Prof. Nicolaj Siggelkow on Teaching Strategy

Nicolaj Siggelkow
Prof. Nicolaj Siggelkow

First-year executive MBA students at both our San Francisco and Philadelphia campuses get to know Prof. Nicolaj Siggelkow when they take the strategy module of the core Management course. We asked Prof. Siggelkow to tell us more about teaching in Wharton’s EMBA program as well as his research and involvement in the Mack Institute for Innovation Management. Here’s what he said:

Q. What EMBA courses do you teach?

In the summer, I teach first-year EMBA students on both coasts in the core Management course. In the fall, I teach an elective in San Francisco called Strategy and Competitive Advantage for second-year students. Both of those courses involve case discussion as well as a project component. In the core course, it is a team project where students pick a company and then try to apply all of the tools and frameworks we talked about across the modules. In the elective, there is a shorter individual paper. A number of students choose to study their own companies for that project.

Q. What do you want students to get out of your classes?

The core course should give them a set of tools and frameworks to allow them to analyze strategies and sharpen their strategic thinking skills. The elective is a continuation of the first-year class.

Q. What kinds of students take your Strategy elective?

Many of the students in that course have managerial roles in larger organizations that require them to think about strategic planning. Another set of students are entrepreneurs or students interested in entrepreneurship so they take the class to think about strategy and business plans going forward. I also see students who work in venture capital, as they want to better understand how to analyze firms when making funding decisions. It’s a good mix of people.

Q. What do you like about teaching executive MBA students?

It’s exciting to teach EMBA students because they immediately try to apply the tools I teach them when they go back to work. Then, they’ll usually come back and tell me how it went; it’s fun to get feedback on what you teach. It’s also interesting to hear their perspectives during our class discussions. It’s often at a level that you wouldn’t get in a typical MBA classroom. For example, in a class session on outsourcing, we may have several students in the classroom who actually sell or have bought the services being discussed. The experience that students bring into the EMBA program makes the classroom experience quite special.

As for teaching in San Francisco, I was an undergraduate at Stanford so I have some affinity to the area as well as friends living there. So on a personal level, it’s always fun to visit San Francisco. Also, the types of students on the West Coast are a bit different from the East Coast. They tend to be more tech and engineering focused. It’s great to have a mix of students on both coasts.

Q. You also serve as co-director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management. What does that involve?

The Mack Institute is the interface between Wharton and the corporate sector. The Institute has three broad objectives. One is to help create research around the topic of innovation management so we sponsor research. The second part is related to the dissemination of that knowledge and education. We run conferences for our partner companies and workshops. We also offer innovation clinics, which are small classes for students and faculty members at Penn who have an innovation idea and want to take it further. Our third objective is to serve as a facilitator in the exchange of ideas. So we help connect our corporate partners with students and faculty at Penn who are interested in working with real firms on business ideas.

Q. Does the Mack Institute have opportunities for EMBA students?

Absolutely! In the Collaborative Impact Program, students can pick and choose ideas to work on from our partner companies. We have EMBA students from both coasts as well as full-time MBA students in that program. We also run conferences for our partners; one is located in Philadelphia and the other in San Francisco so our students are invited to attend those conferences.

Q. What are your research areas?

I study how firms evolve over time and how strategies evolve in organizations. I also study the benefits that firms get from focusing their strategy either on certain products or customer segments. In addition, I’ve done research on organizational design and what impacts that has on the strategies that are pursued in organizations.