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“Globalization is the number one disruptive force for our century”

Business schools across the globe struggle to adjust to the growing need for globalization. Executives need to be able to work across borders and adjust to different laws, markets and cultural backgrounds. Bob Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business chaired a recent task force on the topic “Globalization of Management” for AACSB International. MBA Channel spoke to Bob Bruner about challenges, demands and projects that will shape business schools and MBA graduates in the 21st century.


You just helped release a report on globalization: What were your main findings as regards to business schools?

First of all we did a census of institutions that grant degrees in business of some kind. We found an astonishing estimate of over 13,000 institutions... And the number grows by the day. We found that students have massive choice and alternatives these days.

Secondly, we found that less than ten per cent of the 13,000 institutions were accredited and most of them had started a lot of cross-border partnering. This volume seems to be growing as well. Much of it struck the task force as being experimental and done on a trial-and-error basis rather than in a strategic way. Schools are testing prototypes. There is no single best practice about cross-border partnering of schools at the moment. Many models are emerging, and I think there is a likelihood that cross-border collaborations will continue to rise in volume.

And thirdly, we found that the curriculums of many business schools are not very global. Some are setting up special courses, other schools enforce that all courses do a bit about globalization and a third group combines a flagship course with doing a bit in other courses as well. But overall I would say that we have a long way to go in globalizing the content of our degrees.

The demand for MBA graduates to be able to work across countries and cultures is immense today already, but how important will this be in the future in your opinion?

Globalization will be hugely important for MBA students and business schools. I think of globalization as the number one disruptive force for the century to come as was technology for the last century. I have taught at various schools around the world. And students will say to me 'Why are you using all these global cases? Why aren't you teaching us about local business practices?' And I would ask them: "Who is your competition? In all likelihood your competition, your supplier, your customer or your investor might be at the other end of the world and all this implies that it is not sufficient to narrow yourself to the local or national focus."

What abilities will business schools have to teach their students to prepare them for future markets?

Business schools do a good job at teaching basic skills like how to read a financial statement or how to set a price on a product. But generally business schools are struggling with converting tools and concepts into the building blocks of real business leadership. In the future business schools will need to focus more on building competencies like the ability to influence others, sell, negotiate, deliver difficult feedback, and lead or win the support of others. Globalization stretches these competencies. Our graduates need to understand the global setting and local cultures, know law variations across borders, and market imperfections from region to region.

Can you give examples of initiatives by business schools that support those aspects in your eyes?

At Darden we have announced the launch of a new Global MBA for Executives program. This program will be truly global in scope and experience - it will be set in China, India, Brazil, Europe and the United States - the five most challenging and promising markets in the world. In each locale we teach by case studies delivered by our own faculty, by lectures from prominent local experts, and by team-based projects and simulations delivered by distance learning. We acknowledge prominent cross-border issues and variations from country to country. In each location we will talk about cultural differences like how to host a guest for dinner for example. At the end of the 21-month long program, the student will have had an incredible immersion in how to function across borders. We will launch this program in August 2011 and the first segment will be delivered in Washington D.C. and Charlottesville. 

You said before that many business schools aim for cross-border partnerships these days and it is often done on a trial and error basis. Are there examples for international projects that don't work particularly well in your opinion?

You can't teach your students about globalization while sitting in an arm chair at home. You have to go out and experience it. We have exchange relationships with 15 leading business schools around the world.  And we offer intensive, two-week-long courses where students go to other regions and hear lectures, talk to company officers, government officials and get language training. These courses are very popular with students. I know of some other schools, however, that have up to 200 partnerships around the world. I wonder about the depth of such cross-border relationships - I prefer a rather smaller number of meaningful and intensive partnerships.

What would you say is your biggest strength at Darden Business School?

Darden's strength is in the way we teach. If you look at rankings, the Darden School typically ranks at the top in terms of student satisfaction with the classroom experience. We reach this by hard work and an intensive focus. But we also have strengths in research. Darden has been recognized for particular competence in general management, business ethics, entrepreneurship and innovation, supply chain management and finance to name a few.

Where do your students go after their degree?

About 30 per cent of students come from outside of the U.S. like China, India, Korea, Japan or Latin America. Many of these international students choose to stay in the U.S. after graduation for a certain amount of time. It's their desire to work for some of the most prominent companies in the world. But after about ten years, many of our graduates want to start their own company or take over an existing company. They move from a global enterprise to taking over a smaller company and becoming general manager - a topic our school is well known for. Popular fields for our students are finance and consulting, but we do also have strong pockets of interest in brand management, marketing, operation management and supply chain management. Companies our students go to are JP Morgan, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Boston Consulting, Coca Cola or United Technologies, to name only a few.

How do you stay close to the job market - academically in your research as well as for your career services?

I meet with CEOs, chief marketing officers, chief HR officers, and chief technology officers to gain a clearer idea of changing needs and expectations. We also have several thousand business practitioners coming to attend short non-degree courses at Darden every year. If you have the two extremes of sitting in a pure academic ivory tower and an education that is very much applied to the field, we would be the latter. We are very much on the ground

Read more in Bob Bruner's blog on mba channel

Facts and Figures University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Students: 772 (29 % female, 71 % male students)

International students: 31 %

Length of programme: 21 months

Cost MBA programme: Resident: $90,000, Non Resident: $100,000

Accreditation: AACSB


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