Intimidated by Finance? Ross Professors Have a Cure for Managers Who Need to Deal with Numbers

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Professors Gautam Kaul and Greg Miller use a combination of online courses and in-person coaching to give managers a deep understanding of finance and accounting.

As people rise through the ranks at work, they often become responsible for budgets whether or not they have financial experience.

Michigan Ross Professors Gautam Kaul and Greg Miller, who work with companies around the world, see this trend accelerating as organizations become leaner, less hierarchical, and increasingly require decisions backed by analytics.

Kaul

That’s a tough spot to be in for a manager or high-potential employee intimidated by numbers. It’s why Kaul and Miller developed a new hybrid Ross Executive Education course that combines online and in-person learning for people with limited financial experience — Finance for Strategic Decision Making.

“Companies want their leaders to bring everything they can to the table, but you can’t do that if you don’t know some fundamentals of finance and accounting,” says Kaul, professor of finance and Fred M. Taylor Professor of Business Administration. “Even if you are very talented you will be shortchanged.”

The program allows people to take the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) online, and pass the tests, on their own schedule before attending the classroom portion. Since everyone in the room is on the same page, the two-day, in-person session is intense and focuses on exercises that put your new skills to work. Passing the online tests is required to attend the in-person portion.

Miller

“When you show up I’m not explaining what a balance sheet is or how to read an income statement,” says Miller, Ernst and Young Professor of Accounting. “We’re all talking the same language by this point. We’re going to probe your thoughts and show you how to convince other people of your viewpoint using what you’ve learned. You need to do more than analyze information. You need to put it together in a way other people can understand. That’s what we do after the online portion.”

This approach saves companies time and money, as the typical way to teach finance to non-financial managers is a full week in the classroom. In the future they hope this flexibility allows the course to be exported to places — companies or countries — where there’s high demand for managers who need to learn financial acumen.

“We want this to be accessible,” says Miller. “I see a lot of managers hide from numbers. What I want is for every manager and leader to contribute everything they can. And the common language in business is numbers. You need to speak the language if you’re going to get anywhere.”

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Media Contact: michiganrosspr@umich.edu