As recruiters demand more, Cox BBAs hone skills for the new economy.

As the business landscape evolves to be more technology-driven, agile and team-centric, SMU Cox is preparing Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) students for success by teaching and honing essential skills.

Today’s digital economy demands data acumen, aptitude and insight. As well, soft skills, often underestimated in importance, are instrumental for effective leadership and team-building. And, because employers expect new hires to hit the ground running, internships, simulations and hands-on projects with real-world clients are vital to a successful career launch upon graduation.

Recognizing that hiring companies prefer students with more time in business school, gaining knowledge and skills for today’s marketplace, SMU Cox recently expanded its Business Direct enrollment program. Starting in the fall of 2020, most BBA students will enter Cox as first-year students rather than waiting until their junior year, as done in previous years. The expanded program will offer 300 to 350 freshmen admission into Cox. The change in policy gives Cox multiple advantages. Not only does this answer employer feedback, it also helps Cox enrich diversity. Previously, admission was primarily based on a student’s undergraduate GPA, whereas the newly expanded program evaluates students on their academic achievement, leadership and other qualifications. Under the Cox umbrella, students will have more time to connect to resources and be groomed for the workplace of the future. The esteemed BBA Scholars program, funded by generous donor scholarships and designed to attract candidates that might not otherwise be able to attend Cox, will remain unchanged.

What Students Want from SMU Cox

Cox BBA students are some of the nation’s finest—our BBA graduates display the qualities of next-generation leaders and managers that companies want to hire. They arrive at Cox with high expectations. And they leave Cox prepared to prove their mettle. More than 70 percent of Cox BBA students come from outside of Texas. What draws them here?

“I knew a business degree would provide me with a strong base for any career I wanted to pursue,” says Taylor Vinson BBA ’19. “Cox was the perfect program because of its connections to Dallas and the competitive degree program.” Pleased that her new financial capabilities, such as knowing how to understand investments and financial statements, complemented her marketing studies, she considers an experiential learning project one of her best experiences. “As a marketing student, I participated in the Fox Sports marketing practicum to work on a real-world project for the Dallas Mavericks. It was amazing to work with my peers to analyze the situation and propose plausible solutions.”

Opportunities for collaboration and problem-solving are engrained in the Cox culture. Naomi Samuel BBA ’19 says the school’s prestigious reputation, professors and challenging curriculum drove her decision to attend. Samuel worked on an engaged learning fellowship project called Business Natural, a photo-interview series of black women in the professional and academic worlds. Samuel also participated in the BBA Honors Marketing Practicum for the Dallas Mavericks project. After meeting with Fox production managers and spending time in the studio during a Mavericks pregame show, she learned what most professionals don’t learn until they are actually on the job: “Production is a team effort as intricately coordinated as an orchestra!” At Cox, she says, “I found myself in rooms I’d never seen myself in before. Resources, connections and unique opportunities are available to Cox students when we simply ask and shoulder-tap the leaders around us.”

What Employers Want From Students

To stay apprised of what today’s hiring companies expect from job candidates, Cox consults with external partners to discuss what skills are sought after in the marketplace. Here, several people who have insightful perspectives on the Cox BBA program – both as alumni and as recruiters – share thoughts on hiring our grads.

With such a competitive market, companies expect well-rounded BBA graduates who can hit the ground running. At the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Partner and Managing Director Lauren Taylor BBA ’07 says, “Now more than ever, business students need ingenuity and judgment to find game-changing insights that lie within unprecedented amounts of data.” Her firm wants “smart, curious individuals with drive, passion and humility.”

“A critical part of our work is to understand what the workforce of the future will look like,” says Andrew Galloway BBA ’08 and PMBA ’13, performance improvement finance manager at global consultancy EY. “Technology is a large part of it.” Hence, both businesses and business schools are transforming to meet innovation’s onward march and how it alters practices and professions. Nevertheless, EY’s Galloway says academic achievement and a record of accomplishment are still essential when considering job candidates. “We can’t control the technologies or predict what the jobs will be with 100 percent certainty,” he offers. “However, as long as you are gaining fundamental business skills, have a thirst for learning, and are staying adaptable, then you are in a good position for jobs of the future yet to be defined.”

The Cox Career Management Center integrates learning with practical steps to help students secure their futures. Vinson notes, “Entering the job market, I feel ready to apply to a variety of jobs. My classes gave me the skills and specific knowledge needed to be successful in my field, but Cox as a whole set me up to be a competitive candidate by helping with resume and interview prep, as well as presentation and communication skills.”

Lisa Tran, managing director of corporate relations and strategic partnerships at Cox, elaborates: “We practice a lot of case interviews. You can be tech-savvy and know how to crunch numbers, but how do you present the ideas?” Accordingly, the CMC challenges students using a variety of formats. “Sometimes, candidates will have a few hours to assess and present a case,” says Tran. “Sometimes, they’ll be asked on the spot.” Without adequate practice, the case-type interview could easily rattle unprepared candidates.

Cox also prepares candidates to answer ambiguous questions, without having the benefit of sufficient information. Brandy Dalton, director of BBA/MS career programs, explains, “We want our graduates to be able to come up with an answer to an unstructured question, which may involve multiple inputs and perspectives. Who do they go through? How do they get information from people they don’t work with, and whose information is critical to solving the problem?”

Dalton suggests that for a generation that often communicates in 140 characters or less, improving writing skills is a critical focus – as is communicating about unpleasant subjects, like failure. “We coach candidates on proper storytelling and their ability to talk about failures,” notes Dalton. “‘Fail fast and move on’ is a line we often use.” Dalton emphasizes that failing is not all bad, and in fact, can be a sign of stretching one’s skill set, “We want students to understand they have the ability to be creative. They shouldn’t be so afraid to fail that they cripple their thinking.”

“Firms, including mine, are looking for candidates who are equipped with contextual knowledge of the technology world around them. In my role, this means being familiar with not only the technology of today, but also the technology of yesterday and tomorrow.”

– Richmond Dewan, business technology analyst, Deloitte

Richmond Dewan BBA ’18, a business technology analyst at Deloitte, says, “Teaching students how to identify, adapt and grow with the future of their industry is a huge advantage—and SMU hits all three.” He adds that not everyone can understand the technical aspects of everything, which is where communication skills can make or break a successful manager. “It’s important to have the creative and professional soft skills necessary to talk about technology in an everyday language,” he says.

The yet-to-be-defined workplace of the future requires adaptable and eager learners. A big driver in the workplace, according to BCG’s Taylor, is digital technology and its application. BCG is helping clients harness the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and other tools that were hard to imagine just a short time ago. “Success requires a growth mindset, as well as an agile approach that enables us to adapt quickly to change and seamlessly collaborate with colleagues from a range of backgrounds and disciplines,” she says.

As innovation and technology demand new approaches in the business world and the Cox School refines and evolves its offerings, the fundamentals still apply. “Whether in the interview, resume or involvement in activities on campus, energy and enthusiasm count,” says Galloway. Soft skills, such as communications, leadership and teamwork “are the catalysts that allow your knowledge and experience to rise to the top.”

Next-Gen Business School: Laying the Groundwork for the Future

In order for students to bridge from academic knowledge to how business really works, the BBA program emphasizes experiential learning in and out of the classroom. Tran explains that case studies tend to be strong in theory but outdated; in-class simulations are limited in the number of outputs. “Real-world” projects, however, provide the ambiguity and opportunity to solve problems in a manner consistent with on-the-job experience. Accordingly, the curriculum is being reshaped to include more experiential learning projects for hands-on experience that is challenging to impart in the classroom.

Soft skills, critical to student success in the workplace, are a focal point of the BBA curriculum. Cox is one of few schools that require career-minded coursework such as leadership, networking, change management, communication and presentation skills. Cox BBAs spend a full semester taking sessions on these topics.

Bright Futures Ahead

Feeling prepared to enter the workforce is as important as being prepared. BBA student Naomi Samuel feels confident about her new position consulting at Dallas-based Sendero. “Cox taught me how to learn, even when you’re thrown into disciplines you don’t have a total grip on, and that’s why I’m confident I’ll adjust to this next chapter of my life,” she says.

Cameron Farr BBA ’19 credits SMU’s reputation and preparation from the Alternative Asset Program for his achievement: “I pursued a finance major with a real estate concentration. This interest, alongside SMU and Cox offerings, helped me find a job with a real estate investment team within Goldman Sachs.” Indeed, the highly competitive Alternative Asset Management Program attracts the crème de la crème of finance students. Only half of those who apply are admitted. The proof of the program’s strength is evident: Cox is one of the top three business schools in the nation for recruiting by Goldman Sachs.

“I joined the Real Estate Club on a whim my freshman year. Through the club, I have been mentored by industry leaders, toured ground-breaking property developments and flown across the country to attend real estate conferences. Our adviser is constantly reaching out to companies to connect students with employment opportunities.”

– Cameron Farr, BBA Scholar

According to Paul Civello BBA ’19, also in the “Alts” Program, Cox helps students bridge the gap from textbook to real-world application by relating principles and practices to successful businesses and current events. Civello adds, “Professor Bill Maxwell drove us to think critically, work hard and perfect the set of tools we would need to perform in our internships.” As a testament, Civello landed his ideal job in investment banking at Houlihan Lokey.

Civello says, “What stands out to me the most about Cox are the people. From my first exposure as a senior in high school to my final semester at Cox, the people have been the difference makers. The faculty is encouraging, understanding and helpful. The students are friendly, eager and competitive. I believe this combination is the reason so many employers come to Cox looking for new employees.”


BBA Scholars Program Made Possible by Key Donors

Many of the students featured here are members of a highly select group of Cox undergraduates called the BBA Scholars. Each year, the Cox BBA Scholars Program recruits 100 to 120 exceptional first-year students from the U.S. and the world, with an average 3.8 GPA, 1495 SAT and 33 ACT, as well as demonstrated leadership.

Most BBA Scholars are members of the University Honors Program, participate in SMU’s study abroad programs and pursue double majors and minors in other academic fields. Generous donors provide the funds to allow each scholar to receive financial support based on merit. In 2007, Edwin L. Cox created an endowment to support the BBA Scholars program. Since the creation of that endowment, Peggy and Carl Sewell, the CFP Foundation and other donors have generously provided annual funds to support the BBA Scholars program.

BBA Scholars are pre-selected for Cox admission based on their application for admission to SMU and their academic performance before entering SMU. Students are notified of their selection for the BBA Scholars Program shortly after receiving acceptance to SMU. As BBA Scholars, they participate in the normal SMU Cox curriculum, but have the added advantages of early access to Cox advising and career services, and other special programs and events designed for Business Scholars.