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“We see ourselves as agents of change.”

MBA Channel talked to Professor Murali Chandrashekaran, the Academic Director for MBA programs of the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM),
about chances and challenges in training truly global managers.

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Murali Chandrashekaran - AGSM

Professor Chandrashekaran, the demand for MBAs to be able to work across countries and cultures is immense today – but how far can you drive this side of globalisation?

The idea that people move to other countries for work is not new. What’s new is the pace, the steady shift in the world’s economic centre of gravity. The growth rate of the GDP in Europe or the US would be regarded as disappointment in Asia. As a result we are seeing fundamental changes in how businesses are run, where value is created and where managers are working. Already two thirds of the world’s population live within a five hour flight from Hong Kong. New is that Business Schools are now recognizing that they need to revamp their curriculums to deal with students’ questions on how to do business in other countries. How far can business schools drive globalisation? We will drive it as far as businesses are driving it.

Are we about to create shifting legionnaires of business? Or will the workforce become indeed more and more ‘multi-cultural’ in the sense that people can work in more than one culture?

Kids in Asian villages run around with the same mobile phones as executives in Europe. The conversations may be different, but the tools are the same. The next generation is already globalized before they are even starting their careers. They are using technology in a way universities cannot yet fathom. The next generation is far more global than we can imagine. At AGSM we have students from 28 countries. To tell them that business today is global is not news.

In this context: What kind of abilities will the future MBA graduate need?

Learning at a good business school is about understanding what works where. How are good decisions made in a certain context? The role of a leader is to inspire and to be inspired. What inspires people from other countries? And why? What can we learn from other countries? How can we bring all the different approaches together, create diversity and generate value?

How do you teach that?

At AGSM it starts with the people in the classroom. Six out of ten students come from abroad, so the issue of culture and background is on the table right from the start. In class people learn from each other, dealing with cultural differences, cognitive diversity and how different people make decisions. All students take personality tests and we make them talk about the outcome. The goal is to sensitize them to cultural, cognitive and contextual differences – and to distinguish what is what. That is part of our Leadership Program. Then there obviously is the Immersion Program: students need to go abroad to enhance the scope of what they see, and seeing is meant quite literally, not only academically. We do indeed teach international business in Asia: We teach class in Sydney, then go to Hong Kong, do projects there. Later we move on to Bombay, meeting business people, decisions makers, consumers and politicians.

What are the most important skills in a global world?

To be able to adapt and integrate into different cultures and contexts, as well as to understand the integration between different areas: management, finance, strategy and so on. Therefore we created a truly integrated experience. At the end of the core classes is a mandatory, three-week boot camp. Students have to bring all the areas together, run a notional company and have to make decision across all these areas. At the same time they need to take important leadership decisions. They have to deliver on leadership, integrated thinking and they have to drive change, all at the same time.

Some experts in the MBA market believe, that there is a need for innovation in teaching, in course construction, in faculty mix and so on. What do you believe: Are these changes going to come from Asia?

Agreed, one size does not fit all. Most of the curriculums around the world have been shaped along the model of Harvard or Wharton, solidly based on the western way of thinking and decision making. A more research based curriculum into the question of how context impacts business success is necessary. Is that research coming out of Asia? At the moment, rather not. That is one of the reasons why we see more and more Asian students wanting to come to AGSM. Many leading business schools in Asia are still very Asia-centric. But students want to come to programs that have a truly international focus and seriously diverse cohorts.

There is a lot of reporting on the rising success of Asian MBA programmes at the moment. Do you feel the rising competition?

Many of the well known Asian business schools are really good. Ceibs for example, the National University of Singapore, the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian School of Business have impressive students and compete in the global market place. Still, we do not lose students to these schools, rather more Asians want to come to us. We have a really international flavour, a supremely diverse faculty, and students from all over the world. Sydney is an easy flight from Singapore and it’s a great city in one of the most liveable societies in the world. We are the link between the west and the emerging countries. We feel we are setting the agenda in terms of curriculum.

How important are your international co-operations with the Partnership in International Management (PIM) and the other 27 business schools? Can one school really have a meaningful relationship with 27 other schools?

Every year three or four schools want to engage in a partnership with us. Still, some relationships are deeper than others, like the cooperation with Wharton, Esade and the London Business School. From some schools in the partnership we have just one student per year, from others we have ten. The degree of interaction is a function of different factors such as the relative ranking of a school and its location. You would not believe how tough it is to get students to go to Ann Arbour, Michigan in January, due to the weather. People would rather go to London. Also we collect data for students’ satisfaction. If our students don’t find any value in an exchange we will have to try and increase that value and if that’s not possible we review the partnership.

Where do you see the future of your school?

Currently we are working on improving the capabilities of our students in regards to entrepreneurship and sustainability, AGSM is a signatory to the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education for example. We can bring together managers, the government and members of civil society: we want to create a platform for the exchange of ideas to contribute to the global community. We see ourselves as change makers.

Australian School of Business at a glance

The Australian Graduate School of Management, part of the University of New South Wales’ Australian School of Business in Sydney, is not only regarded as the best business school in Australia but also as one of the most international in Australasia. Its marketing professor hails from India, the strategy teacher from Turkey, Finance is taught by a Chinese citizen, International Business by a Korean and Accounting by an Australian. In 2010 their audience comprised of students from 28 different countries. After graduation, only 65 per cent remained in Australia, 9 per cent went to Singapore, 8 per cent to the U.S., 6 per cent to South East Asia and four per cent moved to Hong Kong and Europe, respectively.

The Australian School of Business is host to:

  • 9 disciplinary schools
  • 10 research centres
  • 11,700 students
  • 270 academics and researchers
  • 192 professional and technical staff
  • 60,000 alumni

Fact and figures:

  • Global Ranking FT: 35
  • *Full time program: 16 months
  • Class of 2011: 69 students, female 20 per cent, international 74 per cent
  • Fees: 65.000 Australian dollars
  • Accreditation: AACSB, Equis
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