Focus on business education in Latin America

Heads of Business Schools from Latin America discuss Business School programmes in their region and how these are developing and interacting with business. Interviews by Jack Villanueva and Kevin Lee-Simion

Jorge Talavera 
President, ESAN Graduate School of Business, Peru


What does a ‘great’ MBA programme look like?

Great MBA programmes support the best product – students. To support them, we need to provide them with the key factors for success which include knowledge, soft skills, leadership and team work.

How has international business developed in Latin America? 

To develop international business, we developed our students. We established very good connections with the business sector. We provided them with the leaders, and they told us what we have to teach in order to be relevant. 

How are MBA programmes similar across the world, and how do they differ?

In the past they were quite similar. People in developing countries followed the programmes in the US and Europe, but MBA programmers try to solve the problems in the region. So now we have to adapt programmes and develop our own, to give our students the ability to solve problems in our society. 

Do you think the MBA mindset has changed?

I don’t think so. People have always studied for MBAs because they want to lead institutions, and Schools have provided students with knowledge to lead institutions.

What are the main challenges Business Schools face? 

Coping with change in terms of technology, and dealing with competition due to globalisation. We have to compete to provide solutions for society, and good quality professionals.

Should there still be a focus on local businesses and local economies as well as the international business economy?

You have to be good in your own country first. Then you can take your success abroad and provide other societies with solutions.

How important is it for Business Schools to continue to innovate in order to compete with businesses around the globe?

Innovation is important but sometimes innovation is confused with change. Organisations change and say they are innovative because they changed – but then go bankrupt. You need to innovate and it needs to be successful, otherwise it doesn’t mean anything.

Xavier Gimbert
General Director of the Graduate Business School of Universidad del Pacifico, Professor of the GBS of Universidad del Pacifico and Professor of ESADE Business School 


How do you see the decision-making process changing over the next few years?

The decision-making process has to be strategically ongoing, because the environment is changing every day. Also, decision making is becoming more collaborative.

Decision making is the most important process in managing an organisation. If you don’t have the best people and a good process, it will be a disaster.

How are strategic models beneficial to a business?

Models are guides and their objective is to help you to think, reflect, and make decisions. In a decision process, a model gives you different steps you have to think about in order to make decisions.

How important is innovation in strategic management? 

Innovation is one of the key elements of strategic management. But do you have to innovate in order to be successful? Innovation is something a company should have the option of doing, but doesn’t always have to do. 

Do you think MBAs are learning the skills required to succeed in the future? Or do Business Schools need to evolve?

I think the content of the MBA is evolving as there are more soft skills, which are fundamental to getting a good job, managing companies, reading changes in the environment, making fast decisions, and adapting to change. These areas can’t be taught though ‘real’ content.

Why is it arguably more important than ever to create alliances?

We are in a global world and can’t do everything alone. In Latin America, it’s a way to improve, in terms of businesses and Business Schools. Alliances provide knowledge from abroad. It’s a very powerful tool. Nowadays, alliances are key and we have to see others not just as competitors, but as potential allies.

Martin Santana
Professor of Information Systems, ESAN Graduate School of Business, Peru

Should there be a greater emphasis on technology in MBA programmes?

I think there is an emphasis but it’s not significant. We are dealing with millennials, 75% of whom interact through technology. Our MBA programmes are not prepared for that, as technology is used more as a learning platform. But this is a different dimension we are talking about with the technologicalically savvy guys from the millennial generation.

How important is the role technology for Schools? 

I think technology is key and Schools are using it to gain connections around the world, to provide a leaning environment, create alliances, and persuade prospective MBAs and faculty to come to their School. 

What innovations have you seen in the world of digital business?

Change in the learning environment. It’s now an open environment with different technologies, but they are converging into one purpose for Business Schools – enhancing learning opportunities
for students. We are under pressure to create a learning environment for the millennial generation.

What are your thoughts on e-learning? How beneficial do you think it is to an MBA?

It’s very important, but I believe in a more blended methodology. A 100% online programme is not yet well accepted in Latin America as employers believe these are low-quality programmes. I believe blended programmes will be the solution but I’m not against having a 100% virtual programme.

In what ways could Business Schools use technology to
their advantage?

I think technology should be used to attract, retain, and train our students, and change the mindset of professors who are using technology for basic things.  Technology is a key component of being successful.

Do you think technology and millennials are essential for Peruvian Business?

I believe so because more than 40% of the population is made up of millennials. In the near future, the majority of the workforce will be millennials, they will be future entrepreneurs and will be running most companies.

How will millennial leadership compare to traditional leadership?

Millennials care about a lot more than just being managers. For one, they expect to have good mentors, and this will be the model they use in the companies of the future. They will become mentors and transformational leaders – focused on the person rather than the activity.

Do you think millennials lack soft skills when you compare them to previous students?

Yes, remember we are still talking about young people and they are in the process of developing. They lack social skills but it’s our job to teach them these. We can change their mindsets and help shape them so they can be successful. 

What do you think the future holds for the MBA?

There will be many different varieties of MBA programme, and they will come together with a blended methodology. This means you will be able to connect with anybody around the world, but we will have to change our methods of teaching, and our professors. 

Matthew Bird
Professor, Universidad del Pacífico Graduate School, Peru

Is there a big difference between how businesses are run and how the government is run?

There is in Latin America. There is a distrust between the government and the private sector. I believe many countries’ societies understand that they need one another, but the hard thing to do is to build the foundation for trust and identify those shared spaces for collaboration.

How important is innovation in solving social challenges?

Very important: innovation can be anything that is different and creates value. Understanding social systems creates opportunities to identify those small interventions where the government and private sector can work together.

To solve social challenges, do you think it is a one-size-fits-all solution all or is it case-by-case?

There are elements that are cross-cutting, and once you know how to tackle social issues, it’s down to harvesting local solutions to shared problems. This is one of the reasons I believe in design thinking because it really focuses people to listen, empathising first. Through that empathy, you can understand where the gaps are, and what people want, so you can collaborate better to deliver that.

In what ways will harvesting local innovative interventions solve common social challenges?

People look at social issues as problems, but people should see them as solutions. Take the informal economy. People originally viewed the informal economy as a problem. However, people were working in the informal economy. This means they were creating value through jobs, and therefore creating  income. It was a solution.

How do you think the rise in digital technologies is affecting Business Schools?

Digital technologies are already transforming the way we teach and interact with students. Technologies are creating challenges, but also opportunities. For example, with virtual education, you are creating competition between Schools, but there are also opportunities for people to overcome historical geographic barriers and push education into areas that have been traditionally harder to reach.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Business Schools in Latin America?

The biggest challenge for Business Schools in the region is to move away from a strong focus on teaching, as there are opportunities for research. Research can still contribute to value creation, but its potential has still not been tapped.

How much of an impact does cultural influence play in economic decisions?

You define decisions and use certain frames – influenced by social cultural backgrounds – to justify them. Then you identify decision criteria, and then the choices. These choices are permeated by your culture.

Oscar Muartua de Romaña
Director de la Escuela de RR.II. y Gobierno de la UTP en Universidad Tecnologica del Peru (UTP)

How important is it for countries to work together?

It is an obligation and we have always demanded that the international community resolve these problems. The UN means there is an international community of 200 nations, and stability has a path through hard times.

Do you think volatility makes collaboration more difficult?

It is more challenging, but we can provide more effective reactions. One of the biggest challenges, but also the most fundamental aspect, is to have dialogue, because only through this will countries understand each other. Also, science and technology are providing us with enough arguments to build our future to benefit all humanity.

Do you think international relations impact business education?

Business Schools need international relations to prepare future professionals. MBAs have a moral function – they are embodying the values of society while trying to benefit society.

will it be difficult for Schools to implement the UN’s sustainable development goals?

It will be difficult to adapt to reform. But these principles are nothing new. So it is about doing as much as we can through investment in education and generalised development.

How do international relations impact Latin America? 

International relations have helped us create Schools, bring in faculty, and establish MBAs. We’ve learned how development can create good results for a country, and we made this into a reality. International relations have also helped us become aware of innovation and entrepreneurship. Business has played an important role in the growth of Latin America. 

How are Schools in Latin America preparing MBAs for the future? 

Business Schools are preparing MBAs for an open economy, and everything that has been done by Business Schools is an investment in Latin America. MBAs are also learning about the linkage between the Business School, industry, and government, and the importance of moral values.

Racheli Gabel Shemueli
Research Fellow and Professor in the Graduate School of Business of the Pacific University in Lima, Peru

What do you look for in a prospective MBA student?

We want people who are different and who acquire knowledge and implement it. They have to be responsible leaders who want to create change. We are looking to the kind of person that makes a difference. 

What are the challenges in attracting these students?

The challenge is to state that our Business School is different. We say we are looking for quality, and we are very demanding.

How important is it for MBAs to have cross-cultural experience?

When we think about inter-cultural experience, we also think about local experience because Peru is very diverse. Cross-cultural experience is not just about travelling the world, but about working with diverse people. For an MBA to be exposed to cross-cultural experiences, and know how to work with this is important, in order for them to lead.

In what ways can cross-cultural issues be addressed in the future?

In-house learning is important so we can see what our students understand. Then it is a matter of doing the exercise, and doing it in your own life.

Why is innovation important?

Learning is interactive. I am learning from my students and they are learning from me. 

Professors are now just facilitators of limited information, and as a result, knowledge comes from both sides, the students and the professor.

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