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The future of the MBA and the MBA of the future

The indirect good news of the global crisis has been, somehow, not only to challenge the pillars of the global financial system, but also to question the personal and collective action of those responsible for driving the system, I mean, bank, regulators, governments and, yes, business schools.

To some extent, the present moment calls for a profound reflection by all social and economic actors, and, as members of that network, business schools cannot avoid or even refuse their share of responsibility in this task. In fact, the management gurus say that the best way to build the future is to question or challenge the present.

In multiple forums, schools have been accused of being responsible, whether directly or indirectly, of the global crisis, as those academic institutions are an active agent of the financial system. "Are B-Schools to blame?" That's been the key question for the last year, and I have my own response to it. I actually don’t think so, but I do believe that this crisis has demonstrated that, probably, something went wrong within schools, so the change within them is so necessary. However, and unfortunately, most of the deans showed from the very beginning a more defensive response than anything else, that is, they denied any personal responsibility in what had happened. Only a few deans, such as Ángel Cabrera from Thunderbird School of Global Management, or professors like Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nhoria, warned of internal failures within schools and the need to accept criticism and take it for good, as they said, in order to redefine or reframe the MBA as the programme for the “profession of management”. But these internal critical voices have been a minority within the sector.

It is clear that schools are only an agent of the system, but an important agent by themselves, because these institutions educate the pilots who run the financial system. As I’ve stated above, I don’t think schools are to blame, but, at the same time, I fully agree with those to call for a redefinition of the MBA as programme and degree.

To a greater or lesser extent, schools have taken note and have started to give more importance to content on financial risk in the subject of finances. Moreover, Stern School of Business at New York University a few months ago launched a master in financial risk management. More or less likely to change and self-criticism, the deans have found it necessary to gradually introduce certain changes in the curriculum, especially in finance. And so have most of the schools.

The case of financial risk and the subject of finances has been the most discussed, but also there began to see changes in areas such as or ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), whose contents have increased in the last year.

Beyond the world of business

There is no doubt that, more or less proactive and even forced by the urgency of the moment and criticism, schools have introduced in recent months several changes within their curriculum. However, these changes seem to be so far too small compared with what I think they should do. From my point of view, it is desirable that issues such as financial risk, ethics or sustainability gain more prominence in the curriculum of the MBA. Not surprisingly, at the bottom of the financial scandals are issues closely linked to ethics, integrity and financial engineering. But, in the end, I do believe those changes aren’t just about changing or refreshing the current curriculum. Instead, schools need a further and deeper reflection about the MBA itself as a programme, that is, how the MBA of the future should be, what kind of managers we want to educate for the 21st century, how schools can help to the prosperity worldwide, and, therefore, what the mission, identity and contribution of the MBA should be to the society as a whole.

In other words, I have no doubt it’s the right time to think not just about the MBA of the future but about the future of the MBA itself, a challenge that requires not only a change within the current MBA curriculum but also a change in how schools see the world and their own role in the economy and society.

In a world where the boundaries between economic and political issues have disappeared (the financial crisis is the best example of that connection), in a world in which the climate change and sustainability issues are these days at the very top of the agenda, and in a world in which every single decision affects globally, it is more necessary than ever that the MBA will offer a holistic view of the firm and a holistic view of the company within a global context, in which geopolitics, economy and society are linked and they influence and challenge themselves. More than ever an MBA programme has to get closer to the dialogue with other fields of knowledge, such as international relations and affairs, diplomacy, sociology, and so on, even religion, like some schools already do by teaching islamic finance, for instance.

The rise, for example, of the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) tries to approach business from a truly global perspective in different locations all over the world in order to teach executives how to manage globally in this global world. But that’s only the GEMBA focus. The MBA degree should focus as well on how educate graduates who can not only move globally but understand what’s going on in the world form a holistic view.

In this sense, I’ve always liked the “integrative thinking” approach of the Rotman School of Management dean Roger Martin, whose model tries to go across the silos of the departments of a company in order to link all decisions. So if we can link both strategic and marketing decisions in order to find a better solution to a problem, so can we link political, social, environmental, financial and economic decisions in order to make the world a better place to live in. That’s the way to do it, sure. But, in this global context, schools need to elevate their game and focus and try to adopt that integrative thinking between business and other fields of knowledge, because the global agenda is filled with so different issues such as climate change, water, islamism, the redefinition of the global financial system, and so on. If climate change is at the top of the global agenda, why not business schools should treat it as one of the major issues of the MBA curriculum? That’s the real point, and deans all over the world must address it since now in order to win the future.

Somehow, deans should listen carefully what MBA graduates at Harvard Business School claimed when in June 2009 signed the MBA Oath. The Oath is a call for integrity, prosperity, sustainability and wealth, these concepts should be at the MBA core. Somehow, those HBS graduates have shown the deans the way to the future, because that’s what is at game: to build the future of the MBA and to run the MBA of the future. If deans don’t act now, they’ll be losing the future.

About the author
Juanma Roca is author of “MBAs, ¿ángeles o demonios?” (“MBAs, angels or demons?”), published by Gestión 2000 (Planeta).

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