Business Schools Face up to Global Challenge

08/04/2011 Barcelona

Business Schools Face up to Global Challenge

You can see the conference highlights on twitter.

Members of IESE's International Advisory Board, deans of business schools and executives gathered for the conference "Globalization and Leadership Development in an Integrated World. The role of companies and business schools," held yesterday and today on IESE's Barcelona campus.

IESE Dean Jordi Canals opened proceedings by saying that the focus of the conference was the growing concern among senior executives and business schools that so-called emerging economies are somehow changing the rules of the game, in terms of how they think of leadership development. Each session in the conference was designed to examine this from a different angle.

The session was moderated by Aaron Heslehurst, a presenter on BBC World. He said we can't fight globalization, we have to deal with it, adding that countries that got rich from the industrial revolution are being supplanted by new ones. Canals then took up the theme, saying there is growing demand for business education. He said that perhaps schools focus too much on soft skills and added that they need to learn to deal with other cultures and different ways of doing things. He said that schools need to work with and learn from companies more than they do at present. "What worked in the past may not work in the future," he said. "In the business world, we must stand for principles and everyone should know what they are."

Ted Snyder, the dean-elect of Yale University School of Management, took a 30-year perspective of the MBA. He said it is still the best designed degree for business people, but that schools' global programs have been limited in scope. He said that competition between schools emphasizes quality, not quantity, but that management education is very fragmented. There are over 13,000 accredited business schools in the world. Business education is also expensive; the cost of an MBA has risen above inflation every year over past 30 years.

He was followed by Dipak Jain, dean of Insead, who said that during the 100 years that business schools have been with us the focus has shifted through colonialism to capitalism to the present, where it has shifted to human capital development. Business schools are therefore in the driving seat, he said, but agreed with Canals that they need to move from theoretical models to experiential global learning. Business schools should learn from medical schools, where doctors have to go through a period of practical training. He said that schools have to attract leaders who are going to make an impact of lasting significance and not just achieve personal success. "We are paying lip service to social responsibility and not taking it seriously," he said, The future of competition is collaboration, and that applies to business schools as well, he said.

This was followed by a session entitled "The globalization of business education: What international managers need to learn." It was moderated by Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist who said that despite the hundreds of books with the word globalization in the title published during the past year, there was stil much confusion over what globalization actually means. He outlined what he called five myths about globalization: that geography doesn't matter and you can sell same product everywhere; that politics are irrelavant because we are dominated by multinationals, depsite the fact that the State is important and intrusive; that globalization represents the triumph of big companies, whereas it makes world more comfortable for small companies; that it is inevitable and irreversible, whereas it can go into reverse, as happened with the outbreak of the First World War and, finally, that globalization means the triumph off Western business and values.

He was followed by Robert F. Bruner, dean of Darden School of Business, who chaired the task force into how globalization was being taught in business schools. "We don't really know what most of the 13,000 business schools are teaching," he said. He said that business teaching is not standing still as an industry and that many models are being tried. "One model for globalization doesn't fit all," he said. Schools impart knowledge but effective management requires other skills such as social awareness and being a rounded individual and a person capable of motivating others and working in teams, he said. Schools think of management training but what they need to think of is management development, based on developing competencies and high-engagement learning.

IESE's Pankaj Ghemawat commented that people have an exaggerated idea of just how extensive globalization is, pointing out the the United States' biggest trading partner was Canada, followed by China and Mexico. "We operate in an environment in which there is broad agreement that globalization is good," he said. "But are we equipping students to deal with what is in fact a contested concept?"

Bernard Yeung, dean of the National University of Singapore, said that Asia suffered from a lack of available talent. On the one hand, he said, you can't transplant U.S. and European business management and practices and expect them to work, on the other, many Asian cultures are held by a lack of aspiration and an obsession with an exam culture that discourages innovation.

The afternoon sessions addressed developing leaders in emerging markets and devising international strategies.

The following day's sessions delved into aligning a company's global strategy with leadership development and ways to boost impact in a global economy.