Designing a tech MBA

In an age of technology, many students are seeking a specialised MBA for the tech sector or tech-centric companies, argues IE Business School’s José Esteves

Technology has emerged as one of the most relevant economic sectors in recent years, with technological innovation driving growth and labour productivity across all areas of the economy. The adoption of emerging information technologies is influencing employment and remuneration, requiring fresh skills, creating new jobs, and not only changing the nature of tasks in which workers are engaged but also the workplace environment.

At IE Business School, we believe the best way to meet these challenges is by designing a specialised MBA for the tech sector and/or for tech-centric organisations.

Why a tech MBA?

We identified four key business realities that a tech MBA can address: the rise of technology ecosystems; digital transformation; constantly evolving technology; and technology shortfalls.

1 Technology’s contribution to economic growth and labour productivity 

In a 2017 report, Huawei and Oxford Economics estimated that ‘the digital economy is worth $11.5 trillion USD globally, equivalent to 15.5% of global GDP and has grown two and a half times faster than global GDP over the past 15 years’. An analysis of the top US companies by market capitalisation shows that tech companies are the highest valued, among them Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Google. In the past two years, some of these companies have reached capitalisation of $1 trillion USD.

2 Digital transformation 

The vast majority of companies are engaging in transformation initiatives as part of a rethink of their global strategies, business models, and organisational approaches.

3 Evolution of technology 

While the accelerated adoption of technologies, such as cloud computing, robotic automation, AI, machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), and 5G technologies is promising for the tech industry, it also demands continuous updating of skills and knowledge. 

New jobs will undoubtedly be created in this scenario, and the demand for data sciences, coding, digital ecosystems, and e-commerce will continue to grow. 

However, it will be difficult for workers to develop the skills needed in these areas. The mismatch between the skills required and workers’ capabilities will necessitate the expansion of retraining programmes.

4 The global tech talent shortage

Technology is creating more jobs than any other, but by 2030, it is estimated that the technology, media and telecommunications sectors will have a shortfall of 4.3 million workers worldwide, according to a 2018 report by Korn Ferry. 

Shortages in these industries are expected to cost $449.7 billion USD in unrealised revenue, while fintech and BFIS (banking, finance, insurance, and security) will have a shortfall of 10.7 million workers by 2030, resulting in $1.3 trillion USD in lost revenue. 

The situation when focusing in on specific countries and regions is similar: the European Commission, for example, has forecasted that 100,000 data-related jobs will be created across Europe by 2020. Since 2010, the number of tech-related jobs in the US has increased by approximately 200,000 every year, and the US economy is increasingly reliant on tech labour for its survival. Based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on projected employment in the year 2026, service-providing industries are expected to account for the majority of 11.5 million newly created jobs. 

Diving deeper into technology

IE Business School decided to create a tech MBA after listening to recruiters and students. Students are increasingly interested in working in the tech sector, or for tech-centric companies, or in tech-demand roles. In response, two years ago, as part of the International MBA programme, we launched the TechLab. 

However, we noticed that some of our students were looking for more. They wanted to dive deeper into technology – not only learning about the latest trends, but also being able to understand and leverage these emerging technologies and tech ecosystems fully. At the same time, our corporate partners were increasingly looking for graduates with a clear understanding of technology and business analytics as well as business acumen. 

The ingredients of a tech MBA 

IE Business School’s Tech MBA is a tech-centred programme that blends three modules – ‘business mastery’, ‘technology immersion’, and ‘transformational leadership’. Each of the three modules is outlined in more
detail below: 

1 Business mastery 

At the heart of any MBA programme, whether general or specialised, lies a curriculum in business management, strategy, and economics.

In the case of our specialised Tech MBA, this part of the curriculum is designed to ensure students are equipped with the knowledge and lasting growth strategies that every tech-centric business needs to succeed in the current landscape. From the very beginning it applies case studies and examples taken from the tech context.

2 Technology immersion 

This module provides a deep understanding of the tech ecosystem, exploring the processes and challenges that underpin technological innovation, and endowing students with the skills needed to manage within firms that are focused on the areas of tech and innovation.

3 Transformational leadership 

The leadership module prepares students to be leaders who can design, drive and manage change by expanding their mindsets, skills and tools in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world of work. 

This is the glue that holds the programme together and differentiates our students. It is the vital element that will equip them to lead the future.

We cover core courses in all three modules, which are fully integrated. The programme runs for one year, across four periods, and the first two periods include tech-related industry forums which take an experiential learning approach and provide a practical perspective with workshops on fintech, insure-tech, edutech and so on, all featuring leading experts.

The tech MBA learning journey

The learning journey ensures that students acquire technology, management and transformational leadership competencies, using an integrative approach made up of three phases: ‘exploration’, ‘action’, and ‘immersion’.

During the ‘exploration’ phase, students discover tech and business through specialised courses. In the ‘action’ phase, they undertake a specific technology experiential learning approach, and in the ‘immersion’ phase, they choose from electives to sharpen their business and tech knowledge.

During the programme’s core modules, the focus is 55% on tech and 45% on business. However, electives mean students can customise their tech MBA to their specific needs. If all the electives chosen by a student are tech-related, the percentage of tech courses covered by the end of the MBA would be more than 75% of the total studied. 

‘Tech career treks’ take place regularly throughout all four periods. Students spend two to three hours visiting a global tech company with the objective of learning about its company culture and priorities, and also learn more about career opportunities where applicable. Treks typically happen within Madrid or Barcelona.

The School’s Tech MBA will be run separately from its International MBA. We will also create a specific portfolio of electives for the Tech MBA. However, we will allow the students of both MBA programmes to share the portfolio of electives. Plus, students will be able to network across the two programmes during extracurricular activities and events (for example, the School’s TechIE annual conference or IE Global Innovation Challenge).

The classroom experience

Students who feel they would benefit from one-to-one time with professors, or who prefer working in groups, should consider on-campus MBAs as these allow for greater face-to-face interaction with classmates and instructors, not just academically, but also socially. 

The social events that materialise from being on campus also provide valuable, yet unofficial, networking opportunities. Students should never underestimate the opportunities that a coffee break can generate, and will want to take advantage of facilities and resources on campus, including extracurricular activities, lectures, libraries, and athletic facilities. 

In addition, attending a full-time MBA provides easy access to advice, career counselling, and other on-campus student services and activities, all of which help students build a robust professional network.

José Esteves is Associate Dean for the International MBA and Tech MBA programmes at IE Business School, Spain. 

Why flexibility is essential in executive education

Flexibility is the new normal, argues NEOMA Business School’s Jérôme Couturier. Institutions offering executive education need to sit up and take note

In today’s business environment, both employers and employees recognise the need for flexibility; however, many popular Business Schools are yet to come to the same realisation. Change is the only constant in the lives of today’s business leaders (switching roles and companies, travelling frequently and interacting globally) and the pace of change is faster than ever. This demands an appropriate response from Business Schools and all other stakeholders.

It is no longer sufficient for ambitious professionals to update their knowledge intermittently; sometimes they must reset it entirely, discarding outdated skills in favour of new ones as companies demand greater agility from their staff. Even governments are reacting to this impetus. France, for example, now subsidises training schemes to ensure business leaders’ capabilities remain aligned to market needs. 

And it’s not just seismic technical shifts such as digitisation that require executives to be flexible, but the increasing prominence of concepts such as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Running a business today is about much more than profit. Considerations around politics, multiculturalism and climate change must be taken into account. Coping with these varied demands requires no small degree of flexibility and the way people work is changing as a result. 

Blurred lines

For Business Schools, the most obvious consequence of this shift to flexibility is the changing segmentation of the MBA market. Lines are blurring in terms of the applicants attracted to different kinds of courses.

Traditionally, the full-time MBA was designed for young people with limited work experience, while the executive MBA (EMBA) was aimed at experienced managers; it was assumed that the latter would prefer a part-time course, allowing them to continue working alongside their studies. This can no longer be taken for granted. 

It is becoming progressively difficult for Business Schools to profile the candidates that come knocking at our doors. In a world, where no one can rely on a career for life, experienced executives often don’t want to pursue a drawn out part-time course. Instead, they sometimes prefer to complete a full-time EMBA, as quickly as possible, making the most of full immersion for parts of the programme. 

Old, dependable assumptions about candidates are crumbling. At NEOMA, we see applicants of different ages and levels of experience seeking part-time and full-time courses, according to their personal career goals.

In the past, these tired-but-reliable stereotypes enabled business education institutions to design programmes to suit predicted audiences, rolling these out for a decade before revisiting their format. Schools cannot afford to take that approach anymore; a more dynamic platform is needed. The architects of EMBA courses need to look beyond the need for reskilling, and design programmes in line with broader competencies. This provides flexibility, since Schools are able to alter the competencies on offer, as market needs evolve.

Prioritising flexibility

In redesigning NEOMA’s Global EMBA, the Course Directors kept flexibility front of mind. To this end, the programme offers three ‘entrance gates’, enabling candidates to choose from three different learning paces; they can study for 15 months, 10 months or for as little as seven months. The varying speeds allow candidates to choose between distributing the course content evenly over a long period of time and opting for a more intense, fast-track programme.

The latter option, also referred to as ‘full and flex’, allows students to cover a very significant amount of the curriculum in a concentrated two-month period over the summer, while fitting the rest into their professional schedule.

We believe Business Schools need to diversify their offerings to attract both local applicants and those from around the world. The three formats available on NEOMA’s Global EMBA were created in the context of our desire to put forward a truly global programme. 

The 15-month programme is designed to suit candidates who are geographically close to Paris: those who are willing to live in the city for the duration of the course, or who live within a commutable distance. Meanwhile, the 10-month programme is a better fit for those within five hours of the capital, as they do not need to be on campus throughout. The full-and-flex programme is the best option for international students, as they only have to spend two months in Paris and can complete the rest of the course online and through four one-week experiences abroad.

After announcing the full-and-flex course, the first feedback we received was from prospective students, delighted with the flexibility on offer. However, in the same breath, they requested more. Excited by the chance to complete most of the course over the summer, candidates wanted to know if they could complete the whole course over two years, in two concentrated summer blocks, enabling them to stay in their full-time jobs, taking minimal time off beyond annual leave. The immediate demand was overwhelming, but not unanticipated. If anything, it reaffirmed our belief that we had made the right decision in putting flexibility at the heart of our course. 

Building relationships

Business Schools might be tempted to achieve flexibility by offering an entirely online EMBA. This way, students can complete the whole course anywhere, anytime. However, it’s important to factor in the intrinsic value of face-to-face interaction, peer learning and networking on these programmes. 

In designing NEOMA’s Global EMBA, we have made all the specialisation aspects of the course available online, so that students can customise their individual experience to the maximum degree, with full support available online from their tutors. However, with the core modules, we ask that students are present on campus to make the most of face-to-face interactions with Professors, and networking with their peers. 

In practice, students on our full-and-flex course spend two months in Paris, and partake in four separate one-week learning experiences on four continents. The rest of the course can be completed anywhere in the world. By balancing customisable online tracks with the right amount of face-to-face time, Business Schools stand the best chance of providing flexibility without compromising relationship building.

Maintaining flexibility

One of the challenges when building a flexible executive course is maintaining consistency. Incorporating three different entrance gates and a range of individually customisable content into one course is no simple task. Incorrectly managed, such a programme could become confusing and disorganised. 

At NEOMA, we found that sustaining a sense of unity across all three customisable tracks was best achieved with a good structure. Our 15-month course starts in October each year. In March, students on the 10-month course take some modules alone as a cohort to catch up at first, before joining in with the 15-month cohort for the majority of the core modules. Students embarking on the full-and-flex version of the course have a significant amount of studying to do online, or as a single cohort, in order to catch up with the two other student groups. 

Most of this catching up is achieved during their two-month crash course over the summer, so by the time the course comes to a close, all the EMBA students come together and have the opportunity to network as one group. This unity is reinforced by four shared international learning experiences; all course participants visit Ghana, the UK, India and the US together, getting the chance to meet and collaborate each time.

Once a strong framework has been established, course architects must go further to ensure their executive education offerings provide continuity. There are a few simple ways to achieve this. Primarily, the same faculty must be available to all students on the course. Easily accessible and consistent support is essential to any student’s success, but for a student pursing a course based on the other side of the world, it can be make or break. 

It is essential that students know who to contact for help, and that faculty members become well-known figures to everyone in the cohort. Similarly, consistency can be maintained through the online aspects of a course. While modules are fully customisable, the same choices of online module are ultimately available to all students; it’s simply up to them which route they choose. The same faculty members that teach face-to-face on the programme should be contactable online as this will enable students to cope better with their complex workload. Beyond reliable faculty, business education institutions aiming for flexibility need to be sensible about how they distribute executive course content. Business leaders and budding entrepreneurs alike are well aware of the increasing prevalence of AI, and the resulting demand for (‘human’) soft skills. 

Emotional intelligence and complex problem solving are the key advantages that humans still have over machines and these must be nurtured to ensure we remain valuable members of the global workforce. There is no getting around the fact that soft skills are best taught in person and it makes sense for Schools to concentrate the bulk of their students’ quantitative study online, to free up the limited face-to-face learning time for soft-skills education. Preparation and group work can also be done online to maximise efficiency.

Technology is a brilliant tool, but catering to the demand for flexibility shouldn’t come at the expense of the personal. Shifting any amount of course content online means less in-person teaching, so this needs to be of the highest quality. Personal development is embedded in the DNA of NEOMA’s executive programme. We believe students always benefit from a personal approach, so small class sizes are preferable. This means that when students come to create business plans, a core part of their EMBA, they receive a great deal of personal support and are never at risk of being overlooked.  

Customised courses

As Business School practitioners know, designing a programme is a multi-faceted task. Threading flexibility through every feature of a programme makes the process even more complicated. In creating NEOMA’s Global EMBA, we needed a strategy that would ensure the course could be fully customised by each student. We responded to this necessity by breaking the course down; we thought of it as a game of building blocks. 

Every ‘brick’ of the Global EMBA can be combined with any other. If you set out with that design in mind then every time you expand, you can consider how your new addition will work with the programme’s other aspects, and with students’ careers. Candidates are also able to select course ‘bricks’ and complete just those. This allows prospective applicants to test elements of the course before committing to completing the whole thing. In a practical sense, each and every ‘brick’ should be standardised to make managing cost and schedule easier for Course Directors.

My colleagues and I set out to make NEOMA’s Global EMBA the world’s most flexible MBA programme. Students benefit from speed of completion, choice of content and a variety of face-to-face and online options. At the same time, consistency is maintained across the course thanks to its ‘building- block’ structure which allows Course Directors to return to its design continuously, switching out modules, re-prioritising competencies and ensuring that what we are offering never falls behind market demand and participants’ needs. The structure is flexible enough that if a company came to us tomorrow, praising the flexibility of the programme but seeking to customise 20-30% of the content for every executive it enrols, we would be able to work with them on achieving that. 

All Business Schools must accept that tried-and-tested recipes for executive education no longer cut it. Attending Business School should present a vital opportunity to realign oneself with the competencies that today’s business environment demands. Schools cannot claim to offer this service unless they design their executive education programmes to accommodate regular rethinking and reconstruction. Flexibility is an indisputably defining feature of the lives of business leaders and managers, and as such, it should equally define their education.

Jérôme Couturier is Associate Dean of Professional Graduate Programmes and Executive Education at NEOMA.

The evolution of the MBA

Change must permeate every element of a Business School, from overall focus to teaching methods and content, writes Ivo Matser

The MBA is an interesting phenomenon. On the one hand, the ‘MBA’ title is a brand, and one that is sometimes stronger than the institution or Business School delivering it. The word has an identity, even without the brand of the School. This identity has the flavour of success, high income, profitability and business careers. On the other hand, there are issues with MBAs. There is criticism regarding the learning provided and target audience, and MBAs can be perceived as not being sustainable or too short-term focused.

I don’t think that the MBA is suffering from an identity crisis, but the brand has less cachet than it did in the past. The influence of accreditations and rankings in the development of MBAs is substantial. Some say that these measures force MBA programmes into the ‘middle’ and make it difficult for individual programmes to be distinctive. I am not sure this is true and it seems too easy to make this claim. 

There have been positive developments in the MBA market, despite the critics. For example, they have become more interdisciplinary and greater attention is given to leadership development. 

This means that programmes are moving from business education to management education, and that decision-making processes are becoming more important. In addition, Business Schools have developed more subjects related to sustainability, stakeholder management and ethics. 

The main accreditation bodies, such as AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB, have also developed sustainability criteria. And, recently, there were discussions about rankings and how to integrate sustainability into the assessment of MBA programmes. The Financial Times ranking, for instance, has announced changes to its criteria and a desire to move away from a strong focus on alumni salaries and salary increases. 

Due to internal and external pressures, I think that MBA programmes and the systems around them are moving in the right direction. This will help to create a more positive attitude towards the MBA degree once more.

The need for change

Management education and the world of management is in flux. Technological developments will create new industries, new business models and totally different logics and cross-industry value chains. Technological innovations are the key to sustainable development and a ‘better’ world. 

There are also trends that take the human factor more into consideration. For example, inclusive capitalism is an important movement for engaging leaders across business, civil sectors and governments, and encouraging investment in ways which see more people benefit from the economic system. 

A third dimension is that MBA students are expecting an experience that goes beyond their career development. Added to this is the importance attached to international mobility, having a variety of experiences, and greater responsibility and transparency in business. 

Looking at the MBA industry itself, there is evidence of a slightly growing market, but this is not a stable situation; competition is intensifying, the world’s top Business Schools are recognising decreases in their market shares and there are new international entrants from countries such as China. 

There is a need for substantial innovation in both business and society, and it is urgent – not only from the perspective of climate change, but also due to the growing dissatisfaction of a large number of people, which can lead to radical political ideas that are mainly anti-establishment.

Are we ready to educate current and future leaders to face these problems and manage these complex factors? I fear not. Although we see a number of positive developments, those are changes within the system. To face today’s problems and manage organisations into a future of prosperity and to create a better world, we need systemic change. Instead of thinking about changes within the system, we have to think about addressing the system itself, and effecting a much more fundamental change. 

Innovation, change, diversity and inclusion 

Innovation is a key driver because it is the only way to find better solutions. This is the case for technical, social and system innovations. Innovation means change, which implies that managing change should be a core competence for managers. 

There is too much resistance to change and attitudes need to shift. Change has to be seen as ‘business as usual’ and managing change as a context of stability. Stability and feeling secure should be related to change and development. Instability and feeling unsafe should be related to a standstill. This is the opposite of what we experience now. To make innovation successful, we need to adopt this new attitude towards change. 

Diversity is another key driver and is required for innovation. To create critical thinking in programmes, and to support and make use of creativity, we need diversity: diversity of people, situations and contexts. We cannot solve problems for the future with solutions from the past. We have to mobilise and appreciate our differences. 

The last key driver is inclusion. For real impact to come from innovation, inclusion is needed. It is impossible to make big steps in the ecosystem and the economic system in a fragmented world and to separate different worlds of decision makers. 

What to change

MBA programmes need to factor in these changes and requirements. If Business Schools adopt their responsibilities and exploit the opportunity to differentiate their offer, they can have a positive impact. 

The bravest and most entrepreneurial Schools will move from the ‘red ocean’ to the new ‘blue ocean’ (from traditional competition-based strategies to those that shift the focus to value innovation as a means of unlocking new demand and growth opportunities). But, what changes are needed in the context of the MBA, its stakeholders and peer groups, leadership development, and around the concept of didactic learning?

The MBA and the context: Much MBA content remains linked to traditional  technocratic management styles, and takes an almost mechanical approach to fixing and controlling things. Control may be possible in a world without significant change but this is no longer the case, and business forecasting is becoming increasingly challenging. 

Nevertheless, this mentality still influences many subjects in MBA programmes. It means change, unpredictability, complexity and uncertainty are treated as undesirable and assumptions are made to try to exclude these issues. The opposite approach is needed. 

We need to embrace uncertainty and change, because this is the only way to enable real and relevant innovation. Innovations will never arise from spreadsheets, SWOT analyses, control systems or hierarchy. There is a myriad of modules about change management and innovation, but these are not enough; uncertainty and change should be tackled within all subjects, because it is a part of all business functions. 

The MBA and society: Businesses operate within society and the innovations they need will therefore impact on society. Again, from the technological, social and system perspectives, this means that corporations should not innovate from an isolated position. The same should be the case in MBA programmes. 

For example, technology, history and culture should be included, and I cannot imagine educating managers without factoring in the context of digitisation, smart cities, the circular economy, AI and inclusive capitalism. If these major issues are included in management education, it means that we include society in MBA programmes, and standalone sessions on sustainability will become unnecessary. Perhaps that is the key question: how can we design management education to make ethics and sustainability unnecessary? 

The MBA and leadership: MBA programmes place an increasing focus on leadership development, with skills in communication, negotiation and how to motivate people acquired through training. For me, it makes little sense to teach leadership; it is behaviour supported by insights about leadership.  

More innovative Schools also use neuroscience when it comes to leadership development, and this is a trend to support. Rational dilemmas from ‘business modules’ should also be included around the behavioural part of leadership development. 

Ethical issues, or long- and short-term decision making, should be included in the behavioural side of leadership development. The idea that the path to a sustainable future is made up of ethically correct decisions and a focus only on long-term decisions is purely theory. The road towards a sustainable future will involve many ethical decisions relating to both the long and short term. It will be a road of personal growth as a reflective practitioner. This is another reason to include more ethics and sustainability in the capillaries of programmes. This requires a major redesign.

MBA diversity and inclusion: As well as covering societal and technological considerations and technology within MBA  curricula, people must also be included. Diversity in student groups or peer groups will accelerate the process of bringing society into the classroom, or virtual classroom. This diversity will also aid leadership development and help students to address management dilemmas. Appreciating and embracing difference is also a case of ‘practising what you preach’. 

The MBA and learning: most Schools will have their own views on leadership and how to ‘teach’ it. Globally, there is a move away from ‘ego leadership’ to more supportive and coaching styles. This is also consistent with the need for sustainable development and a human approach to business and society.  

Didactic methods of imparting knowledge have the same dimensions. When we go from exploitation (control and certainty) to exploration (entrepreneurship and uncertainty) we have to go from teaching to learning. There is a need to shift the focus onto how people learn and away from ‘how to teach’, and this means the role of lecturers will gradually change. 

Lecturers will become professional experts acting as mentors. They will mentor students and integrate business practice and science. Lecturers will no longer have to teach the commodities, and the digitisation of Business Schools and the MBA will be helpful here. 

We will also have to be prudent with case studies; usually these bring in the past and, while this can be useful, students contributing their own challenges may add more value to the learning process. 


The path of change in the business of MBAs will encounter resistance. Many people might think that this evolution is impossible, for a variety of reasons. Some of these may be true, but most will be based on yesterday’s logic. 

Digitisation will be important and the business education sector has to move forward on this. There are many positives: digitisation will bring greater flexibility for students, increase efficiency and make commodities less costly. It will also have a positive influence on quality; there will be more tailored programmes, more space for lecturers’ expertise, and more room for them to act as professional mentors. Administration will also be more efficient. MBAs will be delivered in blended formats. Even residence-based MBAs will be about 50% online. This gives MBA programmes the opportunity to be better and more affordable, and to encourage more people to access this learning resource. 

Changes to the MBA are needed and  should be fundamental; that is the good news. We are moving into an era in which we will see new ways for Business Schools to differentiate themselves and offer attractive learning programmes. I do not think there is much to decide: the choice is to either move towards smart cities, the circular economy and inclusive capitalism, or simply disappear. 

Ivo Matser is President at GISMA Business School. He is an economist, leadership specialist and certified Expert Marketing Professional.

Five fundamentals of experiential learning

Experiential learning teaches MBAs how to continue acquiring new skills and knowledge throughout their careers, writes Stuart Robinson

To succeed in a world of rapid and turbulent change, MBA graduates need to have learned how to learn.  In Business School classrooms, we present knowledge in packaged, and hopefully accessible, forms as part of a structured learning product; the MBA. On graduation, when students proceed to corporate, public sector or startup life, that structure of institutionally based education is largely lost.

The MBA graduate who wants to remain relevant in the workplace must find a way of continually learning and cannot rely on thoughtfully built slide packs, well-organised seminar discussions and integrated assessments. Experiential learning on an MBA programme has a big part to play.

In the 1980s, David Kolb described experiential learning as a process that brings education and personal development together with workplace experience. He expressed this as a cycle of experience, observation and reflection. Effective learners and managers may fulfil this process naturally as a part of their daily practice. However, others may need help to recognise the value of the interplay between different activities in the cycle, or to ensure they cover it all.    

A key question for MBA programme designers is how they can structure experiential learning not only for the benefit of students’ immediate learning but also as a way of teaching them how to learn continually, building a skill that will serve them throughout their future careers. I believe there are five fundamental aspects that are key to successfully planning and delivering experiential learning in MBA-level education. 

1. Authenticity

Any experiential learning must be real and relevant to MBA students and the challenges they face both during the programme and afterwards. This is part of the student’s process of learning to recognise significant learning opportunities in the future.  We often seem to look back on our past experiences and recognise them as important learning milestones. Part of learning how to learn is getting to this recognition earlier, ideally as the experience is happening. In the slightly artificial environment of an MBA it is easy, but often overlooked, for a tutor to point out to students that they are in the midst of an important learning experience.

2. Integration throughout an MBA programme

Experiential learning events should be used to build a student’s ability to learn by complementing other sessions and modules, to encourage them to reflect repeatedly on the results of action and the development of appropriate responses. Careful integration can provide multiple and developing cycles of experience, reflection and experimentation. 

Experiential learning focused on leadership, for example, can be set up as part of the overall pedagogical approach to core leadership topics in the curriculum. In planning the MBA programme at the University of Exeter Business School, we put in milestone events throughout the academic year where students come together around a specific challenge. 

Examples include learning to work in teams on a full-day outdoor exercise, co-operating with others on innovative designs and a corporate challenge where students work together under time pressure to address a problem posed by a large organisation. Each event is integrated with the year-long leadership module. 

Students’ individual achievements in these challenges are used as a basis for their personal learning about leadership. Surveys, questionnaires, videos, and photographs from the events provide the raw material for reflection and modification of approaches at an individual level.

3. Ensuring all students can take part

Experiential learning needs to be accessible and flexible enough to accommodate the learning needs of different MBA students. In some cases, experiential learning can be physically challenging or demanding as it takes students out of their comfort zones. This risks isolating those who will not or cannot take part. The design of learning must therefore take the varying needs and abilities of the whole cohort of students into account.

When we took a group of students on our first leadership expedition last year, the need for accessibility was very clear. We asked them to spend a week trekking across a high plateau in Norway with heavy packs, dried food and in weather conditions that were, at times, very challenging. Students came along with different levels of fitness and aptitude for the personal discomforts that come with a week in the wilderness. Although all ended well in our case, it was clear that personal physical capability should not be a barrier to gaining the educational value that an experience like this offers. Our plan for the future is to offer different ways of tackling the expedition; for example, using huts as an alternative to tents or adapting the targets for distance to be covered. These steps will broaden accessibility without affecting the opportunities for personal development that the experience brings.

4. Effective measurement

Experiential learning should be designed so the overall impact on the student and the performance of individual students can be analysed. Without effective measurement and reflection, experiential learning can sometimes be viewed as a gimmick or a bit of fun, and not a true part of the overall educational process. 

Incorporating elements of reflective work into different modules and other learning activities across the MBA helps both students and staff to measure progress. This must be seen to be valuable by the student, however. Asking for deep and thoughtful reflection on different aspects of improvement (‘what would you do differently?’) and not simply a description of what happened is very important. For example, we ask students to describe themselves and their goals at the outset of the programme and then to reflect on the experience at the end, setting out specific next steps that they intend to follow.

Extending this from the individual to the wider group is also helpful. Much MBA work is group based, with the key aim of teaching students not only how to deal with the task at hand but also to practise the skills and behaviours needed to work and interact with others. This has much experiential value but can be overlooked when measuring results. Peer assessment can play a role, but is sometimes a blunt-edged tool if there is conflict in groups. If there is time, a more structured approach, using surveys to capture students’ thoughts and feelings at planned points in a group exercise, can provide a useful basis for productive group-based reflection and action planning.

5. Memorability 

Finally, effective experiential learning needs to be highly memorable. The learning experiences we create for students during an MBA should be remembered long after graduation. Memory of specific MBA experiences can form the basis of templates for action in the future. Students will recall some experiences more than others, reflecting their individual interests and the achievements they value. Building a rope bridge across a river, leading a team through a snowy wilderness, overcoming their own nerves to make a successful client presentation are all examples of the type of experience we try to create during our MBA. These form the basis of the good stories we want our alumni to tell, cementing their learning from the MBA and, in the end, enthusing others to embark upon it.

Effective experiential learning not only helps students to learn, it can bring renewed vigour and energy to an MBA programme, helping to build its reputation and that of the wider Business School.

Experiential learning at the University of Exeter Business School

Experiential learning runs across the Exeter MBA’s 12-month curriculum, developing from abstract through to real experiences and from a group focus to an individual one.

For example, in the first week, students are asked to work in teams to deliver a group result. This is not a classroom exercise – we ask them to build a bridge across a local river. Sometimes they get wet.

Afterwards, we ask them to reflect on the experience and integrate this with our more academic leadership module. The experience of working in a new and diverse team, the subsequent reflection, and the opportunities this gives us for the building of teams in term one of the MBA, helps establish an approach to effective teamwork with the students. This culminates in a term-two exercise in which students are asked to work in their now-established teams to prepare and deliver a proposal to a client. We work with large organisations (Unilever and Ikea are recent examples) which bring a problem to the class. 

Students have a week to integrate their knowledge from the core MBA programme into a reasoned response and proposal. On the final day, they present their ideas to the organisation’s managers who are facing the problem in the real world. This simulates an authentic consultancy exercise calling for analytical rigour, creativity and persuasion skills.

The experience of this challenge is then taken forward into an individual consultancy exercise that the student carries out with a client. Building on skills they have developed or that have been pointed out to them through peer feedback, they must figure out and agree a project brief that will deliver client value when carried out. This is then implemented in the client’s organisation, forcing the student to overcome barriers, be creative, talk to and work with a range of professionals. The project is a memorable and authentic experience which rounds off the student’s MBA journey.

Stuart Robinson is MBA Director, University of Exeter Business School.

Should MBA degrees come with an expiry date?

Business Schools must adopt alternative business models and embrace technology, or risk becoming a casualty of the paradigmatic changes in business, argues Professor Bodo Schlegelmilch in a call for action

When AMBA accredits an MBA programme, it does so for a maximum of five years, because in five years, a lot can change. A Business School has to apply for re-accreditation and demonstrate that the content of its programme(s), its teaching methods and quality standards remain current and up to date.

When Business Schools award degrees, they do this for life – but is there a genuinely good reason for doing so?

What MBAs learned five, 10 or 15 years ago is certainly not current, often irrelevant and sometimes even wrong. Business Schools need to change their business model. For example, in sync with the sharing economy, future Business Schools could move from ownership to renting. Under this,  Schools would not award their MBA degrees forever (the ownership model), but would grant the degree for a limited number of years (subscription model). 

Unless MBA graduates demonstrated a commitment to continuous professional development, their degrees would expire. 

However, degrees for rent are not the only potential change in store for Business Schools. There are a number of developments that suggest the end of ‘business as usual’. 

I want to focus on four change catalysts: 

  • New paradigms of success 
  • The growing influence of Asia 
  • An unprecedented speed of technological development  
  • An increasing demand for sustainability.

New paradigms of success

Traditional Business Schools rely on their full-time professors for teaching. These professors  spend most of their time on research and are often also tasked with administrative duties. According to Kai Peters, Richard Smith and Howard Thomas’ 2018 book Rethinking the Business Models of Business Schools, depending on the particular type of university, the seniority of the professor and the country, the time such professors spend in class is no more than 120-300 hours per year. 

This model makes teaching expensive. In 2011, Howard Thomas and I wrote a paper for the Journal of Management Development entitled ‘The MBA in 2020: Will there still be one?’ and reported that, for all but the top 13,000 institutions that offer business degrees worldwide, this teaching model is probably unsustainable. With some MBA and executive MBA (EMBA) fees now well in excess of €100,000, this also raises serious questions of social equity and fairness. 

Most Business Schools are therefore looking for ways  to reduce teaching costs, and various options exist. Most Schools employ clinical or practice-based faculty (essentially lecturers free of research obligations) to bring down costs. Blended learning or flipped classrooms can further boost the bottom line, if less-costly tutors can replace expensive full time faculty. In such models, students work through a variety of tasks and teaching materials outside the class and only return to the Business School campus for a substantially reduced number of face-to-face teaching hours. 

While these cost reductions seek efficiencies within the existing Business School model, they fail to question the rationale of the model itself. This is akin to Blockbuster Video looking for cost savings when Netflix changed the rules of the game. We  all know what happened to Blockbuster: it  went bust. 

The real competition for many Business Schools comes from drastically different business models. First, there are the so-called massive open online courses (MOOCs) aimed at open access via the internet. These courses bring a new competitive dynamic to Business Schools. Some large, financially well-off universities produce their own MOOCS, while the majority scramble to partner with a heterogeneous group of providers. 

Other eLearning platforms work independent of traditional Business Schools. MOOCs have shifted the competition from being  between Business Schools to between networks. These networks include a range of companies that team up to design and distribute educational content. 

To add another level of complexity to the competitive landscape, international consulting companies are expanding their digital learning offerings. While these companies do not (yet) have the right to grant degrees and typically offer a certificate on completion of their courses, it is ultimately arguable whether a certificate from a prestigious consulting company such as McKinsey or PwC or a degree from a relatively unknown university has more currency. In addition, some MBAs offered by traditional Business Schools are already giving credits for a variety of MOOC certificates.   

Finally, corporate universities and system integrators are encroaching on the traditional Business School market. Some corporations, such as Sberbank Corporate University in Russia, have built large and highly impressive campuses, where they not only train their own employees but also those of selected partner companies. 

Sberbank Corporate University has teamed up with INSEAD and London Business School (strong brands obviously still count) and makes use of learning material from Khan Academy. Sberbank and other non-conventional Business Schools use a fly-in faculty model, which saves them having expensive full-time professors on their books. Students at such institutions may well be taught by excellent professors with up-to-date research records; but other Business Schools pay for the research time of these professors.

Thus, traditional Business Schools face a myriad of competitive challenges. There are new, mostly technology-driven market entries; increasing competition from outside the industry by consultants, publishers and IT companies; increasingly competitive corporate universities, and there are Business Schools that are system integrators with minimal overheads and no research expenditures. 

All of this suggests that the time for ‘business as usual’ is over. A few cosmetic changes to the existing business model will not be enough to secure survival. In particular, Business Schools that are not among the top aspirational brands will need to adopt alternative business models or risk becoming a casualty of the paradigmatic changes in the business environment.

Growing influence of Asia

A brief look at the history of Business Schools, and the development of MBAs in particular, helps us to appreciate the startling emergence of Asian MBA programmes in recent years. 

Business Schools were initially founded in Europe, but quickly became a hallmark of the US.  According to a 2004 article in Accounting History by academics Lúcia Lima Rodrigues, Delfina Gomes, and Russell Craig, Aula do Comércio (School of Commerce) in Lisbon, Portugal, is believed to be the world’s first government-sponsored School to specialise in the teaching of commerce, including accounting. It was established in 1759 and closed in 1844. 

Meanwhile, ESCP Paris, founded in 1819 in France, regards itself as the world’s oldest fully fledged Business School. More than 60 years later, in 1881, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania was established in the US (according to its website as ‘the world’s first collegiate school of business’).

Next, in 1900, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College was established as the first graduate school of management in the US. Tuck is noteworthy because it conferred the first advanced degree in business – a master of commercial science. This is widely regarded as the predecessor of the MBA.

In 1908, the first MBA programme was established by the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, and in 1943, the first EMBA was established at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. At this time, only US universities offered MBAs and it took until 1948 for MBAs to become popular at Business Schools elsewhere. 

The first MBA programme outside the US was offered by the Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, Canada. One year later, this was followed by the University of Pretoria in South Africa. In 1957, INSEAD in France became the first European Business School to offer an MBA. During the following decade, a burst of new Business Schools and MBA programmes took place, including the founding of renowned institutions in the UK such as London Business School (in 1964)  and Manchester Business School and (in 1965). Unfortunately, the market was also entered by some less-sound competitors. To provide quality guidance to potential Business School students, AMBA was founded in 1967.

The first MBA degree in Asia can be traced back to 1955. The Institute of Business Administration at the University of Karachi, Pakistan, offered the MBA with technical support from Wharton and, later the University of Southern California. In 1963, Korea University established the Graduate School of Business Administration and recruited the first MBA students. In China, the MBA has a short history: the first nine MBA programmes were launched in 1991; today, there are more than 230 MBA programmes in the country.

Despite the late adoption of MBAs in Asia, the 2018 Financial Times full-time global MBA ranking included 15 Asian MBAs in the top 100; seven of them from China. In its 2018 EMBA Ranking, 28 Asian EMBAs are among the top 100, all of the top eight involving Business Schools from China.

A decade ago, the Financial Times ranked only four Asian MBAs among the top 100 in its full-time global MBA ranking, and only nine in its EMBA ranking. Sceptical readers who point to the widely criticised reliance on financial criteria in the Financial Times rankings may, instead, look to accreditation: AMBA now accredits more than 50 Business Schools with MBA programmes in Asia, 35 in China alone. This provides further evidence of the importance of Asia’s Business Schools gained in just over two decades.

The phenomenal rise of MBA programmes in Asia reflects the region’s transformation into a hive of global business. As Pavida Pananond, Associate Professor of Thammasat University in Bangkok, aptly commented in February 2018, in an article in the Bankok Post: ‘If you are sitting in London or Boston, you might not really feel the action as much as if you were sitting in Shanghai, to see how business is growing in China. So one of the first advantages of these Asian Schools is that you are located where the action is.’  

In 2017, China surpassed the UK and Germany for the first time in terms of the number of citations of international science papers (according to China Daily in 2017). In summary, the evidence suggests the dominance of US and European Business Schools is reducing and the emergence of top Asian Business Schools as formidable competitors has become yet another indicator of the end of business as usual.

Speed of technological change

The impact of MOOCs on traditional Business Schools only scratches the surface of a vast range of developments that will revolutionise the way students learn and Business Schools teach in the future. 

Already, students want to learn where, when and how best fits their individual needs; for example, watching a video while on board a plane at 5am in the morning. They also want learning to be a stimulating and enjoyable experience. Commuting to a Business School located in a city, finding a parking space, and listening to a traditional lecture hardly fits this picture. 

Just imagine the potential of using Microsoft’s HoloLens for teaching. Students could learn about consumer behaviour in emerging markets by immersing themselves in a souk in Marrakesh or a bazaar in Kolkata. On an operations management course, students could embark on a virtual tour through the shop floor of a robotics manufacturer. The technology could be used to make them feel that they were really there, without ever leaving their living room. 

The technology (such as Microsoft HoloLens) already exists and the applications are only limited by our imagination. 

Meanwhile, augmented reality holographic technology is also set to change our teaching approach. Instead of flying expensive faculty around the world, they could be beamed into a classroom via holographic telepresence and give lectures or deliver entire courses in different continents. 

During AMBA’s 2018 Global Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, a live two-way discussion took place between the audience and the digital human hologram of the CEO of ARHT Media, Larry O’Reilly, who was thousands of miles away in Toronto, Canada. Delegates had the impression that O’Reilly was actually in Stockholm. The entire discussion could be stored for playback on-demand. In fact, according to ARHT Media, the hologram can also be ‘captured, transmitted and displayed directly to multiple stages simultaneously with complete live two-way interactivity’. This challenges the age-old wisdom that one cannot be in two places at the same time.

While these technological advances are impressive, they are not the only ones. Other innovations, such as adaptive learning and artificial intelligence (AI), are already emerging. Collectively, these rapid technological changes indicate the end of ‘business as usual’. Traditional Business Schools will not be able to survive without embracing fundamental changes in technology. 

Demand for sustainability

The increasing demand for sustainability will have a profound influence on Business Schools. But what does demand for sustainability mean and where does it come from? 

At a rudimentary level, according to the UN, sustainability refers to our concern that human activities should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. At a more detailed level, sustainability calls for the balancing of three fundamental dimensions: environmental protection, societal progress and economic growth. While Business School teaching has traditionally focused on economic growth – the profit part of the three sustainability dimensions – the other two dimensions, often labelled as ‘people and planet’, are increasingly gaining centre stage. 

However, most case discussions and lectures do not even question the primacy of profit as an outcome variable of corporate value creation. Typically, Business School teaching centres around how various elements of the value chain can be optimised to increase profits. Students debate how employees can become more profit-orientated. They research how the supply chain can be optimised to increase profits. Professors teach how customer touch points should be designed to increase profits. And classes debate the most profitable pricing strategy. 

Even when corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability issues are addressed, they are usually also cast into a model that focuses on profit outcomes. For example, we may investigate how our CSR measures impact on profits. Likewise, we debate whether support of local causes is more profitable than support of international causes; and we examine whether supporting a children’s charity has a higher profit impact than supporting a local art gallery.

Non-financial outcomes

While these and similar questions are undoubtedly important for both teaching and research in Business Schools, it is the virtually exclusive focus on profit as outcome that is the problem. What about non-financial outcomes, such as customer safety, reduction of waste or health of employees? What about organisations that have other purposes, such as social enterprises or ‘B-corporations’ which balance purpose and profit?  

In a paper I wrote with Magdalena Öberseder and Patrick Murphy in 2013 for the Journal of Business Research entitled ‘CSR Practices and Consumer Perceptions’, we concluded that MBA students – in their roles as consumers, employees, employers and entrepreneurs – are increasingly concerned about a multitude of sustainability issues, such as food quality, their own biological footprint and working conditions. Legislators also focus increasingly on issues such as environmental degradation or recycling. And corporations themselves are not only reacting to shifting consumer demands and legal requirements, but explore sustainability issues such as recycling and energy conservation. 

Business Schools cannot ignore these value changes. Instead, the increasing demand for sustainability needs to translate into a widening curriculum for Business Schools, in which much more debate on the purpose of the enterprise will have to take place. 

Current faculty is ill-equipped to tackle such fundamental debates. Typically, faculty has a strong grounding in particular subject areas, such as finance, operations or statistics. This is necessary but not sufficient. Faculty needs to adopt more holistic viewpoints. Perhaps Business Schools of the future, in whatever shape or form they may still exist, will employ philosophers to lead discussions on the purpose of business.

The futures of Business Schools 

Are the developments discussed above hailing the end of Business Schools and, hence, the end of MBAs? It depends which future trajectory a Business School will choose.

If a Business School opts to continue with business as usual, it will soon encounter a substantial drop in its MBA enrolment. A knee-jerk boost in advertising spend, increase in scholarships, and reduction in teaching costs by bringing less-qualified instructors into MBA classrooms, will be insufficient.

Such measures are unlikely to stop the downward spiral of fewer qualified students, lower income and a restricted ability to make necessary investments. 

Instead, Business Schools need to go beyond cosmetic adjustments and consider fundamental changes to their business models. This starts with a realistic assessment of their resources and capabilities. Few Schools have massive endowments, strong brands or the unquestioning support of taxpayers, enabling them to run a costly, campus-centric system. 

These Schools will be able to continue attracting MBA students into classrooms where they can interact with expensive faculty. While we are living in a hyper-connected world, this is often accompanied by social isolation. To this end, personal networking with influential peers and alumni will continue to play a key role at these Schools. And having an MBA from XYZ (please insert a top-brand Business School of your choice) is as much a rite of passage en route to a desirable corporate career as it is an opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills. 

Less fortunate Business Schools – the majority – will have to think carefully about their resources, capabilities and, in particular, purpose. Before they settle on a business model, Schools need to gain clarity on a host of soul-searching questions: what constitutes success, both for the Business Schools and for the MBA programme? (See box, left). 

Of course, any Business School dean will easily be able to add another few dozen pertinent questions. Coming up with truthful answers that guide future strategies is more challenging.

Many deans appear to be in a state of denial, hoping that the Business School world, and with it the MBA programmes, will somehow be unaffected by the paradigmatic changes occurring in our environment. And if fundamental changes are required, the hope is that they can be tackled by the next dean.

The uncomfortable truth is that this may already be too late for many MBA programmes and, indeed, many Business Schools.

This article, therefore, is a call to action. Its objective is to encourage Business Schools to embrace the environmental turbulences we are experiencing. Not every change is a threat. Changes can also open up opportunities, but taking advantage of changes requires the courage to chart new routes. And these routes may be very different for Business Schools with varying resources, capabilities and purposes. 

Not all Business Schools will be able to serve their students in comfortable campuses with full-time faculty who spend the majority of their time on research. Some will use blended systems, both in terms of mixing teaching by practitioners and traditional academics, and in terms of programme delivery, using online and offline modes of instructions. Some will try to work with a modicum of their own faculty and become systems integrators. Some may not offer traditional degrees any longer but certify short, focused interventions, which keep managers abreast of new developments. 

There may be Business Schools that work on a subscription basis, offering MBA graduates the opportunity for continuous professional development as they advance and make changes throughout their career paths. And even after the active career of a manager comes to an end, a Business School may reach out to older learners and offer them attractive reasons to keep engaged with the School. 

A one-time intervention which finishes with the award of an MBA degree would give way to a lifelong relationship which starts with an MBA degree. Of course, this brings us back to the beginning of the article: degrees for rent. 

Arguably, MBA degrees with expiry dates that require proof of continuous professional development to keep the degree valid do have some merit.  

Professor Bodo Schlegelmilch is Chair of AMBA & BGA’s Board. He was the Founding Dean of WU Executive Academy at Vienna University of Economics and Business from 2004 until 2015 and remains Professor of International Management and Marketing at the School. 

Exploring Business Schools’ challenges in Latin America

Latin America, Argentina, Buenos Aires downtown with traffic cars at night around the Obelisco.

We share insights from leading Business School professors who attended AMBA’s 2018 Latin America Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, about their Schools’ current strategies, challenges and opportunities. Interviews by Jack Villanueva

Alejandra Falco, Strategic Management Professor, Universidad del CEMA

What challenges do teachers, instructors and professors face when using online technologies in their courses?

The main challenge is to understand that teaching online is not the same thing as teaching face to face. You have to think about the course and your class in a different way. When you teach face to face, you are between the student and the materials so you can see what’s going on in the class, you can see the reactions of the students to what you are saying and the material you are using. This does not happen in the online environment so you can’t make decisions on the spot. 

Schools need to help instructors understand that [online learning] is different [to classroom learning] and make sure that they don’t reproduce what they do face to face in an online environment. It needs a transformation. 

In terms of the online MBA and studying from distance, do you think the experience, learning and the outcome for these students is the same as for those who learn face to face?

It’s an interesting question because the challenge we face in an online environment is to foster learner-to-learner interaction. It is easy to interact between instructor and learner, but the challenge is the learner-to-learner interaction. 

There is something that happens naturally in a face to face environment, so if we can manage this interaction adequately and develop tools to allow the students to interact among themselves, the online option will be richer than the face-to-face option. If we can have the same attributes in an online environment, we add much more flexibility for the student to choose when and how and where he or she wants to study.

Ignacio Alperín, Professor of Creativity and Innovation, Pontificia Universidad Católica

How is business thinking changing around creativity?

Creativity is a process that involves more than one person, it is never an individual idea; it is a communal kind of work. Creativity is the step prior to innovation. Creativity is putting together the correct ideas, innovation is putting together the correct product or service and making it happen in real life. 

Every company expects their graduate or postgraduate students to be open to the idea of being creative, working in a different way, of accepting different manners of work ethics that are not traditional. This not only involves those who come in to work for a company, it has a lot to do with leadership as well. 

Perhaps there is an issue with expectations versus what actually happens in companies. There are too many bosses and too few leaders. There are a lot of people who tell you what to do but very few people who inspire others to do things. In that regard, creative leadership is also a major subject and companies are slowly coming around to the idea that they need to change their leadership style.

Do you think Business Schools are sufficiently inspiring to instil creativity in their students?

When we’re children, we’re extremely creative and we don’t have limits. We like to explore and ask about everything. In Schools as it stands, the creative spirit is squashed by a system that requires students to be right or wrong. 

Creativity is a gift and should be developed like any other talent. We have all been provided with the talent of creativity but when people get to university or Master’s level, they have been kept so far away from their creative juices and, in many cases, it is very difficult to bring them back in touch with themselves and give them inner strength because creativity is a strength. 

We are completely and constantly improvising our lives. Companies, for a long time, tended to squash this, but today, organisations realise that they need to be open and think laterally. If the education system can change enough, many of the problems we face today will be gone because people will come up line already living their creative ability throughout their careers.

In your role, are you trying to unlock existing creativity or teach the creativity?

It’s a bit of both. When I find a master’s class with 30 students, most of them are professional people. They think they know everything and have already made it, and in some respects they are right. 

They will be future leaders, but it’s sometimes difficult to tell them: ‘I am teaching you and I don’t know everything; perhaps you should relax a bit and question yourself about the facts you thought were correct.’ 

By unlocking that vault they will find another Pandora’s Box of issues and problems, but if they learn how to handle them, they may find a way to make their work more effective, their company profitable, their life more exciting and more enjoyable; they may go home and feel like having fun with family instead of taking their troubles with them and feeling miserable when they’re not at work. 

Part of my job is unlocking those talents, it has to do a lot with people’s fear of being wrong in front of other people. After that, we teach processes, ideas and concepts that can help students unleash creativity in themselves and the people with whom they work.

Is it the Business School’s responsibility to lead students towards an uncertain path?

Many students believe the world is divided into creative and non-creative people. We try to erase all this and explain we are all creative – different types of creative but all creative. 

Sebastián Auguste, Director Executive MBA, Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

What are your views on the current global MBA market?

The MBA is the most popular programme within the Business School: about 79% of the applications we receive are for the MBA programme. Demand is growing in Asia, Europe and the US, and it’s increasing in Latin America. The full-time MBA is declining and numbers are increasing in executive and part-time MBA programmes. There is also strong demand for some Master’s degrees such as business analytics. 

How is the EMBA faring?

The EMBA is small but it’s growing in many regions. Many students finish at university graduate level and decide to do a speciality such as a masters in analytics or finance, and then they go for the MBA later when they’re older. Young people are trying to gain more technical abilities; older people are trying to gain more general skills.

How popular is the online MBA?

The numbers show that the online MBA is growing. I previously expected the number to grow, but the increase isn’t as great as I expected. There has been a strong increase in the blended format, even in EMBA programmes. Online is coming very strongly but I don’t see the online MBA replacing the experience of the EMBA or the part-time MBA. You have to learn and you have to be there to learn. It’s quite difficult to learn online.

What’s the effect of specialist programmes on the MBA and on
Business Schools?

Specialist programmes are going to relegate the [generalist] MBA. There is going to be a fall in demand from young people wanting to do an MBA, but an increase in older people wanting to do one. 

In Latin America, you have very technical and specialised degrees so there is less demand for special programmes. Many universities are moving in this direction of having more general graduate-level study, so you’ll need more specialisation later on.

Carla Adriana Arruda Vasseur, Associate Dean, FDC – Fundação Dom Cabra

Why do you think Business Schools should have a role in social development? 

We are the ones who are transforming the leaders of our society. We are working with business managers, leaders, entrepreneurs, company owners, and people who really run the economy of the country. If we don’t have this kind of focus, we will continue to live in a country with a lot of inequalities so it needs to start with us.

How can Business Schools leverage an impact on society? 

All Business Schools have some sort of social impact and development in their value prepositions. Talking is one thing, leading by example is another. We need to provoke students to think differently and to do differently. We need to provoke them to really make a change. And it won’t be just about talking and showing them our mission. It has to be in every single class we give, in the projects that we send them on, it has to be included in all our initiatives.

How can Business Schools help students have a more impactful role in the world of tomorrow?

If you look at Business Schools, most of their students are from the upper portion of the social pyramid and we need to show them how they can really make a difference – in every single class and in every single project. 

A lot of our students come to us because they want management tools. They want to increase profit in their corporations, they want to better themselves in their careers. And, from day one, they realise we’re concerned about economic development but we’re also very concerned about social development. 

Do you work with other Schools to push this idea forward?

We have a partner we’ve been working with on modules and we’re putting an emphasis on that. But I think we can do more. I’ve been talking a lot about that [during this conference] with partners. We need stop considering ourselves as competitors [with other Business Schools] and consider ourselves as ‘co-petitors’ and cooperate more with each other.

Is it a case of starting locally or looking at the bigger picture and effecting change at the top?

Begin with what’s feasible and build up. 

We’re starting to shape the leaders of tomorrow. We’re starting with the students of today to [help them] have a deeper understanding of social development and a deeper understating that there are larger problems in the world. But is there an issue with the bigger businesses themselves not recognising it or not recognising it fast enough and therefore the student not having an outlet for what they want to do?

A lot of the boards require their corporations to think about the social side. Some suppliers refuse to supply to organisations that don’t care about these issues and clients are not buying from them. 

We, as professors of business corporations, need to set the example. 

Michel Hermans, Professor of Human Behaviour and Human Resources, IAE Business School – Universidad Austral

How can Business Schools help students develop skills beyond the analytical tools in the curriculum through action learning?

It’s not only about teaching rational decision making. It’s about helping students anticipate risks and [influence] people who are especially relevant in certain contexts. That’s what we do and this is the added value we consider action learning has. This reflection part is a very important role faculty have. 

One thing is to think about is how to evaluate a company in turbulence. Another is to think how a company can actually use what it has – its resources – to transform its strategy for much broader markets. Think about internationalisation and the acquisition of companies in emerging markets, and then present this analysis to senior managers. 

Can students themselves better prepare for their careers through action learning?

It depends on the student themselves. 

Especially in the Latin American job market, recruiters are looking for ‘plug-and-play’ students so when they roll out of their programme they want students who need little time to be fully functional within the context of their companies. 

If they are able to find students who are proactive, and have used this productivity to actually do something within the context of their programme and learn something from that, it’s highly valued. 

How important is action learning in fast-tracking understanding around the need for adaptability and evolution within businesses? It’s like moving house. If you don’t lay foundations in the MBA programme (which would be knowledge and analytical skills) it’s hard to start thinking about action learning in the first place. 

You have to lay a solid foundation in the first part of the programme and then build on this with follow-up courses. That gives us, as faculty, the confidence that teams are able to benefit from action leaning. We launch most of our projects towards the end of the programme because that’s when students take advantage of the projects they are being offered that they themselves propose. 

We’ve seen many students use their action learning projects to move into new career tracks or to find a different job in companies with whom they collaborated for their action learning projects. 

If you do a full-time MBA programme and you are away from the job market for a full year, gaining contact with the job market again – with employers and organisational life – is fundamental to a follow-up career. 

Juan Pablo Manzuoli, Strategic Marketing Professor and Director of MBA, UCA Business School

What do you consider to be the main disruptive trends students are facing?  

I have highlighted deep trends that are not often evident. For example, millennials want the earth, but they don’t have special powers. Loneliness is another powerful trend, as is self-exploration.

What’s next for the MBA? 

We have to have a convergence between the needs of people and technology and make an improvement. Make things better. We need to adapt and be flexible in how we think and in our business models. This generation is teaching us how to make improvements in different ways not only with the technology, but with emotions. 

Luciana Pagani, Professor of Strategy and Competitiveness, Saint Andrews University

How is the digital age transforming the MBA experience?

Changing behaviours in individuals as learners, and technology, are providing opportunities to deliver a different experience [to students], enabling people to access courses no matter where they are. 

What challenges is the digital age presenting to the way Business Schools teach?

The digital age is creating a new world of opportunities for businesses, while also causing a lot of pressure and setting very different type of challenges. Businesses need to change the way they lead. 

Technologies have to be implemented and customer experiences are transforming, so at the company level, transformation is amazing but very challenging. 

Business Schools have to rethink their value proposition massively. They must consider how they are going to offer something of vital importance to their students to enable them to learn and access the best faculties all over the world, offering a unique experience that blends the best from the physical world and the digital world. 

It’s an enormous strategic and operational challenge for universities.

Schools are transforming in terms of content, so all the strategies and management content required to lead in the digital area is being added to traditional content. They are also adding a broader spectrum of elective courses to meet the specific needs of students. 

They are forming partnerships with industries, with other universities worldwide and with governments.  

They are also transforming their infrastructures in order to provide space for innovation, creativity, and experimentation and they are working across platforms to collaborate, and to enhance their value proposition, with the best faculty, the best universities and the best companies as partners.

Do you think Business Schools rising to the challenges sufficiently quickly, given the current economy? 

The challenge of the fourth industrial revolution is too aggressive for everyone. Universities are moving forward, but it would be nicer if they could move faster. However, it’s not easy. 

I hope the pace will increase and we will have more and more examples of convergence to the new value proposition in the near future.

Melani Machinea, Professor and Business Development Director, UTDT Business School

Tell us about the development of your specialised master’s degree?

A few years ago, we realised we didn’t have an offering for recent graduates who wanted to pursue a career in business. Either they had to do a Master’s in finance or they had to wait five or six years before they could do an MBA. At the same time, we discovered a need for very specific skills, so we designed a Master’s in management which merges the two sides of the story: business for those who come here from a science background and, for those with a business background the skill set they need for the new corporate world. 

We looked at the world. In Europe, there were a lot masters in management programmes which were launched by Business Schools, in addition to their MBAs which are still their flagship programme. In the US, we have seen the emergence of master’s in business analytics programmes. We decided we would have a competitive advantage if we could offer both management and analytics in the same programme.

The first challenge was the type of students we wanted to sign up. We decided early on that we wanted recent graduates or people with little analytical experience who could learn about areas such as  programming and coding through the courses that we were going to teach. When we launched, we realised that there were a lot of men in mid-to-higher management, people with 10-15 years of experience, who said they were lacking this expertise and wanted to do the degree. We had to make a decision at this point and we decided to stick to our initial plan of targeting younger professionals, while just offering short courses for more mature professionals. 

Do you think the MBA is evolving fast enough or do you think there is so much more that could be done?

I think the MBA is still a flagship programme in Business Schools, and the challenge is to maintain and update it to make it relevant. Our hope is that our students from the Master’s in management and other programmes will come back in five or six years to do their MBAs when they realise they need other skills related to management and strategic leadership.

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.

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