How can Business Schools develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world?

Business Impact: How can Business Schools develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world?

What makes the difference between those of us that simply complain and those of us that endeavour to make things better, for people and the planet? David Lewis and Jules Goddard, co-authors of Mavericks, look at leadership characteristics and other important aspects for Business Schools to focus on

Let us start with two observations. First, almost every executive and management team with which we’ve ever worked has had no difficulty in articulating numerous frustrations about how their organisation is run; and equally no difficulty in expressing their great ideas about how it should be run. Second, when we have had the opportunity to return to these organisations a year later and ask the same question – ‘what are your frustrations and thwarted ambitions?’ – we are met with the same list we heard a year earlier. 

Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, refers to this as the ‘knowing-doing gap’ – most of us know that things should be and could be much better, but few of us do anything about it. The knowing-doing gap, coupled with the two observations above, provoked us to initiate a research project. Why? Because we also observed that while most of us simply moan about how bad things are, some of us actually do something about it. And the question we wanted to explore is, what differentiates those of us that recognise incompetence, inadequacy and lack of ambition, but do little about it, from those of us that dedicate our lives to making positive transformational change for the betterment of others?

Rik Vera is one such person. Rik started his career as a teacher, but after being made redundant because the school at which he taught was closed down, he started a career in carpet sales. In Rik’s own words, he saw sales as a competition: ‘How can I win against my competitors?’ 

The classic model of business competition. Then he was asked to take over and run the carpet manufacturing plant. On the first day, when he walked into the factory and saw the inefficiencies, the pollution and the inhumane working conditions, Rik was shocked. 

As a result of being asked to run the factory – the place where the product is made – his mindset changed from seeing the point of business as to win, to the point of business as being to create ‘a better world for people and planet’. This became Rik’s life philosophy. He asked a new and different question – instead of the question being, ‘how can I win?’, Rik asked himself, ‘how can I make carpets in a sustainable way in terms of the planet, the use of resources, and the way in which we work?’ 

In research, published in our book, Mavericks, we interviewed more than 30 people like Rik – people from all walks of life and from across the world, to discover what it takes to persist and succeed in making the world a better place.

Making better use of brains and technology 

There are no shortage of challenges that need our attention to make the world a better place: the World Bank has estimated that nearly half the world’s population live on less than $5.50 USD a day; 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization; and in a period of unprecedented wealth creation, prison populations have doubled, trebled and, in some countries, quintupled. We could go on. Yet, more than at any time in our history, we have the resources, the ingenuity and the technology to enable everyone to live a fulfilling and flourishing life. The question is, where are these resources and why are they not being fully deployed for the benefit of us all? Where are our best brains? Who owns the latest technology? To what extent is our human ingenuity, creativity and innovation being used? 

The answer is that the best brains are your brains, the best technology resides in your organisations. The question is how we can make better use of our brains and technology to make the world a better place. 

This is not a question to be outsourced to a supplier, the government, or shareholders… or whoever else you want to make responsible; it is a question for you. So, what are you doing to make best use of those resources? And the question we want to explore here is how can Business Schools help people to make best use of those resources and create more worthy value? 

Business Schools have traditionally taken an accountancy view of what we mean by ‘value’ and ‘cost’. The problem is accountancy does not take into ‘account’ many of the costs involved in creating value – the unintended negative value created for one group in pursuit of creating value for another, referred to by economists as externalities. Externalities are unpriced effects that arise from the production and sale of goods and services. Air pollution from vehicles, aircraft and container ships, is one example. The cost of this is not paid for by either the producers or the consumers of specific products and services, but is paid for by the rest of society, in the form of ill health and treatment for example. We are all made worse off by pollution, but are not compensated by the market for this damage. 

This is one of the main reasons why, in democracies at least, governments intervene to attempt to rebalance using, for example, carbon offsetting programmes, regulations around the percentage of components in production that must be recyclable, and so on. But while this intervention from government is helpful, if not critical to safeguard people and planet, what if businesses and Business Schools took on more responsibility for this rebalancing? What would this mean for Business School curricula? What would it mean for the kind of leadership executive programmes should promote?

Here are some thoughts that we believe could radically transform Business School curricula and create the leaders we need to create the world we all want to see and live in.  

What is ‘good’?

A few years ago, we were struck by the absence of philosophical thinking in shaping and informing our modern-day management and organisational practice. We had this image of a two-legged stool, an unbalanced situation – something was missing. As we thought about it, we realised our organisational thinking is derived from two very impressive bodies of knowledge: economics and psychology. Economics asks the question, ‘how can we make efficient use of scarce resources?’ Psychology asks the question, ‘how can we get other people to do what we want them to do?’ But neither of these two great disciplines contain an ethical point of view at their heart. This is what is missing.

You only have to think of some of the language used. Economics refers to people as factors of production, just like land and capital. And the human resources department? They refer to you and me as human resources. Management speak is punctuated with the words ‘buy-in’, ‘engagement’ and ‘motivation’. What does this mean? It means buying into what I think is right; it means being motivated to do what I want you to do, and it means being engaged with my agenda.

Economics and psychology have worked miracles. To take just one example, 500 million people have been lifted out of poverty in 30 years in China through capitalism, or ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. We have the wonders of the internet, space travel and the robotic lawnmower. Yet in the west, in Asia and increasingly in Africa, as we become better off, we are left with the question, ‘how do we know if what we are doing is good?’ How do we know what is ethical? These are philosophical questions.

Philosophy is the discipline that asks the questions, ‘what is ‘good’?’ ‘what is the right thing to do?‘ and ‘what is the right way to do it?’ Philosophy is the third leg of the two-legged stool that can balance the incredible power of economics and psychology by asking the critical question, ‘what is the ethical dimension of business?’

In our 2019 book, What Philosophy Can Teach You About Being a Better Leader, we use philosophical thinking to challenge standard management practice and ask, ‘what do we mean by organisational values?’ ‘what do we mean by empowerment?’ ‘what do we mean by authority?’ and ‘how do we approach communication and change management?’ These are questions that should be at the centre of executive education in Business Schools – not because there is a clear formulaic answer that we can teach, but because these are the questions that define the paradoxes and dilemmas of leadership. 

How do you decide between options, all of which are part good and part bad, depending on the stakeholder perspective you take and how do you resolve conflicting values? 

The classic Business School approach is to insist on developing organisational values. And yet when you look at almost all organisations’ values, you’re struck by two things. One, they look exactly the same, and two, they seem to have been distilled into five statements, sometimes four, sometimes six. This is an impoverished view of values. There are many values that all of us hold dear, but we know that our values alone do not give us the answer, they generate the question. How do you reconcile the need for transparency with the need for confidentiality? How do you reconcile the need to be honest and the need to be sensitive? How do we square the circle? 

There is no prescriptive answer, there is no set of rules. It is a moral dilemma. It must be addressed in each instance in dialogue and conversation. It requires judgement and an answer to the question, ‘how do I decide between two competing goods?’ A decision you have to live with, to argue for, and to justify, in terms of your moral framework – that is a leadership decision. To make decisions and collaborate within a morally pluralistic world, to engage with others whose values may be different – not better or worse, but different. This is the job of leadership. This is where we need to place more emphasis in our Business School curricula.

The mindset and skillset of purposeful leaders

During our conversations with Rik Vera and others who have made a consistently positive impact on their organisation or community, what became clear was that despite their very different personalities and situations, they shared a common set of characteristics. We identified five core characteristics of these ‘Mavericks’, or individuals who persist and succeed in making positive change happen: 

1. A passionate belief that things should be better.

2. Resourcefulness to connect people and ideas to create momentum towards a better outcome.

3. Preparedness to challenge the status quo and act in unorthodox and nonconformist ways to get things done.

4. The ability to learn and make progress through trial and error, and through experimentation.

5. The ability to remain undeterred in the face of ridicule, resistance and sometimes outright hostility.

As part of our quantitated research, we asked a control group of executives from organisations across the world to rank themselves with respect to these five mindset/skillset characteristics. Then we compared the results to how our Maverick leaders ranked themselves against the same five characteristics. Both the Mavericks and the control group had strong beliefs that things should be better. This confirms our opening observation that almost everyone, Maverick and non-Maverick alike, believes that things could be better in their organisation or community. 

On the next characteristic, resourcefulness, a gap emerged. The Mavericks saw themselves as more resourceful, 10% more resourceful than our control group. With respect to nonconformity, an even bigger gap emerged. The Mavericks saw themselves as 20% more nonconformist. A still bigger gap emerged on the next characteristic, with Mavericks demonstrating themselves to be 25% more experimental. The biggest gap came in relation to the final characteristic of being undeterred – the Mavericks rated themselves as being 27% more undeterred than those in the control group. 

What differentiates the Maverick from the non-Maverick is the extent to which they are resourceful, nonconformist, experimental and undeterred. This is what makes the difference between those of us that simply complain and those of us that endeavour actively to make things better. So, what should Business Schools do to help more of their students become Maverick leaders? Our advice is that they should focus as much on the following as they do on strategy and finance.

Life philosophy

In our Schools, we should help executives to strengthen and articulate their life philosophy, their higher purpose of being. It was clear that each of the leaders we identified as being a Maverick had a philosophy of life that drove them, shaped their high-level goals and informed their day-to-day activity. Here are some examples:

I just want to help people feel better, and wanting people to know that they are cared for and loved… I always had a sense of fighting for the underdog and the importance of justice.’ Annmarie Lewis.

I have a real burning passion to stimulate brilliance in people, it’s as simple as that.’ Akin Thomas.

Giving back to my country [Mexico] my people, and all the wonderful things that I have received. It is my responsibility, my duty, to make a positive impact.’ Oscar Corona Lopez.

Diverse networks 

Maverick leaders do not work alone. Neither can they afford to be surrounded by people like them. Maverick leaders build open and diverse networks and engage with others with curiosity. We need to help executives develop the skills of curiosity and empathy. As one of our Mavericks, Annmarie, explained, it is about cultivating fertile ground by making connections with different stakeholder groups, in government, in business, in academia, in communities. Annmarie is going where she can get traction, where her nonconformity and her radical perspective can be taken up, developed and pushed forward with others.

Growth mindset and self-efficacy

These leaders embody the growth mindset, a term introduced by US psychologist, Carol Dweck, and reject the fixed mindset. They are adaptive but never defeatist. They judge by outcomes rather than just intent. Their optimism is often irrational. What they fear is not failure but fatalism. 

A growth mindset is not a genetically fixed characteristic, nor is it determined one way or another by early nurture. It can be, and needs to be, developed and strengthened in all of us, at every stage of our career. A growth mindset fuels self-efficacy. Unlike self-esteem, which is a judgement of one’s own self-worth, self-efficacy is an existential commitment to one’s own capacity to build a worthwhile life. It is a promise to oneself, not an assessment of oneself. Over the course of a well-lived life, it tends to strengthen as the sense of personal accountability also strengthens. 

In summary, Business Schools can do so much more to develop leaders that embody the change needed in the business world by: helping leaders to understand, explain and manage paradox; develop and articulate their life philosophy; develop their curiosity and the diversity of their networks; adopt a more experimental mindset; adopt a growth mindset; and facilitate transformational conversations.

David Lewis (left) is a Guest Lecturer at London Business School and Hult International Business School.
Jules Goddard (right) is a Fellow of London Business School.
David Lewis and Jules Goddard are the co-authors of Mavericks: How Bold Leadership Changes the World (Kogan Page, 2022).

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: February 2022-April 2022).

In it for the long haul: how to welcome international faculty members

Business Impact: How to welcome international faculty members

Business Schools that want to attract the most talented professors from around the world need to have robust integration strategies in place. NEOMA Business School’s Nathalie Subtil outlines how to welcome new recruits during their first few days and lay the foundations for their long-term retention over their first year

International faculty have become a coveted resource in the business and higher education community, as institutions aim for diversity in staff as well as students. This is not to suggest that domestic talent pools are drying up – far from it – but sourcing expertise from around the world can offer new perspectives which lead to long-term innovation and improvements in teaching.

However, Business Schools that want to attract the most talented professors need to have robust integration strategies in place, as this softens the change experienced by staff when they relocate to a new country.

Without proper procedures to acclimatise them to their surroundings, new recruits can fall prey to feelings of alienation as they grapple with a lack of understanding of the local language, culture or infrastructure – which affects everything from opening a bank account to navigating bus routes.

If such feelings are allowed to fester, the end result is that the professor will either return to their home country or transfer to another institution where their needs will be met. Business Schools must remember that if faculty are willing to emigrate to work for you, they will also be prepared to do the same for your competitors.

The following suggestions are drawn from my current role of overseeing the resettlement of new recruits at NEOMA Business School (NEOMA). I hope that they can provide a jumping off point for other institutions that are creating or reviewing their welcome procedures.

Softening the plunge

Acclimating to a new workplace full of faculty who study, teach and research similar topics is usually the easiest part of moving to a new country. Departmental and institutional events also provide opportunities for staff to get to know one another. Problems are more likely to occur in a professor’s private life, caused by everyday activities that most people don’t consider. In particular, international recruits’ partners and children can add to the difficulties they may have in adjusting to life in a new country.

Imagine yourself on a plane which has just touched down in a new country. Your place of work is guaranteed, but what other thoughts might go through your head? Where will you live? How will you set up a bank account? Where are the nearest hospitals? Where will your children go to school? What will your partner’s career look like?

At NEOMA, we begin the welcome process as soon as new recruits touch down. We ensure that they are picked up at the airport by a bilingual driver and taken to fully furnished accommodation which we have rented for them for the first four months of their stay. Utilities are all provided as part of the package and we also include food and household supplies so they are not rushing around within the first 24 hours looking for somewhere to buy breakfast.

Sometimes, additional needs must be considered. For instance, if the new professor or one of their family has medical requirements, we make sure their new home is furnished with essential equipment and an appointment is booked with a doctor who speaks their language ahead of their arrival.

We also don’t want our staff getting lost and stressed on their first commute into work, or trip to the shops. As part of the integration process, we provide detailed tours of their neighbourhood that provides key details like the location of supermarkets, pharmacies and schools, as well as public transport information.

Ensuring long-term integration and happiness

It’s all well and good making sure the first week goes smoothly, but what about the first year? Business Schools aiming for long-term retention of international faculty need to help set the foundations for them to build a life in their new country.

NEOMA’s resettlement strategy places a specialist integration team at each new faculty member’s disposal. These teams provide them with support in arranging everything from bank appointments with bilingual advisors to school registration for a professor’s children. Spouses and partners should not be forgotten about either, as they can be left stranded with nothing to do and little understanding of a new language and culture.

In order to be effective, approaches to settling new international faculty must be holistic and address the entire family unit. This is why our integration teams also provide French language lessons for staff and their partners, as well as job search services for partners seeking to restart their careers in France. City tours, involving trips to local markets, are also offered, to help immerse families in the local culture.

Although we arrange for accommodation for international faculty recruits for the first four months of their stay, this provision does come to an end. However, we make housing search services available to lessen the pressure on the family to find more permanent lodgings. The integration team stays assigned to the household throughout the professor’s first year and sometimes for longer.

We are aware that in the competitive business and higher education landscape, Schools must always look to improve their integration practices. But, as someone who was formerly in the same boat as many of our new international recruits, I am proud of the comprehensive and holistic care we provide. The first year living in a foreign country is the most challenging time for a professor and their family, and by remaining present in their lives, we are able to provide tailored care to suit their needs.

By welcoming new international faculty from the point of their arrival in the country, we aim to provide them with as easy a transition to living and working in their new country as possible and give ourselves the best chance of retaining talented professors in the long term.

Nathalie Subtil is Academic Director at NEOMA Business School. Her duties include overseeing the resettlement of new international faculty recruits. Her teaching background is in accounting, auditing and corporate finance.

Fuzzy set theory and fuzzy logic in management

Business Impact: Fuzzy set theory and fuzzy logic in management

Get a clearer view of uncertain, or fuzzy, sets and some of their latest applications in the field of management from Eötvös Loránd University’s Tamás Jónás

Nowadays, fuzzy sets and fuzzy logic have a wide range of applications in many areas of science including engineering, economics, management, and the business sciences.

This article offers an insight into the research results achieved over the past five years by the Faculty of Economics, Eötvös Loránd University, in fields connected with fuzzy set theory, fuzzy logic, and their applications in management.

Basic notions

Let us consider the statement: ‘Our company has a high operating profit rate.’ We do not know exactly what this statement means, but in our daily life, we tend not to see any problem with using this kind of statements. This is because we have a certain imagination of the meaning of the above statement, even though it is ambiguous and imprecise.

In classical set theory, the set of high operating profit rates can be exactly defined as an interval on the real line. For example, if the operating profit rate is between 10% and 30%, then we may consider it as high operating profit rate.

Now, suppose that an operating profit rate, x, is just a bit less than 10%. In this case, noting the previous crisp definition of the set of high operating profit rates, x is not an element of this set. However, we would describe this situation using statements like: ‘The operating profit rate, x, is almost high’ or ‘the operating profit rate, x, is close to a high operating profit rate’. Our human language allows us to express our uncertainty regarding this situation in a more sophisticated way than that of using the concept of crisp set. Based on this line of thinking, we may conclude that the classical set theory is not suitable for describing the uncertainty associated with vague situations.

The concept of fuzzy set was introduced by University of California, Berkeley Professor, Lotfi Zadeh, in 1965 as an extension of the classical notion of set. A fuzzy set is given by its membership function, which is a mapping from a given universe (set) to the closed unit interval.

The value of the membership function at x is the grade of membership of x in the fuzzy set. It should be emphasised that every element in the universe has its membership grade in the fuzzy set in question, and this grade is an element of the unit interval [0,1].

Using our previous example, we can define the fuzzy set of high operating profit rates such that the membership grade of 9% operating profit rate to this fuzzy set is 0.3. That is, this operating profit rate has a relatively low membership grade in the fuzzy set of high operating profit rates, but this membership grade is not zero.

We can see that this set has no crisp boundaries, and that its boundaries are instead rather ‘fuzzy’. This explains why these sets are called fuzzy sets. It should be added that the membership grade of x, which tells us how much x belongs to the fuzzy set on the scale [0,1], may also be viewed as a measurement of truth of the statement that ‘x is an element of the set under study’. Here, the values zero and one correspond to the ‘fully’ false and ‘fully’ true logical values, respectively. That is, the value of the membership grade can be interpreted as a fuzzy logical (continuous logical) value.

Evaluations using fuzzy numbers

A special class of fuzzy sets, called the fuzzy number, may be treated as an extension of the notion of number. Namely, a fuzzy number can be used to express the uncertainty related to a quantity. Moreover, using fuzzy numbers, traditional Likert scale-based evaluations can be extended to fuzzy rating scale-based evaluations that find many applications in the business sciences. For example, in relation to evaluating service features in healthcare, or the performance of university lecturers and supervisors.  

Ranking fuzzy numbers and multicriteria decision-making

The ranking of fuzzy numbers plays an important role in multicriteria decision-making, and as such, it has various applications in management as well.

Fuzzy logical operations

In many situations, we need to modify a fuzzy logical value or connect multiple fuzzy logical values to obtain a new one. These can be done using continuous-valued logical operators that may be viewed as extensions of the negation, conjunction, and disjunction operations of classical logic. You can see an example of our results connected with this area here.

Monotone (fuzzy) measures in decision-making and behavioural economics

The monotone, but not necessarily additive measures (set functions), which are also known as fuzzy measures, can be used to model various phenomena in decision-making and in behavioural economics. Our contributions to these fields include, for example, a methodology that can be used to generate parametric probability weighting functions.

Demand forecasting using fuzzy logic

Forecasting the demand for products or services is a crucial activity for all enterprises. In the past few years, we developed some soft computational methods that can be used in demand forecasting effectively, an example of which can be seen in a 2018 paper in the International Journal of Production Economics.

Tamás Jónás is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Economics, Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest, Hungary.

Transforming in turbulence

Business Impact: Transforming in turbulence

As Covid-19 continues to cause disruption, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management is preserving its innovative edge and adapting to emerging trends. David Woods-Hale speaks to its President, Nils Stieglitz

In 2022, it will have been 10 years since you joined Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. What have been the biggest changes in business strategy? 

There have been two major developments. First, across industries, there has been an increasing need to understand and respond to the changing role of technology and business disruption. Changes in the business landscape force companies to become more adaptive internally as we have within the wider ecosystem. Second, the topic of sustainability has moved from being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have.’ Nowadays, business strategies must address how a company makes a positive contribution above and beyond financial returns to owners and shareholders.

What are the most pressing challenges facing international Business Schools? 

With the Covid-19 pandemic on top of a global climate crisis, every aspect of a Business School can be considered VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). We have seen disruptive technologies enabled by the pandemic changing the demographics of our knowledge economy on a global scale. The most pressing challenge has been to adapt to this in time. Speed is of the essence. 

Is the business education sector responding quickly enough to this ongoing disruption and what advice would you offer to other deans?

I would say that Business Schools are doing a good job at adapting to the new reality. We have seen a lot of innovation and experimentation, especially during the past two years. Many Business School leaders have quickly transformed how they teach, interact, and do research. However, the challenge will be to preserve this innovative edge once the immediate pressures created by the pandemic subside. 

We have learned so much from how we had to pivot to remote learning so suddenly, and using the necessary software and technologies to do this effectively. Business Schools will only continue to stay relevant if they explore new opportunities and continue to be ready to change – sometimes quite drastically. Intel’s Andy Grove once argued that only the paranoid will survive disruption – and there’s a lot of wisdom in that claim. 

Your research interests focus on strategic decision-making and organisational adaptation. These topics have, arguably, never been more important than during the Covid-19 pandemic. Can you share some insight into how your School managed through the pandemic? 

Early in the pandemic, I gave a talk to our alumni about managing in a crisis. I made three key points:

1*. ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best’ (which is a saying attributed to former UK Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli). On the one hand, it was important to think in terms of scenarios and to develop options (especially around trimming costs and scaling back investment) that we were ready to act on. That gave us a lot of flexibility as the pandemic unfolded. On the other hand, it was crucial to identify and focus on the opportunities created by the pandemic. 

2*. A crisis provides a good opportunity for innovation. For example, according to some research, the Great Depression was the most innovative decade of the 20th century. That coloured my own thinking about how to handle the crisis. For example, we suddenly – more or less overnight – had new digital formats that could reach students and alumni all over the world. 

3*. A crisis reasserts the value of strategy. Strategy is very much about deciding what not to do – and a crisis forces you to have clarity about your key priorities. 

How did the pandemic change your School for the long term? And what have been your most important learnings during lockdown? 

As was the case for organisations in many other sectors, Business Schools had to engage technological and digital processes and equipment at a level that many Schools may not have experienced or attempted to deliver before. Schools and campuses being forced to close so suddenly meant that teachers would have to deliver lectures and education to students online for an undisclosed period of time, with many potentially never having experienced this before. 

Over the years, digitalisation and technological advances have been increasing within Schools, but the pandemic has really forced us to push all aspects of digitalisation from theory into practice. We can now effectively and successfully offer hybrid learning – combining both online and offline learning – for students that require or desire that flexibility. 

Within Frankfurt School, the pandemic also forced us to accelerate existing processes of change drastically.

How do you believe technology will continue to impact and disrupt the Business School environment as a whole?

The future of our sector is hybrid. We have learned over the past two years how vital the campus environment is to students. Therefore, we might see more and more shifts towards augmented and virtual reality at home. Institutions such as ours will have to find a way into our students’ environments through more than just Zoom lectures.

Business Schools might also want to invest in augmented reality tools to add value to their physical campus by bringing the outside world in for the students to experience it. Schools should invest in capacities that students could not afford or have on their own. Lecturers will have to learn to use tools and devices meant for enhancing education in this way and become mediators between students and the campus.

Can you give some examples of innovation that the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management is developing to future-proof its postgraduate business programmes moving forward? 

Frankfurt School actively lives by the principle of continuous learning. We encourage personal and professional development at all career levels – nationally and internationally. Nowadays, employees and business leaders face an increasing necessity to reskill and to develop continuously. 

To further our students’ development, we offer a variety of executive education programmes, ranging from seminars and certificates to Executive Master and MBA programmes. All of our formats are grounded in research and all offer practical elements. 

Traditional classroom teaching no longer suffices, so we offer hybrid and online courses, as well as various on-campus and virtual experiences. As we see an increasing need for virtual teaching, we design our online courses in a clearer, shorter, and more engaging way. 

For example, our online courses carry elements of gamification, artificial intelligence (AI)-based research, and are often personalised to each participant’s individual and unique needs. Students can study in bite-size modules, in their own time, and they can do this anywhere they want. 

How important is it that Business Schools are ahead of the curve in terms of lifelong learning and alumni relations, in light of emerging trends such as stackable courses and digital credentialing? What more could and should they be doing?

I consider it very important! When it comes to what Business Schools should be doing to stay ahead of the curve, I believe a mandatory semester abroad should be incorporated into BSc programmes. The world is becoming increasingly connected – even more so since the increased use of online working and learning due to the pandemic.

Individuals from multiple countries can easily be in the same lecture or work meeting without actually being in the same room. Affording Business School students semesters abroad gives them some experience of different cultures, education, and people from the very beginning of their higher education journey.

Future-focused topics should also be introduced into Business Schools, including areas of AI, blockchain, and sustainability. 

Disruption is changing the workplace as much as the business education space. How are you ensuring that your graduates have the mindsets needed to be agile-yet-decisive as they lead the businesses of today and tomorrow? 

We do this directly and indirectly through the content and structure of our programmes. The content is shaping the mindset of our participants. We cover the theories that are essential to leadership. The structure of our programmes is also intentional. We have built in ‘surprise’ elements where students are required to pivot, think on their feet, make quick decisions and then carry them out sustainably. 

Business leaders can usually predict pretty well what tomorrow is going to look like, but there are things we cannot predict. Covid-19 is an example of this. But there was always a theoretical possibility of a global pandemic, just as there is a theoretical possibility of a nuclear war, or alien invasion – all things that are very difficult to plan for. I think our future business leaders of tomorrow need confidence in their ability to predict what’s going to happen under normal consequences.

Sustainability and climate change are huge influencers on how we will live and work. What does sustainability mean to you as a Business School leader? 

The original intent of Business Schools, as stated by the Ford and Carnegie Foundation Studies of 1959, was to ‘professionalise management’ – meaning ‘to create responsible professionals’. In 2021, responsible has a new meaning. This meaning is derived from the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but we have adapted it to our institutional vision. In line with our commitment to the highest scientific and academic standards, the approach to sustainability at Frankfurt School is led by hard science which is skills-based, interdisciplinary, integrative and authentic.

Students care very much about the climate agenda. Do you think this will have as much of an impact on student recruitment, physical environments and student exchange and study tours, as as it will on course components and pedagogy? 

Now more than ever, rankings continue to be a primary source of Business School legitimacy, which prospective students consider when choosing programmes and Schools. The weight of various sustainability categories increases each year, and individual Schools win or lose as a result. This, in turn, has an impact on which School a student chooses to study at.

‘Green topics’ such as sustainability and green finance are growing in demand. These subjects used to be integrated into traditional core courses, but now we are developing entire programmes around them. We have seen this trend in Executive Education specifically, and have reacted very quickly by offering courses such as Financing Renewable Energy, Certified Expert in Sustainable Finance, and Certified Expert in Climate & Renewable Finance. 

The Erasmus+ Programme is also encouraging students to find a ‘green’ approach to their exchanges. One of the ways is to choose greener accommodation options. At Frankfurt School, we are committed to providing those options, and are working closely with our partners in the building of our new student accommodations to ensure they are up to the latest standards in sustainable living. 

Your School’s strategy will create revenue streams for green investment in emerging markets. Can you explain a bit more about this innovative crowdfunding initiative? 

Our new crowd investing platform,, offers retail investors the opportunity to finance green projects and SMEs in Africa and Latin America. We bring together companies that want to go green with investors who put an emphasis on financial return and environmental protection. Crowd investing is a relatively new form of finance that allows private investors to directly finance projects, and companies that meet their personal preferences. With individual investments starting from as little as €100 EUR, allows everyone to participate and diversify their portfolio. 

All information is provided to potential investors so that they can make an individual, informed investment decision. We define green investments in terms of sustainability and environmental protection. A green investment must – directly or indirectly – have a sustainable positive impact. 

The platform is managed jointly by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance and FS Impact Finance, and co-operates with GLS Bank. 

It is part of the International Climate Initiative and supported by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

What are the next steps for you as a leader and for Frankfurt School of Finance and Management? 

I hope that Frankfurt School of Finance and Management will continue to grow, but also that we keep our edge – that we remain as vibrant and as innovative as we currently are. I think it’s vital that we preserve this.

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

I am hopeful about the world. It might seem like a very dangerous place to be right now, but if you look at the broader picture, things have improved over recent decades and centuries. We live longer, we are generally more affluent – not just in Europe, but also in Asia and increasingly in Africa, and we suffer fewer deaths from wars. Climate change is a huge challenge, but one I am confident we can tackle. Our right to liberty, freedom and free enterprise has also come under a lot of pressure in recent years, and not just because of Covid-19. However, I am hopeful that in the future we come back to this trajectory.

Nils Stieglitz has been President and Managing Director of Frankfurt School of Finance and Management since April 2018. His primary research interests are strategic decision-making and organisational adaptation.

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

How are Business Schools capturing, and acting on, student feedback?

Business Impact: How are Business Schools capturing, and acting on, student feedback?

Discover five trends in Business Schools’ collection and use of student feedback, based on a new report from Explorance

Changes to teaching and learning, initially as a result of Covid-19, raised serious questions about how the student voice is captured and acted on, especially given higher education’s reliance on face-to-face approaches for doing so, and how this links to student satisfaction.

Institutions are adopting a number of approaches when it comes to ‘listening’ to students’ views about their teaching and learning experience (and wider student experience) and what comes back should be a critical informer of strategy development. It is a huge issue, and a huge challenge for the sector, which needs insight on ‘how’ to do this.

Examining global perspectives on student feedback

Feedback Matters: Business and Management Education Focus Report, a new report from Explorance, examines how student feedback – including feedback derived through evaluation surveys – influences institutional enhancement. It also poses the question: ‘How can the student voice deliver transformational business and management education?’

Based on in-depth thinking from senior academic and professional staff from Business Schools, as well as business and management faculties, around the world, the report shares strategies underpinning student insight; differentiated approaches to capturing, and responding to, student feedback; and how challenges are being addressed. It also highlights best practice case studies on student voice policy and implementation, and delves into the future for teaching and learning in business and management education, including how student feedback will support this evolution.

With perspectives gathered from Australia, Egypt, Sweden, UK and the US, the report shows just how seriously student feedback is being taken and how business and management education providers are collecting and responding to feedback about different aspects of the experience at different points in time. This is, of course, not just an issue facing business and management education – it affects the whole university sector – and indeed, two other reports we have published in the past 18 months show that student ownership and engagement is fundamental to the success of this process.

Five trends in student feedback

So, as Business Schools and university-based business and management faculties have ramped up their approaches to student engagement/student feedback, what are the common trends emerging that institutions need to know?

1* Institutions have successfully ‘pivoted’
Covid-19, and the move from face-to-face to online learning, means that alongside traditional end-of-module evaluation surveys, many institutions have embraced mid-module surveys for assessment of teaching and learning. Pulse surveys – providing quick and light-touch feedback – have also risen in prominence given the need for institutions to better understand how students are feeling at any given time. These are used for course evaluation and wider assessments of student sentiment and wellbeing.

2* Students don’t know how feedback is used
Students’ perceptions – and lack of understanding – as to how their feedback is used, how it might immediately benefit them, and how it is applied by their institution for quality assurance and quality enhancement purposes, is a problem. While there is a clear expectation from student leaders that institutions should actively listen to course evaluation feedback, better and more open communication is required to help students understand what changes are possible in follow-up and, therefore, to manage their expectations.

3* ‘Closing the loop’ remains the biggest issue
Closing the feedback loop is, and has been for a long time, the biggest challenge facing institutions around course evaluation surveys and one that is still not addressed sufficiently. Students expect to see change as a result of their feedback. However, there is a lack of consistency in how the sector approaches this and closes the loop. Institutions need to be much clearer on how they act on course evaluation survey feedback and be more transparent on what they can and cannot do in response.

4* Opportunity to delve into demographics
For a long time, institutions have talked about the need to better understand how different groups of students view their course. For example, through an analysis of feedback based on the characteristics of populations, such as age, race and gender. Delving deeper into who is satisfied or dissatisfied with their education experience could support student progression, satisfaction and (for those who may be unhappy) retention. This has fallen off the radar during the pandemic, but a number of institutions are now picking up projects to better understand demographic data. They are also capturing the views of students on different modes of delivery.

5* Course evaluation surveys are here to stay
Academic leaders generally share the opinion that traditional module evaluation surveys remain a hugely valuable component of capturing student feedback, with student reps highlighting these as ‘robust and measurable’. End-of-semester summative evaluation surveys – which provide standardisation on questions that enables comparisons between courses/between cohorts –  are being complemented with formative feedback. This gives lecturers the opportunity to seek feedback through bespoke, non-standard, questions during a module. Evaluations are also generally all done online now.


Whatever direction the pandemic, or other global events, take over the next 12 months, and their impact on teaching and learning, student feedback is a proven approach to informing quality assurance and enhancement within institutions. Given the rich data they provide, surveys will remain the primary channel for student feedback on the educational experience. Institutions questioning where they put their efforts – or new beginnings – post-Covid, should consider combining the best of old and new ‘normals’.

John Atherton is General Manager (Europe and Africa) at Explorance, which helps Business Schools and universities improve teaching and learning through the way they capture, analyse and respond to student feedback.

Democratising education and developing responsible leaders to solve Africa’s most prevalent problems

Business Impact: Democratising education and developing responsible leaders to solve Africa’s most prevalent problems

In January 2021, Chris Ogbechie took up the role of Dean of Lagos Business School. A year on, David Woods-Hale talks to him about the challenges of leading through a pandemic and preparing students to tackle Africa’s business and societal challenges

Could you share some insights into your leadership journey and the challenges you’ve overcome?

I was appointed Dean of Lagos Business School (LBS), in Nigeria, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, at the point when we were coming out of the first lockdown and dealing with the impacts of the virus.

A year before Covid struck, leaders at the School had gathered to discuss the future of work, and remote learning was something we were already researching and working towards implementing. This meant that, when the pandemic hit, we immediately shifted to remote learning, even before the Nigerian government announced a lockdown.

Our executive programmes were negatively impacted by the pandemic. There was a significant drop in enrolment and revenue as many organisations cut their learning and development budgets. Some of our executive programmes had a 60% decline in enrolments, while even the best-performing ones saw a 40% drop.  

Our MBA programmes, on the other hand, were not disrupted for a single day. Due to our proactiveness in offering online learning, we had the knowledge and experience to switch to it and were able to do so easily. However, a few students dropped out as they couldn’t afford to pay their fees. 

Some faculty members were already teaching virtually, so our focus was on training their colleagues to do the same. Luckily, we already had a Learning Management System in place and the Modular EMBA was being run as a hybrid programme with 60% of teaching in person and 40% online – so moving to 100% online was simple. Members of the marketing team also needed training to explore other marketing and sales channels, which included utilising more digital marketing, as they were used to face-to-face selling.

Our revenue dropped dramatically in 2020, forcing us to cut our budget and expenses. We were able to minimise losses by reducing and prioritising expenses. In order to carry everybody along, we had to embark on extensive internal communication to let staff know the challenges we were facing and the plans we had in place to keep the School going. We had to accelerate the use of technology, and we embarked on co-production of knowledge through collaboration with other institutions, consulting firms, Business Schools and corporate academies.

How have you adapted your strategy to continue to thrive during the disruption caused by Covid-19?

With the uncertainty and disruption in the business environment caused by the pandemic, we ran a series of free webinars to support the business community and help it through the unprecedented times. These webinars covered subjects including operations, supply chain management, strategy, marketing, and human resource management. We benefited from this as it re-established LBS as a thought leader and provided us with insights into the needs of business. 

We discovered our customers’ pain points and used what we learned to create a hybrid learning option, redesigning existing programmes, and introducing new ones. We realised that the entrepreneurial mindset and critical thinking that drive innovation are vital to success in the ‘new normal’. We stressed this in our programmes, and introduced the concept of building ecosystems through collaboration. We also reinforced the message of social responsibility among all our students.

At the end of 2021, our performance was slightly above our pre-Covid performance of 2019, and twice the level of our 2020 performance. In addition to our international awards and accreditations, in 2021, we became the first tertiary institution in Nigeria to receive the ISO 9001:2015 certification, which further validates the effectiveness of our Quality Management System, aimed at ensuring a pleasant participant experience. 

Our Sustainability Centre came top out of 36 international Business Schools in the 2021 Global Business School Network’s (GBSN) ‘Going Beyond’ Award. This was in recognition of the Centre’s initiatives in strengthening society, demonstrating community impact and embodying the spirit of inclusive and sustainable development. Two MBA teams also took first and second place in the GBSN Africa Business Concept challenge, which involved 56 teams from 15 countries.

Is the business education sector responding quickly enough to ongoing disruption and what advice would you offer to other deans?

Yes, the response has been quick. My advice is to evolve with the technology, and pay more attention to customers: understand their pain points and design tailored programmes for today’s business leaders, providing a better experience. Your eco-system should influence your research direction; research should help address the business, social and institutional problems of the society. Experiential learning should be prioritised, and there should be better collaboration between Business Schools. For Business Schools in emerging markets, it is important to democratise education through technology, to make it accessible.  

In Nigeria, new industries are emerging and the business managers in these sectors require more customised management programmes. At Lagos Business School, we offer bespoke management programmes to meet the unique demands of players in various sectors. For example, we have the Agri-business Management Programme, tailored to the unique needs of this sector, and we are developing a programme for techpreneurs in financial services, healthcare, and entertainment. We are also looking at how best to prepare students for a world where artificial intelligence and robotics will alter our daily lives. We need to keep up with technology, deliver relevant content and improve the quality of the programmes we offer. 

It is imperative to finetune programmes periodically and to seek partnerships, as we do at LBS. We have partnerships with more than 15 international Business Schools and other institutions in the areas of research, programme design and delivery, and student exchange, in order to develop African business leaders with a global perspective and experience.

Can you offer some examples of innovations your School is developing to future-proof its postgraduate business programmes? 

LBS offers only postgraduate programmes. As one of Africa’s top Business Schools, we value innovation and make it a priority in our content delivery. We established the LBS Sustainability Centre to drive the sustainability agenda and develop responsible leaders more than a decade ago, before other African Business Schools.

We have been promoting responsible management as a means of driving sustainable economic development across Africa. Business ethics and sustainability are mandatory courses on all our programmes. We have become champions of financial inclusion in Nigeria through the work being done by our Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Financial Services Initiative.

We took a strategic decision to review our curriculum and to use the most current pedagogical techniques in teaching and learning. To cater for distinct target markets, we divided our programmes into different categories: blended (asynchronous and online), fully online, hybrid, and in-person programmes (which are our high-value programmes).

Our international exchange programmes, and immersion trips with leading Business Schools in Europe, America and Africa, help our students to experience other cultures and business environments.

We recently rolled out a five-year strategic plan with five pillars for LBS. Pillar one is delivering a remarkable participant experience and preparing participants for the future of work. Pillar two is significant research that solves business, social, and institutional problems, and pillar three is about enhancing engagement and nurturing partnerships with stakeholders. Pillar four is targeted at people, processes, systems, culture and values, and involves strengthening our internal process. Pillar five aims to increase our internalisation, maintaining all accreditations, research, programme design, faculty and student exchange with other international Business Schools.

What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing international Business Schools? 

Technology is transforming our way of life, as well as how we learn and access information. There has been a rapid change in the way people learn due to technology and the impact of Covid-19. Hence faculty at Business Schools need to adopt new technology and incorporate new ways of teaching to meet the changing needs, tastes, and preferences of students. Business Schools must embrace and champion innovation to keep up with pace of technological advancement, which is changing consumer behaviour and our way of life. Investing in technology is expensive, so the budget must be increased. 

Climate change is a challenge for the entire world – and Business Schools are no exception. The effects of climate change have already started to affect businesses and industries. Business Schools, as knowledge hubs and breeding grounds for business solutions, must rise to the occasion and proffer solutions for stakeholders. 

There is increased competition in the learning space as customer preferences change and technology disrupts the industry. Business Schools must strive to remain relevant to students, business managers, executives, corporate organisations, and governments.

For us in Africa, massive youth unemployment is a challenge. We need to develop entrepreneurs who will go on to birth new organisations and industries that will create jobs for young people.

You have a very strong sustainability mission at LBS. Business students are passionate about people, profit, purpose, and planet. How is LBS addressing these needs and focusing on developing responsibility and sustainability-centric leaders?

Business ethics and sustainability have been part of the curriculum on all our programmes from their inception. We believe that business leaders will only build organisations that succeed in the long run when they go beyond the financial bottom line, focusing also on their social and environmental impact and performances. 

In our MBA programme, first-year students are taught to be changemakers through the mandatory Sustainability and Personal Social Responsibility (PSR) Course. This core pillar of their learning experience aims to build a mindset of professional ethics and service to society through the implementation of PSR Projects to solve specific social problems faced by target communities. These projects focus on sustainable development themes such as ‘zero hunger’, ‘quality education’, ‘health and wellness’, ‘economic empowerment’, ‘environmental conservation’, and so on. The PSR projects create opportunities for future managers and business leaders to work with players in the nonprofit sector as well as participants of the LBS Nonprofit Leadership and Management programmes.

As an institution, we are constantly seeking ways to help organisations and executives enhance their business performance, and improve their social and environmental impact. In 2010, we established the Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre – the first of its kind in Nigeria – to drive capacity building, knowledge-based dialogue, and collaboration between various stakeholders to find solutions to sustainable development challenges in Africa. The Centre brings together theory and practices on sustainability by building organisational capacity, developing tools and resources, collaborating and supporting initiatives by businesses, government, development organisations, civil society and academics. In addition, the Centre also provides customised management training programmes, open enrolment programmes, seminars and workshops, plus social impact assessment and sustainability reporting services.

We also work with organisations to address sustainable development challenges, incorporate sustainable practices into their operations, and to develop innovative products and services that transform their communities. while simultaneously generating economic value. We have initiatives such as the Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Financial Services Project, Building Youth Capacity for Nonprofit Leadership and Management, and the recently launched Innocent Chukwuma Social Impact Youth Chair and Fellowship, supported by organisations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation. We are glad that our students and alumni continue to follow our institution’s example of making a difference in our larger community, national development and in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Having completed your MBA and PhD at AMBA-accredited Schools in Europe, you lead a Nigerian Business School and work closely with another in Kenya as a visiting professor. You have written extensively on business strategy in the region as well. Can you share some insight into the exciting and fast-growing business education sector in Africa?

Africa’s business education sector is expanding rapidly, with programmes aimed at providing solutions to African business problems. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is opening up Africa as one single market, which will provide tremendous opportunity for African businesses. It will lead to the free flow of information and money across the continent, and Business Schools need to develop managers who can operate across the continent and assist organisations to work effectively in the new single market.

To equip the investors, entrepreneurs and executives with the requisite skills, competencies and insights to take advantage of the emerging opportunities, we have developed the Doing Business in Africa programme. The course provides practical guidance and knowledge on the cultural nuances of the various African markets and the political and macroeconomic environment, as well as policy, risk, and regulatory conditions. The course gives an overview of the critical aspects of running business in Africa. It improves participants’ awareness of the structure and nature of the continent’s economy, and also provides in-depth knowledge of how African businesses operate, and the business strategies required to effectively collaborate with African partners. 

As the African business landscape continues to change, there is an increasing appreciation of business research and the insights that Business Schools provide to inform better decision-making. LBS has always been Africa-focused and this course has come at the right time.

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

A key step is putting the customer first and providing an excellent learning experience. Our theme for 2022 is ‘Delighting the customer’, so we plan to continue to improve the customer experience for all our stakeholders, ensuring they have a pleasant and memorable experience. We want to sustain our relevance to our stakeholders, so we need to attract students and participants from around the world, and provide an enjoyable learning experience.

At LBS, entrepreneurship is important: 20-25% of our MBA students start their own businesses after graduation. To increase this number, we are working with a leading development bank to set up an Entrepreneurship Innovation Centre. This will be a hub where budding entrepreneurs can experiment with ideas, and birth innovative solutions to problems. We intend to leverage one of our partnerships to establish an angel funding platform, connecting entrepreneurs to investors. We are also developing new partnerships. One thing is certain: we will continue to develop responsible leaders who will go on to solve Africa’s most prevalent problems. 

On a personal note, I plan to continue writing research papers in the fields of strategy and business management. Although my main responsibility is in administration, I must ensure I continue on the path of developing a body of knowledge on doing business in Africa.

What differentiates the MBA programme at LBS? 

Our values, professionalism, emphasis on business ethics, sustainability and value creation – all of which are integral components of our MBA programme – help us to stand us out in this market. We also adopted the UN PRME (Principles of Responsible Management Education) initiative into our MBA programme to ensure our students gain competencies required to balance economic and sustainability objectives.

We have a world-class MBA programme with international accreditations and a robust network of Business Schools, corporations and associations. Our Alumni Association is made up of prominent professionals in the socio-political and economic landscape in Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world.

We have an award-winning faculty who are also industry practitioners with business experience in Africa. They offer academic and practical insights, ensuring that our students have a well-rounded understanding of the African and international business environments.

Our MBA programme is global in its approach, but local in relevance, and tailored to the needs of African businesses, with a deep understanding of the unique challenges they face. We develop our students into world-class business professionals with the requisite capabilities to solve African problems. We have adapted some of the best methods from around the world to the African setting so that our students receive a global education tailored to their immediate environment. 

And finally, do you feel optimistic about the future of business, Business Schools, and the economy?

I am very optimistic about the future of Business Schools, businesses and the economy. As the economy rebounds from the pandemic new opportunities will emerge. 

The pandemic has already changed the work culture; working from home has become the norm, and technology will usher in new developments. New growth areas and new challenges will arise, and Business Schools are preparing their students to meet these challenges.

Responsible leaders are needed in the world of economics and business, and these professionals will come from Business Schools, which are the masters of developing skilled management professionals, preparing future leaders, and fostering a better understanding of the fundamental challenges the global economy faces. 

These things spell an exciting future for business, Business Schools and the economy.

Chris Ogbechie is Dean of Lagos Business School (LBS) a Professor of Strategic Management, a visiting professor at Strathmore Business School, Nairobi, Kenya, and the founding Director of LBS Sustainability Centre.

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Adaptation, repair, or a new opportunity?

Business Impact: Adaptation, repair, or a new opportunity?

How has Covid-19 changed Business Schools’ priorities? AMBA & BGA was joined by experts from technology company, Barco, and representatives from the business education community to explore what the future might look like for Business Schools and their students in the post-Covid digital economy. By Edward Jacques and David Woods-Hale

Digitalisation is deemed to be the most important concept in the running of a Business School over the next 10 years, with almost two-thirds of leaders (63%) believing it to be very important, according to AMBA & BGA Education Technology Research, in association with Barco. 

In fact, a whopping 83% of leaders think it is either ‘very likely’ or ‘fairly likely’ that the fundamentals of the MBA will change in the next 10 years, compared with 76% who were of this opinion in late 2019.  

The research also found that Business Schools are looking forward to a new era of education technology, having made a success of online learning provision in 2020 – and Business School leaders have shown their Schools to have been both pragmatic and agile in the face of 2020’s disruption.

The next steps for Business School leaders across the world is to move from crisis mode to further innovation, in order to develop and finesse their tech strategy as global economies start to move into recovery as vaccines reduce the impact of Covid-19. 

AMBA & BGA, in association with Barco, held a focus group with decision-makers from Business Schools across Europe to find out in more qualitative terms whether Business Schools have changed, updated, or tweaked their models because of the pandemic during the past year; what plans are afoot for the coming 12-18 months; how Schools are identifying new opportunities for the year ahead; and how they are driving digital transformation and skills development. 

AMBA & BGA was joined by experts from technology company Barco – as well as representatives from the business education community – to explore the challenges. During a lively discussion, panellists took stock of what had changed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, what they have learned, and what the future might look like for Business Schools and their students in the digital economy. Here are some highlights from the conversation. 

Simone Hammer, Global Head of Marketing Teaching and Training, Barco

We worked with a couple of early-adopting Business Schools that tried out our virtual classroom when the pandemic started, and they were happy and deployed more and expanded what they had in place. 

Many [Business Schools] have used conferencing systems to get through the pandemic – but we all thought it would be over in a couple of months and we now know that this is not the case. These Schools had the option to expand because they had technology already in place. 

Lots of people needed to be educated in understanding the solutions that are out there that can really bring them an immersive and engaging experience. I would that, say since the end of last year, lots of Business Schools have come to understand that platforms such as Zoom or Teams cannot deliver the level of engagement and the learning outcomes that they would expect for their programmes – and specifically executive education. We also are working with the corporate community to deliver learning and development to employees, and we are observing the same trends in this arena.

So in light of this, what is the way into the future? What have we learned? I would personally like to go a little bit further, and ask what is the revolution now? What can we do to be more inclusive and reach out to more people [through technology]? How can we make it more engaging?  What about belonging? What are the priorities and how can we help Business Schools to be even better despite the pandemic?

Schools need to embrace horizontal learning and create connections. Technology must enhance the physical and digital learning experience. I believe hybrid working and learning will be the new norm. 

How do we prepare the students for life outside the university? Business leaders want people who have a certain experience. They want them to learn something but they also want them to be prepared for a future in their companies. 

Rebecca Loades, Director, Career Accelerator Programs, ESMT Berlin  

At ESMT, we have separated content creation and content delivery in blended and online learning. This allows us to share and swap content with other Schools more easily.

When designing for online, every single minute of the course is thought about in depth. We therefore have to be much more precise in our preparation than when we are offering a course in person. Having that control, and being able to apply that rigour, is the gift of an asynchronous environment. 

Each of our online courses has a defined manual about how it should be taught. This approach enables us to separate course development and course delivery so that students learn from faculty with superb domain knowledge but may engage with a different faculty member during their learning journey.

We have some 550 degree-seeking students and a relatively small faculty body, so we had to make sure that we are using them in a way that equips us to serve our population base now, and also creates a platform for the future. 

In the global online MBA, the advantage for students is that they’re going to be learning in – and from – a programme that has virtual collaboration at its heart.  This means students are using technology for learning, and are learning from technology.  The first module in the Global Online MBA focuses on managing in a connected world. It provides students with hands-on insights around how to work with, and within, virtual teams.

At our Business School, we have invested approximately €500,000 EUR to upgrade our auditoriums. We have microphones at every seat and cameras that focus on who is speaking. This helps us to create an engaging environment. We also assign what we call a ‘co-pilot’ to each of our faculty members. In pure online, the co-pilot manages the chat and the technology; in hybrid scenarios, the co-pilot is the bridge between the online and in-person attendees. By having someone focused specifically on students who are not physically present, we ensure their voices are heard. We want to remove any sense of physical separation, so that virtual participants are equal contributors to the classroom. 

In a hybrid session, all students are required to connect via Zoom, including those who are physically present. It has contributed to a richer classroom experience as students share observations, insights, and related resources through the chat function. This not only helps students who are shy or don’t have English as their first language, but also nudges students to share things they may not think are worth interrupting faculty for, and yet which will support learning.

Gunther Friedl, Dean, TUM School of Management

We are still offering a classroom experience. If students have time, then they can come here; if they don’t, they basically tell us they cannot travel. 

Some students would like remote access [to learning] and others say they want to have the social experience. We have to accommodate all these needs in the classroom and that is a challenge because it requires technology. 

We learned how to integrate students from abroad into the hybrid learning setting, but this was quite a journey because students need to understand everybody in the room, so you require the technology to make this possible. 

This demand has grown extremely quickly during the past 15 months. Before [the pandemic] we were able to say ‘no’ to such demands. This is now our offering, and I don’t think [saying ‘no’] will be possible in the future so this [hybrid] flexibility
will be required by all institutions moving forward. 

Mindsets [in Business Schools] need to change to draw on possibilities and flexibilities, but students themselves need to be flexible as this is the new normal. 

Hybrid extends to other areas. No one thought hybrid meetings and learning [would replace] physical meetings, but this format will be around in the future.

Céline Davesne, Associate Dean, NEOMA Business School

We are currently working on hybrid and online learning with new pedagogy and a task force – including students, faculty, and other stakeholders. 

We are looking at ways we can manage networking experiences, and social aspects for students. We do feel, at NEOMA, that our virtual campus will be able to answer all these elements. Our virtual campus is a campus just like the others at the School: it has a library, amphitheatres, and student clubs. Everything is there, so students just use their avatars within that campus. 

We strongly believe in it and the high satisfaction rate from students means we are able to meet [their expectations]. The students were able to discuss things together, play football together, they could attend concerts together, and so on. We managed to recreate a social environment via virtual reality. 

This is something we want to keep and even to extend and I want to apply all these innovations to our executive MBA cohorts in Iran or China, for example.The virtual campus will be the place where our students have common case studies, and they can work together from cross-cultural perspectives. This makes a difference from Zoom because we can have the whole cohort in one amphitheatre to start with and then they can all join online as they wake up [in their respective time zones] and go to different classes and work together. This means that time and space can be seen completely differently, and that is an added value that we want our MBA students to explore.  

MBA students can use the virtual campus when they want to work with participants from different continents, and this means they can truly experience technology. They don’t simply use [technology], they experience something that’s almost fixed physically and cognitively. When they go back to their companies, students can say that they have worked with people of various nationalities remotely and have used a different technology that might be of interest to their company or [a future employer] when they want to boost their career. This is something we really want to enable for them. 

We’re talking about the digital workplace, so we want to enable the transition between what students are experiencing at Business School during their MBA on the virtual campus, and the working environment. 

Terri Simpkin, Director, Executive MBA, Nottingham University Business School

We’ve found that it’s not just about replacing the physical on-campus experience because of the [Covid-19] crisis. We’ve seen that students who would – under normal circumstances – sit in the back of the room and would probably never engage at all; people who perhaps can’t get a word in because there are more assertive people in the room. Those people are having their voices heard.  

People who are introverted, who don’t feel comfortable, or people who don’t have English as a first language are making highly valuable and timely contributions to a much broader conversation. It comes back to the idea of this learning experience being co-created.  

Before Covid-19, there was no compelling, burning reason for us to move to a situation in which we were putting ourselves into a position – as educators – where we were replicating and amplifying the emerging managerial and leadership paradigms that we were seeing coming from industry. 

We want to produce graduates who can manage in crisis situations; we want graduates who are able to think more expansively; we want to be able to challenge the prevailing notions of what leadership actually looks like. You can do that much better when you’re immersed in a space where it is a moving feast. 

We can’t underestimate the value of providing that real-time, real-life experience, but the technology has to be there to support it. Now the technology is a platform that provides [Business Schools] with the tools to do this. The whole notion of how MBAs are actually put to our communities, not just the students but our communities more generally, has to be reimagined and this is a really good point in time to do that. 

Antonio Giangreco, Director of Graduate Programmes, IESEG

In terms of technology and what we can use, there is a very long path ahead, because during the Covid-19 pandemic, we had a considerably higher volume of requests for psychological counselling that we had pre-Covid. 

In our School, we have very small groups with classes of less than 30 participants, so interaction in the classroom is guaranteed. Of course, in any other classroom –with 300 students – being there physically or accessing the lectures remotely from home, does not make a lot of difference. But when you are in a small environment, your peers push you to participate, even if you are in front of a computer. 

The world will never be the same. Everything has become reachable from everywhere. I think that this will lead to more flexibility so that, in some companies, employees will not need to go into the office anymore. 

This means we need to have people who are able to train, be trained, and then work in this context. This is a very good – but very tough – challenge for us as educators.

Learning should be enabling and if we ask what the enablers of learning are, the answer would be this horizontal learning, connections, and networking.

As Business Schools, we have to ask ourselves whether we can build something that might not be able to completely substitute a classroom experience but can help students get more from online learning; in other words, we nee to replicate the connection to the business world using horizontal learning. 

We need to be able to deliver the connection and networking, as well as the social aspect of a Business School, in an online environment. 

Preben Schack, VP of Sales, Learning Experience Division, Barco

It’s exciting being part of this revolution in online learning. I have been part of many disruptions throughout my life in the media world and I see this as one of the next disruptions. I’m fascinated to find out how we can use technology to make our education even better. 

I don’t think that what we have experienced throughout the pandemic is at its end. I think it’s at its beginning. I can confirm that what we hear around the world is that executives love to use online platforms, but they are more discerning when choosing software and programmes. This might have to change as we move forward to meet the needs of different MBA students and their courses.  

The big question for me is how do we make that experience better and how do we use technology to connect? The experience of teaching needs to be engaging and immersive but also affordable. And for this to happen, a possible strategy could be for institutions to collaborate and share technologies and platforms. 

How can we give professors, teachers, and students an even better experience in the educational space?  That is what I’m passionate about.  

David Woods-Hale, Director of Marketing and Communications, AMBA & BGA

Céline Davesne, Associate Dean, NEOMA Business School
Gunther Friedl, Dean, TUM School of Management
Antonio Giangreco, Director of Graduate Programmes, IESEG
Simone Hammer, Global Head of Marketing Teaching and Training, Barco
Rebecca Loades, Director, Career Accelerator Programs, ESMT Berlin  
Preben Schack, VP of Sales, Learning Experience Division, Barco
Terri Simpkin, Director, Executive MBA, Nottingham University Business School

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Mission possible: interview with EADA Dean, Jordi Díaz

Business Impact: Mission possible: interview with EADA Dean, Jordi Díaz

EADA Business School created the first master’s degree in sustainable business and innovation. Its Dean, Jordi Díaz, spoke to David Woods-Hale about further embracing sustainability and addressing the ‘reskilling revolution’

In 2022, it will have been 20 years since you joined EADA. What have been the biggest changes in business strategy that you’ve observed? 

EADA was founded back in 1957 as an executive education institution with a clear emphasis on personal development. When I joined the School in 2002, EADA was inaugurating its first edition of the International MBA in English. Today, all our full-time programmes are offered only in English, attracting around 350 participants a year from more than 60 different countries, with an impressive 90% international student body. 

Nevertheless, I would like to stress that this remarkable level of international growth and recognition has not changed the ‘boutique’ spirit of the School. Quoting the late Sumantra Ghoshal, ‘the smell of the place’ is still very familiar, with close to an obsessive focus on our participants’ experience. 

We were founded to be – and still are – the place where businesspeople grow. This ‘growth’ today cannot be understood without paying greater attention to sustainability, leadership and innovation, which are the three pillars that guide all what we do at EADA.  

It’s also coming up to your two-year anniversary as Dean of EADA – a role you took up during a global pandemic. Could you share some insights into your leadership journey and the challenges you’ve overcome? 

I accepted this challenge with responsibility but also with a high level of energy and motivation. We are living in unprecedented times and I feel that business education can be a clear catalyser between a working world that anticipated the change and the huge number of professionals who need to learn, unlearn, and relearn how to be ready for this accelerated change. As a leader, you must focus on business today and of tomorrow. 

The big challenge for a leader is looking beyond the pressures and demands of today’s world – especially under the daily stress of a pandemic – while also looking into the future. For example, we started our digitalisation process a few years ago, but after Covid-19, we had to speed up – and really ramp up – our online offering, and it was an enormous challenge. 

The policies you put in place as a leader must have the next game in mind; in this case the post-pandemic era. Looking into the future is your critical role as a leader. 

Is the business education sector responding quickly enough to this ongoing disruption, and what advice would you offer to other deans?

Our industry’s response to the pandemic has been remarkable. We went fully online overnight, prioritising the health and safety of our teams and our participants, many of whom were away from home. Like others in this industry, we offered support way beyond education. For a lot of participants we were their family at a challenging time. When the unexpected first wave of Covid-19 hit, our industry started to offer hybrid teaching with face-to-face and online participants in real time. While much needs to be refined in hybrid teaching, one thing is clear: there is no way back to a single way of teaching.  

When thinking about disruption beyond the pandemic, I believe our industry needs to fully embrace the ‘reskilling revolution’ (a term coined by the World Economic Forum). 

We need to stop thinking about a linear programme of education with two stops (Bachelor + Master/MBA) and start thinking of education as a never-ending lifelong learning game where we have to enter into partnership with non-academic partners such as technology platforms, corporations and governments.  

What innovations are you developing to future-proof your School’s postgraduate business programmes? 

Backed by our three-pillar strategy (sustainability, leadership and innovation), we have launched several programmes and academic initiatives to accelerate our role as change-maker ‘multipliers’. We were pioneers in this area when we created the first master’s degree in sustainable business and innovation. It’s a full-time programme that we launched three years ago, and no other top-25 Business School in Europe had an equivalent. 

Students might end up working for the United Nations, NGOs, and leading corporations, or become social entrepreneurs and innovators. We see a huge need from both young people wanting to change the world and the concept of globalisation, and from senior leaders who are switching towards a new mindset, which is putting both technology and sustainability at the centre of their thinking.

Your background in the corporate world and your master’s focused on HR strategy. Having been involved in the world-class HR delivery at Ritz-Carlton, do you think there are lessons Business Schools need to learn in terms of delivering a customer-service focused experience to students and alumni? 

Absolutely! In our industry, there is often unnecessary debate around the way we view our main stakeholders: as students or customers? In my view they are both. In an exam they are definitely students but during the rest of their interactions with us, they are customers; we not only have to meet their expectations but anticipate them. To do that, the second most-important lesson I learned at the Ritz-Carlton is the concept of ‘lateral service’. 

When 900 guests on a cruise were arriving at the hotel at the same time, the entire team (general manager included) helped to offer a speed check-in. In exceptional situations such as this, there is no time to hire temporary staff; we all had to be ready to support each. These experiences, help to generate a clear sense of team spirit. 

At EADA, we have incorporated this concept of ‘lateral service’, and it has helped us to make the impossible possible during the pandemic, when we have faced the unknown on a day-to-day basis. 

Returning to your own experience in international programmes and relations. the pandemic and climate agenda are putting increasing pressure on Business Schools to remain international, but in innovative ways. How will EADA ensure it maintains an international footprint?

EADA has a clear mission: to be the place where businesspeople grow. We’ve been operating since 1957 and have always served the business community and contributed to its development by being on top of the corporate world’s needs. 

Our mission has transformed into our purpose – it’s what drives what we do and makes us so flexible and relevant in today’s society. Barcelona is one of the most cosmopolitan cities, and our location is an outstanding factor. 

We have a cluster of world-class Business Schools here, making it one of the top-three European cities for business education. In our case, 90% of our full-time programmes are attended by participants from over 60 different nations.

Your own research focuses on reskilling and upskilling leaders in Business Schools through an innovative executive education ecosystem for the fourth industrial revolution. Can you tell us a little bit about your findings and theses in this area? 

We are moving into an era of lifelong learning. Research suggests that we will have to ‘recycle’ ourselves every five years. The old model, where you just did a bachelor’s degree for three-to-four years, will transform, and Business Schools have to understand that they will need to serve students consistently throughout their careers. 

Universities and Business Schools need to accept that external partners will begin to be part of this educational experience and can bring a lot of value. I strongly believe in business education innovation ecosystems. 

We have to embrace co-operation, not only among universities and Business Schools, but beyond the industry. Working together, technology companies, corporations, governments and others can offer the best experiences to the talent of tomorrow. 

What role do you see for new education ecosystems in satisfying the need for reskilling and upskilling?

At the 2020’s World Economic Forum it was said that, by 2030, more than one billion people would have to reskill in the face of changing technology, growing automation, some jobs becoming redundant and new jobs being created. 

In reality, we probably won’t be able to wait until 2030, we will need to fast-track this goal to 2025. The imperative to reskill and upskill the workforce is a global phenomenon. Business Schools should be the engine of this transformation and need to propose something that is totally different. We need to build a business education ecosystem that includes stakeholders such as Google or Amazon. 

If tech companies do it on their own, there will be more of a consulting approach: if you have a problem, tech companies will give you the solution. This is why educational institutions should be involved, since they are able to provide the knowledge and understand the way to approach solutions whenever a problem arises. This is the difference between consulting and training. In class, we don’t tell our students what to think but how to think. We believe more in problem finders than in problem solvers and this is unique to the education profession. 

What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing international Business Schools? 

Without a doubt, the most urgent challenge is sustainability. As Business Schools, we can accelerate the pace of change in this regard. We have an enormous responsibility here because, in our classrooms, current and future leaders refine their own decision-making processes. They will make decisions that will affect people, companies and wider society. If, during their business education experience, the triple bottom line (people, profit, and planet) is not always present, it will not be present in real life. In a way, we can be multipliers of positive impacts as well as multipliers of negative impacts. We have to be part of the solution. 

Business students are passionate about people, profit, purpose, and planet. How is EADA addressing these emerging needs in its delivery, and how is the School focusing on developing responsibility and sustainability-centric leaders? 

All our faculty and academics in research have combined their interest in this. We’ve also set out alliances with the two main movements in these areas. We collaborate with B-Corp, the movement for certifications that consider financial profitability, but also sustainable impact on the planet and people. And we have partnered with Ashoka, the leading organisation for promoting and supporting social entrepreneurship. They are both now part of our business education ecosystem. 

What are the next steps for you personally, as a leader, and for the School? 

To keep learning! If we don’t adopt a must-have growth mindset nobody will. I am working on a book around the reskilling revolution and its implications for Business Schools because our sector has a critical role to play. 

An institutional level, we are facing an historic moment with the launch of our first ever ‘bachelor’s’ programme. Our entrance into the undergraduate market is in response to our conviction that business education –underpinned by sustainability, leadership and innovation – is needed as early as possible. We are definitely becoming a full-service Business School; our origins are clear and solid, and the future is unknown but very exciting.

Do you feel optimistic about the future?

I am an optimist by nature, so you have to take my answer with caution. I don’t think we fully understand what we have gone through with this pandemic that has disrupted our lives. I think such a crucible moment will lead to a period of post-traumatic growth but that we will not forget the things we have learned the hard way. 

In terms of business education, face-to-face learning will be as reinforced by online education. The question lies in when we should use one option and when the other works better. In terms of the economy (as well as any major issues we face; for example, climate change) one thing is starting to  become clear: collective responses will be required. Ecosystems will be needed more than ever; this will be the only way to deal with the complexities that we will face over and again. 

Jordi Díaz has been Dean of EADA Business School since August 2020. He holds an Executive Doctorate in Business Administration from École des Ponts Business School and a master’s in HR management from EADA Business School.

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Developing ‘business transformers’ to create a more inclusive and sustainable society

Business Impact: Developing 'business transformers’ to create a more inclusive and sustainable society

France’s Emlyon Business School aims to develop leaders that are able to adapt, anticipate, and transform. Executive President and Dean, Isabelle Huault, spoke to David Woods-Hale about its ambitious strategic plan

You’ve been in the role of Executive President and Dean at Emlyon Business School for over a year now. Can you share some highlights? 

I was appointed Executive President and Dean in September 2020 and my assumption of duty was not ordinary, given this period of great restrictions and uncertainty surrounding Covid-19. Not being able to meet physically with the School’s teachers and staff, or with the students, alumni, or partners of emlyon, was difficult, but it still proved to be a great learning experience. I was able to observe and measure the teams’ commitment to the School, the courage of the students who faced this crisis – and who are determined to continue to adapt as the situation evolves – and I experienced the support of our partners in such a complex context.

Thankfully, the situation has calmed down, and energy and excitement are alive again on our campuses. Over the past year, we have also built a new gender-balanced, high-level team, which is complete and ready to implement our strategic plan: ‘Confluences 2025’.

Do you think the Business School community has been fast enough to innovate during the pandemic?  

Covid-19 has accelerated digital innovation. We had already begun the digitalisation process of training sessions before the crisis hit, so once restrictions were put in place, emlyon Business School was ready. Both our professors and students were already familiar with the tools. Stimulated by the emergency, the School immediately improved its digitalisation process, and turned the crisis situation into an opportunity to innovate in our pedagogy, course delivery methods, and knowledge assessments. For some courses, both professors and students felt it brought more value to the programme. For example, it enabled them to devote less time to travelling while still allowing them to engage with experts from all over the world for a truly enriching educational experience, even from home. 

However, after this period of isolation and distance, it has become very clear that elements such as a physical dimension, human contact, and in-person meetings are also essential components of higher education and research. We still need places to discuss, share and collaborate.

What are the next steps for you as a leader and for the School? 

With our newly appointed leadership team and the support of the supervisory board, we’ve launched an  ambitious strategic plan entitled ‘Confluences 2025’. Our goal is to become one of the leading global business universities in Europe according to three main strategic priorities: commitment to social and environmental issues, academic excellence through hybridisation, and networked internationalisation. 

First, as CSR forms the guiding thread for all the School’s training programmes, the skills repository of all training programmes will be reviewed in line with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To promote social inclusion, emlyon is launching a proactive policy of equal opportunities, scholarships and the development of apprenticeship training. The School is also set to consolidate the scientific quality of both the faculty and its research output by recruiting 10 new teacher-researchers in various disciplines each year until 2025. 

To reinforce the hybridisation of its programmes, emlyon will sign numerous partnerships with renowned higher education institutions in the fields of art, design, social sciences, and engineering, both in France and in other countries. Our international expansion will involve the development of our campuses abroad and 20 more double degrees with global institutions of excellence until 2025. 

Finally, the Lyon Gerland campus will embody the best of this strategy and welcome the community of Emlyon in 2024. 

What do you think sustainable leadership looks like?

At Emlyon, we train students to transform business models – becoming ‘business transformers’ – and to be social change makers who have an impact on their environment and organisations. We also encourage them to exercise an entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial mindset in the organisations in which they’re involved – whether these are a small companies, Cotation Assistée en Continu (CAC) 40 companies, or consulting firms. 

Ultimately, our students will become leaders able to adapt, anticipate, and transform. In addition to being effective, these future decision-makers will be enlightened, responsible, aware of the social and moral consequences of their actions, and know how to combine efficiency, justice and sustainability.

The Bigger Than Us movie directed by Flore Vasseur is a good example of sustainable leadership, and it’s the backbone of the 2021-2022 year at Emlyon. This documentary was filmed all over the planet and it shows young people fighting for human rights, the climate, freedom of expression, social justice, and for access to food and education. Presented at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, it has been previewed by the 3,650 newcomers enrolled in our programmes to put their ideas into action.

How important do you think sustainability is, and in what ways have Business Schools adapted this into their programmes? 

Social and environmental issues are at the heart of our project. Our students are asking, ‘how do I find meaning in my career?’  This focus, and the pandemic, has led us to review our courses to see how we can help students answer this question. 

We have started to revisit our training offer, and all of our teaching units, according to the UN’s SDGs. By the end of 2022, nearly 60% of our training offer will have been reviewed and, within two years, it will be 100%. 

At emylon, our social and environmental commitment is already renowned.In the 2021 EMBA Financial Times ranking, emlyon is ranked fourth in the world and first in France in the criteria Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). This is because we are deliberate about incorporating sustainability, corporate and social responsibility, and ethics within the executive MBA programme. Working with professors, we have developed a set of 35 competencies related to these topics, which are diffused into every course in the programme, and also link to the UN SDGs. 

Our marketing course focuses on the ethics involved when marketing to children; our strategy course shows how companies can create sustainable business models, and our governance and compliance course shares best practices from companies relating to these topics. In addition, we have a number of courses such as ‘business for positive impact’ and ‘corporate and social responsibility delivered’ which focus exclusively on topics around corporate social responsibility, and incorporate real-world company and NGO challenges. Our goal is to develop responsible leaders, ready to contribute to improving business, society, and the environment.

Given the climate emergency, do you think Business Schools have a role in helping communities to respond to, and recover from, natural disasters?  

Having a positive impact on the planet is a very ambitious goal which mobilises our entire faculty and all programme departments. The School’s objective is to hone students’ skills so that they can meet social and environmental challenges. For example, today we cannot deliver a marketing course without addressing the issue of responsible consumption, or programmed obsolescence, which definitely have consequences on pollution and global warming. We plan to create an ‘SDGs Inside’ label to emphasise the focus on issues surrounding social sustainability, ethics and ecological transition. 

Business Schools have to be exemplars in their day-to-day operations to inspire students. On our French campuses, we will realise [and measure] our carbon footprint by December 2021. Energy performance plans have already been signed with services providers for our Paris and Lyon campuses in order to promote energy savings. We have also implemented a waste-sorting policy and moved to ‘zero single-use plastics’ with the elimination of food consumption plastics (cups, cutlery, and so on). A zero-waste box was distributed to students in all our programmes (reusable cup, box and bamboo cutlery, etc.). 

Our new campus, due to open in 2024, will be exemplary in terms of environmental responsibility. A 9,000m² landscape park will allow us to restore nature and biodiversity on a site which was, up until now, a brown-field site. The bioclimatic building design will allow to optimise energy consumption; the building is going for the French HQE™ Excellent certification, and the BREEAM ‘very good’ rating.

In July 2021, Emlyon became a certified B corporation (B Corp). Could you tell us more about this? 

We reached a major milestone last summer: Emlyon Business School became a B corp on 26 July, after its supervisory board voted to approve the change. 

The School’s mission, now defined in its mission statement, is: ‘To provide  life-long training and support to enlightened individuals able to transform organisations, for a more inclusive and sustainable society’. 

It’s a structuring and unifying project that was initiated upon my arrival in September 2020. We worked on it with all of our stakeholders: students, faculty, staff members, partners, and of course, our supervisory board. It’s the result of a participatory process that has enabled us to formulate our social and environmental objectives clearly. It’s the starting point for the School’s strong, long-term commitment. 

The School is making SDG 10-Reduced Inequalities a core focus and launching a mandatory ‘climate action’ course as part of the MSc in Management – Grande Ecole programme. How might this impact your MBA curricula? 

This year, we offered our new students a ‘back-to-school’ under the sign of CSR, dedicated, specifically, to the UN’s SDG number 10, which aims to reduce inequalities between and within countries. On this occasion, the new cohort was able to attend an inaugural conference with a prestigious speaker, Pascal Canfin, President of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety at the European Parliament, which focused attention on to the climate issue.

In September 2021, we also launched the compulsory course ‘Act for the climate’ in the Grande École Programme (MiM). This introductory cycle is planned over 10 weeks at the rate of one seminar per week. The first five sessions will allow students to acquire all the fundamentals to understand the context and the principles of climate emergency. Over the following five sessions, students will learn how to explain big issues to the different [decision-makers] and how these actors take or should take initiatives to act.

As a result of achieving B Corp status, the School has adapted its vision and goals. Could you tell us about these?

As required by the French law ‘Pacte’, the management of our project will be regularly monitored by an independent organisation. Our social and environmental engagement must flow through all of our activities. Using a precise grid, the audit company will be responsible for evaluating our actions and commitments. We would lose B corp status if we did not follow the ambitious objectives that we have set ourselves. This underlines the fact that the decision we have taken is obviously very [important to us].

What are the biggest challenges facing international Business Schools? 

I guess the biggest challenge for international Business Schools is to educate our students to address significant new challenges in a changing world. The biodiversity and preservation of the planet are the main issues going forward. It requires the radical transformation of our programmes and of our research. 

Learning trips have heavy carbon footprints, but it is not about questioning our global strategy, but rather avoiding short journeys to the other side of the world. We have reflected on this subject, particularly in terms of our MSc, and for scientific conferences. There is no question of giving up international openness; we consider that essential to the multicultural and learning experience of our students and members of Faculty, but to arbitrate on the question of mobility in a reasonable way.

Political, economic and social inequalities tend to generate extreme violence. Business Schools have to fight against discrimination and violence and promote openness and mutual respect. We have launched an online reporting platform, called ‘speak up’, where anyone can report instances of discrimination, sexism, or sexual violence. The platform is open to the school’s staff, and to Emlyon’s French and international students.

Developing diversity, and providing equal opportunities, is one of the main responsibilities of Business Schools. At emlyon, we support access to higher education for young people from underserved or priority education districts and rural areas, in association with volunteer students. 

Over the past 15 years, in a number of middle schools, high schools and preparatory classes, we have implemented two systems aimed at lifting students’ self-censorship: tutoring and preparation sessions for oral examinations have helped high-school students to identify a wider range of career options, to think more ambitiously regarding their desired professional project, and, ultimately, to integrate successfully into the best Business Schools. More than 4,000 high-school students and 800 preparatory class students took advantage of these social programmes, and 180-plus students have joined the top eight Business Schools in France; 80 are at Emlyon.

What do you think differentiates Emlyon Business School in the business education ecosystem?

We value ‘management’ because we consider it to exist at the crossroads of a wide variety of disciplines. It fits into society and the economy in general, and is a cornerstone for other diverse disciplines such as engineering sciences, artificial intelligence, humanities and social sciences.

An open application process is integral to our other key value: entrepreneurial spirit. Beyond entrepreneurship, we instil and encourage a spirit of initiative through our on-demand programmes, our Makers’ labs and other world-class facilities, and through our commitment to empowering community life.

It is our early makers pedagogy – according to which we ‘learn to do and do to learn’ – that is our great differentiator. This real-world approach enables leaders to be equipped to face the challenges of both today and tomorrow.

These values were ultimately captured in our mission statement, and are what distinguish us as both a School and as a benefit corporation.

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

Let’s stay positive. There will certainly be a decline in GDP both in France and internationally, but also growth prospects. New activities will continue to be created, while others have already grown around digital services, and some entrepreneurs may cease their current activities to invest in new ones. The coming months will cause worry, and that’s normal, but new opportunities are likely to appear too. For example, the Covid crisis has also led to a collective awareness about climate emergency and fostered global solidarity.

In this context, Business Schools have a role to play in developing knowledge that allows us to innovate, take action, reinvent, and develop. What is essential is to provide knowledge and skills that allow individuals to adapt throughout their professional lives. It’s about having both fundamental knowledge and soft skills – the vital interpersonal skills that we do not always possess inherently, but must learn. 

And finally, it’s about having the capacity and skills to prepare and respond proactively to emerging models that do not currently exist. Let’s imagine them here and now.

Isabelle Huault became Executive President and Dean of Emlyon Business School in September 2020. She was President of Paris Dauphine-PSL from December 2016 to 2020, having been a Professor at the School since 2005. 

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Inviting alumni back to Business School, for the planet

Business Impact: Inviting alumni back to Business School, for the planet

Business Schools can make a difference by providing sustainability education to alumni alongside current students, write Carina Hopper and Johanna Wagner

Lifelong learning is a crucial part of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education), which aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. 

In Business Schools, lifelong learning is often offered to a wide audience of professionals, including those who did not graduate from a management programme and seek the soft and hard skills necessary to get to the next step of their career. Today, in the context of the climate emergency, the need for companies to change the way we do business calls for greater commitment from Business Schools to transforming the paradigm not only among their current students but also among their alumni.

Where we are now

Surveys (including 10 years of research around education and sustainability from UK organisation, Students Organising for Sustainability) are showing an undeniable shift in student expectations, with rising demand for the skills needed to transform companies in the Anthropocene Era. 

In the field, more and more practitioners are showing a willingness to adapt their professional practices by placing a strong focus on sustainability, but do not have the necessary training to do so. One reason for this is that sustainability teaching began as late as 1992 and has only recently begun to grow in scale. 

As a result (and what is now a defining obstacle to rapid change), during their studies, most current professionals were not equipped with the knowledge and competencies needed to manage sustainable businesses. Many higher education institutions are already working to remedy this situation for their current students, but they can also contribute to filling this gap for their alumni, thanks to the development of new, targeted lifelong learning options.

Bringing alumni back to School 

One solution, represented by the Back to School for the Planet initiative, leverages the existing relationship between higher education institutions and their alumni to provide critical sustainability learning in a way that is innovative and simple to implement. 

How? By considering alumni as potential students for newly introduced sustainability courses, sessions and activities. Most of the time, a strict boundary is set between students and graduates, but when it comes to sustainability, this boundary should be reconsidered. Indeed, on the topic of sustainability, many alumni resemble incoming students. They are new to the subject and curious to discover everything it has to offer. Business Schools can build on the trusted relationship with their alumni to offer them a free update by inviting them Back to School for the Planet. 

Whether updates are offered online or in person, this initiative brings alumni back into the classroom alongside current students to participate in the discussion. Beyond the clear advantage for alumni in terms of benefiting from quality education from their institution years, or even decades, after their graduation, their presence in the classroom proves to current students that this topic has become strategic for companies. It also sends a strong message to students, candidates and the wider community that the School is committed to providing lifelong learning on issues that matter, as part of its added value.

How it works

Alumni inclusion in your institution’s new sustainability education offering can take shape in a myriad of ways and can be adapted to School policy, course format and alumni availability.

Benefits for current students

Thanks to Back to School for the Planet, the student learning experience can be enhanced in several ways:

1. First-hand accounts of how the sustainability strategies and concepts being taught may play out – or may have already been executed – in the professional world are integrated into the classroom discussion, thanks to presence of alumni with experience in the field.

2. A strong link is created between current students and participating alumni, leading to potential networking and employment opportunities.

3. A new type of collaborative environment emerges that is intergenerational and bridges the academic and professional world in a dynamic way.


Back to School for the Planet is highly transferable and scalable thanks to the widespread transition to online and hybrid education seen in many regions of the world. Schools that wish to do so (particularly those without online learning capabilities) can invite alumni to participate in their new sustainability-focused educational offering in person.

The only requirement for institutions interested in participating is to have introduced new courses or activities in sustainability – something that is becoming increasingly common due to the rise in education for sustainable development (ESD) in recent years.

Support in implementation

Back to School for the Planet grew from a teacher-led initiative to a non-profit scheme to encourage its application, and support Schools in its implementation. By providing instructional guides, alumni recruitment support, participant certificates, a communication toolkit, access to a Back to School for the Planet network, and more, the organisation can help your institution to broaden the impact of its sustainability efforts by opening up these opportunities to alumni. The full potential of higher education to contribute to change can be achieved when the dissemination of sustainability knowledge and competencies efficiently target current professionals as well as future ones. Your School can accelerate the change by inviting its graduates Back to School for the planet.

Case study: ESSEC Business School

In 2020, as faculty teaching new sustainability classes in the MSc in hospitality management at ESSEC Business School, we created the Back to School for the Planet initiative in order to test our hypotheses that: alumni are interested in accessing sustainability training in the form of newly introduced sustainability courses in the School they graduated from; and this access can have an impact on their personal and professional lives. 

Both the number of applications, and the answers to the impact survey we conducted six months later, supported the hypotheses and demonstrated additional benefits. A few weeks before the start of the 2020-2021 School year, an alumni gathering presented the opportunity to discuss the introduction of a set of new sustainability courses for current students. One conclusion from the discussion was clear: while  graduates were pleased that sustainability teaching was now being incorporated by their former School, they did not feel that they themselves had the necessary knowledge or understanding to act in favour of greater sustainability in their companies. 

This led us to ponder how we could help them shift towards more responsible business practices. Since Covid-19 had made hybrid teaching commonplace at our institution, we realised that course attendance could now be extended to motivated alumni as a lifelong learning option. From their home or office, participants could benefit from the same new courses as current students. We submitted the idea to the programme director, who shared our vision and supported the piloting of the initiative.

For the pilot, we opened to alumni four spots each in two new 25-hour courses on sustainability. We received 16 applications from former students. The eight successful applicants were invited to attend all 25 hours of their assigned course alongside current students. During the sessions, we observed that the graduates were engaged – both in terms of asking questions and sharing relevant experience – while the students were stimulated by the of alumni and their contribution to discussions. 

Of the participating alumni, five answered our impact survey and unanimously agreed that the experience of returning to their classrooms to learn about sustainability was transformative and had positive impacts on their lives.

Carina Hopper teaches sustainability in fashion and luxury and sustainable hospitality management at Business Schools, including ESSEC Business School, SKEMA Business School and ESMOD Fashion Business School.
Johanna Wagner teaches in leading European hospitality management master’s programmes. A hospitality professional, she moved from working in finance and asset management positions to facilitating sustainability for students and professionals.
Carina Hopper and Johanna Wagner are Co-Founders of Back to School for the Planet.

This article is adapted from one which originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Translate »