Preparing for the Curveball

MBA 50th Anniversary Tour: Shanghai


Paddy Miller

Todays MBA helps tomorrow’s leaders prepare for every curveball, says Professor Paddy Miller / Photo: Pauta

Celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the IESE MBA continue, this time in Shanghai, China. IESE partner, the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), hosted a special event in March for faculty and program participants, with a keynote by Professor Paddy Miller on innovation.

Prof. Miller’s session, entitled "What do HR directors miss in the drive for innovation" covered a range of topics: the evolution of MBA programs from a ‘teaching the basics’ to assuming students arrive with a solid knowledge base; the changing meaning of leadership; and a deep focus on innovation in teaching and learning.

From Knowledge to Action

Prof. Miller presented the case study method: the lynch pin of the active learning methodology deployed across the IESE MBA. Central to this action-oriented approach, he said, is the question: What would you do?

He presented a case study on BP as an example. Following a number of small-scale incidents on rigs in the mid-2000s, the U.S. government commissioned a report, which found that BP had violated international safety standards. Miller, whose research specializes in change management and leading innovation in multinationals, posed a challenge to his audience: you are the CEO of BP with 100 days to implement a strategic plan in the context of a reputation crisis. What do you do?

The session illustrated the efficacy of the case method as an innovative learning tool in identifying a broad diversity of potential strategies and leveraging the experience and insight of participants from different sectors and backgrounds.

Bracing for the Curveball

Key to understanding and developing effective leadership competencies, said Miller, is learning how to make decisions. And understanding their potential impact. He asked his audience how they, as CEO of BP, would have responded to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Underpinning risk assessment, analysis, communication and response strategies, he said, is a simple question: ‘what do you believe?’

The session drew animated discussion from participants, especially around the topic of the Internet and use of social media, which can fan crises in real time. "What we are teaching tomorrow’s leaders on our MBA program is that they need to grapple with decision-making in a context in which your every statement can cement in the public image and destroy your reputation – overnight."

Doing an MBA today, said Miller, is about practicing and preparing. "Tomorrow’s leaders need to be ready for whatever curveball comes their way – and there will be plenty."

Learning to See the Biggest Picture

In today’s highly complex, global business landscape, change is a certainty, said Miller. And organizations need to be aware that change management begins at the bottom. "As strategies flex and adapt, the organization needs to adapt from the bottom up," he said. Having a rounded, general management perspective of the organization – the approach taken by the IESE MBA – means being able to see your business holistically; there will always be the risk-takers, but keeping your focus on safety across your entire organization is key to navigating risks, uncertainty and change, he said.

IESE Dean, Professor Jordi Canals, closed the celebrations with a summary of the IESE MBA over the last 50 years.

Central to the program, he said, is a commitment to international experience, innovation, ideas and impact: "the impact of a business school can and should be defined in terms of its impact on its students." The enduring popularity of the IESE MBA, he said, is evidenced in its diverse and global community of past, present and future students.