Preparing tomorrow’s leadership for climate change

Schools must help tomorrow’s leaders take decisions together, with those from several areas of expertise, while understanding how these decisions will affect different groups in different ways across the world, say the University of Gothenburg’s Thomas Sterner and Åsa Löfgren.

Global changes are so significant that geoscientists speak of Earth entering a new geological era, the ‘Anthropocene’, during which many crucial variables for the planet are controlled by man, and our activities and consumption patterns risk exceeding the planetary boundaries. This leads to a changed climate, acidification of the oceans, loss of biodiversity and many other global environmental problems. These problems are global, long term and uncertain. They are also interconnected and must be analysed together in order to find solutions that provide synergies and avoid those that solve one problem but worsen others.

For example, it is not sustainable to aggravate problems related to a loss of biodiversity, or vital water/nutrient cycles, when you are trying to solve the climate problem through a poorly conceived forest policy.

Biologists, physicists and other natural scientists document and analyse many of the changes mentioned above, and are usually the ones who write about planetary boundaries and the Anthropocene. Social scientists, meanwhile, are experts on how society and the economy work. Both of these areas of expertise are indispensable when analysing social causes and proposing solutions that are effective and politically feasible. Therefore, collaboration between economists, social scientists and natural scientists is urgently needed to discuss solutions.

An interdisciplinary approach

Business Schools have the important task of preparing students to become tomorrow’s leaders in business and other organisations. It is vital that these aspiring leaders are given tools to understand our current and future predicament since it will be decisive for future success and, indeed, survival. One of the prerequisites for a sound future education is an interdisciplinary approach to problems where this is necessary. When it comes to sustainability, we need expertise that understands both natural and social sciences. 

When training tomorrow’s leaders, standards must be high in all areas. We need interdisciplinary understanding of environmental challenges and opportunities, high ethical standards, and a capability to
work with leaders from other countries, cultures and disciplines. 

The School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg (the School) has taken on this challenge in several ways. Most importantly, it is a strategic mission of the School to integrate sustainability into all education: ‘To develop knowledge, educate and foster independent thinking for the advancement of organisations, policy and a sustainable world’.

Over the the past decade, the School has turned its mission into practice by integrating sustainability-related learning outcomes for all undergraduate programmes and strengthening the progression of sustainability concepts between courses. This allows programme coordinators and lecturers to develop curricula in the knowledge that these learning goals must be met.

Sustainability days

Another important activity is the School’s compulsory sustainability days. The concept was introduced in 2013 and was implemented fully in all undergraduate programmes in 2016. It consists of three full days of focus on sustainability from various perspectives. The overall aim is to complement the sustainability content of courses by raising awareness and providing knowledge around three themes: challenges, responsibility, and solutions. During this time, students from different programmes meet and learn to work with, and respect, those from a variety of backgrounds.

At an international level, and in collaboration with Gothenburg’s Chalmers University of Technology, there is the School’s Environment for Development unit. With support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Environment for Development has trained PhDs from emerging markets in environmental economics for decades and helped build centres in more than 12 countries in the
Global South. 

In the future, the unit’s plan is to co-teach master’s courses with students in several countries simultaneously. In a pilot course run at Chalmers this year, students in Asia, Africa and the US solved problems related to fairness in climate negotiations simultaneously. In a second step, students held discussions with real climate negotiators to develop their negotiating and leadership skills. A capability to work with leaders from other countries,
and understand the positions of other groups or countries, is key to addressing global environmental problems such as
climate change. 

More specifically, while it is important to find effective solutions, it is also important to educate students about the income distributional effects of policy measures and their perceived fairness. These effects are vital determinants of political feasibility and aspects that must be considered carefully when policy instruments are selected and designed. The task is complex since policies need not only be feasible in Europe or the US, but globally. 

There are ways that global environmental problems can be addressed. But the solution relies on there being leaders who are responsible, knowledgeable and understand the importance of, and are open to, collaboration with those who possess skills from other disciplines. Business Schools have a responsibility and an important role to play in the education of such leaders.

Thomas Sterner is Professor of Environmental Economics and Åsa Löfgren is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics, part of the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg.

Business Schools for business and society

Business Schools must understand how they can contribute to the wellbeing of society, adopting an active stance, writes Loïck Roche, Director and Dean at Grenoble École de Management

On 11 December 2017, the then French Minister of Environmental Transitions and Solidarity, Nicolas Hulot, announced in a speech, at the Medef Employer Federation in Paris: ‘We [the French Government] are going to help companies evolve in terms of their social objectives, which can no longer be limited to earning profits without regard for working women and men, and without consideration for environmental consequences.’ 

His proposed French Pacte Law (action plan for business growth and transformation) was put forward, with the goal of helping to ‘reintegrate morality in capitalism’. 

To ensure financial objectives better support the greater good, the law will re-write two 200-year-old articles in the French Civil Code (articles 1832 and 1833, see box overleaf). 

The articles redefine a company’s role as simply  creating profit for shareholders. The proposed modifications will integrate social and environmental considerations. At the time of AMBITION going to press, the law was to be voted on in autumn 2018 and its primary actions could come into effect as early as 2019.

But, taking this news out of the context of the French arena, and into the wider global economy, could this development suggest that the era of the Chicago School and one of its most noted economists Milton Friedman – who coined the phrase ‘money matters’ – is over? 

A reason for existence

The step change outlined above looks set to take business thought back to 19th and 20th century business magnate Henry Ford’s fundamental advice: ‘Business must be run at a profit, else it will die. But when anyone tries to run a business solely for profit, then also the business must die, for it no longer has a reason for existence.’

This gives us, as Business School leaders, the opportunity to position social responsibility as the foundation for business. 

The perspective that a company can no longer exist within a silo, but instead must be part of the whole, builds on the stakeholder theory developed by R Edward Freeman, an American philosopher and Professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

His theory suggests companies should not only consider their own interests but also the interests of all concerned parties (employees, customers, stakeholders, leaders, and so on). This helps to improve the wellbeing of society. Corporate social responsibility is an example that was born from the concrete application of this approach.

To implement these changes, and to ensure companies accept that they must go beyond their mission (to manufacture products or deliver services) and participate in a larger responsibility, Business Schools have a primary role to play as they train future managers and leaders and offer continuing education for working professionals who are ready to question their practices.

Beyond the ‘usual goals’ of the Business School

The first step in taking on this new role, is to go beyond a Business School’s usual goals (for example ‘training the leaders of tomorrow’ or ‘ranking in the top 10, 20 or 30’) in order to ask: ‘why train the leaders of tomorrow?’, ‘what do the leaders of tomorrow need to be able to do?’, and ‘why attempt to be in the top 10, 20 or 30 Business Schools?’

The second step is a result of this exploration: in addition to working through these questions with students, professionals and employers, Business Schools have to consider the bigger picture. 

Much like what is expected of companies, Business Schools have to understand how they can contribute to the wellbeing of society. As a result, Schools are preparing and implementing a process of change to become ‘schools for business for society’. 

It is a positive sign to see that what was once the perspective of a few has become a generally shared vision. While not all Business Schools are currently working in this way, they are all headed in the same direction and that’s a great result.

It might not seem like much, but there is an important difference between saying ‘we want to train the leaders of tomorrow,’ and ‘we want to train the leaders of tomorrow to do something special’. 

It’s vital to understand that this concept of doing ‘first, for society’ is, in fact, quite complicated to implement because it’s a reversal of traditional values. For Business Schools,  it means that if we only carry out our mission to offer training and support research we will miss our fundamental objective. And, if we miss this fundamental objective, we will still be doing something positive – but the current stakes are so much higher.

In addition to working with students and companies, Business Schools have to offer a vision and solutions for major global challenges (issues surrounding end of life, climate change, energy transition, immigration crises, terrorism, epidemics, corruption, child exploitation, human rights, women’s rights, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence).

The challenge for Business Schools

The mission is for Business Schools, and higher education in general, to continue working in their particular fields of expertise, while contributing to solving the world’s larger challenges. They have to go beyond their comfort zone; in other words, move beyond their limited focus on business, in order to understand and explore the complexities of the world. 

It’s a change that will enable them to provide support in overcoming the major hurdles faced by society.

When Business Schools take the step to work on major societal problems, they open the door to risks and are forced to take sides. By this, I mean that Business Schools do not currently think (and this is a simple fact, not provocation). Their researchers and professors think, but the Schools themselves do not. They ‘describe’ and often they do so after the fact. This was illustrated by the 2008 financial crisis – no Business School anywhere in the world predicted or anticipated this crisis. In other words: Schools do not think, they do not take sides, they do not act.

For example, what does Harvard Business School think about problems impacting on society? Does Harvard voice an opinion, not on immigration, but on what we should do in concrete terms about immigration and immigrants? Going further, if a School’s opinion supports immigrants, does the School work actively to welcome them?

Another example that might offer better perspective is the case of US President Donald Trump. The researchers and professors at Harvard voiced many negative opinions before and after the election of Trump. But in concrete terms, what has Harvard done about it? Nothing. 

If the School had an editorial policy, if it truly wanted to change the world, then Harvard wouldn’t simply denounce policy or take sides. The School would act in concrete terms. How? For example, by setting up locations in the US where people voted overwhelmingly for Trump. 

That would be going beyond its comfort zone in Cambridge, Massachussets, and entering the playground where things are taking place. To understand societal changes, events and facts, it’s important for Business Schools to be ‘external’ and to maintain a certain impartiality. But if you want to change things – and to have an impact – you have to be where the action is. While Business Schools have been limited to describing and explaining, they now also have to (and I do mean ‘also’, not  ‘instead’), state their aims, choose sides, communicate and convince. 

They have to act, which is at the heart of being engaged and inciting change within the world. In this way, Schools can help federate the business world and public institutions in order to work together on important human values and the goal of companies: to perform and create profit for all concerned parties, thereby improving our shared social fabric and contributing to the common good.

Loïck Roche is Director and Dean at Grenoble École de Management (Grenoble Business School). Coming from a corporate background, he worked for 10 years in France and internationally as a consultant in the field of human resources.

Creating responsible citizens to lead organisations to sustainable success

Preparing MBAs to lead sustainable economic growth is the core task of Business Schools, argues Professor Percy Marquina, Director General, CENTRUM PUCP, the Graduate Business School of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Interview by David Woods-Hale

What do you think differentiates the MBA at CENTRUM PUCP?

When students search for a Business School at which to study their MBA, they look for prestige, a high-quality academic programme and networks. At CENTRUM PUCP, we possess and offer these elements to students. But we offer more than that.

We prepare our students for the future by creating responsible and socially committed leaders, who think, decide, and act based on principles. We believe in an holistic form of education that enables students to assimilate the knowledge they require to lead companies based on the experiences they have shared in our classrooms and in their lives. 

Our programme also provides students with the human skills demanded by companies, such as time management, task prioritisation, complex problem solving, the ability to train others and to build sustainable networks.

With reference to Latin America in particular, why is it still vital to develop world-class business education? 

Globalisation and interconnectedness are growing at an exponential rate; every day it becomes evermore important to understand that our actions have far-reaching impacts. As technology advances, it will become easier to reach new audiences, but it will be more important for professionals to acknowledge that competition is no longer local, but international as well.

What innovative teaching methods have you come across that are used to create the leaders of tomorrow?

Emerging, disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and machine learning are changing teaching methods in Business Schools and can help us to adapt teaching to each student’s learning needs. For example, at CENTRUM PUCP, we use IBM Watson Personality Insights analytics to understand and predict the personality characteristics of our students. Using these results, we take a more humanistic approach to our MBA programme.

How important is sustainability, and in what ways have Schools adapted this into their programmes? What does sustainable leadership looks like?

Sustainability is crucial nowadays and we try to instil this in our students. By sustainability, we mean that professionals should meet society’s needs, preserve humanity, increase opportunities for others and make their organisations’ marketing, finance and human resources departments sustainable. We guide students to take decisions that put society’s needs ahead of profits. 

What are the biggest challenges facing global Business Schools today?

The biggest challenge for Business Schools is helping to create responsible citizens. We must be able to develop competent professionals while guiding students through a process of social sensibility. And we must also be competitive. 

When facing global competition, we find that every School that has been able to obtain good results and trained their professional workforce is making a name for itself in the areas in which it excels. 

Gone are the days when professors used to teach traditional subjects in a static way; the time is ripe for a new model of professor who is able to inspire students’, teaching and learning from them in a constantly evolving environment that demands greater skills and vision in order to develop social innovators. 

At CENTRUM PUCP we have developed the NeuroManagement-Lab initiative, with the objective of identifying students’ main leadership competences and areas of development. Through this programme, we enhance the user experience, helping to personalise education, shaping skills and helping students to discover their strengths and work on their weaknesses.

How do you instil the thirst for global mobility and an international mindset in your students? 

Whenever I step into a classroom or I encounter a student, the message I always try to communicate is a simple one: do what makes you happy and you will lead the way. Having visited so many places, I have confirmed this theory: students overachieve when they are able to work and pursue their goals in something that makes them happy. 

If you are able to identify and understand your passions, your thirst and commitment towards your goals will increase every day and your competition will become global. 

You will innovate, search and look for solutions to questions that have never been asked before because your thirst for knowledge will push you to think more broadly. During their MBA, our students are exposed to global experiences such as international faculty, peers, global case studies, international study stages, business programmes abroad and so on.

You urge your students not to put limits on their goals – can you share some insight into how MBAs can take theory into practice? 

Through many case studies, we teach students the ways firms and managers have faced and solved unexpected problems. I advise them to stick to their principles and the message of their organisation. 

If your organisation has a distinctive characteristic or stands for something, wear it as your own personal badge of honour. 

One story that people can relate to is Apple’s. Steve Jobs, former Co-Founder and CEO of Apple, believed in innovation and in the superior quality and practicality of products. He used to say: ‘Apple products should be easy to understand. Everyone should know how to use them’.  

His team believed this, too – at a time when this was not expected – and created products accordingly. Acting in line with the beliefs of your organisation can help it differentiate itself in a saturated or extremely competitive market. 

At CENTRUM PUCP we promote entrepreneurship as a way of creating innovative business models. Several start-ups are created every year by our students, and have a great impact on society. For example, three graduates from CENTRUM PUCP and three from the faculty of engineering PUCP were among the 15 finalists in the Cisoc Global Problem Solver Challenge. The talented Peruvians developed Pukio, an intelligent mechatronic system that generates clean water through the condensation of water vapour in the air. Collaboration is vital in an uncertain climate. 

How does your Business School link and work with other Schools, employers and alumni? 

Relationships are about co-operation, and co-operation is about progress. We challenge ourselves to establish partnerships with other Business Schools to provide the best each School can offer in a combined MBA or specialised master’s programme. 

We promote co-operation between our departments to allow the ideas and innovation to flow through the veins of our School. We create opportunities for alumni to collaborate with us so that we benefit from the skills and experiences of the professionals we create in our classrooms. Co-operation has grown in importance among Business Schools and it is yielding better results.

What would your advice be to other Business School leaders operating in such a volatile and uncertain world?

Education is not about outcomes. It is about the impact. At CENTRUM PUCP, we have a mission: educate to serve. We serve academia, the business world and wider society. But we are also here to educate people about sustainable development. 

We want people to learn to thrive in a competitive world. Business Schools should also follow suit: educating people to allow them to see the bigger picture and teaching professionals how to lead the departments within their organisations.

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

I believe we are all more aware of the global challenges ahead than we were a couple years ago. We are in the process of acknowledging the impacts of our actions and the dangers of not doing so over the long term. 

Business Schools have taken advantage of this. We teach students to think about impacts on society and how our actions can be turned into positive outcomes for the greater good. 

Sustainability is both an individual responsibility and about teamwork: we all have to engage in the right actions to produce a positive impact. I believe Business Schools are preparing people to provide sustainable and egalitarian economic growth.

Professor Percy Marquina is Director General at CENTRUM PUCP, the Graduate Business School of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. He was previously General Manager of Rhone Poulenc and General Manager, Commercial Manager and Marketing Manager of companies related to the Richard O’ Custer group. Marquina holds PhDs from the Maastricht School of Management and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in business administration and strategic business administration, respectively.

Is AI making dangerous decisions without us?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to take control of many aspects of our lives, but not enough is being done with regards to accountability for its consequences.

The increasing application of AI across all aspects of business has given many firms a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, its meteoric rise also paves the way for ethical dilemmas and high-risk situations. New technology means new risks and governments, firms, coders and philosophers have their work cut out for them.

If we are launching self-driving cars and autonomous drones, we are essentially involving AI in life-or-death scenarios and the day-to-day risks people face. Healthcare is the same; we are giving AI the power of decision making along with the power of analysis and, inevitably, it will have some involvement in a person’s death at some point in the future, but who would be responsible?

Doctors take the Hippocratic oath despite knowing that they could be involved in a patient’s death. This could come from a mistaken diagnosis, exhaustion, or simply missing a symptom. This leads to a natural concern about research into how many of these mistakes could be avoided.

The limits of data and the lack of governance

Thankfully, AI is taking up this challenge. However, it is important to remember that current attempts to automate and reproduce intelligence are based on the data used to train algorithms. The computer science saying ‘garbage in, garbage out’ [describing the concept that flawed input data will only produce flawed outputs] is particularly relevant in an AI-driven world where biased and incomplete input data could lead to prejudiced results and dire consequences.

Another issue with data is that it only covers a limited range of situations, and inevitably, most AI will be confronted with situations they have not encountered before. For instance, if you train a car to drive itself using past data, can you comfortably say it will be prepared it for all eventualities? Probably not, given how unique each accident can be. Hence, the issue is not simply in the algorithm, but in the choices about which kinds of datasets we use, the design of the algorithm, and the intended function of that AI on decision making.

Data is not the only issue. Our research has found that governments have no records of which companies and institutions use AI. This is not surprising as even the US – one of world’s largest economies and one that has a focus on developing and deploying AI – does not have any policy on the subject. Governance, surveillance and control are all left to developers. This means that, often, no one really knows how the algorithms work aside from the developers.

When 99% isn’t good enough

In many cases, if a machine can produce your desired results with 99% accuracy, it will be a triumph. Just imagine how great it would be if your smartphone can complete the text to your exact specification before you’ve even typed it.

However, even a 99% level of precision is not good enough in other circumstances, such as health diagnostics, image recognition for food safety, text analysis for legal documents or financial contracts. Company executives as well as policymakers will need more nuanced accounts of what is involved. The difficulty is, understanding those risks is not straightforward.

Let’s take a simple example. If AI is used in a hospital to assess the chances of patients having a heart attack, they are detecting variations in eating habits, exercise, and other trends identified to be important in making an effective prediction. This should have a clear burden of responsibility on the designer of the technology and the hospital.

However, how useful that prediction is implies that a patient (or her/his doctor) has an understanding of how that decision was reached – therefore, it must be explained to them. If it is not explained and a patient [that is given a low chance of having a heart attack] then has a heart attack without changing their behaviour, they will be left feeling confused, wondering what the trigger for it was. Essentially, we are using technical solutions to deal with problems that are not always technical, but personal, and if people don’t understand how decisions about their health are being made, we are looking at a recipe for disaster.

Decision making, freedom of choice and AI

To make matters worse, AI often operates like a ‘black box’. Today’s machine learning techniques can lead a computer to continue improving its ability to guess the right answer or identify the right result. But, often, we have no idea how the machines actually achieve this improvement or ‘learn’. If this is the case, how can we change the learning process, if necessary? Put differently, sometimes not even the developers know how the algorithms work.

Consumers need to be made more aware of which decisions concerning their lives have been made by AI, and in order to govern the use of AI effectively, the government needs to give citizens the choice of opting out of all AI-driven decision making altogether, if they want to. In some ways, we might be seeing the start of such measures with the introduction of GDPR in Europe last year. However, it is evident that we still have a long way to go.

If we are taking the responsibility of decision making away from people, do we really know what we are giving it to? And what will be the consequences of the inevitable mistakes? Although we can train AI to make better decisions, as AI begins to shape our entire society, we all need to become ethically literate and aware of the decisions that machines are making for us.

Terence Tse is an Associate Professor of Finance at ESCP Europe Business School and a Co-Founder of Nexus FrontierTech, which provides AI solutions to clients across industries, sectors, and regions globally. His latest book, The AI Republic: Building the Nexus Between Humans and Intelligent Automation is due for release in June 2019.

Building a responsible and inclusive future

Developing a mindset of continual learning for the future of work and inclusive leadership will underpin the MBA at Newcastle University Business School, explains its Director and Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies, Sharon Mavin. Interview by David Woods-Hale

You joined Newcastle University Business School during a momentous year for the School as it celebrated 30 years of AMBA accreditation. What attracted you to the organisation? 

I was attracted by the stage of development of the School. It’s going through a period of growth and is expanding its presence with an additional building. It’s triple accredited and has world-class research, but at the same time there was an appointment of a new Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor, so there was an opportunity to join a brand new team and look at really embedding the Business School into the University and developing a vision around the future of work and leading on leadership. 

I previously led Roehampton Business School, University of Roehampton, London, as Director and before that I was at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, as Dean and Associate Dean Research.

At Newcastle University Business School, there is an opportunity to look at an interdisciplinary approach in terms of the stage of development of the Business School. The challenge facing Schools today is to prepare students and graduates for problems that are not just around business and management; to be able to take a more interdisciplinary approach to thinking and problem solving and to prepare business, management, economics, accounting and finance students, for the future of work, when we don’t know what that future will be. The jobs they will be doing in the future don’t actually exist now. 

In Newcastle, we have two national innovation centres (one in data and another in ageing) and integrating the Business School into the work of these centres is a fantastic opportunity to expose our students to further world-class research. 

What do you think draws prospective MBAs to Newcastle? 

When I joined the School, we were celebrating 30 years of AMBA accreditation and this is a testament to the Newcastle MBA. While it has changed and evolved, it’s still a very progressive MBA programme, which details a journey of transformation for the individual student, combined with innovative curricula, real-world interaction and the internationalisation of the programme on a global scale. For example, this year, our international study tour is to Brazil. 

We welcome students who are ready and committed to a journey of personal transformation and change, and offer them the knowledge, skills, and exposure to international experiences plus international approaches to business and management. 

What keeps people coming to us is a combination of our first-class reputation for academic excellence, high graduate employability and excellent student experience. It’s an all-round journey of personal transformation.

What skills do you think MBAs should be demonstrating upon graduation?  

We are in an ongoing dialogue with external organisations, our advisory board, our academic team, our students and employers, asking what a Newcastle University Business School graduate and post-graduate should know, and what they should stand for. 

In terms of key knowledge expectations, these would be the same as for any MBA graduate: being able to develop personal resilience; to thrive in complex and chaotic situations and those in which there is ambiguity; to make clear judgements based on information and evidence; being informed by a commitment to ethical corporate social responsibility; having a commitment to gender inclusive leadership, which will become increasingly important in our MBA; and being able to work individually and also as part of a team. 

Our corporate and organisational partners are talking to us about continual learning and they want people who can embrace change and accept that the MBA is not the end – they want people who want to learn for life. This means being prepared for the future of work, but also to learn, change and adapt in order to influence, lead and shape their future and their own future careers. This goes far beyond knowledge of business and management. 

How do you view ethical management? 

As part of our vision, we see ourselves as a globally renowned international Business School that is building a responsible future, through our graduates and post-graduates, for both business and society globally. It’s certainly a core value of Newcastle University around sustainability and responsible management. In the MBA, we have both a corporate social responsibility module, but also a commitment to ethical behaviour and personal values running all the way through. The Newcastle University Business School post-graduate has a strong understanding of their own personal values and what they stand for.

Do we need a new metrics system to measure MBA programme success? 

We would argue that there does need to be a new metrics system for measuring success, not least beyond international diversity, to include gender diversity and different elements of intersectionality for the type of cohorts we’re learning with. 

From my point of view, coming in as a new Director, one of our scholarships for next year will be for a woman, who will work with us exploring gender-inclusive leadership. This will be a scholarship that signals that women are very much encouraged to join our Business School. We know that all UK Schools have a long way to go regarding ‘gender on the agenda’ in all kinds of ways, as evidenced in Athena SWAN action plans. Gender equality is a core value of mine. We want to be explicit about our commitment to gender inclusive leadership. 

It’s not just about cohort size if you’re trying to bring a balance of international and gender diversity into the MBA learning environment. 

As a female Business School Director, do you feel like you are trailblazing the way for other women?

I’m the first woman Director at Newcastle University Business School. In my first semester, I think I made an impact on the academic group, because colleagues see my commitment to talking openly about the gender pay gap, gender inclusive leadership or gender on the agenda in curricula. I’m not afraid to have these discussions. 

I want to award a scholarship to a woman with aspirations who envisages a major transformational journey. I will be involved with that learning journey as a mentor and with the students on the programme and I’m hoping to make a positive impact. 

You’ve done some work with Board Apprentice Global Scheme on diversity. Can you explain some more about this?

It’s a not-for-profit franchise that offers an immediate solution to the lack of diversity in the boardroom because it is, in effect, a development programme for people and boards to develop experience that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Introducing diversity to company boards through an apprenticeship scheme.

I went through a selection process to become a board apprentice for a JP Morgan Investment Trust. I wouldn’t ordinarily have been in a position to have this experience. I’m in higher education, I’m from the north of England and I didn’t have any non-executive (NXD) board experience other than committees to do with higher education. I went through a selection process and joined the JP Morgan Claverhouse Investment Trust plc. 

I had the privilege of observing the board for nearly 18 months and joining board activity across the different methods that it uses to govern. I engaged with the Chair of the board, other directors, the fund managers, the board business and enjoyed learning more about the financial investment sector – including the AGM and meeting shareholders. 

This increased my experience of governance and knowledge as a NXD If I hadn’t recently moved into the Director role at the University of Newcastle, I’d have already applied for NXD with this new knowledge and experience and therefore offering diversity to other boards. 

The Board Apprentice offers people, who don’t necessarily have the ‘right’ knowledge and experience, opportunities for development. This programme looks at diversity beyond gender and encompasses ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, age, disability, personality and skillset. Simply by observing a board, an apprentice can change the dynamic within it. Through the chair, I was able to ask questions of the board offline to help understand and refine my own decision making. Having a board apprentice is a positive, committed action and adds to the diversity of established thinking within boards and increases the pool of people who are able to apply for NXD positions. 

I also met with the London Higher Group of Universities which has started a board apprentice journey. It’s working with corporate organisations, enabling people from universities to become NXDs and their councils and senates are engaging with board apprentices from the corporate sector. Universities require diversity on their senates and councils in the same way that FTSE firms do. Universities are not exempt, but it can be very challenging to reach outside the University community, to get the diversity you need. 

Board apprentice programmes build a pipeline of people who are ready for their first board position. Because of my subject area, I’d never worked in the finance sector in that level of depth and the opportunity allowed me such a good exposure to the sector, which benefited my own personal development.

Do you think there’s still too much talk and not enough action on gender inclusive leadership? 

Up until about six months ago, I would have said ‘absolutely yes’, but I think now, we’re hitting a tipping point of what has been acceptable and what’s not. This might be around the gender pay gap, sexual harassment, and the gendered representation in the media of women leaders – which has a major impact on socialising future leaders. 

The media shows Hilary Clinton or Theresa May as powerful women leaders, but are talking about what they wear or how they look. This is being challenged and becoming unacceptable. The backlash to the US presidency race will also be a part of the tipping
point I’ve just described. People are becoming more comfortable with calling out gender discrimination.  

You cannot be what you cannot see. We want students to think more critically about what they see when they see leadership images and how leaders are portrayed around them; some of these messages are so normalised, they don’t realise how sexist they are. 

One of my key next steps is to consider how to develop gender-inclusive leadership with men and women students, because change is not just the responsibility of women. 

Our students are letting us know when they see men-only guest speakers or panels and expect to engage with leaders and entrepreneurs of both genders. I use the term ‘gender inclusive’ because we need to pull the models apart, so everyone can relate to the terminology. 

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

I feel very optimistic about business education that understands what we have to do now and in the future and is different to what we’ve done in the past. 

Providing personal development journeys that engage with the whole person rather than comprising knowledge transfer is a fantastic opportunity. 

From our point of view, in our School, we’ll be educating and developing for the future of work and leading on leaders for a future we can shape – this is a positive way of looking at massive change, continually. 

How do we prepare people to engage and learn in an unknown future of work

This will be about developing the knowledge, skills, values and open mind sets for a future we don’t even know yet. 

That’s a challenge I’m excited about.   

The field of change

Nino Zambadhikze, MBA graduate and Head of the Georgian Farmers Association, talks about her career journey, current goals and the need for greater investment in women in business

Nino Zambadhikze, Head of the Georgian Farmers Association, completed her MBA at Grenoble École Management in 2016 and was selected by the World Economic Forum as one of the most innovative and social-minded leaders under 40. In an interview with David Woods-Hale, she talks about her career journey, her current goals and the need for greater investment in women in business.

Tell us about your career so far

Shortly after I graduated from the Humanitarian-Technical Faculty at Tbilisi Technical University, I went to New York to further my studies and took up a course in marketing.

I decided to launch my first business in the US. I took out a bank loan to buy up GAP jeans and send them to Georgia where my father’s friend was selling them in his shop. However, my father’s friend vanished, and I discovered there was no shop. This was my first failure.

I also recall becoming angry with my country. But I knew that if you jumped on a plane and flew just a few hours, an absolutely different life awaited. This was the biggest motivating factor in becoming an entrepreneur. 

After returning to Georgia, I still had to pay back the $20,000 loan I had in the US. My family had to sell everything in order to pay the money. These hard times lasted for almost a year, but in 1998, I started working as an interpreter for a Greek businessman operating in Georgia. I learned a lot from my employer; however, problems quickly arose as the businessman was forced to leave Georgia.

I found a job at an audit company in Tbilisi, where I met Beso Babunashvili, my eventual business partner. We started to export non-ferrous metals from Georgia and also opened a coffee house. In 2005, we launched the first three take-away coffee booths in Tbilisi.

One day in 2007, Beso went to Akhaltsikhe and bought two cows. This led us to launch a cheese production business. We submitted an application to the Millennium Challenge project and received US$125,000 in funding. Then I moved from Tbilisi to Akhaltsikhe and opened a farm. We created an agricultural company which is mostly in the milk-processing business, as well as animal-husbandry and food processing.

What does a typical day at the Georgian Business Zone look like for you?

I had already started my work with the Georgian Business Zone when I met Petre Tsiskarishvili, the Minister of Agriculture at that time. I told him I wanted to buy highly productive cows and start producing cheese. With the funds from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, we started to build a milk-processing plant. The only problem was that we couldn’t find a technician with modern knowledge in milk processing and cheese production. So I travelled to Turkey to study the profession, and also became a food safety manager. 

When September came, the cows stopped producing milk. I thought the cattle needed fodder, so I took out another loan to build a fodder-producing plant. But it turned out that the problem was due to the genetics of the cows. We eventually built our farm with the help of the Cheap Credit Programme and now produce 400kg of cheese daily. We have 100 cows, 70 hectares of agricultural land, 300 hectares of pasture fields, a five-hectare apple orchard, and a fish farm too.

Mornings start very early in Tsnisi. After breakfast, I start to make the rounds at my businesses. After that, I go to my office where I take care of clerical tasks. In the evenings, I visit my friends and we drink coffee and talk. Days are long travelling from Akhaltsikhe to Tbilisi and back.

Tell us about your involvement with Invest For The Future (IFTF)

I am an Honourable Country Coordinator of IFTF for Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Greece. IFTF was designed to focus on improving the economic situation for women across Southern and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, and was initiated by the US Department of State. The IFTF brought women together to foster development and overcome barriers of gender inequality. I believe that while women are doing a lot of work, they are not being recognised properly.

Women’s talent needs to be discovered. At the Farmer’s Association, we feature stories about new projects on our Facebook page, and magazines also feature stories about our members. I think increasing their visibility will increase their sense of responsibility, which will result in their success. This is important because women’s participation in business helps economic growth, but it’s being overlooked in the region.

Furthermore, employed women are predominantly in low-paying sectors and the gender pay gap is high. I believe this can be changed by promoting women’s entrepreneurship by boosting access to finance for female-led businesses, improving local banks’ ability to serve the female market and help female entrepreneurs’ access business advice.

What were the highlights of your MBA and how has it changed your career trajectory?

I believe there are three key components for success: take risks, have willpower and, to some to extent, consider every failure a success. My MBA taught me how to use theoretical knowledge, how to learn from my mistakes, the importance of time management, and how to achieve my goals.

My goals include increasing agricultural productivity, defending farmers’ rights, developing legislative proposals in the field of agriculture, and strengthening farmers’ social and economic conditions. My MBA can help me to achieve these goals.

As for how my MBA changed my career trajectory, I started watching out for opportunities which come with the constantly changing business environment. This made me more self-confident and a more competitive businesswoman.

What was the most useful thing your MBA taught you?

The most important skills you can acquire in Business School are the abilities to adapt, make the right decisions, become a real leader, and learn how to be a good in business. I reached a new level of confidence in my ability to make a decision with limited information. I learned that the difference between a great idea and great change is in the execution, but the person who comes up with a great idea is just as important.

The MBA is a pathway to global leadership – how do you address the cultural challenges?

As cross-cultural management compares organisational behaviour across countries and cultures and seeks to understand how to improve interaction around the world, I want to reduce the cross-cultural differences and raise awareness of these, in order to have better communication and cooperation in the workplace. To do this, employees have to know each other’s cultures and languages. This keeps employees integrated within the organisation so they cooperate with each other and attain shared goals.

It’s necessary to recognise different business cultures across the globe too. Every country follows a different management style and so managers have to take into consideration the key elements of each country, such as its religion and history.

How do you ensure your messages get to the right people in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment?

In a fast-moving world, the challenge is to retain a clear vision of what you want to achieve. This vision should be flexible in responding to unfolding situations but hold a consistent message. This means you need to be ready for change. Change is about survival but is especially necessary in organisations that wish to prosper in a VUCA environment.

Therefore, the question is what you are going to do to initiate change? What role are you going to assume? If you play the right role, then you and your organisation will survive for as long as the environment tolerates that role. A successful leader knows which role to play at what time, and knows when to change roles.

As people communicate in different ways, marketplaces are becoming busier and silos develop. How would you address this in business?

Execution of a project is the result of thousands of decisions made every day by top management. However, the right decision is one that can guarantee a long stay in the marketplace by ensuring maximum satisfaction of the consumer’s demands.

Organisations need to concentrate on quality, not on quantity, share technological achievements, and keep up with innovations and development. This way, they will gain the consumer’s confidence and become a competitive company in the world market.

What should responsible [and sustainable] leadership look like?

Sustainable leadership is about leading an organisation towards sustainable development, implementing socially responsible methods and acknowledging a shared responsibility for preventing the use of unjustified financial and human resources, and the violation of the environment. A good leader should involve employees in the company’s decision-making processes. 

Sustainability is moving to the core of business strategy. What are the skills you’d look for in your team of the future?

It’s important to have friendly team where everyone has equal opportunities for development. It’s crucial to have team members who express their thoughts and ideas clearly, directly, honestly, and respectfully. Reliable team members are an important asset for any team, because they get work done. Also, good team players are active participants, fully engaged in the work of the team. They’re open to sharing their information, knowledge, and experience. 

A good manager knows the most valuable asset is the team. Sustainable business is created when each employee considers themselves part of the company. This means employees can work together to solve problems. They respond to requests for assistance and take the initiative to offer help.

What would your advice be to MBA students and graduates?

Make best use of this time, and gain theoretical knowledge and information about practical issues. Be results orientated and make an effort to achieve success in your career. Also, it’s important to ask questions until there are no more answers. After finishing each module during my MBA, I thought ‘that’s enough’, but that was exactly the time to move forward. Knowledge is the biggest investment you can have, and the practice is the most solid foundation. 

Do you think Business Schools and employers have sufficiently strong links?

Business Schools and employers have links, but it’s not enough. We all know how it should be but it doesn’t happen in real life. Business Schools have to keep up with modern trends and adapt their programmes to the latest innovations. I think it’s very important for Business Schools to be focused on giving their students more theoretical knowledge based on interesting and practical real cases. Obvious mismatches between Business Schools and employers occur when the Business School does not take into account the changing business environment. Also, when businesses are less involved with MBA programmes, their expectations for future employees’ skills are inadequate.  

As a successful female leader, what would your advice be to other aspiring women?

Never give up, never be afraid of the risk and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. 

I know the challenges women face every day because they’re ‘the weaker sex’. To achieve equality, we need more education, more support, more female involvement at governmental and non-governmental levels, and more women in leading positions. Especially, in terms of business, I would like women to have more educational programmes, more grants for projects, and more empathy from financial institutions.

Do you feel optimistic about the future of business and the global economy?

Yes, business is not just a way to gain money but a way to impose social responsibility and care about environmental problems. 

Businesses need to do this to stay in the world market, and make a financial profit in the long term.