Moving beyond Covid-19: Inter Metro, Puerto Rico

Inter Metro’s Antonio Fernós Sagebién looks at how the Puerto Rican institution’s offerings and plans for the immediate future have been affected by the pandemic

How will Covid-19 affect Business Schools’ outlook, strategy and offerings, both now and in the future? Business Impact’s fifth edition in print turned to the BGA network to canvas the collected thoughts of Business Schools based in India, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Poland, and the Netherlands to find out.

In this third part of our serialisation online, Antonio Fernós Sagebién – Associate Professor at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, Metropolitan Campus (Inter Metro) – shares his views on the awaited ‘new normal’, changes to programme structures, and financial challenges for part-time students that work full time. Please note that this interview was given in May/June 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic has, in many cases, led to a greatly increased uptake of online learning technology in business education. Although this has been a short-term necessity, does it present the sector with any opportunities in the longer term?

Yes, my university has a long-standing [history] of 100% online programmes (mostly courses that are 75% asynchronous) but now we have had to move [programmes with] 100% presence to hybrid (courses that are 100% online but that are at least 25% synchronous) courses.

As such, 100% of our faculty is now certified by [edtech company] Blackboard and, in our 100% online courses offer, existing courses are being refreshed with new material and modules and new courses are being created.

Going beyond the pandemic’s immediate impact, have the year’s developments influenced your School’s strategy with regards to the use of online technology?

Yes, faculty and students are now required to use online library resources (for both databases and periodicals/journals).

What will be the core challenges for the business education sector in recruiting new students (at both undergraduate and postgraduate level) over the coming three years?  

Our students and my institution take pride in our very low teacher-to-student ratio, along with having personalised class scheduling processes. We now will have less degrees of freedom on our courses scheduling offer.

As most of our MBA students are employed full time, if any specific industry or sector gets affected or labour force is displaced, these students will have no source of funding.

Leaving aside Covid-19, which single new programme, course, or initiative are you most excited about and why? 

New concentration in business analysis and a new master’s degree (non-MBA) specialised in banking administration.

Do you think Business Schools will need to focus more inwardly (and therefore less ‘globally’) than they have been in their teaching in order to address industry needs post-Covid-19? If so, could this have an impact on your School’s international exchange and partnership options?

Yes, indeed. As part of the US, our borders/immigration policies are the same as those of the US. It is always a challenge to get approval on visas for international students in Puerto Rico.

Do you anticipate Covid-19, and related issues, influencing course offerings within the programmes on offer from your School? (E.g. new modules, or new approaches within existing modules)

Yes, financial hardship from new and existing students will force us to create new delivery channels that are not yet validated. Exploring is a part of innovation and students, faculty and administrators are looking for a return to a ‘new normal’ that we have yet to know. Quite possibly, MBA courses will be [start to be] offered in a bimonthly cycle modules.

However, our position is that until we meet this ‘new normal’, we make no sudden moves.

Moving beyond Covid-19: Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)

RSM Dean, Ansgar Richter, on how Covid-19 has accelerated the School’s plans to make technology more prominent in its thinking and why Business Schools must avoid turning inwards

How will Covid-19 affect Business Schools’ outlook, strategy and offerings, both now and in the future? Business Impact’s fifth edition in print turned to the BGA network to canvas the collected thoughts of Business Schools based in India, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Poland, and the Netherlands to find out.

In this second part of our serialisation online, Ansgar Richter – Dean of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) – discusses how the School’s online strategy has evolved, how the crisis has given increased importance its sense of citizenship, and the dangers of ‘turning inwards’.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has, in many cases, led to a greatly increased uptake of online learning technology in business education. Although this has been a short-term necessity, does it present the sector with any opportunities in the longer term?

Most certainly. We have learned a lot over the past months. The turnaround has been quick and effective, and teachers overall are positive. In a post-Covid-19 area, RSM will indeed move to a blended learning approach, and also fully online programmes – but only in those areas where we have unique strengths over what others offer.

Going beyond the pandemic’s immediate impact, have the year’s developments influenced your School’s strategy with regards to the use of online technology?

In the sense that the evolution has been quicker than expected, yes – but the developments were taking place already. For example, we had already established a learning innovation team a number of years ago, and Erasmus University – of which RSM is an integral part – set up an education lab (which includes a television-grade studio). These investments are now paying off, and we plan to accelerate them going forwards. Technology will feature much more strongly in our strategy.

The global financial crisis of 2008 has been linked to an increase in applications to Business School, as people decided the time was right to reassess their career goals and pursue personal and professional development. Do you think the Covid-19 pandemic could have a similar impact?

We definitely saw an increase in applications for our pre-experience programmes for the current academic year, in particular for our MSc programmes. For the post-experience programmes, it is too soon to tell – they will only start next January, but we have no indications of declining demand so far; on the contrary!

I think there are a number of things at play here – students’ desire to reassess their career goals being one of them.

What changes do you anticipate to the number and profile of those applying to programmes at your Business School over the coming three years? Do you envisage greater interest in any individual programme(s) on offer?

One of our flagship programmes is the MSc in global business and sustainability. This programme has already been hugely successful, and we are now seeing demand for this programme growing further. Our MSc in business analytics is also set for further growth.

What will be the core challenges for the business education sector in recruiting new students (at both undergraduate and postgraduate level) over the coming three years?

There is no doubt that international student recruitment has become much more competitive in recent years, at least until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. One challenge that all of us in the sector are facing is how to navigate the rapidly changing political landscape – factors such as visa and right-to-work policies come into play here, but also the rise of authoritarian or nationalistic governments in several countries that show no respect for the values that academic institutions around the world stand for: open exchange, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, equality, and the dignity of every human being regardless of factors such as colour, gender, creed or sexual orientation. I believe students will choose their place of study on the basis of these factors, too.

Another challenge that a lot of Business Schools will have to grapple with relates to pricing. In many universities in the UK, the US and Australia, Business Schools are often the cash cows of the universities, whose income is used to cross-subsidise other programmes. Effectively, these institutions have made the study of business administration too expensive, raising concerns about whether Business Schools contribute to inequality. I believe there needs to be a recalibration.

Business Schools are often encouraged to play a greater role in their local and regional communities. Has Covid-19 inspired any new events, activities or initiatives with this in mind?

We offer free webinars on a regular basis which are very well attended. During the crisis, we have also undergone a Business School Impact System (BSIS) assessment exercise, which has demonstrated the impact that RSM has had and continues to have in our region, the Rotterdam and greater Randstad area. This initiative was in the making before the pandemic, but the crisis has raised the importance of our citizenship in this area.

Leaving aside Covid-19, which single new programme, course, or initiative are you most excited about and why?

In the undergraduate programmes, we are rolling out an initiative called ‘Boost the Bachelor’, which will vastly increase flexibility, provide students with greater choice, and transform the student experience. We are also developing new interdisciplinary programmes with other schools within Erasmus University – for example with our medical school (Erasmus Medical Centre) – and with other institutions, such as the Technical University of Delft.

Do you think Business Schools will need to focus more inwardly (and therefore less ‘globally’) than they have been in their teaching in order to address industry needs post-Covid-19? If so, could this have an impact on your School’s international exchange and partnership options?

‘Turning inwards’ is a danger that we absolutely need to avoid. Some partner institutions are unable to accept international exchange students at this particular time, so the value of having a large network of partner schools to choose from becomes even more apparent. What has become more problematic are highly rigid programme structures, where you rely on one particular partner, or where a residency can only take place within a narrowly defined time window. So, you need greater flexibility, but not to turn away from the idea of international exchange.

Do you anticipate Covid-19, and related issues, influencing course offerings within the programmes on offer from your School?

Yes, we will have a more blended approach. Whether content will change remains to be seen – we have adopted our teaching in line with our mission to be a force for positive change in the world and this is a broad response to current global issues in any case.

There is already an argument that the economic challenges that Covid-19 will bring represent a huge and much-needed opportunity for Business Schools to reinvent their value proposition for the better. What would you most like to see change in the business education industry?

A large proportion of the jobs that will be done in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. Similarly, the meaning of ‘management’ will be totally different in the future, from what it is today. Tomorrow’s managers will need to be incredibly comfortable with constant change. We will need to prepare them for that. The Covid-19 crisis is providing much-needed focus on what’s really important in business education. We educate our students not only for the purpose of making lots of money, but also to enable them to be a force for positive change in society at large.

Ansgar Richter is Dean of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Before joining RSM, he served as Dean of Surrey Business School in the UK.

Portions of this interview feature in ‘Moving management education past Covid-19’ – the cover story in the fifth edition of Business Impact’s print magazine.

Moving beyond Covid-19: Collegium Humanum

How has the management education landscape been affected by Covid-19, and how are Business Schools working to move past the pandemic, both in the short and longer term? Insights from Collegium Humanum-Warsaw Management University, Poland

In spite of the shattering human cost and the innumerable challenges presented by Covid-19, the management education sector has made positive moves over the past six months which promise not only to facilitate management education’s recovery from the pandemic, but also to aid its progression in the face of evolving technologies and student demands in the third decade of the 21st century.

Business Impact’s fifth edition in print turned to the BGA network to canvas the collected thoughts of Business Schools based in India, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Poland, and the Netherlands to find out how they expect the pandemic to affect their outlook, strategy and offerings, both now and in the future. Here, we look in more detail at the thoughts of Paweł Czarnecki, Provost at Collegium Humanum-Warsaw Management University in Poland.

The Covid-19 pandemic has, in many cases, led to a greatly increased uptake of online learning technology in business education. Although this has been a short-term necessity, does it present the sector with any opportunities in the longer term?

When it comes to the strategy of educational activities in the area of business here at Collegium Humanum, we never planned online education because our education philosophy rests largely on the values associated with the creation of networking opportunities and personal relationships among students. In the long run, this translates into their further professional success.

The pandemic situation has, however, forced us to move to the online education sector. From research and observations among our students, we have noticed considerable interest in this form of education and an increased commitment to acquiring knowledge. I am therefore convinced that online education will in no time significantly support traditional forms of education. Yet, one must still admit that online education cannot and will never replace direct contact and meetings with people.

Going beyond the pandemic’s immediate impact, have the year’s developments influenced your School’s strategy with regards to the use of online technology?

We do not know what the situation will be in the coming months. I do hope that the pandemic will be only a memory. We have, however, drawn positive conclusions from this difficult experience, and yes, we will support traditional education with online education technologies. We will also expand our virtual university systems.

The global financial crisis of 2008 has been linked to an increase in applications to Business School, as people decided the time was right to reassess their career goals and pursue personal and professional development. Do you think the Covid-19 pandemic could have a similar impact?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have recorded increased recruitment levels for MBA, DBA and LLM studies. Perhaps this was due to the lockdown [restrictions] necessitated by the sanitary regime which left our candidates with more time to spare for education. This trend still continues.

What changes do you anticipate to the number and profile of those applying to programmes at your Business School over the coming three years? Do you envisage greater interest in any individual programme(s) on offer?

We strive to adapt our educational offer to the individual needs of various candidates for business studies. Individual organisation of studies, tutoring as well as mentoring activities are all standard services available to students at our university. We assume that, over the next three years, the number of students on MBA and DBA courses will increase.

What will be the core challenges for the business education sector in recruiting new students (at both undergraduate and postgraduate level) over the coming three years?

The main challenge will be to create an educational offer that will meet the current and potential needs of the labour market. Hence, our study programmes are formed in constant consultation with our social and economic environment as well as its stakeholders. We work to the understanding that our study programmes should educate and equip our graduates with practical preparation for professional roles. The challenge is therefore to provide practical education that is implemented by a truly experienced cohort of practitioners and experts.

Business Schools are often encouraged to play a greater role in their local and regional communities. Has Covid-19 inspired any new events, activities or initiatives with this in mind?

During the pandemic, our university implemented a legal aid project and developed a textbook related to the changes in legal regulations in view of the enforced sanitary regime and other restrictions as well as changes brought upon us by the broader epidemic regulations.

We published this on our social media and on our website. A professor of our university has also been giving daily advice, in Polish and English, on matters related to Covid-19 and the pandemic with the largest television broadcaster in Poland (TVP).

Leaving aside Covid-19, which single new programme, course, or initiative are you most excited about and why?

We have launched a completely online MBA programme, which proved, and is still, very popular.

Do you think Business Schools will need to focus more inwardly (and therefore less ‘globally’) than they have been in their teaching in order to address industry needs post-Covid-19? If so, could this have an impact on your School’s international exchange and partnership options?

As long as there is an epidemic threat and related sanitary regime in place, there will be inevitable restrictions related to the mobility of students and the teaching staff.

In the long run, however, one cannot run successful business education programmes without exchanging experiences or involving external partnerships. Partners not only bring additional educational quality to the study programmes, but they also influence the prestige of the studies.

Do you anticipate Covid-19, and related issues, influencing course offerings within the programmes on offer from your School?

It seems viable that study programmes might have to be integrated with courses that will deal with various competencies that relate specifically to crisis management, especially when it comes to health emergency situations. We will integrate such modules with programmes of all types of studies.

There is already an argument that the economic challenges that Covid-19 will bring represent a huge and much-needed opportunity for Business Schools to reinvent their value proposition for the better. What would you most like to see change in the business education industry?

In the business education industry, it is particularly crucial to educate in the field of practical functioning of businesses according to the latest knowledge and market trends. This requires constant tracking of the market trends and consulting the study programmes with different business practitioners so that to adapt them to the current needs.

Paweł Czarnecki is Provost at Collegium Humanum-Warsaw Management University, Poland. A Professor of Social Sciences, he is also Member of the Marketing Committee at the Polish Olympic Committee, Professor at the Technical University of Košice (Faculty of Aviation) in Slovakia, and Member of the Supervisory Boards in Wroclaw Technology Park and Business Solutions in Warsaw.

Looking ahead: educating leaders for a fast-changing world

Given management education’s importance to the evolution of Russia’s economy, the MGIMO School of Business and International Proficiency is training a new type of manager, says its Director, Angelika Mirzoeva. Interview by David Woods-Hale

In a landscape that is effectively defined by disruption and change, preparing leaders and managers to not just ‘cope’ with volatility, but to also make an impact, is the overarching challenge shared by Business Schools the world over. 

Business Impact caught up with Angelika Mirzoeva, Director of the​ MGIMO School of Business and​ International Proficiency, to find out how Schools could be doing more than​ just reacting to this environment and​ instead, help to set the scene themselves. Her advice:​ innovate, collaborate and diversify​ wherever you can…

Why is management education important in Russia and what is the value it brings to your community? 

The global community is faced with new challenges, which will define the framework of business education both in Russia and beyond. 

Today’s management education is not simply a process of consuming knowledge. It is a creative process involving both teachers and students. Managers that are able to think outside the box are in demand and, in turn, the demand for business education is becoming more focused and stringent. 

The responsibility for finding the right solutions to modern challenges should lie with leaders who are highly qualified managers those who are able to see what lies ahead, and to transform and improve the present in line with this forward-thinking vision. 

Training these leaders of the future requires a revised system of business education. It becomes lifelong learning, implying complex training in science and humanities, providing students with knowledge, and, most importantly, developing certain beliefs and values in them, and a socially responsible code of conduct in a professional environment. 

Given the importance of management education in forming a new economy in Russia, the MGIMO School of Business and International Proficiency trains managers of a completely new type: those who possess fundamental knowledge, aim to work in an innovative way, and take effective management decisions.

How healthy is the current market for business education in Russia, and the surrounding region, and what are the main challenges? 

Business education in Russia has aroused public interest for almost two decades. The market is not homogeneous and, in different segments, it develops differently. 

I would point out two main challenges for Russian business education. First, business education is often confused with training, short programmes, and masterclasses. It should be noted that business education is a large market and constantly changing. The other challenge is the imbalance between practice and theory in the curricula, and lack of educational innovations.  

The biggest hurdle facing our business programmes is not retaining high-quality staff or recruiting sufficient numbers of students – the problem is innovation in the classroom. Today’s most effective managers are the ones who are able to organise interaction between various groups, find additional resources and attract partners. These are the people we see apply to Business Schools when seeking out new competencies. 

I believe that over the coming two years the MBA/EMBA market will continue to develop steadily in certain segments. Whether the economic growth of the labour market is high or low, demand for MBA programmes will remain. Specialists planning to reach a new level of professional development will have no alternatives.  

What type of people study at your School and what have graduates gone on to do in the local region and beyond? 

The target audience is top and middle managers, business owners, people with successful careers, and ambitious people with leadership potential. An average MBA student at our School is aged 34, has higher education (mostly specialist level) and between eight and 13 years of experience; the bulk of students are Russian citizens. Gender breakdown has not changed significantly over the past three years. In 2019, it was 56% men, 44% women.

We do not target a specific geographic location; instead, the programmes are made with the global market in mind.

The Business School’s students include those studying PhDs, master’s, specialist degrees, and bachelor’s, and more than nine out of 10 enrolled students (91%) successfully complete the MBA programme and achieve their diplomas. Our graduates become members of the MGIMO Trusteeship Council, and some of them even go on to become visiting lecturers at the School.

In terms of jobs, many graduates enjoy greater career opportunities with government agencies, both in Russia and abroad. Established entrepreneurs, meanwhile, might use the knowledge acquired to expand and diversify their businesses, while others use it to begin building their own companies.

What do you think makes your portfolio of programmes stand out from others that are available in Russia and the surrounding region?

Our programmes have an international component. Moreover, we have a number of very popular specialisations, which meet current trends and requirements.  

To make the MBA programme truly international, we seek to help students understand the styles and methods of management used in different cultures and parts of the world, citing examples and studies of diversity. 

Diverse concepts and styles of management are made part of the curriculum by mapping leadership development; holding joint sessions with students from other groups and years; citing international examples in virtually all courses; and organising external modules and internships at international Business Schools.Today’s world needs applied knowledge first and foremost, and our School strives to make the knowledge we provide to be of actual benefit to our students, the economy, and the general public. 

The School’s ties to industry are also a differentiating factor. Russia’s largest companies, such as OJSC Russian Railways and the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company, are among our corporate clients. We also have agreements with other leading Russian companies, as well as those overseas, in terms of internship programmes, outreach units, and graduation projects for students of our MBA programmes. 

Can you provide an example of how your School is using forms of new technology to meet the needs of its students?  

The Business School seeks to use innovation to boost its students’ personal growth and learning outcomes. Since 2016, the School has been recording and publishing its distance courses on Coursera. MBA and EMBA students can access these Coursera courses for free, giving them the extra option of distance learning. 

Currently, Coursera contains 13 of the School’s courses and one specialisation. We believe this project has been a success and opens opportunity for outstanding potential to be used, especially in the context of global digitisation. Online learning and technology, it seems, will impact heavily on the executive education space in the coming years, revolutionising the way we approach the development of our personal and professional skills. Business Schools always need to look ahead because they educate leaders and decision makers for a fast-changing world that is being greatly disrupted by the digital era. 

Which single new programme, course, or initiative are you most excited about and why?

The School has developed a new MBA specialisation recently, in strategic marketing and management. 

Elsewhere, we have started combining our use of distance and multimedia learning methods with traditional methods (lectures, seminars, role plays, trainings, and masterclasses) and are working actively on developing blended MBA distance programmes. As for training areas, we continue to expand our programmes in digital economy, entrepreneurship and international business, developing markets, and the fashion industry.

Does your School engage with businesses, government and other public-sector organisations in your region? 

Public and private sector representatives are partners, as well as corporate customers and employers of our graduates. 

In addition to this, we involve employers in discussions relating to the admissions office, the final certification commission, the selection of the final project topics, external modules, and internships. Employers are eager, for example, to set the challenges each student has to address as part of their final project. Employers are also members of the School’s Expert Council, and function as professors – wherein senior managers of companies come to us to deliver lectures and masterclasses. 

We have also worked in partnership with Russia’s Ministry of Agriculture to open a new department focused on global agricultural markets and foreign economic activity in the agricultural sector, and to launch a vocational retraining programme and a global agricultural markets master’s programme. The School’s Odintsovo branch, meanwhile, has opened a base department of the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services of Moscow Region to explore urban infrastructure and territorial management.

Further examples of industry collaboration include: launching a new advanced training programme in political management in co-operation with the consulting company, Baikal Communications Group; coordinating the discussion of an idea to set up the Expert Center for procurement activities in the UN system together with UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation); and launching an open course in sports marketing together with our partner, VTB United League, and in conjunction with the School’s sports diplomacy master’s programme.  

How is the School working to boost the employment prospects of its graduates? 

Through a culture of entrepreneurship, open-mindedness, non-conformism, pragmatism, and leadership,  the School has trained managers who are experts in the challenges posed by business. Working with companies to help them in their search for interns, apprentices and future executives, we maintain close ties with the corporate world to co-design teaching and anticipate graduates’ future careers.

In today’s fast-changing and complex world, talent acquisition is key. Businesses need high potential talent that possess a global mindset and are ready to make an impact from day one. Our aim is for MGIMO students and graduates to deliver just that. For this, the School of Business and International Proficiency, in conjunction with MGIMO career centre, hold coaching sessions, networking events, and job fairs. 

The career centre is designed to support international-profile professionals and their employment goals. Among its partners are major Russian and international companies. 

MGIMO University’s traditional job fair takes place twice a year and gathers representatives of Russian and international companies. About 25 employers and more than 1,000 students have taken part in the poster session.

What plans does your School have for the next three years and what developments would you like to see?  

To further its international partnerships, the Business School has defined a number of core strategic goals for the next three years. 

These include: adding to the learning process’ international dimension and creating an international atmosphere at the School; improving integration in international education and research networks through joint research projects involving international professors and experts; creating an    infrastructure and institutional conditions for greater student, professor, and researcher mobility; opening joint MBA programmes with ADA University in Azerbaijan and Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK; and expanding the exportation of educational services (such as external MBA modules for the UK’s Henley Business School). Aside from these objectives, the need to be innovative and creative in EMBA programme delivery has been a compelling finding among our recent experiences. This is a market trend to which we have to adapt, in terms of our teaching ideals and objectives. Indeed, the focus on innovation and creativity in EMBA delivery is important to us and we are keen to differentiate our offerings in an increasingly crowded market. 

Our current focus for developing EMBA programmes is on increased ‘flexibility’ and adapting to the way students learn. In this, it is worth noting that there could be a link between being innovative and creative in EMBA delivery, and adopting and upgrading digital technology. This innovation is underway and continues; specialist EMBA programmes are a growing trend. Of the current specialist EMBA programmes on offer, the most popular are in the fields of finance, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Anzhelika Mirzoeva is the Director of MGIMO School of Business and International Proficiency in Moscow, Russia. 

This article was originally published in Business Impact magazine, issue #4 (June 2020)

A clear vision: the role of mission statements in supporting success

A Business School’s mission statement can be the golden thread sewn throughout the narrative of an accreditation report, says Tania Easton, former Head of Accreditation and Standards at Kingston Business School. But clarity in a statement’s wording is essential if its message is to be conveyed effectively

When we know what we want to achieve but need the support of others to be successful, communicating with clarity is critical. In delivering their strategy, Business School leaders need internal and external stakeholder engagement, and communicating a clear vision can support success.

Setting out on your mission

A vision and mission statement is an open communication for many businesses, and for Business Schools it is also a statement against which it is measured by accreditation bodies.

Central to accredited Business Schools are principles of research and corporate engagement, and the creation of a learning environment that is both theoretical and practice-based to prepare students for their chosen career. An important question for leadership teams scoping or revising their School’s mission statement is how to individualise this statement when their core offer is largely the same as that of their competitors. Where are the areas of distinctiveness for the statement? Using Simon Sinek’s Start with Why approach, we can look for clarity with answers to questions such as:

  • Why your organisation exists beyond the basic product that competitors also sell? For example, is it strongly linked to supporting a specific regional need or industry?
  • Why do staff choose to apply for a role at the School, or choose to stay working at the School?
  • Why do students choose to attend this School instead of another?

Questions such as these can begin to outline the current mission delivery of the School, regardless of how this may be described in a mission statement. If what is actually happening isn’t aligned with the ‘why’ of your long-term strategic intention, then your strategic plan will be difficult to deliver successfully.

When scoping or revising a vision and mission statement you can challenge your wording with questions such as:

  • Does your mission statement explain your specific mission clearly, or is it too generic and, in fact, would suit many other Business Schools? 
  • Does it ‘set out your stall’ and inform your stakeholders?
  • Does the wording support your colleagues to engage with delivering the mission, actively and consciously?
  • Does the statement create distinct themes for marketing and communications campaigns?
  • Is there enough clarity to allow you to evidence success?

To test a current mission statement and strategic focus, we can also ask if we embed the themes throughout all work, or whether it is lip service in some areas: do we ‘walk the talk’, and do our marketing colleagues tell the same tale to external stakeholders? Are strengths and innovations of the School clearly associated with words that create distinct hooks against which to hang descriptions of mission impact, and are those strengths and innovations being purposefully led?

Engaging others in your plan

A mission statement can be simple, but its audience can be complex in engagement and understanding. This means the creation of the statement can also be complex, as we look to define the words that pinpoint the reason for activities.

We can assume that people want to understand our plan, and so we seek clarity with the words we choose, so that we can communicate our message well. A challenge with this is that we need simple ‘layman’s terms’, but without over-simplifying and disengaging experts or undermining our intention. Those in academia understand this challenge, as they may explain new insights or knowledge differently to peers and students.

A mission statement can be reviewed by the advisory board, or even a critical friend with a fresh pair of eyes, for feedback on clarity. What an author intended and what can be inferred are sometimes different, and feedback on unintended potential for misunderstanding is helpful in our international, multilingual, and multicultural community. 

To create impact in any form of communication, we need to consider:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What do we want those people to hear?
  • What do we want those people to do?

Stakeholders will want to know why the Business School has a certain strategy and mission statement, and what it means for them and their engagement with the School. Faculty and staff, for example, will want to know what they are expected to do to support the success of achieving the mission and any related goals, which may bring them a deeper sense of purpose at work. Your critical friend can check that you have explained with clarity, so that you can get buy-in more easily.

Evidencing your success

A vision and mission statement is informed by the central strategy. Consequently, showing how you are delivering on your mission will need to sit within the strategic plan. Doing this well requires clarity on the strategic objectives. How will you be measuring your success, and with which overarching goals do those strategic objectives align? The vision and mission statement should reflect those goals, and the journey you’re taking to your chosen destination, but without stakeholders seeing all the associated activities.

Involving your marketing and communications team in understanding your strategic plan can help you evidence your mission. Stories and marketing assets can be written to be aligned and reinforce your message of success.

Evidencing your mission is also fundamental to accreditation reports. A clear vision and mission statement with words selected to support your evidencing will make reporting easier; these words and themes are the golden thread sewn throughout the narrative of your report. When there is a clear structural link between the strategic plan, measures of strategic activities, and a Business School’s vision, mission and values statement, then an accreditation report can become a more integrated part of strategic reporting processes, and the clarity (and success) of your strategy is evident.

Tania Easton is an independent consultant on strategy, communication, accreditation and their associated operations. She was formerly Head of Accreditation and Standards at Kingston Business School, London. During this time, she was Co-Chair of the UK and Ireland Accreditation Group, the network of academic and professional accreditation leads.

Opening the minds of tomorrow’s leaders

Emmanuel Métais, Dean of EDHEC, discusses innovation at his School with David Woods-Hale and shares his thoughts on instilling leadership capabilities in MBAs at a time of genuine change

EDHEC Business School (EDHEC) is headquartered in Lille, France, but runs its Global MBA programme from its campus on the French Riviera, in Nice. The School also has campuses in Paris, London and Singapore. Emmanuel Métais has been Dean of the School for the past two years, but has been a member of its faculty for more than two decades – the perfect choice, therefore, to learn more about recent developments at EDHEC and the School’s strategy for the future.

What are the biggest challenges facing international Business Schools today?

The need to demonstrate the relevance and social utility of what Business Schools do. Through education and research, we can have a positive impact on society and greatly influence areas such as inclusion and diversity, sustainability, the climate change debate, and internationalisation. 

Higher education, as we know it, is undergoing revolutionary change. In an age where knowledge is available anywhere and anytime, the role of education is no longer just to transmit knowledge, but to give it meaning and guide the way forward. Tomorrow’s professors are going to need to develop their students’ intellectual and creative abilities in a way that makes human intelligence and AI and complementary.

In a society searching for meaning, teaching serves a purpose when it actively contributes to furthering the transformation processes currently taking place in society and business. 

In the case of research, we have to make it useful and let its value be judged according to its real impact on the world. Higher education institutions can no longer be content with simply delivering knowledge, but need to construct robust responses that serve society and the economy in terms of education, career preparation and knowledge creation. 

For instance, the idea behind the launch of the EDHEC-Risk Institute and Scientific Beta (an organisation which provides smart beta indices underpinned by the EDHEC-Risk Institute research), was not only to furnish financial markets with new and robust financial instruments, but also to use our research work to cross-fertilise the courses we offer to our students. 

From my perspective, this cross-fertilisation between research, course content and the needs of business is the way to judge whether research is genuinely useful to the economy and society in general. International Business Schools need to think in terms of sustainable business models. 

How does your School work to prepare leaders to survive and thrive amid change and volatility? 

Until very recently, both educators and employers believed that producing specialists was the best way to respond to a broad range of issues. This remains true, and specialisation is still a guarantee of employability for the vast majority of those in higher education. But if we accept that 60-80% of professions likely to be practised in 2030 do not yet exist, it is easy to see that specialist expertise will not be enough on its own and that employability is set to go hand in hand with adaptability. 

At EDHEC, our mission is to train young professionals with composite profiles to be capable of reading across a multidimensional matrix that not only embraces their main area of expertise, but also extends to disciplines such as the humanities and others that are not traditionally taught in Business Schools. We need to teach students to be curious and ambitious, to have the curiosity to question the world, to open up to other realities and to stay alert and in touch with useful knowledge throughout their lives. They need to have the ambition and desire to change the world, and get back to the basics of entrepreneurship, by looking for the meaning and impact of their actions, and leveraging their creativity to help society progress. 

In your view, what are the factors that set the EDHEC MBA apart?

First of all, our MBA students and graduates are completely sold on the location of our Nice campus at the heart of the French Riviera and the School’s hard-to-beat balance between studies and quality of life. Another differentiating factor is the highly international and diverse nature of our MBA, with more than 36 different nationalities, and women holding 35% of positions on student bodies. The EDHEC network also extends to every corner of the planet, and the programme includes international business trips to global centres such as London, San Francisco, New York and Singapore. 

EDHEC also offers an intense programme that allows students to graduate with their MBA in just 10 months. EDHEC has always stood out among Business Schools for its ability to adapt its offering to what students and businesses are looking for.

What innovations are your School developing to future-proof its postgraduate business programmes? 

Tomorrow’s leaders are going to have to be able to inject meaning into their actions and demonstrate value to society, their stakeholders and all those they reach. 

By breaking boundaries between disciplines and encouraging cross-collaboration, we can foster minds capable of conceiving and injecting sense into things that cannot currently be imagined. 

The return of the humanities to Business School curricula is already well-documented. Will tomorrow’s business executives have to be accomplished sociologists in order to beef up those sales pitches? Not exactly, but we need to strike the right balance and this is the aim behind EDHEC’s pre-master’s year and digital culture course initiatives.  

The idea is not to squeeze in a dose of Socrates between two classes on machine learning, but to offer a rich reading matrix and provide students with context, by accustoming their minds to multidimensional thinking, thereby enabling them to harness the past to project into the future. 

In order to address the challenges looming on the horizon specifically, EDHEC has just launched a new MSc in Global and Sustainable Business. This programme not only provides a solid grounding in essential business disciplines, but also offers courses on specialist subjects such as business ethics and the impact of AI on business and society. It also includes modules devoted to innovations across a broad spectrum of sectors, from energy and fashion, to food and green real estate, while seeking to develop a mindset that ensures best practices are both sustainable and profitable.

Almost all new students, including those entering EDHEC’s pre-master’s year, kick off the academic year with a 28-hour non-stop hackathon run as part of an entrepreneurial day that is devoted to climate change. Participants are tasked with cracking real-life problems proposed by 10 major partner companies and non-profit associations, in an exercise designed to bring out entrepreneurial flair with a focus on the new imperatives for our planet. 

How is technology continuing to impact the Business School environment? 

While there is no question of technological progress slowing, we do seem to have left behind the logic of progress for progress’ sake: what’s the use of data if there’s nobody to explain it? What’s the point of ‘uberisation’ if its overriding effect is one of destruction, instead of simply removing the ‘middleman’? Where’s the sense in a social network if it distances people from each other, rather than bringing them closer? 

While technology has boosted the quantity of readily accessible knowledge, it has also multiplied our ability to personalise, support and transform. The application of technology to education is ‘rehumanising’ teaching: the use of learning analytics now allows us to identify how students learn, the pace at which they learn, and what they retain. This enables teachers to adapt their teaching to students’ profiles and has changed their role into one where they seek to guide students through the learning experience.

EDHEC sees its role as providing the starting point for a lifetime of knowledge, friends, contacts and influence. We are therefore firm believers in ongoing training. The School’s executive education offering embraces a portfolio of programmes designed for various key moments in participants’ careers. They cater to those seeking to transform themselves through personal and professional growth, and looking to move on from one phase of their career to another. 

Ongoing training allows participants to update their capabilities continuously, in line with the most pressing challenges and this form of learning thereby responds to the goals of both individuals and companies. Rather than focusing on pure competencies, the onus is on developing the participant’s state of mind, by raising his or her awareness and improving the ability to frame the right questions.

How important is it for Business Schools to be ahead of the curve here and what more could and should they be doing?

This is no time for Schools to be passive observers and let change pass them by. New players are arriving in the market and business students have greater choice than ever before. 

In anticipation of this shift, EDHEC has embraced technology for augmented learning, notably via the creation of  EDHEC Online, a digital learning platform combining faculty expertise with technology and designed to meet growing demand from students and executives for a more flexible, bespoke and globally accessible study experience. Business Schools need to go ‘phygital’. That is, to be digitally-enabled, but with physical, real-world aspects that embody their strength and heritage. 

Moreover, bringing students into close contact with research is a way of feeding their appetite for learning. By involving them in the research process to varying degrees, students develop a taste for analysis and reading at a very early stage. Likewise, they pick up a ‘test and learn’ philosophy, which gradually demystifies uncertainty and helps them deal with failure – fundamental components of entrepreneurial culture.

Just as students and future professionals are expected to show great agility, those tasked with shaping them should be expected to do so too. A strong presence in class and well-prepared courses no longer suffice on their own. Professors need to be capable of offering a diverse range of teaching modes and scenarios. Ongoing teacher training, or facilities such as EDHEC’s PiLab, are there to support our professors in their own development and help them take an objective view of their practices. 

EDHEC is part of the Future of Management Education (FOME) Alliance. Can you tell us more about this initiative? 

The FOME Alliance is a very exciting development in our sector, geared to creating the world’s first fully online learning platform leading to the award of degrees. This ambitious student-centred platform has the potential to revolutionise remote learning as we know it. 

In the near future, students will be able to choose degree programmes co-developed by two or more of the Business Schools in the alliance. Through a combination of technological and pedagogical excellence, these degrees will rank highly in terms of value, while placing FOME at the forefront of the global remote learning market.

Is the business education sector as a whole responding quickly enough to disruption?

Disruption is already here and there is plenty more upheaval arriving at speed, but many Schools are too stunned to do much about it. Disruption is driving a genuine revolution that is overturning traditions and habits. From the way we teach, to how we manage professors and build the student relationship, every aspect of what we do demands fundamental change. It’s a new game with new rules that are still being defined.

Are Business Schools reluctant to introduce too much change into their programmes? 

To some extent, this is true. Education is a long lifecycle industry and the fact that it is quite tightly regulated means it can seemingly take considerable time to implement far-reaching change. At EDHEC, we’ve managed to reinvent the educational experience and make fundamental changes to our programmes. Many Business Schools will admit that some of their professors are resistant to change, but we have been fortunate to have so many professors on the team who are keen to do things in new ways. 

What advice would you give to other deans hoping to take advantage of the tech revolution? 

Be creative and harness the people around you – your professors, staff and students are the best agents of change you have. And use your creativity to think of positive ways to inspire and encourage teachers and staff, and make sure you protect the innovators. 

They are the ones liable to keep the whole School heading in the right direction.

How important is sustainability and how have Business Schools incorporated this into their programmes? 

If we can no longer live on the planet 50 years from now, what point is there to anything? Sustainability is clearly vital. Harvard Business School put business ethics on Schools’ radars back in 1929, but the sector’s general awareness of the situation’s urgency has only really taken hold recently. The climate emergency is our moment, an historic opportunity for Business Schools, and businesses in general, to contribute sustainably to the good of humanity. But regarding the extent to which Schools have incorporated this issue into their programmes, there’s probably still too much window dressing and a shortage of real deeds and decisiveness.

How would you define ‘sustainable leadership’? 

Our School’s founder, Motte Duthoit, defined this concept more than 100 years ago. In his words, graduates from our Business School would be fully-rounded people, capable of speaking and writing to a high standard, and of making sound judgements. The School would not just teach leaders how to manufacture products, but also show them a way of leading others that relies less on authority and more on their intellectual and moral powers. Sustainable leadership is that special ability to blend the societal, ethical and financial constraints of business into one.

How is EDHEC building links and collaborations with employers? 

The classroom is not a closed box, but a theatre of enriching interfaces in all directions, notably with businesses. By having companies participate in building and delivering our programmes, EDHEC students are challenged to respond directly to real-life problems and issues. 

EDHEC has set up a wide range of initiatives aimed at bridging the gap between Business Schools and the corporate world: examples include the ‘teaching factory’ based on the co-development of courses, open innovation challenges or Explora Project rooted in a ‘test and learn’ approach. While medical schools have their clinics, Business Schools have their ‘reality’ labs, where the application of knowledge can be used to create strong connections with the corporate world and hence with the needs of society. 

The same logic applies to EDHEC’s community-based commitment, which is often the cornerstone and the differentiator of the educational experience in Business Schools, since it forges an immediate link between academic capabilities and societal impact.

What are the next steps for yourself as a Business School leader? 

Having taken on the mantle of Dean in 2018, I’m still in the early stages of a journey. My immediate future lies in continuing to steer EDHEC into the future as a flourishing and vital institution and we have many ambitious plans already on track with this goal in mind. 

Do you feel optimistic about the future of business, Business Schools and the economy?

Yes, I am optimistic, because I know business can be an extremely powerful driving force. Businesses have become major institutions within our societies and exert a significant impact on our lives. If we ensure that education contributes towards opening the minds of tomorrow’s leaders to the new realities and challenges to be faced in the upcoming decades, business can be a definite force for good.  

Environmental sustainability, security, respect for diversity and gender equality are all key issues progressively taking centre-stage in societies around the world. Today’s young generations are therefore going to have to address them. The key to enabling them to do so is to be found in education and its ability to raise awareness among tomorrow’s leaders and prepare them for the future.    

Emmanuel Métais is Dean at EDHEC Business School. He has been a member of faculty at EDHEC for the last 23 years, holding various leadership positions at the School prior to his current role. 

Reaching the right audience: Business School communications part II

How Business Schools can use the high potential of social media platforms effectively, with examples of best practice, from London Business School EMBA graduate, Sarah Seedsman

An executive MBA graduate of London Business School’s prestigious Sloan Masters programme, Sarah Seedsman specialises in market research and marketing for Business Schools.

In the second of a two-part interview (the first part can be found here), the focus shifts in more detail to how Business Schools can use the high potential of social media platforms effectively, with examples of best practice. Seedsman also discusses the importance of ensuring approaches remain aligned with an individual institution’s goals and strategy.   

Can you offer some examples of how Business Schools have taken advantage of social media’s power to great effect?

We are seeing a lot of examples during this pandemic crisis. Social media comes into its own in terms of mobilising a School’s communities and allowing them to communicate. For example, INSEAD has set up a group on Facebook, Project Green Cross, to enable alumni to work with each other to support local communities through fundraising and finding ways of moving medical supplies and equipment.

In tracking how active Schools have been on social media over the last year, Imperial College Business School’s Dean has stood out for being really active, which has helped build a real sense of community. Now, the School is reaching out in the community to fundraise for new research which Imperial College is at the forefront of. They already had an engaged audience with which to do this though.

We are also seeing a lot of useful thought leadership, for example how to lead and manage people though a crisis is now popping up on all the different social media channels, including LinkedIn – of course, sometimes we should really think of LinkedIn as being a professional platform and not a social platform. 

In addition, there are campaigns where Schools have thought about the theme that they want to gather content around with a particular hashtag, for example ‘#whyIlovelbs’. Over a period of a couple of years they then have student and graduates, alumni and faculty post across different topics using photos, videos and comments with that common hashtag. This collated content becomes really good information for prospective students in terms of seeing what the community has said about the Business School.

Some deans have used LinkedIn effectively, which helps raise the brand profile of the School. It’s a very competitive market and deans can help build a community and keep a School’s alumni community around the world engaged. Media Minds tracks 100 deans on LinkedIn and top of the list for activity is Geoffrey Garrett, Dean at the Wharton School. He has almost half a million followers on LinkedIn and posts regularly. To put that in context, the Financial Times – an important publication to Business Schools because of its rankings – only achieved one million subscribers last year. Garrett already has access to an audience of half a million, so it is a very helpful channel for raising the School’s profile.

How can Business Schools spot fads on social media, how can they tell if it’s just a trend or if it’s here to stay?

The first thing we say to Business Schools is that they shouldn’t feel like they have to play with every shiny new toy. The important thing for Business Schools is to be quite considered in what’s going to work for their goals and strategy.

Start with the audience you want to reach and understand the best place to reach them with content they want and can engage with. Sometimes it’s a matter of being quite ruthless and quite focused. Keep an eye on data and analytics to see trends.

Instagram is just coming into its own for Business Schools, for example, and many Schools had been relatively slow in starting to use it. However, Instagram is now getting the highest inquisition of new followers. The platform doesn’t just need to be for photos, the Harvard Business Review’s Instagram account uses long posts and gets lots of engagement. Business Schools can still use this platform to promote their faculty’s thought leadership.

It’s a matter of having one eye on your audience and one eye on what you are trying to achieve and then making some decisions based on common sense.

How can Business Schools ensure that their thought leadership reaches its target audience?

Don’t spray and pray. Don’t put it everywhere and hope that people notice.

I think the key thing is to always use your website as a hub, to have everything there in the first place, so that you can keep linking back to it. In addition, many articles can enjoy a long life if you consider using different extracts from it. You won’t reach your entire audience the first time you put it out there, so share in different ways across your channels.

All social media platforms have an algorithm behind them, which chooses which groups see different things, so try and learn about these algorithms. Think about viral promotion and sharing, think about tagging people who it would be relevant to, or who have a large following. If you tag people, your post will be shown to their followership as well.

You should also never forget that it’s about relevance and impact. If your headline and your first line don’t grab the reader, then you won’t get the attention for your content that you want. So really spend time of polishing that first line and headline.

Are you a lover or a hater of social media in your personal life?

I grew up in an era of black and white television, before the internet and before mobile phones. I would say that I am neither a lover nor a hater but a curious observer. It fascinates me. I look at what’s possible and that fascinates me. I have a great curiosity for it, but I don’t use it as much personally as I am involved in it with work. It’s a great source of information for me but it’s not something that consumes all my waking hours outside work.

Sarah Seedsman is Executive Director for Engagement, Insights and Consulting at Media Minds Global

Reaching the right audience: Business School communications part I

An executive MBA graduate of London Business School’s prestigious Sloan Masters programme, Sarah Seedsman specialises in market research and marketing for Business Schools.

In the first of a two-part interview (you can find part two here), Seedsman considers how the lines of communication between Business Schools and students have changed and how to get your global alumni network speaking one common language – the language of your Business School. 

What has been the biggest change in how students are communicating with Business Schools?

I think the biggest change now is that prospective students are roving across a large range of platforms to get information online.

They are looking to verify what they’ve heard about a Business School and what the official marketing is saying about a School. They move across social media channels and professional platforms such as LinkedIn, where they use the LinkedIn directory to look at alumni profiles and contact them. They also go to student review platforms. A Business School’s website is still a key site of reference and information, but what we’re seeing is an era of moving away from traditional brochures and forms of communication.

At the same time, the personal touch is still preferred in communications. GMAC did a survey last year that indicated how the majority of candidates still preferred email as their official channel of communication. So, some tried and tested methods still hold true.

How do you turn your alumni into active supporters of the Business School?

This has to start offline rather than online. Students who have a very good student experience have much higher levels of pride. There is that nexus of student experience to alumni. It then becomes about the engagement strategy to keep those feelings of pride and positivity strong.

Within that strategy it’s about what channels you use. It is also about using those channels to build a strong community and sense of belonging. That is where social platforms can serve you well when using alumni groups and enabling them to connect online.

If you just think of alumni as just a list of names, it will sound a little bit cold and more clinical. You create a community through advocacy and, in a community, people will do anything for people in need within that community, including the School itself.

Alumni relations teams who communicate with transparency and honesty in a frank but personal way, are going to be able to enrol that alumni engagement. This will come in handy post-Covid-19 when students might not want to study internationally. You want to get your alumni to talk to potential applicants and convince them that this School and this degree is the right choice.

Business Schools are inherently international. How do you ensure that your communications are relevant to a global audience?

This is about understanding your audience and the audience that you want to reach, and why.

Say, for example, if you wanted to raise your School’s brand profile as an institution with great supply chain management faculty research in it and were looking to reach an international audience.  You need to look for research which is relevant to international supply chain. If you are trying to talk to a global audience about supply chain management in one country only, that won’t work.

It’s thinking about the content and the audience and getting that match right. So many issues around business are global so should work for a global audience. If, for example, you have thought leadership on leadership itself, this will vary in different cultures because they will have different approaches to leadership based on their culture and/or political systems. As long as you contextualise what you are sharing, it can still be relevant to a wider audience.

You can target your presence online for certain regions or countries depending on the tools you are using. I think when you are talking to students and alumni, they become part of your community regardless of where they come from, or where they go and work. They speak the language of your Business School and a global Business language.

Is a Business School’s ranking more about its quality or its ability to tell good stories about their Business School?

I would almost say that rankings aren’t about either. There is much debate over whether rankings’ criteria show the quality of a Business School. There are certainly many good Schools that are not ranked.

Telling good stories is interesting because these can either supplement the rankings position you have ended up with if you are not as high up the rankings as you would like to be, or they can provide evidence about your qualities if you are not ranked. 

Prospective students use rankings as a tool and reference. They don’t just look at the ranking number. We are finding that they look deeply into the criteria and profile for lots of different Schools to get a wider picture of whether a School is the right match. This is where good stories and the evidence behind them come in – they show what the School’s strengths are and why they are a particularly good fit for an individual candidate.

Read part II of this two-part interview, which focuses on the use of social media.

Sarah Seedsman is Executive Director for Engagement, Insights and Consulting at Media Minds Global.

Future-proofing the MBA

From immersive experiences in Māori business culture to plans for performance metrics to ensure community impact, hopes are high for the revamped MBA at the University of Canterbury (UC) Business School in Christchurch, New Zealand – the South Island’s largest city. AMBA & BGA’s Tim Banerjee Dhoul caught up with MBA Director and Associate Professor, Chris Vas, to learn more.

Can you tell us a bit about UC’s current MBA programme? 

The UC MBA programme has served the Canterbury, New Zealand and global business communities since 1983. Today, a typical MBA student at UC is 35 years old with more than 10 years of professional experience, studying part time. The cohort is well balanced when it comes to gender diversity, but more can be done to improve the programme’s 15% international footprint.  

What are the principal motivations behind the School’s plans to launch a revamped MBA in 2020?

One of the principal motivations was AMBA’s reaccreditation panel visit in 2017. The School also recognised the changing needs of business in the region, particularly in relation to the impact of ‘digital’ on organisations and leadership practices over the next decade; the need to drive intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship;  connectivity across geographies and, most importantly, instilling a sense of purpose and impact – beyond economic drivers – in organisations, and in those who lead them.  

Which single feature of the revamped MBA are you most excited about?

To be honest, the radical changes that we are putting in place across the programme are exciting as a whole. The MBA will be delivered in the same way that a story unfolds: as a narrative and an experience. The programme will commence with a focus on purpose and impact, while honing in on attributes that support innovative thinking. A focus on agile and innovative leadership, meanwhile, will be woven across the entire programme so that leadership is not just a course or subject delivered at a single point in time. 

Having said that, let me give you a glimpse into one aspect of what we’re all excited about. At the start of the programme, MBA participants will be immersed in experiences with New Zealand’s indigenous people – the Māori community – where the importance of ‘place-based knowledge’ intertwined with Māori business culture will be experienced. As the wider University of Canterbury strategy outlines, this experience is important for our students to ensure they ‘are aware of their own identity and its influence in engaging with any other person or community’.

Its incorporation is one way in which our MBA participants in New Zealand can learn to value difference by recognising place-based knowledge. In today’s world, in which we see the rise of protectionist attitudes to trade, migration and citizenship, it is vital that we place importance on issues of identity, especially as these can help bind communities together. 

Beyond this initial immersion, the programme will incorporate learning experiences in Māori economies, to understand the aspirations of Māori communities better and emphasise the Māori proverb that people are the most important thing in the world (‘he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata’). Such focus also ties into the programme’s commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 around the building of sustainable communities and cities. 

This commitment is backed up by a new course on ‘societies in smart cities’, which will analyse how organisations strategise and connect their purpose to deliver impact in societies through the lens of smart cities. 

MBA participants will be assessed in these courses through their responses to real-life challenges or mini purpose-driven projects that are tied to organisations. In this instance, we are looking to integrate with Christchurch City’s agenda and Ngāi Tahu, a principal iwi [the largest social unit in Māori society which can be translated as ‘nation’] of New Zealand’s southern region, to reimagine growth through sustainable and smart-city initiatives that will create a positive impact on the local community. 

Can the new programme help its students pursue purpose-driven and impactful careers? 

As a central engine of research, development and innovation in Christchurch, we believe it is imperative to sync with the city’s growth plans and drive a consistent effort in that direction. Consequently, we see the importance of driving entrepreneurial activities in the areas of food, health, tech services and transport. Social entrepreneurship is equally important, and the programme will support MBA participants who are looking to tackle issues of mental health, waste management, education and beyond. 

In consultation with the city and members of our advisory board, we will look to set up performance metrics for the MBA programme to ensure our participation as a Business School is active and has an impact. So, hypothetically speaking, during the next three to five years, I would like to see 25% of our MBA cohort start new, scalable ventures in the US, Europe or Australasia. 

To this end, the MBA programme will work in tandem with the university’s Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) which offers access
to a network of industry advisors and mentors. Given the dominance of working professionals in our programme already, I would also like to see 30-40% of the cohort drive transformative change within their organisations, especially around digital transformation, business model changes, products or services.  

It’s no longer acceptable for us as a faculty and industry practitioner team to simply ‘talk the talk’, so we’re setting ourselves a challenge of enabling purpose and driving meaningful impact. For instance, thanks to one of our student projects, we are now in discussions with a major health service provider to operationalise sustainable work practices in the organisation. We will aim to have many such impact stories in the years to come. It’s an interesting experience in which student activity has catalysed opportunity for faculty.

How will the MBA help students identify solutions to emerging technological issues? 

As part of the MBA review and redesign process, we recognised that our MBA was likely to be redundant in about five to seven years. 

A key reason for this is the pace of technological developments, the impact it has on organisations in terms of strategy, leadership, customer experiences and the whole gamut. 

This being the case, in the revamped MBA programme, we’ve chosen to emphasise aspects around digital transformation, technology preparedness and data-driven strategies. Given their profile (mid- to senior-level managers) our students need to be aware and engaged with technological developments rather than become experts in them. They need adequate levels of preparation and knowledge so that they can ask the right questions, understand the limitations of technology, and at the same time be proficient enough to lead teams to deliver on outcomes. 

Consequently, courses will have a focus on emerging technologies, such as the internet of things (IoT), big data, AI and blockchain. A deep dive will be in the area of data analytics, working on livebprojects under the guidance of industry experts to demonstrate the value of technology platforms, such as Python and Tableau, in data analysis, visualisation and optimisation – all of which should inform organisational strategy.

How has the programme’s development sought to incorporate employer demands as well as those of students?

As part of the MBA review process, our current students identified issues that were of high importance to their organisation and in which they sought further development. The top three were: innovation (to create new products and services); sustainability (incorporating social and environmental aspects); 3) digital transformation of business models, people and processes. 

An added element of need that found its way into responses was the challenge of tackling international markets. Similar issues emerged in my conversations with employers and organisations, though they also voiced the need for further preparation in methodologies such as agile, technological proficiency in addition to development in harnessing an innovative mindset, communication, presentation skills and the ability to problem solve in teams. 

The revamped MBA programme will aim to incorporate these aspects in its courses but will also provide several ‘wrap-around services’ outside the programme; for example, workshops on interpersonal skills and media training that help develop well-rounded MBA graduates. 

Students will also have the opportunity to be coached formally by industry experts to tackle developmental challenges. Finally, the programme has introduced a ‘creative challenge’ course in which students will focus on themselves as the creative project, pushing their limits (and where failure is an option).

What does your ideal MBA candidate look like, and what makes a cohort ‘right’ for UC’s MBA programme?

One of the key programme changes will be the blended nature of delivery, wherein there will be an almost equal split of real-time online interaction and in-person intensive block weekends. This will enable participation from across Australasia. With the industry links we activate and the end outcomes we are looking to deliver in three to five years, UC’s ideal MBA candidate will embrace risk, enjoy a challenge, and be keen on making a difference as well as willing to lead and drive change. 

Our ideal cohort will be gender balanced, diverse – with at least 30% representation from both the international and Māori communities – highly experienced, and representing a cross-section of sectors.  

In your opinion, what will be the biggest challenge facing tomorrow’s leaders and what will be the most important skills and attributes required of them? 

Relevance. The pace of technological development means that innovation will continue to thrive, creating new products, services and firms, and forcing organisations to prove their ongoing relevance. 

This will be the real challenge for leaders over the next decade. Not only will the challenge be for leadership relevance in the context of managing and motivating teams while ensuring a sense of followership in people management, but it will also be for leaders to ensure relevance of their organisations. Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Tesla and Apple’s iPad are all about 10-15 years old. The next 10-15 years will bring about new innovations. So, for today’s organisations and leadership to remain relevant, maintaining customer experience, organisational purpose, community engagement and societal impact becomes key.  

What do you feel is the main challenge facing Business Schools in New Zealand and the surrounding region? 

Agility. There’s much captured in this one word. Let me elaborate on two aspects. In many parts of Asia Pacific, there is a lack of trust between Business Schools and industry, or universities and industry in general. 

This distrust has resulted in reduced collaboration due to the divergent goals of Business Schools and those of industry, to the extent that we see increasing competition with consultants who have ventured into the areas of research and training. 

The second aspect is around the agility of a Business School to alter course and rethink its business model. Most institutions continue to focus on models that delivered success in the past, but these are unlikely to be fit for the future, given technological advancements in the areas of, for example, new forms of AI-driven and customised online learning. Very soon, if not already, the opportunities in this arena could all be up for grabs.

Chris Vas is Associate Professor and MBA Director at the University of Canterbury’s (UC) College of Business and Law, which houses UC Business School. He holds a PhD in public policy from the Australian National University.