September 07, 2006

The First 100 Days

This mini-elective is one of the most popular courses taught at France's INSEAD. Since 2004 the course has had students taking the reins of a simulated company during its first 100 days in business. Before they can even sign up for the class, students have to form a team of four, with one student serving as chief executive, another as chief financial officer, and the other two heading operations and marketing and sales. There is a limit of 10 teams per session, and you can't drop out of the course once you have won a seat in the competitive bidding process.

But the class is not your usual B-school simulation, where students input information to a computer that spits out results that show whether they did things correctly. Professor Patrick Turner relies instead on friends—real accountants, journalists, and lawyers—and his own acting abilities to give students a taste of what acquiring a new business is like. Turner serves as chairman of the board for each team's company, and when students send e-mails to employees in various departments of their company—such as Lucy in accounting—they're actually corresponding with their professor. And Turner at times brings in actual lawyers, for instance when students have to make legal decisions about their business.

"The First 100 Days" is probably one of the only classes that requires that students bring in their cell phones—and always have them turned on. Lisa Long, who graduated from INSEAD in July, recalls a 4 a.m. phone call to say production at her fake company was offline. It was her job to wake up and make a decision about how to proceed. Grades are determined by the chairman of the board (Turner), your teammates, and the real people you encounter along the way. "It was like The Apprentice and Big Brother wrapped in one," says Brendan Collins, who also graduated from INSEAD in July. But students won't tell you too much more than that. They sign a nondisclosure agreement at the start of the session so that Turner can keep surprising future participants.

Head here for some more courses that are off the beaten path...