Responsible rankings: can measurements be more fruitful for students, Schools and society?

A fruitful pattern of cut oranges on a baby pink background.

University of Bath School of Management Professor and expert in responsible business, Andrew Crane, on how rankings can effect positive change in the industry, and how to address current criticisms. Interview by Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Recent releases of Business School rankings have been accompanied by media coverage of optouts and boycotts in the context of Covid-19. The omittances have only added to the feeling that rankings are in something of a limbo period amid the clamour for much-mooted and comprehensive redesigns that might allow them to better reflect the current business education landscape. 

That rankings would benefit from change is almost universally recognised. In highlighting many of the problems associated with existing MBA rankings, for example, a 2019 report from AMBA & BGA found – in a survey of 1,328 MBA graduates, students and Business School leaders – that only 11% think rankings reflect the true performance of an MBA ‘very well’. Step forward two years, and the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an impetus for innovation within the business education industry. Might it also present the perfect chance to refresh and revitalise rankings? If so, how can they be made more sustainable for the business world we live in now and the world we will live in in the future?

Andrew Crane is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society in the School of Management at the University of Bath, UK. As an expert in responsible business and the changing role of the corporation in the global economy, Business Impact felt Crane was well-placed to offer a view on the role of rankings and how they might function more responsibly, to encourage positive change in the industry.

What do you think the purpose of (Business School) rankings should be? How does this compare to the real function they currently perform in the sector, as you see it? 

I think Business School rankings should have two main purposes. First and foremost, they should be about giving potential students useful and reliable information that will inform their decision-making, especially about which Schools they should apply to, or enter. Without rankings, prospective students have a dearth of good information on which to base their decisions. 

Second, I think rankings can also be helpful in nudging Business Schools towards whatever we might see as desirable behaviours. A good ranking can be a real driver for change inside Schools. So, as long as the ranking measures things that are important, and measures them in a suitable way, they can have really positive effects on what Business Schools value, what they pay attention to, and ultimately what they do on a day-to-day basis. 

Realistically, one of the main functions that most rankings actually perform is to generate income (whether through sales or advertising revenue) for the media organisations that produce them. It is no surprise, in many ways, that most of the main Business School rankings are produced by media organisations because it is these companies that have recognised how much they have to gain from them. 

This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it can have some negative side-effects on the other potential purposes. Most rankings, for example, are not as far as I am aware (with the exception of the Corporate Knights Better World MBA ranking) designed with any real vision of what Business Schools should be teaching, or the role they should be playing in society. If this vision is not built into the ranking, it may still provide useful information for prospective students, but it will not push Schools to behave in any desired way and nor will it consider how Business Schools will actually change in response to the ranking. 

Business Schools are often accused of ‘surrendering’ to rankings. Is this a fair criticism in your opinion? 

I don’t know about surrendering, because I think some Business Schools actively lobby the rankings quite a bit to try and influence what they measure and how. But what I do think is a major problem is that there is real incentive for Business Schools to game the rankings. By that, I mean that they might seek to get as high as possible a score on the ranking while doing as little as possible to actually change the fundamentals of what the ranking is supposed to be assessing. 

One upshot of this is that Schools end up investing too much time, attention and money on their rankings management processes rather than the things that are actually supposed to be important like the quality and relevance of their teaching. Also, the things they do end up changing may be those that are most likely to get a boost in the rankings rather than those that improve the educational experience. This certainly doesn’t happen everywhere but the pressures to do so are likely felt everywhere. This wouldn’t be a problem if the rankings were all designed with a clear vision of what they were trying to achieve in terms of School behaviour, but I fear that these are largely unintended consequences of Schools managing the measures rather than the fundamentals underlying the measures. 

Salary measurements in rankings often attract a lot of attention, with rankings agencies defending the need to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) to paying students. In this context, should Business Schools pay more attention to the cost of business education programmes?

Return on investment is, of course, important. But the idea that the return on an education should be purely, or even primarily, measured in terms of future salary is, in my opinion, deeply flawed. It is even worse than thinking firm performance should only be measured in terms of profits or share price. Education has so many more dimensions than just the direct economic return – even an MBA degree. It is about learning how to think and make decisions in different ways, building up new skillsets and networks, developing in who we are as human beings and professionals, and lots more besides. 

ROI needs to take these things into consideration as well. So, for me, Schools and ranking agencies should be spending more time and attention on how to assess, compare and communicate these other outcomes of a degree programme. Then, once they have a better handle of what the real return on the investment is, they can talk seriously about what the right level of investment (i.e. degree cost) should be. 

Do you think that many Business School practitioners might view rankings as a ‘necessary evil’? Either way, would it be fair to label them as ‘evil’ and/or ‘necessary’? 

Personally, I have something of a love-hate relationship with rankings. In the area of responsible business where I focus, rankings like the now-defunct Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking or the Corporate Knights ranking have, for all their problems, been really helpful in pushing for change inside the Schools I’ve worked in. 

On the contrary, rankings like the Financial Times one, for me at least, are rather more undesirable because of what I see as a negative effect on how we view Business School education – far too much comes down to final salary. So, yes, I think they are ‘necessary’ because they provide an important service for prospective students. But some are certainly more ‘evil’ than others! 

This year, rankings releases have been accompanied with boycotts/optouts due to problems associated with Covid-19. What value, if any, can rankings offer without being able to score all eligible institutions? 

I’m not too concerned about this, providing they capture a meaningful slice of the population of Schools. It is not like applicants have every single School in their consideration set. Most are selecting from a much smaller subset anyway. So as long as there are enough being ranked for students to be able to compare sufficient Schools that they could feasibly apply and get accepted into, I think the rankings are still going to be valuable for students – which, after all, is their main audience.

Who is to blame for the problems associated with rankings? The agencies who produce them, the Schools that provide them with data, the prospective students who consume them, or the employers who might derive their perceptions of quality from them?  

This is a tough question! The problem is that we are sufficiently far enough down the road of rankings now that we effectively have a whole system of actors that are complicit in keeping them going, and sustaining the problems that are associated with them. Perhaps a better way of thinking about it is to consider who is best placed to change things for the better. And there I think the buck stops with those producing the ratings. If there are problems, they should fix them. 

Of course, Schools, students, and employers can – and absolutely should – play a role in agitating for change, and providing resources and momentum to fuel the change. But it is the agencies that have to change their rankings. Or else, we need different actors to come up with better rankings. 

If you could devise a new system for ranking Business Schools worldwide, what would your top three ranking criteria/factors be and how would you measure them? 

I think there is space for a variety of rankings focused on different aspects of what might be considered important aspirations for Business School education. 

Core to these should be at least some assessment of the relative learning gain of students on the relevant programmes of study – that is, what advance has there been in aspects such as students’ knowledge, skills, work-readiness or personal development. 

There are lots of potential factors and measures that could be used here, all of which I think tell us much more about the return on investment of an MBA programme than final salary. I also think it is crucial that Schools are assessed on how well they prepare students for tackling the big social and environmental challenges that are facing us as a society, and as a business sector. 

Personally, I think that any MBA programme that fails to progress its students’ thinking on how to address climate change, for example, is in dereliction of its duty as an institution of management education.  

What is your impression of the Positive Impact Ratings (PIR), launched in 2020?

Well, first off, it is great to see a new ranking entering this space and with a different set of actors behind it compared to the usual suspects. And I love that it is focused on positive impact and the sustainable development goals. 

Where I have my reservations is on the methodology. Any ranking that is entirely based on students’ responses about what their School is doing is going to have some inherent problems. Most students simply lack enough breadth of experience of other Schools at any point in time to be able to judge effectively the performance of their own School. What is their point of comparison on what good performance looks like? 

Students are a good judge of their own educational attainment, but I’m less convinced they are a good judge of how advanced their School is in making a broader societal impact. Most of what they learn about how good their School is on these aspects will come from a single source … the School itself. Those Schools that talk internally a lot, and convincingly, about how great they are in making an impact will be much more likely to have students that think the School is indeed doing a good job on these criteria. 

I worry that rankings like this will end up assessing how good the internal communications are of the School rather than the underlying fundamentals. Don’t get me wrong, encouraging Schools to improve how they inform students about their societal impact is a good thing in itself. And students are a good source of information on many aspects of School performance that directly affect them. But the approach of PIR gets it wrong in my opinion when it comes to how we best assess and influence Business School behaviour in the context of impact. 

Let’s give students a strong voice in assessing the impact of business education on themselves, but as far as impact on the wider world goes, I would rather see assessments from external stakeholders, and more objective, comparable criteria.

Rankings are usually very popular, so how might the business education industry go about replacing them with something that equally engaged prospective students around the world?  What else might allow students to ascertain quality in a crowded market? 

I don’t think you can replace them. Even if you got rid of the current ones, others would spring up in their place because they are serving a student need. 

They don’t even need Schools to actively participate if they base their metrics on publicly available data. So eliminating them isn’t a plausible alternative, for me. But you can certainly change them or complement them with other types of assessments or ways of demonstrating quality, relevance and impact.  

Much like in every other industry, there has been a growth in the last few years of sites that aggregate students’ reviews and feedback on universities and courses, which I am sure play a growing part in informing students’ decisions. I’m kind of surprised that we have not yet seen a platform of this type successfully emerge to dominate the MBA market. But I’m sure it won’t be too long. 

In addition, I would expect more specialised rankings of business programmes to emerge that focus on specific topics, much like the sustainability ones. So, for example, are we going to see a Business School ranking focused specifically on entrepreneurship, or marketing, or finance? The more this kind of fragmentation occurs, the more opportunities there are for digging deeper and devising better metrics to measure what really matters. 

So, paradoxically, the solution to the problems of our current rankings might be to have more of them, not less. 

Andrew Crane is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society in the School of Management at the University of Bath, UK. He is a leading author, researcher, educator and commentator on responsible business. Follow him at @ethicscrane.

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: May-July 2021).

Spearheading change and igniting innovation in an uncertain world

Chess board with a bronze pawn standing out. Symbolic to strategy, igniting innovation, spearheading forward with change.

Representatives of TBS Business School, ESADE, and Lagos Business School consider new approaches to management education and methods for meeting the changing needs of students and employers

Bringing together pioneers in the field of Business School innovation, Chair of AMBA & BGA Bodo Schlegelmilch led a discussion on the trends that decision makers in higher education need to anticipate at the fully online AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021.

Representing Business Schools in Spain, Nigeria and France, panellists delved into digital transformation and the future of business education, disruption in the sector, and programmes and course delivery can evolve to reflect the changing needs of students and the future requirements of employers.

Panellists also outlined their post-Covid-19 predictions for how Business Schools must prepare themselves for the ‘new normal’ and future-proof themselves against continuing volatility.

For example, David Stolin, Professor of Finance at TBS Business School, described how his partnership with comedian, Sammy Obeid, has helped bring ‘novel perspectives’ to students and to innovate their learning. He explained that ‘collaborating with people outside the traditional Business School environment is very fruitful’, adding that the work had started prior to Covid-19, but that the pandemic had prompted him to find the most engaging audio-visual content.

The idea of ‘making education palatable and entertaining’ was noted by Schlegelmilch with regards to ESADE Business School’s work on the gamification of education.

Chris Ogbechie, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management at Lagos Business School, pointed out that one of the most significant implications of Covid-19 is that competition is no longer limited by geography. As a result, students have few restrictions when it comes to choosing programmes and related materials. Schools, such as his own have therefore been charged with finding new ways of staying relevant and capturing the attention of students outside the School’s traditional catchment areas.

Ivanka Visnjic, Director of the Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management at ESADE Business School, noted that the industry is experiencing an acceleration in the adoption of technology, highlighting the use of video in content delivery, and increased competition in the learning marketplace. She explained that ‘Business Schools are competing with global brands, head-to-head, with no geographic boundaries’, and that this is forcing them to re-examine their value proposition for students. Visnjic used the analogy of online videos being less like a movie, and more like the theatre wherein, ‘students are co-producers’ of knowledge: relevant guest contributors can be invited to the stage to stimulate conversation, thanks to the new technologies moved to the forefront of learning by the pandemic.

Bodo Schlegelmilch, Chair, AMBA & BGA; Professor of Marketing, WU Vienna

Chris Ogbechie, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management, Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria
David Stolin, Professor of Finance, TBS Business School, France
Ivanka Visnjic, Director, Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management, ESADE Business School, Spain

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

The skills you need to be a sustainable leader

A future leader sitting on a bench outside holding his phone with his briefcase on the side.

What traits do you need to be a ‘sustainable leader’? Alison Watson, Head of the School of Leadership and Management at Arden University, looks at qualities to embrace and develop, and outlines why businesses will need them

Our next generation of leaders are going to be under intense pressure to incorporate sustainable practices into everything they do. They will need to ensure that businesses around the globe are contributing to the social, environmental and economic issues impacting our planet. This article considers the skills that business graduates will need to develop to ensure they can become the sustainable leaders of the future.

Changing consumer demands require adaptation

Brands across a wide variety of sectors and fields are placing a huge focus on sustainability right now – and with good reason. With the effects of climate change becoming ever more prominent and a rising public awareness around the pitfalls of some of the elements of western life we take for granted, such as fast fashion and unnecessary food waste, many consumers are looking to buy goods and services from businesses that operate in ethical and sustainable ways.

In 2021, sustainability has become an issue that is impossible to ignore and businesses, in turn, have become compelled to act. The leaders of today must adapt quickly to meet this consumer demand – their businesses risk being left behind if they are unable to do so. 

Meanwhile, the development of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals has driven many businesses to think about how they can incorporate environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals within their organisations to become cleaner, greener and more ethically minded.

But what about the leaders of tomorrow? How will these changes impact them?

Leadership the world needs

The leaders of tomorrow will be expected to be holistic in their approach and make decisions based on sound moral and ethical principles. They’ll need to empower their teams and be visionaries about the ways in which we can revolutionise business to maximise sustainable and ethical practices. 

Put simply, they must become people who will drive change and help create a better world by addressing the core social, environmental and economic issues affecting our planet.

But what core traits will business graduates of today, and therefore the leaders of tomorrow, need to develop to be successful sustainable leaders?

Long-term-thinking visionaries

In business, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the now – and that’s understandable when you consider the multiple pressures our business leaders are under as part of their everyday roles. CEOs are typically working in fast-paced environments and often don’t have the short-term stability to make sound, long-term decisions on projects which won’t bring about an assured uplift in profits.

The sustainable leaders of tomorrow, however, will need to be able to align those short-term business objectives with longer-term, strategic plans that consider objectives related to economic health, the environment, people and society. 

At their core, sustainable leaders should have a comprehensive worldview which contemplates and understands humanity’s place as part of a global ecosystem. They will need to consider how we can minimise our impact on the world around us and ensure we are responsible stewards of the planet we call home.

Once they’ve identified their longer-term objectives, these individuals will need to be able to lead and influence others. Leaders will need to take others along on their journey in generating a commitment necessary to ensure everyone works towards a common set of objectives and goals.

As individuals with a strong moral compass, sustainable leaders must also focus on making decisions that are rooted in moral and ethical principles. They should also be able to back these decisions to the hilt – being responsible and accountable for the decisions they make and the outcomes that follow them.

Seekers of collaboration

The best sustainable leaders are expert collaborators who seek involvement in networks that can broaden their understanding of the business landscape and the way it impacts our world.

By engaging with other leaders from a range of specialisms and sectors, leaders can broaden their horizons and continually inform their developing worldview. It can help to adjust their perspectives and enable them to build strong, long-lasting relationships with key stakeholders. These networks will also reinforce an understanding of people across various cultures and backgrounds, allowing leaders to become keen advocates of diversity.

At the heart of this, sustainable leaders must have a deep understanding of people. They need to know how to empower and get the best from their teams while having a deep emotional and social intelligence which enables them to gauge the impact of their decisions on the people around them.

Effective educators

By its very nature, being a sustainable leader means embarking on a period of change within an organisation. The best leaders take others along on this journey with them, not only by influencing and inspiring, but also by educating their teams so that they understand the reasons behind the decisions being made.

When it comes to managing their people, sustainable leaders must focus on coaching and mentoring, rather than dishing out commands and giving direct instruction. They should empower their teams to learn for themselves and hone their abilities so that they are able to address core challenges themselves – exploring, learning, and devising actions which can help them to address the common challenges they face.

All of this will help ensure that they develop their business’ culture in line with the objectives they have set out, embedding sustainability within the corporate culture and giving their organisation the best possible chance of supporting the world’s sustainability agenda.

Alison Watson is Head of School of Leadership and Management at Arden University. Alison has a wealth of experience in business and management having worked for a number of large retailers as an operations and project manager. Her recent research interests focus on inclusion and encouraging wider access to higher education.

The dark side of confidence

A line of eggs, and one egg is daydreaming to be king. This is symbolic to dreaming big, overconfidence and arrogance.

Reining in pride is a crucial part of business education, says Rita Trehan, co-author of Too Proud to Lead

Business Schools are magnets for talented, ambitious people who are used to achieving what they set out to do. Usually, these driven students go on to become emerging leaders in organisations and their hard work is rewarded with success. 

But too much success also presents possible pitfalls. After a string of accomplishments, young leaders may conclude that their successes prove that their decisions are always correct, and that their ideas are always the best. That attitude risks leading them to dismiss the ideas and perspectives of colleagues. The word for this is ‘hubris’, and it is equally dangerous for the person displaying the hubris as it is for those working with them.

The importance of well-functioning teams whose leaders prioritise co-operation, humility and open-mindedness are clearly demonstrated in my work as the head of a consultancy that helps CEOs and their organisations examine their culture. So, too, are the dangers of what happens when overconfidence is left to grow unchecked. Leaders’ overestimation of themselves and underestimation of others result in poorer outcomes and missed opportunities for both the business and the person who succumbed to hubris.

How hubris works and how to fight it

Too often in both corporate leadership and business education, we equate the drive to succeed with the pressure to succeed at all costs. The pressure on executives and students to achieve results can lead them to abandon any attempts to consult and co-operate. The pressure to meet and outperform, be it for a class or an earnings report, leads to short-termism and a relentless pursuit of success at the expense of broader considerations. 

This results in leaders being wrongly admired for their overconfidence, drive and single-mindedness. It rewards autocratic decision-making by CEOs and boards, and the forgoing of consultation and collaboration. In the short term, the results from this approach might look good and indicate that things are working. In the longer term, it is bound to lead to problems. Poor collaboration leads to siloing throughout the organisation, which can lead to the creation of fiefdoms in which data is not shared but wielded for power against ‘competitors’ within the company. It is not a recipe for long-term thriving.

Companies concerned with legacy, long-term survival and staying relevant are broadening their purpose. Profit and shareholder value are no longer sufficiently broad aims — businesses need to develop a purpose- and values-driven vision for the future. 

By doing so, they are democratising their purpose and creating ownership of it throughout the organisation. By adopting a shared vision, instead of a CEO-driven vision, companies will diffuse most of the risks of a skewed, hubristic approach taking root. 

The trend towards ‘purpose’ as the key driver of a business’s vision for the future is a healthy one and involves all relevant stakeholders naturally – the board, employees and suppliers, as well as the customers and communities. 

This broadening of responsibility creates a need for greater transparency and a wider set of obligations, which forces CEOs to adopt a more inclusive approach. In this way, ethical, equitable, environmental and societal values become a part of their decision-making.

Business Schools can take the lead

Hubris, like so many other issues, is easier to prevent than it is to reverse. That makes Business Schools the perfect place to curb overconfidence in the next generations of leaders. Fortunately for educators, teaching this is not an additional curricular goal to add to the heap — it can be integrated into the existing syllabus.

Not unlike other competencies in business education, teaching against hubris needs to include the development of critical-thinking skills and emphasise the values of collaboration, long-term thinking and the practice of welcoming alternative and opposing viewpoints. 

Stopping hubris requires: 

1. Being able to spot the warning signs — lack of collaboration, lack of humility and a lack of understanding (or willingness to understand) regarding the effects of their decisions.

2. Understanding why people fall victim to hubris, and which kinds of environments encourage it and how to avoid them.

3. Examining high-profile examples that illustrate the business consequences of hubris, both at the level of companies — such as WeWork, General Motors, Uber and Deutsche Bank — and at the individual level – among the executives whose overconfidence in their infallibility led to predictable failures that tarnish their otherwise brilliant careers. The lessons of history must be accompanied by education in anti-hubris values and skills to check overconfidence.

Cautionary tales

I doubt many readers would need more than a moment to think of several examples of hubris in business. There are cautionary tales among both individuals and entire companies: They’re blockbuster movies and 600-page biographies, or, in the case of Boeing, the subject of tragic TV news for weeks. 

Educators can use these examples as case studies. In the 2021 book, Too Proud To Lead, my co-authors and I look at four cautionary tales. The We Company, once again rebranded as WeWork, shows us, ironically, how its name was belied by a failure to embrace true openness and collaboration, while its investors’ unquestioning faith in Co-Founder, Adam Neumann, constitutes its own form of a complementary, enabling hubris.

While Neumann was overconfident in his own abilities, and instilled that in his acolytes and investors, the subject of our second case study, General Motors (GM), is overconfidence in the permanence of the status quo. GM’s failure to compete with Japanese automakers in the 1980s and 1990s cost it market share and reputation. After its recovery in the late 2000s, aided by the US taxpayer, GM seems once more to be underestimating a new wave of competition — this time from Tesla and the industry-wide move to electric vehicles.

Travis Kalanick’s Uber, meanwhile, shows how building an arrogant corporate culture infects and undermines the reputation and potential for long-term success of a business founded on a great idea. Kalanick, Uber’s Co-Founder and first CEO, oversaw incredible growth at Uber but there have been multiple accusations of sexual harassment and unethical competitive practices at Uber during his reign. An air of invincibility, from the top down, continues to haunt the company. 

These examples offer an indication of how some leaders – to their own detriment – close themselves off, assume the future will look the same as the present, and believe in their own invincibility. All these failures have their basis in some form of unchecked power, but none to the degree of our fourth case study, Deutsche Bank (Deutsche). 

Deutsche’s expansion in the 1990s led it to becoming the biggest bank in the world, with assets of more than $2 trillion USD. Instead of seeing themselves as stewards of capital, Deutsche’s leaders interpreted this growing pool of wealth as proof that they could launder money and manipulate markets. Its scandals have cost it revenue and reputation; it has since been eclipsed by other lenders in the EU, not to mention US and Chinese banks.

Focusing on a positive vision of leadership 

Hubris is not just a label for the defeated, to be appended to the loser as a badge of chastening. It is also important to discuss the hubris of iconic leaders, including Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. What is there to be regretted in the careers of the most successfully acquisitive business figures of our time? Doesn’t their influence and wealth prove that their confidence was earned and that any arrogance, however unfortunate, didn’t get in the way of their success? Why shouldn’t students emulate their risk-taking and tenacity? 

In some cases, the backlash against their hubris is in progress: Domination at all costs appears to have put Facebook, Amazon and other tech masters, such as Google, en route to being broken up or otherwise subdued by governments around the world. In other cases, the damage is measured in what could have been: If Amazon was less focused on bending its commercial partners, employees and yes, even its customers to its will, who knows what else the business could achieve? Better pay for workers and better terms for suppliers would cost Amazon money, margin and profit to fix, but probably not enough to wound it or slow it down appreciably. It would also thin the ranks of Amazon boycotters and the desire of its critics to rein it in. 

Hubris, of course, thrives beyond the c-suites of the world’s largest corporations. Being ‘too proud to lead’ can cause the downfall of leaders in organisations of all sizes, as well as the downfall of lower-level managers and business students who have bought into their own early hype. Leaders of organisations you once worked for may come to mind. We do not need to dwell on these examples. Instead, we can focus on a positive vision of what kinds of leadership business education can hold up. Leaders who think through their purpose and align this to a wider purpose for their organisation are broadening their aims and aspirations to be more inclusive, more in touch with the wider world and more in tune with changing trends and sensibilities. These leaders regard this not as a demeaning activity, but an empowering one. With the emphasis on empathy, nurturing relationships, and collaboration, leaders are driven by group focus rather than self-focus, which leaves little opportunity for the self-centred nature of hubris to set in.

Holistically successful leaders do something that I call ‘walking the hubris tightrope’ – they attempt to balance ambition and drive with purpose and service. This art form is more of a process than a destination — avoiding hubris is not a box to be checked off but a value to be imparted. Whether educators choose to teach this will profoundly shape the next generation of business leaders.

Rita Trehan is a business transformation expert and the Founder of consultancy, Dare Worldwide. 
She is also the co-author of
Too Proud to Lead: How Hubris Can Destroy Effective Leadership and What to Do About It (Bloomsbury Business, 2021). 

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: May-July 2021).

Do recruitment fairs still work in the new online Business School admissions landscape?

Online admissions landscape looking to future alone.

Recruitment fairs for prospective candidates have long held a command over Business Schools when it comes to accessing students. But are we now seeing repercussions for an admissions ecosystem that was already starting to change pre-Covid-19? Molly Innes investigates

Business School admissions teams have long relied on the recruitment (or admissions) fairs as an important avenue for attracting prospective candidates, travelling around the world to take up spots in crowded halls and network with students. But Covid-19 put a stop to that.

Many of these fairs moved online in early 2020, leaving many Schools to question whether the model still works, and if it’s worth stretching their budgets for a virtual room in an online admissions fair, where the number of attendees in some rooms can reportedly be as low as zero.

This article seeks to find out how industry insiders have dealt with problems such as low attendance, unsociable hours, and budget cuts, as well as how it’s changed their approach to admissions.

Do virtual admissions fairs work?

Recruitment fair companies were thrown into flux when the pandemic hit. They were forced to change their setups rapidly in time for the next round of admissions events. Petia Whitmore, Founder of My MBA Path, was Managing Director of The MBA Tour when Covid-19 hit – a role she left at the end of 2020. The MBA Tour is one of many recruitment fair providers – others include QS and Access MBA – that, pre-pandemic, held large in-person events across the world. But Whitmore says that she’d been encouraging the board at The MBA Tour to start providing more online events even before the pandemic.  

‘There’s nothing like a pandemic to force us to face the fact that the product needs to change,’ Whitmore says of the early days of Covid-19 lockdowns and shifting the recruitment model.

At the start of the pandemic, Schools had little choice but to sign up for online admissions events. It was ride the wave or be left behind.

‘It was a crucial time for Business School admissions to make sure we weren’t losing contact with students,’ says Kelly Sugrue, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Brandeis International Business School. ‘Fortunately, for most Business Schools, it was after what we would typically consider to be our recruiting season when fairs would be taking place. We were at the tail end of our cycle, and more trying to stay engaged with potential candidates.’

But that wasn’t the experience for all Schools. While many had long attended physical admissions fairs, when the format moved online, some were left wondering whether it worked at all. ‘The very first iterations of all of the virtual fairs sucked. All of them,’ says Lawrence Mur’ray II, Senior Assistant Dean at Gabelli School of Business, Fordham University. ‘Many tried to take the experience of an in-person event and just translate it right into a virtual event, and that doesn’t work.’

Alongside that, access to information on demand means that prospective candidates have had alternative ways of interacting with their target Schools for a while. And now that the initial shock has subsided and Business Schools are in the swing of a second full recruitment cycle since Covid-19 began, some are thinking twice about virtual admissions fairs.

Access vs. effectiveness: fairs dividing opinion

‘The problem with the fairs was that they were already declining in interest,’ says Sugrue, who points towards a rise in prospective candidates finding information online and engaging with Schools directly, rather than through a third-party vendor.

Sugrue adds that schools are now more wary of the format: ‘They might have tried it out of habit last year not knowing how else they would reach students, but I think unfortunately the fairs were not productive in that sense.’

However, there are mixed opinions across the Business School admissions landscape. Barbara Coward, MBA admissions consultant and one of LinkedIn’s top 10 voices in education for 2020, says that while the students she works with aren’t necessarily gearing up for recruitment fairs, they do serve a strong purpose. ‘For the Schools, fairs can help them find more talent, have more touch points, and go to areas they might not usually have had access to,’ she says. ‘In-person fairs would go to the big cities, but not the smaller towns. As a result, somebody from Salzburg, for example, who wants to do an MBA but might not want to travel to a big city for an event, has easier access online. I do think it’s a way to uncover, discover, and tap into more talent that would otherwise go unnoticed.’

Barbara’s comment points to the wider benefit of virtual fairs: accessibility. Although the virtual fair model might not be 100% effective for all Schools, from a candidate perspective it opens up the possibility of interacting with Schools they previously wouldn’t have had access to.

In 2020, the MBA Tour ran 41 virtual events in the summer and fall season, with 28,000 registrations and 11,000 attendees. ‘Because geographical travel limitations no longer existed, candidates could attend from anywhere in the world, allowing Schools to meet more candidates and a richer diversity of candidates at a single event,’ says Danielle Boland, current Managing Director of The MBA Tour.

But it hasn’t always been straightforward for some schools to secure attendees for their individual rooms at virtual recruitment fairs. ‘I found that the bigger-branded Schools’ online rooms were always packed, whereas Schools perhaps not as well recognised, but potentially a good fit for certain candidates, were left empty for longer periods of time,’ one Business School professional wishing to remain anonymous confided.

Measuring the ROI of an admissions fair

For the admissions team at Maastricht School of Management (MSM), the move online gave an opportunity to stay in contact with candidates in a way that many hadn’t experienced before – but that doesn’t mean all channels were effective. ‘From our end, we did specific zoom meetings and kept in regular contact with students that were already in the pipeline,’ says Inka Diddens, Recruitment Officer at MSM. ‘The feedback we got from them was that they really appreciated us taking their worries away.’

But when it comes to ‘early-funnel’ prospective candidates, MSM has found the process of online events trickier to navigate. ‘It’s been more challenging. With specific markets, we noticed things like a worse internet connection, which means we can’t do video calls, or there are delays,’ says Diddens, before adding: ‘There have been no shows too, more no shows than when we were face-to-face. That candidates don’t show up, it’s just a different commitment from their side.’

While the candidates’ approach may be different, the costs aren’t necessarily lower for an online event, leaving some admissions staff to question the return on investment (ROI) for them, when compared to an in-person event.

‘We were looking at fall [autumn] events and in some cases they were more expensive than they’d previously been in person,” said Sugrue. ‘I found it astounding, especially when they were less productive in terms of candidate lead generation.’

Rodrigo Malta, Managing Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at McCombs School of Business, University of Texas at Austin, says the potential ROI and expectations of an online fair were not the same as that of an in-person event for his School. ‘Our goals for virtual affairs were different. So for us, we had the ROI we expected, because we didn’t expect the same type of event,’ he says.

‘There were some that were poorly attended, and a waste of time, but there were some virtual fairs where we had a strong ROI, but it was a different kind of ROI. It was top of the funnel, building leads versus the deeper engagement and relationship building which we’d seen in the past.’

Navigating the timezone problem

In-person fairs put everyone in the same physical space, but virtual events throw up an entirely new challenge for both prospective candidates and admissions staff – timezones. Navigating this issue when staff and students are dialling in from around the world has been a serious issue for some.

One prospective candidate, Cecilia, an engineering student in Argentina, found that balancing her studies while looking to join online events was unmanageable. ‘I found they didn’t match my timezone when I was looking,’ she says – although it is worth noting that Cecilia was early in the admissions pipeline.

Schools struggled with timezone problems too, with admissions staff often having to wake up exceptionally early or be active late at night, hours potentially conducive to mental health and burnout issues among staff. ‘We had events that were at one o’clock in the morning; it was not good.’ says Mur’ray. However, Mur’ray feels that candidate engagement was improved with his School’s own events: ‘I think most of the prospective candidates appreciated the fact that we could now specialise or tailor our activities to their interests.’ The same was the case for MSM, which reports being able to keep in contact with onboarding candidates in a much more personal way than they’d had the allowance for previously.

Whitmore, meanwhile, suggests that the timezone issue isn’t much different from when recruiters are on the road for in-person events. ‘You work mornings and evenings, you’re up at 3am to catch a flight, from Beijing to Shanghai for example, you work weekends because the events are very often on weekends, or evenings when they’re in person because you’re not going to do them in the middle of the day when the candidates are at work,’ she says.

There are also ways around timezone differences. ‘We find that online events we hold or participate in are best when they work for multiple timezones,’ says Sara Vanos, Marketing Director for MBA Programmes at HEC Paris.  

Schools running their own events

Recruitment fairs pre-Covid-19 offered Schools the chance to connect with a range of students, with a clearer indication of who would be present from a candidate perspective. There was also increased opportunity for candidate interaction – if a candidate was queuing for one School’s stand, admissions staff at different desks had a chance to grab their attention while they were waiting.

However, Business Schools have now been running more of their own events as a way to ensure they’re both in contact with candidates across the funnel, and able to claw back some of their budget which goes on paying fees to a third-party vendor. ‘Budgets were already being slashed even before Covid-19, so this accelerated these changes,’ says Mur’ray, adding that his School has seen a positive response from running its own events. ‘The legacy vendors still tried to make it the same as in person. But when we host our own events, we don’t have to do that at all.’ The result, according to Mur’ray, is that its incoming MBA intake is more international than it was before the pandemic.  

Online events run by Schools have included everything from one-to-one meetings with candidates, to wider talks and tailored webinars; Schools have had the power to leverage their in-house capabilities and experiment more, at a lower cost.

‘We’ve definitely done less partner events, because we’re able to host our own virtual events pretty easily, and are fortunate to have a pretty robust prospective funnel,’ says Malta. ‘We looked to partner events to add to our top-of-funnel efforts and complement leads we didn’t necessarily have. We did less partner events, but when we did them, they were very targeted,’ he added.

It’s tricky to see where the future is headed for online Business School recruitment, and what impact it will have further down the line. The pandemic upturned the sector, and perhaps we are now seeing the repercussions.

‘Due to the overwhelming success of The MBA Tour’s virtual events in 2020 (and in response to travel restrictions), we have continued to offer the virtual series in 2021 and expect it to remain a critical part of our offerings into 2022 and beyond,’ Boland says.

But will Schools continue to attend now they see what they can achieve in-house? ‘We don’t need them like we did before,’ suggests Mur’ray.

Molly Innes is currently a Features Writer at Little Black Book. She previously worked at Business Insider, and at BusinessBecause covering MBAs and business education. Her freelance work includes features for admissions platform, Libereka, and the Guardian

Transforming learning into business impact

A kid with short black afro hair punching into the sky. The young kid is in a blue and gold superhero outfit with a mask, cap and a lightning bolt icon on his t-shirt. This is to symbolise transformation and impact.

Tomorrow’s world requires impactful leadership. Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Ignacio de la Vega outlines four areas of focus for business educators and 10 top leadership skills that they should seek to develop in their cohorts

In a session of the AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021 that was streamed live from Mexico, Ignacio de la Vega, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Faculty and Internationalisation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, discussed his research on the topic of transforming learning into business impact.

De la Vega explained that capitalism isn’t sufficient to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, or even to mitigate its impact, arguing that it is up to all of us to work towards improvement and to harness the positives of the pandemic’s disruption. For example, he argued that the pandemic has helped the ‘world to heal’ and that people’s confinement within their homes has improved the planet’s environmental health, due to a reduction in pollution and waste.

‘The future started many years ago and the pandemic accelerated this disruption,’ he said. For Business Schools and many other educational organisations, the disruption has led to a ‘new model’ of learning during Covid-19, with programmes going fully online. However, this new approach has not been embraced by all, due to a number that include a lack of the appropriate equipment, funding and access to the internet.

De la Vega believes that to build the leaders of the future business educators must have a real purpose and impact on societies and communities through technology, science and research, while also keeping up to speed with trends. For him, four key areas of focus stand out:

  • Building new skillsets and mindsets
  • Fostering lifelong learning
  • Democratising executive (and all) education
  • Contributing to finding solutions to the world’s ‘wicked’ problems

10 top leadership skills for the future

Summing up the session, de la Vega looked ahead to 2025 and predicted that 10 key skills will become paramount for our leaders of the future:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving
    and ideation

For business educators, the biggest challenge will be to keep these at the forefront of their minds and to infuse them into the DNA of their Business Schools, he believes.

Ignacio de la Vega is Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Faculty and Internationalisation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico. He also leads its entrepreneurship centre (Instituto de Emprendimiento Eugenio Garza Lagüera). Previously, he served as Dean of EGADE Business School and Dean of the Undergraduate Business School at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Gen Z students are more career-focused than ever

Gen z emerging business leaders and prospective students.

Changing career aspirations and attitudes to traditional work patterns – will gen Z’s collective experience of Covid-19 drive a new paradigm of learning and working? Parves Khan offers insights into global research from INTO University Partnerships

Gen Z – those born sometime in the mid-1990s through to 2012 – make up 30% of the global population and now represent the largest share of the prospective international student pool. By 2025, they will make up just over a quarter of the global workforce.

In the aftermath of the global pandemic, this new generation of international students will confront new challenges. In INTO University Partnerships’ 2021 survey of just under 1,200 members of gen Z, we found that the pandemic has emboldened them to double down on their efforts to support their future career success. But not necessarily in the traditional sense. This isn’t a generation looking for a nine to five working life. The experience of lockdown has made this generation re-evaluate what really matters.

Changing aspirations

55% of respondents – who are either starting their first year or planning on studying abroad and who hail from 93 countries across Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific – report that the pandemic has changed the type of career they were aspiring too (it’s changed it ‘a lot’ for 26% and ‘a little’ for 29%). 

The biggest change in aspirations has been on attitudes to traditional work patterns. 49% of gen Z respondents report that they will be looking for a future career that offers a better work-life balance and a further 36% want complete flexibility in how they work. The pandemic has also unleashed an entrepreneurial spirit among gen Z, with almost half (45%) aspiring to start their own business sometime after graduating. In addition, a quarter say that they’re now thinking about a different job role and an equal proportion are thinking about working in a different sector.

More than just getting a degree: gen Z’s social consciousness

The disruption to education caused by the pandemic hasn’t dented the passion for learning among international gen Z students. Among respondents, 90% say they care passionately/care a lot about learning and they see their international education as inextricably linked to their future success; 84% feel that going overseas for their education will give them a competitive advantage in their future career; and 66% believe that they can be more successful in their home country with an overseas education, but more see their international education as opening doors to working abroad – 84% would like to work overseas one day.

While they look to education as a path to future career success – learning is much more than this. Among respondents, 90% see an overseas university education as key to preparing them with the skills they need to be successful in life in general and an equal proportion also feel the knowledge, skills and experience gained will enable them one day to personally ‘make the world a better place’.

The latter is reflective of a strong social consciousness we see among members of gen Z. Issues like equality and sustainability have long been on their radar — both individually and collectively. But during the pandemic – a period punctuated by civil strife, social division, and severe climate events – concerns with a number of social issues intensified and have left an indelible mark on how members of gen Z see the world and how they judge brands.

Looking forwards not backwards

The devastating impact of the pandemic curtailed many activities for gen Z international students, but not their drive or their desire to get on with their lives. The findings support an earlier survey we carried out this year among offer holders which found that despite numerous challenges, students are anxious to return to campus, and the demand for global education is stronger than ever. 

Gen Z international students can broadly be divided into two camps, those feeling hopeful but somewhat anxious about their future (48%) and those feeling optimistic and excited (43%). Only 7% say they are feeling worried and stressed about the future. This readiness to move forward with their lives is evidence of the resilience of this generation.

This pandemic has been testing for all generations, but not least for one coping with these unprecedented challenges at a pivotal stage in their lives, with many transitioning from childhood to adulthood. They’ve had to a lot to contend with on their young shoulders. Studies show this has taken its toll on their mental health, but our survey findings echo others in revealing that the crisis has also engendered the development of vital life skills, such as self-motivation, adaptability and emotional intelligence in our young people – skills that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Get ready for gen Z

The pandemic has made gen Z take a step back and re-evaluate their educational goals and future careers. They are starting their journey with a different set of expectations.

Now that members of gen Z account for the largest share of the prospective international student pool, it is critical to understand the lens through which they see the world. We hope the insights from our research will spark new ideas and conversations that will help higher education institutions foster a deeper connection with members of gen Z. Let’s get ready for gen Z – they are coming.

Parves Khan is Vice President of Market Research and Insight at INTO University Partnerships. Previously, she led global research and insight at Pearson and has run her own research consultancy. She holds a PhD in European Union integration from the University of Bristol.

Changing times call for changing approaches at Business School

Person thinking about change and sustainability.

Nicolas Sauviat, winner of the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020, calls on Business Schools to ensure cases reflect the changing world of business and help enable a generation of leaders that seek ‘meaning’ in their careers. Interview by Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Case studies are a great way to teach the practical application of business knowledge, but must be kept up to date with changing times and the world’s growing focus on sustainability, according to Nicolas Sauviat, winner of the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020. 

The competition invited students and graduates from Business Schools in the BGA network – of which there are now 162 spread across 39 countries – to submit their report and recommendations on a sustainability conundrum facing Nespresso France.  

A master’s graduate of Aston Business School, Sauviat won with a hybrid proposal in support of both inhouse and public recycling initiatives that speaks to the importance he places in recognising the shifting dynamics of business, and of keeping an open mind. 

In this interview with Business Impact, he offers his thoughts on the value of the case study method and the importance of pursuing purpose in both a professional and personal capacity. 

He also outlines why the central selling point of a Business School programme, for him, is its ‘uniqueness’ and ‘how it brings something new and responds to a changing world effectively’.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your professional and personal background?

I come from a family of four children and grew up in Limoges, a medium-sized city in France known for its porcelain and cows. I studied corporate law at the University of Limoges before turning to international business thanks to a partnership with the University of Oklahoma. There, I discovered the thrill of being abroad and have been travelling ever since. 

I worked for businesses and NGOs in Spain, finished my studies in international business at Aston University and flew to Hong Kong to promote cross-sector collaborations and disrupting business models at Shared Value Project Hong Kong – a non-profit organisation striving to build uncommon partnerships for the UN SDGs. Most recently, I joined the World Benchmarking Alliance, an international organisation which develops transformative benchmarks that compare key companies’ performance on the SDGs.

The BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020 asked entrants to analyse four options available to the CEO of Nespresso France in relation to addressing the problem of single-serve aluminium capsules that are deemed wasteful and damaging to the environment. Which option would you have implemented, if you were the Nespresso France CEO, and why?

I would implement a hybrid solution between ‘setting up a proprietary recycling system’ and ‘sponsoring a complete overhaul of the country’s recycling system’, as I recommended in my entry. This is for two main reasons: impact maximisation and risk mitigation. 

While investing in the French recycling system is clearly superior in terms of both impact and ROI, Nespresso needs to complement the public system with its own private system until the former reaches sufficient capacity. 

The move would allow Nespresso France to adapt to the new business environment where interdependence, collaboration for innovation and proactiveness on purpose are increasingly crucial to success. I added to this combination my own (fifth) option for Nespresso to become a B Corp. The B Corp certification brings depth and transparency to this sustainability commitment. 

Nespresso’s innovative dual recycling model would be highlighted by a unique positioning based on transparency and collaboration. If applied, this plan would result in two thirds of the cups to be recycled by 2024 and 100% of the French population to have access to proper recycling options for the aluminium capsules. It would also provide an estimated 3% additional growth on the 2020-2023 period across Nespresso France’s operations. 

You are an international business MSc graduate of Aston Business School. Did your experience of this programme help in your approach to the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition?

My time at Aston was fundamental to my developing the skills needed in the BGA case competition. It honed my analytical reasoning and business strategy skills, which were both key to solving the case study. It also broadened my horizons, especially thanks to the palpable entrepreneurial atmosphere at the university. The many societies available, notably Enactus, were a fantastic way to get hands-on experience, for example. 

While at Aston, I learned the importance of having a well-thought strategy, and, more importantly, to act on it and not be afraid to adapt it according to ongoing circumstances – as reflected in my submission. The MSc in International Business was therefore a crucial step in my professional and personal development. I gained professional experience and made lifelong friends there. It is a time I will cherish for the rest of my time. 

Do you think the case study method is an effective way to learn about business and management?

I think it is extremely important to look at real-life examples to get a deeper understanding of business. To gain effective knowledge, you need both a healthy dose of theory and a matching dose of relevant analysis grounded in reality. The case study method is therefore a great way to implement the knowledge acquired in the classroom and to examine the world’s complexities. 

That being said, the way to succeed yesterday is not necessarily the same as would be needed today. Times constantly change – especially with sustainability issues which were systematically ignored before. ‘Business as usual’ cannot work anymore. These relatively new aspects to doing business offer great opportunities – such as sustainable businesses gaining an edge over their competitors – but do require creativity to solve. They reflect the new paradigms we live in, which the case study method needs to acknowledge.

If you were to return to Business School later in your career (e.g., to study an MBA or other executive-level programme), would use of the case study method be something you would look for in the Business School at which you would want to study?

I would definitely look for the practical applications of the knowledge taught. The use of the case study method would be one aspect of that and I would expect each ‘theory’ class to be matched with implementation studies. 

I would pay extra attention to how ‘recent’ case studies are used in the programme and how sustainability is included in every aspect of it. I would also look for how the case study is effectively used – is there an emphasis on one good solution or a debate on its complexities? 

The use of case studies needs to reflect the challenging problems of the world we live in and foster creativity on how to solve them.

What other factors might be important to you, if you were ever to return to Business School to study further?

If I ever were to return to Business School, I would look at its reputation and rankings but, more importantly, the uniqueness of the degree. It is crucial to see how it brings something new and responds to a changing world effectively. 

The ‘why’ needs to be at the centre and the programme must show its current relevance. You cannot study business the way it’s been done so far, focusing on only the old profit dimension of business. It is only one dimension among many others – for instance, people, planet and purpose.
As the ones enabling the next generation of business leaders, Business Schools have to show the way forward and be trailblazers in sustainability.

Can you tell me a little about a favourite course/module, assignment or professor, from your time at Business School?

I can talk a bit about my favourite professor: Kaz Kirollos. He was the head of both the entrepreneurship and the international business programmes and knew his way around in both [Kirollos is now at Warwick Business School]. 

Kirollos embodies the successful mixing of theory and practice. He would explain the theory and its limits before diving into case studies and debates in the classroom. He knew that there was no ‘right’ answer in business but that there are instead shifting dynamics which require an inquisitive and open mind. I guess his entrepreneurship experience was especially important in that aspect as he emphasised a trial-and-error approach to business – something that really resonated with me.  

Your past experience is full of activities relating to work with a social impact. Are ‘purpose’ and ‘impact’ things that you will continue to seek in your future career? If so, why?

‘Impact’ and ‘purpose’ are definitely things that I will continue to seek in my future career. I think I come from a generation looking for meaningful work – not just work as a means to survive. As a generation, we are also aware that we are the last ones who will be able to make a strong impact on many global issues, such as climate change. 

It is significant that we just entered the UN’s Decade of Action. In this way, while NGOs and non-profits certainly have a role to play, the private sector needs to step up in order to bring forth a sustainable future. This is not from a charity point of view. Aligning profit with purpose is beneficial to both society and businesses – creating both economic and societal value. Companies need to understand that, in the age of stakeholder capitalism, purpose is the new competitive advantage. 

While at Business School, you worked on an entrepreneurial project for a product that produces mosquito-repellent blankets in African countries, with the platform, Enactus. What did this experience teach you about the realities of business?  

Being a project leader at Enactus taught me much, especially about constantly failing! Making a project move forward is but a long succession of failures and delays. Once an obstacle is removed, another pops up. In this way, being part of this student-led organisation really developed my entrepreneurial skills, which are required for any business. It also showed me the difficulty of finding the right contacts and business partners, especially in an international setting. 

Furthermore, it showed me how hard it is to implement cross-sector collaboration. The companies we reached out to were really unsure about working with a team of students – which is understandable – and kept going back and forth even with the whole university backing us. There was also a lot of discussion around the project even though we were only mimicking an already tested and proven method. As a result, conducting proper business in Ghana took us much longer than we expected – a common result for most international projects.

Do you think socially oriented leaders can have a bigger impact at the helm of a small startup or within a large multinational organisation?

This is a very tough question, to which there is no definitive answer. Both are needed to drive impact. What is certain is that the private sector has a crucial role to play to bring forth a more sustainable future. Without the private sector, we won’t achieve the SDGs. The private sector needs to bring much-needed scalability to sustainability. Its capacity to solve problems profitably and at scale is indeed key (the earned profits being reinvested to generate more profit). 

On the one hand, multinationals can have a bigger impact given their sheer size, influence and resources. They are, however, much harder to move for socially oriented leaders. On the other hand, startups are much more nimble and can offer innovative scalable solutions. I personally really enjoyed my time in a startup as you really feel you are making a difference. Socially oriented leaders can have a strong impact in both. The true defining element is, in my opinion, cross-sector partnerships to involve all stakeholders in the process and to create maximum impact from every initiative.

Nicolas Sauviat is a sustainability professional with an academic background in both law and international business. He is passionate about cross-sector collaboration for the SDGs and advocates for aligning profit with purpose. His experience has spanned the US, Europe and Asia, working for organisations ranging from NGOs to businesses.

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: May-July 2021).

Sustainable banking in Paraguay – find out more and enter the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2022 for a chance to win a $3,000 USD cash prize.


How far are Business Schools from achieving diversity and equality?

Abstract illustration of two duo-tone coloured hands touching the side of the palms symbolising diversity and inclusion.

Representatives of Imperial College Business School, Monash Business School and IE Business School discuss recent initiatives and programme offerings with diversity and inclusion at their heart

In order to advance fair and equal business practices, graduates of business education – and future leaders – must represent demographics as diverse as their future customers and communities. But, challenges remain to develop cultures that are inclusive across race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, social class and nationality.

A session at the AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021 brought together speakers representing the winning Business Schools in the ‘Best Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative’ category of the AMBA & BGA Excellence Awards 2021. They shared examples of their strategies to nurture cultures defined by diversity and equality in their Schools and beyond.

Business School initiatives in Australia, Spain and the UK

Celia de Anca, Deputy Dean for Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion at IE Business School, outlined the LGBT+@Work initiative, which delves into marginalised populations and new perspectives. De Anca also shared her thoughts on collaboration and conversation, in terms of achieving female equality.

Imperial College Business School, meanwhile, has recently launched a year-long equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) course entitled ‘Working in Diverse Organisations’. Jöel McConnell, the School’s Executive Director of Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions, explained that this offers EDI learnings and toolkits to help students to become diverse-aware employees and leaders, able to optimise differences and create more effective organisations. He added that this is one of the first steps in Imperial College Business School’s efforts to embrace of diversity in all its forms.

Nicolas McGuigan, Director of Equity, Diversity and Social Inclusion at Monash Business School, announced its new course, specifically geared towards indigenous Australian people. The Master of Indigenous Business Leadership is a cross-disciplinary programme, complemented by a tailored offering in design thinking, together with units in law and public policy.

McGuigan also talked about his School’s Queering Accounting diversity initiative. Through numerous educational, research, and industry activities, Queering Accounting is said to have enhanced the School’s culture of dignity and respect, enriching the experience of staff and students and helping to foster social justice, with the input of key stakeholders.

Moving the conversation forwards

During the session, panellists were able to share granular insights and examples. However, given the numerous challenges to achieving genuine diversity in business education, they were keen to leave the audience with three important takeaways to help guide discussions moving forward, acknowledging that translating intellectual debates into corporate policy is difficult to get right.

1. It is important to have discussions about belonging and individuality when thinking about diversity and inclusion.

2. Belonging is about both institutional belonging (and how to foster a sense of it) and belonging to groups that may be identified by protected characteristics (such as age, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, gender reassignment, relationship status, pregnancy and maternity, and religion and belief).

3. There should be an ongoing intellectual and philosophical debate within universities about equality, diversity and inclusion. These discussions should help inform the policies that public- and private-sector organisations put into place. 

* Celia de Anca, Deputy Dean for Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion, IE Business School, Spain
* Jöel McConnell, Executive Director of Marketing, Recruitment and Admissions, Imperial College Business School, UK
* Nicolas McGuigan, Director of Equity, Diversity and Social Inclusion, Monash Business School, Australia

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Adding drops to the ocean of change

Hands cupping the earth that is shaped like a giant water droplet. Adding drops to the ocean of change.

Business Schools can enhance understanding of climate change and inspire action, say representatives of the University of Stellenbosch, Lagos Business School, CENTRUM PUCP, and HEC Montréal

In the third decade of the 21st century, raising awareness of climate change – its causes and its effects – is still a central concern for society, and it is an area in which Business Schools can lead.

Oreva Atanya, Manager of the Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre at Pan-Atlantic University, sent out some words of caution for Business Schools in a session at the AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021. ‘Even with our multiple programme streams, including the executive MBA and the full-time MBA’, Schools are only directly influencing a limited number of people,’ she said, adding that these people will come up against different perceptions and interpretations of the problem, and varying priorities.   

Awareness and agents of social change

‘People have other problems,’ agreed Julianna Paola Ramírez Lozano, Director of Sustainability at CENTRUM PUCP. ‘With social issues, corruption, and all the other problems, climate change is on another level.’

Ramírez Lozano told attendees that her dream is for everyone in the world to read Bill Gates’ book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, because the key is to understand the problem. Business Schools must seize their opportunity to raise awareness, she argued, not least because ‘the media and a lot of government organisations don’t speak about this problem’. MBA students can then have an impact in their communities. ‘I believe that our students are agents of the social change,’ she said.

Awareness is also one of four ‘virtues’ that should be prioritised for the future (alongside empathy, prudence and courage), according to Jako Volschenk, Head of MBA Programmes at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. ‘MBA programmes must raise the awareness of students. I think the number one problem is that people aren’t aware of what climate change is, who’s causing it, and so on,’ he said. 

Talking of empathy, he added that ‘most of us in Business Schools are, by world standards, super rich, but we have to take on the role as stewards of society’. Prudence relates to ‘the idea that you know when you have enough, you stop. There’s not enough for everyone to live an extremely wealthy life’. And emphasising courage, he said: ‘We have to teach students to take on leadership and say, “we can do something and we want to do something”.’

Consistency with values in Business School operations

Meanwhile, Louis Hébert, Director of MBA and EMBA programmes at HEC Montréal, highlighted the importance of looking at a Business School’s operations as well as its programmes and teaching. Not only does this increase awareness but it also adds credibility to a School’s other outputs in this area.

‘We felt that it was also essential for us to be an example if we really wanted to have an impact in our society and communicate the importance of climate change,’ he said.

‘We needed to run the Business School in a way that was consistent with our belief in the urgency of climate change, so that has led us to introduce a variety of initiatives addressing those issues in the way that we manage the Business School.’ He added that the School has since been able to cut its carbon footprint by half.

In one example, Hébert described how a relationship with a local NGO had enabled 250 out of the 300 computers discarded each year to be given to primary and secondary schools, at home and overseas. ‘We were reducing the amount of waste but also helping other educational institutions,’ he said.

Voices of change emanating from the world’s Business Schools can have a significant impact, in terms of enhancing people’s understanding of global issues and inspiring people to take action. Atanya concluded: ‘There’s something we say in Africa: little drops of water make a mighty ocean.’

Orevaoghene Irene Atanya; Manager, Lagos Business School Sustainability Centre, Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria
Louis Hébert; Director of MBA and EMBA programmes, HEC Montréal, Canada
Julianna Paola Ramírez Lozano; Director of Sustainability, CENTRUM PUCP, Peru
Jako Volschenk; Head of MBA Programmes, University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.