basic utility.

If you don’t have access to things like the internet, you are cut-off from a tremendous amount of information ––much of which is free of course. Much of which also enables you to get education provided by us or from any other school.

So, the absence of access to the internet–––whether you talk about India, United States, or any other place in the world–––that’s a great problem. It’s a social problem that we as a society need to address, else there’s tremendous parts of our population that are going to be left behind because of the opportunity the internet provides.

PersonalFN : Full-time MBA / Part-time MBA / Online MBA – what’s your take, and which of these are the most suitable, and for whom?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: I think it depends…

I’ll tell you about the way I talk to an applicant who contacts our school.

I always start with the first question: do you like you job, and where you are working? If they say “No”, then I always say, well you should quit your job and come to a full-time programme and totally devote yourself to that and get yourself into a new position and do a restart if you will.

Or they may like their job but they may know that’s not the direction they want to go for the long term: maybe they are in banking but want to get into marketing. So, it’s a stop-and-start all over. For such applicants I recommend a full-time program.

If they say, “I like my job,” then I start talking to them about the many options for working professionals to get an education and continue to work at your job. You can take programmes at night; you can take programmes over the weekend. Some of those programmes go at a slow pace ––you can speed it up; you can take programmes online.  There’s a whole array of things. So, whatever fits that individual best!

Some people have preference on learning styles: they prefer to be in a classroom in a traditional setting.  Some really like the technological experience of online education. The good news is we now have now a lot of options.

Whereas, when I was studying, there was only one way. But now the opportunities for education have greatly increased, and that’s good for everybody!    

PersonalFN : Which are the top 3 specialisations / electives students are opting of late? What’s your general experience?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: Well, I would say that many of the same things that students have been taking for decades are still there. So, Finance, Marketing, Consulting, Technology…these have been solid for a long time and they continue to be very solid.

Things that have really risen up of late, that we have seen in our setting is, healthcare –––and that’s a big issue around the globe, particularly with aging population in many countries.

Another one that we are seeing is data analytics in one form or another. Clearly the arrival of large databases has exploded the opportunity to exploit that - and I think that will only increase.

One that we have at our particular university, that’s attractive here in India, is family business. We have a lot of great students who come from family businesses. Most of the better schools teach about publicly traded companies, because you have lot of information available about those. But if you come from a family business, you have a different set of issues that you are interested in understanding, like succession planning. You have grandparents or parents who started the company, and soon the company’s leadership falls in your generation. So, what will that be like, how will the transition be done –––we specialise in addressing in those sorts of issues. We get a lot of students from India and other countries where family businesses are a prominent part of the economy.   

PersonalFN : The cost of professional education is on the rise… and that’s a worry. Parents are literally struggling to plan for quality education for their child. They aspire to send their child abroad, outside India, for education, but an international MBA is far more expensive than the local ones. What do you think education institutions, universities, and parents need to do in this regard?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: You are right on all those fronts.

I think we as the academic community have a responsibility to look for all the ways we can to control cost. One of those ways for our school and others are, increasing fellowships and scholarships to counter some of those costs and to help students.

But I would say that, even with the high cost of education, I don’t think there’s a higher return on investment than students or their parents can possibly make than education.

Now can you guarantee that for all students that get a degree in 2018? Life isn’t certain; but I would say that the return on education remains extremely high compared to almost anything else.

And I think that the Indian community, in particular, has always placed high emphasis on education…which has made this country and civilization - strong for so long.   

PersonalFN : What would be your advice for parents as regards the ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts. Usually parents tend to impose on children, and that’s how children make choices. Eventually they realise later they could have done better at something else than the profession they’ve chosen.

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: As a father of four grown children, one of whom has an MBA and one of whom is getting an MBA right now, I probably should have listened to some of my advice myself. ☺

I think that all parents wished the very best for their children. It’s an innate desire. But I think we have to resist the temptation to dictate to our children what we think they should do.

To the extent possible, children need to be deeply involved in the decisions that are made. And part of that is, “we” as parents, have to remove our egos from our children’s successes.

My wife and I, years ago –––before we had children –––went through a whole programme and the emphasis was that your children should bring neither guilt nor glory.

PersonalFN : Wow, nicely said…

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: It’s easier said than done; but I think you should love, provide for your children and be very generous.  You also should neither derive your glory nor guilt from the decisions and choices they ultimately make.  That’s probably the best advice I can give to parents.

PersonalFN : UNC is your favourite college of course…but could you name a couple of colleges which you would recommend to students? (Anywhere in the world)

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: The good news is there are a lot of great schools and universities. I’m probably biased by a couple that I had personal experiences with, but I can give a couple of those (colleges/universities)…

I did my doctoral work at the University of Michigan, and I think that one is particularly a great university.

I’ve known a lot of people who have gone through University of Chicago, and I think it’s a rigorous university that stands for very high quality.

Stanford University is very good, perhaps blessed with the best location. 

PersonalFN : What are your recommended readings for MBA aspirants?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: I don’t think we can ever read too much; so I would recommend something! (Laughs)

I fear that in our society, too much of our readings are on social media and things like that.

But what I would say to someone who is considering an MBA is, learn as much as you can about yourself. You might get to discover that through reading.

You will get the greatest benefit out of an MBA education if you go to the programme knowing why you are there, and knowing what it is that you want to get out of the experience. This is the advice I always give to any applicant.

Students tend to fall into two categories: those who have a very clear understanding--I am here because I want to learn a particular thing….and if I learn and master this, or if I make these connections, then I will get to this particular place in life.  Those students really prosper from an MBA education.

There’s another group of students that aren’t quite sure why they are there; but they think that this is the next step in their career. They soon believe that they’ll benefit because they have made it into a programme that’s very prestigious. There could be lots of reasons; none of these are bad reasons.

But when they show-up, they are overwhelmed with all these opportunities that are available for them. And it’s almost like standing in front of a banquet line that has thousands of dishes on it. You only have one plate; you can’t eat everything or sample in the banquet line, and you have no guidance about what you should sample and what you should not. So, they (students) can spend the first several months if not years in the programme, dabbling in this and dabbling in that.

I would really say that the best way to be prepared for the MBA programme is to know why you are there.

If you come to a programme like ours, meet with the people who are going to be helping you find a job, and make it very clear to them: why you are there, and what are you trying to accomplish. Obviously you may change your mind, but you will go with a clear focus of what are you trying to accomplish. And then we can help you get there as quickly as possible.

PersonalFN : And what role does counselling play while the student is already enrolled for the programme?

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: We have numerous counsellors to help students through the process of searching for jobs, courses, and those sorts of things.

Students also will find that they are going to make affiliations with professors, different members of the staff, and so forth, and those informal relationships can also be very, very helpful in sorting out what is they want to do. That sort of counsel is enviable.

They also may know friends who went through the programme before them; they may have friends who are just a year ahead of them, who can give them a lot of counsel.

But nobody should try to do a graduate degree on their own. It’s always good to have advice and counsel from lots of different people.

It’s very common that you get into the programme and you discover things and you say, well I was confident that I want to do this, but now that I have discovered what that’s about or these are the opportunities, I shift to move in these other directions. We have lots of people at our school to help student think through their options.       

PersonalFN : Three people whom you admire the most and your 3 favourite books.

Dr. Douglas Shackelford: Well, today (January 15) is Martin Luther King’s (Jr.) birthday back in the United States; it’s a national holiday. And racial relations in the United States ––we are not the only country––have been tense throughout my life.

I’m a Caucasian, but I grew up in an area which was predominantly African-American. So, I have seen some difficulties in black-white relations in the United States. Nobody in the United States improved relationships as much as Dr. King. I have great admiration for him. He was person who was very influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, here in India with his non-violence.

I have an admiration for anybody who can move society along, fighting for freedom but doing it in a way that doesn’t destroy your society. Those people (Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi) were great; there are not a lot of people like them. So, I guess we are setting a very high standard for admiration. ☺

I don’t necessarily think that you to be have to be great person. You know why? I know a lot of people who might be more humble, they do good work each day, and they do a great job in their particular role ….and I think those people are worthy of admiration.

PersonalFN : And your three favourite books?

Three favourite books?  So, probably one of the books I’m reading today, because I read a lot of books.

I like anything that Mark Twain wrote. I think he’s the greatest American author; in fact I had a little free time yesterday and I read a Mark Twain book.

Anything by Leo Tolstoy is a must. ‘War & Peace’ is this greatest novel I have ever read.    

And then there’s an Indian author, Siddhartha Mukherjee; I have enjoyed reading a couple of his books. He wrote a book on ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’, it’s about cancer and cancer research over the decades. Then his book, ‘The Gene’, is excellent. I don’t understand everything in his books. But he’s a doctor with an extraordinary ability to write and communicate very complex knowledge. 

The best book I read this past year was a book named, ‘Janesville’. It’s a book about Janesville, Wisconsin, a small city in the United States. The General Motors plant that had been there for about eighty years, shutdown in 2008. The book is on what happened in the decade after the shutdown.

It’s a tragic story of people losing their jobs, families breaking up. All the things that crumble, when otherwise prosperous communities are hit by an economic downturn––which has happened in a number of small cities in the United States in recent years. So, a sad story, but well done.

PersonalFN :  Alright Dr. Shackelford, thank you very much for you valuable insights and valuable time. I am sure our viewers will benefit from your views.

Action points to plan your child’s education at UNC Kenan–Flagler Business School:

To know how to go about planning your child’s education, watch our exclusive video:

What would be the approximate cost of a 4 year undergrad degree for a student from India?

Year 1980 1990 2010 2017 2025 est*
Cost of 4-year undergrad at UNC Kenan–Flagler 4 x USD 8,300
= USD 33200
4 x USD 17,500
= USD 70,000
4 x USD 47,000
= USD 1,88,000
4 x USD 69,000
= USD 2,76,000
4 x USD 1,01,944
= USD 407,776
USD per INR 8.2 16.9 43.4 63.5 80.4
(3% decline p.a.)
Cost in INR 272,240 1,182,300 8,166,720 12,700,000 23,798,400
BSE 30 Index 100 783 17,559 35,000 -
Units of BSE 30 Index to pay for the education 2,722 units 1,509 units 465 units 363 units -
Gold price per 10 grams, INR 1,330 3,688 16,706 29,800 -
Grams of Gold 2,047 units 3,206 units 4,889 units 4,262 units -
Note: Total cost taken, including tuition + living expenses
*assuming an increase of 5% p.a.

And how should you invest for your child’s future to get there?

Building a portfolio using mutual fund schemes recommended by PersonalFN

Asset Class Range Allowed Investment Options Allocation 
 For Child's Education at UNC Kenan–Flagler (goal with a 10 years’ time frame)
Cash (Contingency requirement) - - PersonalFN Recommended Liquid Funds 18 months of monthly expense amount
Debt (+/-5% of suggested allocation, rounded up) - PersonalFN Recommended Debt Funds 20%
Equity (+/-5% of suggested allocation, rounded up) - PersonalFN Recommended Equity Funds 60%
Gold (+/-10% of suggested allocation, rounded up) - PersonalFN Recommended Gold Funds 20%
(Source: PersonalFN Research)

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