Strategic Business School partnerships

Representatives from AccorHotels, Telefónica and Blue Prism offer advice and insights on the best way to forge mutually beneficial relationships between the worlds of business education and industry 

Business Schools’ links with the corporate world enhance action learning, recruitment, strategic alignment, and collective innovation. Arguably, in a business market defined by disruption and uncertainty, such forms of collaboration between business education and industry have never been more important. But Schools face mounting challenges in terms of understanding needs and expectations, and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships.

With this in mind, a session at the AMBA & BGA Festival of Excellence brought together a panel of experts to discuss the benefits of partnerships and how to ensure that ‘win-win’ situations are achieved. 

Steef van de Velde, Board Member and Chair of AMBA & BGA’s International Accreditation Advisory Board (IAAB) and Professor of Operations and Management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), explained: ‘Corporate partnerships are crucial for Business Schools. It’s clear that many of our faculty have personal relationships with executives in corporations for, say, research, teaching, or case writing. But often, Schools might like to institutionalise these relationships for the longer term and leverage those relationships for internship recruitment, projects, executive education, or other purposes. 

‘Very often, the expectations from Business Schools are clear, but what about the expectations from our counterparts from corporations?’

Alignment and approach 

Jon ‘Jet’ Theuerkauf, Chief Customer Strategy and Transformation Officer at Blue Prism, outlined some facets they were looking for from Schools: ‘When we speak with Schools, it’s really important that what we are able to convey to them is taken seriously because we are in the market and working with more than 2,000 major organisations and their customers. So, we understand what the needs [of these organisations] are going to be and we can see where trends are coming from. 

‘We believe that when we’re speaking to institutions and making recommendations to them, that they are building [this] into every student’s curriculum and gaining an understanding of evolving technologies. When we look for partnerships, we’re looking for Schools and institutions with which we feel an alignment because they’ve recognised that the world is evolving and that change is being pressed onto us at a speed unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.’

Picking up on this theme, Ralitza Iordanova, Director of Global Partnerships and Luxury Brands at AccorHotels – which is responsible for hospitality brands including Mondrian, Raffles, Orient Express, and Banyan Tree – added: ‘From an organisational standpoint, in my experience, we have typically been the ones approaching Business Schools versus the other way around and I think a couple of key things come into play – the values behind a School and innovation – being able to adapt quickly to the current marketplace. 

‘A perfect example is the current Covid-19 context. The hospitality sector is in a situation where we have an excess of global talent available in the marketplace,’ she continued pointing out that 70% of people in the sector have either been furloughed, made redundant, or are on temporary leave. ‘There are a number of different scenarios, but for maybe a year or two years, this talent will be sitting in the marketplace – not necessarily engaged because no one is hiring – and it’s extremely difficult. 

‘The big opportunity – both from an organisational standpoint and for Schools – is looking at the approach to partnerships. There are other areas that come into play, such as geography, rankings and so on, but I think [good partnerships are based on the level of] collaboration with which the Business School wants to come to the table, to co-create new programming and new kinds of innovation together, to attract talent and then to develop existing talent. 

‘Ideally, we should be doing this on an ongoing basis, and it shouldn’t take a crisis to get us in shape for that, but [the key is] what kind of a mindset the leaders behind a Business School come to the table with, and how they’re willing to shape and work with organisations to make something impactful beyond the typical access to talent of interviews, apprenticeships and databases.’

Getting the full picture

Antonio Schuh, Director of Partnerships at Telefónica, also had some words of advice for Schools wishing to build relationships with corporates, based on his experience: ‘To create something relevant for both organisations involved, it’s important for a strategic relationship to be at a higher level with a broad base. Then, you should make an effort to gain the full picture and identify the people that need to be consulted – even if informally,’ he said.  

‘By having the full picture, you will develop more opportunities to understand what’s going on on the other side [of the partnership]. I’m talking from experience because it took a long time for us to structure our partnerships at Telefonica. We have dealings with other telecoms companies, and [together] we have built thousands of [initiatives] – for example, international roaming, or wholesale joint presence in communities for inter-standardisation technologies. This can be super complex but once you have a clear picture of the multiple activities that you’re both working on, this can indicate a pattern and an intention, and this will put you in a much stronger position to use that information
and do something productive.’

Chair: Steef van de Velde, Board Member and Chair of the International Accreditation Advisory Board (IAAB), AMBA & BGA; Professor of Operations and Management, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) 

Panellists: Ralitza Iordanova, Director of Global Partnerships and Luxury Brands, AccorHotels; Antonio Schuh, Director of Partnerships, Telefónica; Jon ‘Jet’ Theuerkauf, Chief Customer Strategy and Transformation Officer, Blue Prism

This article was originally published in Ambition (the magazine of BGA’s sister organisation, AMBA).

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