On this day in Jochen Wirtz’s EMBA services management class, students trade thoughts about capturing value in the service economy and understanding service quality. They also dig into a case on logistics giant DHL, complete a group presentation that focuses on a loyalty program or customer relationship management strategy, and sit down for a chat with guest speaker Yvonne Chan, director of corporate development and chief financial officer for the Maritime Port Authority Singapore.
Wirtz carefully constructs his class sessions to keep the pace moving and the students always engaged. It’s a high-wire act that requires precision and preparation, but one that reaps rewards for both the student and the teacher.
“We are not the sage on the stage anymore,” says Wirtz, marketing professor, vice dean of graduate studies, and formerly founding director of the UCLA–NUS Executive MBA Program at the National University of Singapore (NUS). “When I teach EMBAs, I draw out their knowledge in the classroom.”
His students are not the only ones who recognize his teaching excellence. He received the 2012 Academy of Marketing Science Outstanding Marketing Teacher Award and in 2014 reached the Honor Roll of NUS’ prestigious university-level Annual Teaching Excellence Award (ATEA) for winning the award three times. He also serves as an international fellow of the Service Research Center at Karlstad University in Sweden, and an academic scholar at the Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures at Cornell University. Wirtz began his career as a banker, but once he found the EMBA classroom at NUS, he found a new home. When he started teaching in the EMBA Program more than 20 years ago, he discovered–and has since nurtured–a place of shared wisdom.
His formula for keeping students engaged consists of several parts that include carefully planned videos, case studies, many of which result from his research and consulting, frequent visits from C-suite executives, student presentations, and discussion and more discussion.
In fact, throughout the years, Wirtz has reduced his own airtime in the classroom and focused more on fueling the conversation.
“I always ask questions,” he says. And he invests extra effort into ensuring participation: He asks students who dominate the discussions to help give others a chance to speak and students who are quiet to share. “I will push everyone to contribute.”
Making the magic work does require time up front.
Before the first class, Wirtz reviews his students’ backgrounds, walks into the first class with topics that are tailored to student interests, and knows whom to call on for each topic. He determines the agenda and mix—discussion, video, case study, presentation time, executive visits—for each session before the course starts. “You have to be well prepared. Everything has to be lined up and ready to go.”
Wirtz enjoys contributing to the program’s impact. “It is quite amazing to see how students change their lives because of what they are exposed to in the course of their EMBA.” As a lifelong learner, he also reaps other rewards.
“I love to teach EMBA students because you can learn something each time you teach,” he says. “To me, I go on the learning journey with the students.”