My sixth semester teaching Finance for Entrepreneurial Ventures at Creighton University in the Heider College of Business is winding down. Last night was our final exam and the sixth final exam I’ve administered as a professor. I’ve gotten into a nice groove with the course and material; freshening up the in-class work and cases we read to supplement the book. I sometimes wish I could go back to my first semester class and apologize for being so new to it all. As much as one measures career advancement, I can also measure growth in the classroom in both the depth of the content as well as my approach and it’s delivery.
I always have the final exam one to two weeks before the last class depending on class size to (hopefully) ensure that they aren’t too bogged down their last week studying for the balance of their course finals. Every semester has had unique dynamics but the final is always one of my favorite times because I get to see just how far my students have come. My course focuses very heavily on being able to understand reading financials, driving the inputs for financials, and then providing a well-constructed narrative and dissection. I want to teach them how to think more like CEO’s not just CFO’s.
I want my students to understand not just the data points of a business, but what drove those numbers and how you can change or influence them with sales and operations strategies and tactics. I want them to understand how to compare data and leverage market research to make well-informed business decisions. I want them to think beyond what they are reading in front of them and use context and other factors to construct well-qualified assumptions.
The final is constructed into two parts: Finance Fundamentals (60 points) and then an Applied Writing Section (40 points). The objective is to ensure that they understand the mechanics that will help them start-up, manage, and exit a business with the first section and then be able to take multiple financial indicators and statements and make specific business decisions based on conditions that I supply to them. At no point is my goal to trip them up or find obscure content to check for their reading comprehension. My goal is to have them know and understand the things that are fundamental and taking it a step further apply a more strategic understanding of where the numbers come from, what drives them internally and externally and how they, as the owner, would respond.
I tell them during our exam prep class that it will take them some time. It is a long final. I always have students that use the full three hours and no one has ever finished in under an hour, but if they come prepared they will be able to manage the exam with confidence. The challenge should empower not discourage. Set the bar high, prepare adequately, and earn the success that comes with accomplishing something that was difficult.
As I sat reading their narratives last night, 40 points worth of dissection and commentary on the business operations of a well-known publicly traded company (ahem, Starbucks) I couldn’t help but smile. Fourteen weeks into the semester and I could see very real progress and growth. In-depth analysis where there was previously simple summation. They demonstrated confidence in their recommendations, consideration of multiple inputs in and outside the organization and creative problem solving for both driving revenue and reducing costs. They outlined and qualified their assumptions with real data and not just a gut feeling.
I realize that I only get to spend 16 weeks or so three hours at a time with my students, and I can only hope that they leave with both a thing or two that is new and immediately beneficial to them personally as well as an evolved confidence in their ability to process information and communicate to the world that is wide and opening more for them each day. A world that will demand the best that they have to offer in the years to come.