Developing your faculty dream team

Invest in growing your own faculty as well as sourcing external talent to compete in a global marketplace, advises Sergio Olavarrieta, Director of the PhD in Business Administration at the Universidad de Chile

Sergio Olavarrieta, Director of the PhD in Business Administration and former Associate Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEN) at the Universidad de Chile, was a keynote speaker at AMBA & BGA’s latest Latin America Conference, held in Quito, Ecuador. We caught up with him to gain insight into faculty development and the pressures of maintaining high standards.

What were the key topics of your presentation at AMBA & BGA’s Latin America Conference? 

I talked about faculty management and building your faculty dream team. The main element, from my point of view, is that you must know what you need your faculty for. To realise this, you need to assess your strategy and understand what your main goals are, before going back to your faculty and assessing its configuration. If there are gaps, you will need to consider how to fill these. 

Once you’ve established your faculty dream team, you need it to perform, and that isn’t easy. Even if you have a good soccer team with all the right players, it’s not a given that it will perform well. It’s the same everywhere: you can have all these superstars, yet for some reason the team doesn’t work that well. That’s down to the system of management. Business Schools need structures and incentives to manage the talent and process, and they need management skills. 

Why is it important to have a diverse and inclusive faculty? 

The demands on Business Schools are increasing, in terms of the types of programme they offer; (from undergraduate to post-graduate programmes and MBAs) and the breadth of topics they must cover (from marketing, HR and finance to machine learning, AI and international issues). 

But, what’s expected of Business Schools is also increasing. They are expected to train managers, but also to help them generate new knowledge about emerging countries and firms in those countries. So, the scope of what Business Schools must cover is growing and, for that reason, having the right faculty team is becoming more important. 

You talked about bringing together ‘superstars’. What are the main problems in retaining superstars? 

Often, in teams of superstars, each person thinks they are the most powerful, so there is always the potential for conflict. There is also the problem of having too many superstars who have one particular skill, but lack others. 

For a team to perform well, a mix of skills, mindsets and perspectives is required. For example, you might need some members who are especially interested in teaching and others who are more interested in research. 

The manager will be tasked with avoiding conflict and getting people to collaborate. With greater diversity comes more complexity in management.

Is it more important to develop new or existing faculty members? 

You need to develop both. Latin America, for example, is a global market and talent will go to the universities with the most money and the best opportunities. 

If you want to keep people for at least a few years, you need to ‘breed’ and ‘grow’ them internally. Identify them when they are undergraduates. It’s similar to what corporations do: they train up their more junior professionals but also look to the wider market [to source talent]; you have to do a mix of both. I sometimes think that, in academia, we only look at bringing in faculty. That doesn’t build loyalties and internal cultures, which is what Schools need. The result is that individualism is more prevalent than collaboration and people will leave as soon as they get a better offer. Sometimes, when you grow your own talent, people will feel a connection to the School. That’s why you need a combination of external hires and homegrown talent. 

It’s important to have people who come from outside the organisation because it adds value. Indeed, there is the possibility of people taking it for granted that things are done in certain ways by those who have been within an organisation for many years.

Is there a difference between attracting faculty from outside Latin America, and attracting faculty from within the region? 

My country, Chile, is quite different even from the rest of Latin America. I would say that’s a good thing because we are more exciting in some respects. The economic drivers are important. Chile’s economy has been doing well for 20-40 years, so that’s an incentive for people to come. 

It’s tougher to attract people from overseas, from the US, Canada or the UK, especially younger professors who want to have a collegiate atmosphere and opportunities to publish research. That’s the reason why Schools like ours, which are more research based, are trying to offer packages that provide research incentives. We recruit excellent students and have very good research assistants. Another benefit is the opportunity to gather data from under-researched regions. We also try to provide a friendly atmosphere. 

Do the pressures of maintaining a School’s high standards influence an institution’s ability to develop faculty? 

Sometimes that’s a problem because deans often only have three to five years to make a difference. So, they need to have rapid results. As I explained, in the long term you will need to go to the wider market to hire faculty, but you also need to develop your own. 

For example, I was previously at a good School in Chile, and the faculty was teaching-oriented, so I needed to bring in some researchers. I went to all the master’s programmes and tried to find good professors with a master’s degree, half of whom were planning do PhDs in the near future. 

It was a selection process because we did not have the money to hire a large number of PhD professors. Instead, we hired a few, but I also provided the School with a future pipeline. I wasn’t there to experience [the benefit] but now, seven or eight years on, I can see the difference at the School. 

What are the benefits of studying an MBA in Latin America, for those who hail from outside the region? 

I think one of the good things about markets such as São Paulo, Santiago and Mexico City is that they have a particular energy. They are emerging markets. They have a particular feel about them that you might also experience in Bangkok, or in certain cities in China. 

Learning how to do business in these types of market is important. The other thing is culture – there are different cultures across the world, so I think that’s why studying in Latin America is an asset. In the future, managers who have an MBA, with an open mind and a broader perspective on what’s happening around the world, will be greater assets to their firms. 

Is a particular type of MBA candidate attracted to the region? 

MBA students are more career-driven than other students; they look for opportunities and many will go wherever they think these opportunities are. Some students from the US or Europe who go to a country such as Peru or Brazil think they can be competitive there. A candidate from the UK, for example, may feel they have a competitive advantage in Latin America because of their background and language, whereas they might think that if they study in London, there will find thousands of other MBAs with a similar profile to theirs.  

Others interested in the region are most likely to come from outside a typical western cultural background and are attracted to the culture in Latin America.

What are the career prospects in Latin America for international students and those from outside the region? Is it easy to secure a visa?

It’s changing. It used to be very open but some of the [geopolitical] relationships have grown a bit more difficult, especially with regards to immigration within Latin America. However, I still think it’s much easier to get a visa in Latin America than in other parts of the world and if you have a degree from an accredited school, finding a job shouldn’t be a problem.

Our graduates have started companies, and one from the MBA programme started a big company that brings MBA students from all over the world to Latin America. Lots of Latin American countries also have startup programmes which encourage non-domestic citizens to start their businesses in Latin America.  

Have job opportunities changed as economies in the region have developed and evolved? 

I don’t think they’ve changed that much. The labour market is stable right now, in terms of numbers. The change is probably in terms of the skills required. We need interpersonal skills, intercultural skills, leadership skills, and an understanding of technology (not programming skills but an understanding of how technology can affect not just a company but also its consumers and even the environment). 

The opportunities are out there, but [candidates] need to be aware that they must adapt their skills. That is one of the current challenges for MBA programmes: adapting to these new needs and making provision for developing the changing skill sets that are required. 

What challenges does Latin America face in becoming a more prominent business education destination? 

I would say language is the number one challenge. Not all Schools offer programmes in English, and English is the business language of the world. You would think we would have an advantage because Spanish is such an important language, but we need to have better offerings in English. 

I think something else that is affecting us is a lack of exchanges. We should offer programmes, like those in Europe, where people can exchange credits and go from one country to another without complication, similar to the Erasmus programme in Europe. 

Studying for one semester in Colombia and another in Argentina, for example, would provide a more complete experience of Latin America. That would add value to students wanting to come to Latin America. 

Sergio Olavarrieta is the Director of the PhD in Business Administration at the Universidad de Chile and President of the Business Association for Latin American Studies (BALAS). He is also the former Associate Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEN) at the Universidad de Chile, and the former Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile. He holds a PhD in marketing and strategy from the University of Georgia. 

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