Jeff Sandefer is a founder of the Acton School of Business, an innovative MBA program in Austin, Texas focusing on entrepreneurship. Sandefer received his MBA degree from Harvard University before launching five successful companies in several industries, most notably in energy. He translated that business experience into becoming an award-winning professor at the University of Texas, where he was named by BusinessWeek as one of the top entrepreneurship professors in the United States.
Kaizen: In 1996, you were teaching at the University of Texas and honored by BusinessWeek, yet soon you would be leaving to start a new business school with a very different approach. Why was BusinessWeek impressed with your teaching?
Sandefer: The BusinessWeek award was based on a survey of students, which I think is the best measure of a teacher, especially if there is a strong learning contract in place. After all, who other than students knows if a class has delivered on its promises? I believe that this is the same reason Acton wins so many honors from Princeton Review because unlike most business school polls it asks students: “Did you get what you were promised?” Of course, the BusinessWeek and Princeton Review awards really belong to all the Acton teachers, each a successful CEO who is committed to his or her students and the Socratic Method.
Our secret is that we set high expectations and hold students accountable to their promises. It helps that teachers are rewarded based on student satisfaction, after the students have been evaluated based on a forced grading curve. In other words, we have an incentive system that rewards performance, just like in the real world. No grade inflation, with rewards tied to results. It’s a system I wish more people in academia would adopt.