By Ashok Som, Associate Dean and Director of the Global MBA, as delivered at the 2012 GBSN (Graduate Business School Network) Conference in New Delhi
We tell our students in most courses, be it Strategy, Marketing or Operations that our business climate is changing, becoming more and more global and interconnected. As business schools, we need to wake up to this changing environment, evolve and embrace
internationalization in turn. Internationalization means the opening of new opportunities for business schools, as the worldwide demand for business education increases. However it also poses threats, as the rapid pace of change means that business schools need to embrace the challenge of staying ahead of the curve and anticipating what is to come. To this end we at business schools must focus on (a) strengthening our reputation, (b) differentiating our offering, (c) adapting and (d) staying agile.
Strengthening our reputation
In an ever-expanding, increasingly international industry with a growing number of competitors emerging from developing and mature markets alike, it is of the essence that business schools focus on building their international brand and reputation in a way that differentiates them. As an academic institution, one of the main ways to enhance a brand is through investing in research and through encouraging faculty to engage in the international academic community. Being the home institution for the oft-cited, for the note-worthy, and for the world-renowned experts in any field is a boon for a school seeking to stand out and stay relevant. Schools need to truly invest in their programs and their students, creating learning experiences that not just resume-building but life-changing. This will build a network of alumni and advocates, who promote the school throughout the rest of their careers and to whatever corners of the world those careers lead them. This is incredibly powerful. Visible alumni and highly-reputed faculty and programs are key for building a strong brand, and having challenging, thoughtful programs is key both to attracting these individuals and to forming them into the type of actors in business and society who will be successful in the future. This community of word-of-mouth advocates and reputation ambassadors must be nourished. Alumni must be engaged, invited to attend regular events, provided with valuable information and encouraged to help educate and network with current students. Formal education must be considered a life-long process, not just a brief period of intense engagement. Building a dynamic, cross-generational community is critical.
At ESSEC, we are fortunate to have over one hundred years of history behind us. This combined with our top notch programs and excellent reputation in France and abroad has enabled us to build one of Europe’s largest, most active alumni networks, which comprises notable business and political leaders not just in France but across the globe. These individuals remain engaged with ESSEC by participation in networking events, by hosting students at their companies, by coming to campus to discuss their professional experience with students, etc. Alumni in highly visible positions that have come to visit with our students this year in small group settings include Pierre Nanterme, the CEO of Accenture, Antoine de Saint-Affrique, who is the President of the Foods division at Unilever, Michelle Amiel, who is the Head of Talent Management for LVMH Fashion Division … the list goes on. And alumni names appearing in the headlines as they are named to Ministry posts for the new government or assume prominent positions with major international companies only helps to boost the reach and renown of a school’s brand. Together with this, with growing reputation comes accreditation from bodies such as AACSB and EQUIS, which reinforce strict standards that both standardize business education and challenge business schools to differentiate themselves in their competitive environment.
Differentiate our offer
In an effort to differentiate and stay competitive, business schools need to evolve their curriculum and emphasize internationalization. Internationalization as differentiation can take many routes. The earliest route taken by business schools was to set up exchange partnerships with like-minded partner schools. This delivered the necessary diversity in the class room. The next step taken by national business schools was recruiting foreign faculty which resulted in teaching a diverse class in international curriculum. The third step was to develop Double Degree partnership – a step deeper than exchange programs – where schools shared their Degrees and signaled that students can differentiate themselves by being completely bi-cultural, bi-lingual and bi-national – the characteristic that multi-national corporations will adore. The fourth step was to define study trips in unknown or emerging markets to make the students aware of different ways to do business. This step incited many schools to explore new markets in Asia, Africa and Middle-East. As this phenomenon grew, differentiation by internationalization saw the creation of offices and campuses in different countries to provide a dual or multiple campus environment.
These differentiating factors indicate that while a manager will always be well-served by the traditional skills gained through a classic MBA education, the shifting ways in which we do business demand that managers also be trained in “soft” skills: intercultural relations, foreign languages, effective communication. The programs needed to develop our students’ entrepreneurial and leadership qualities, as well as ethics, corporate social responsibility, and training in sustainable development. Businesses today not only need innovators and managers with sophisticated skill-sets but also those who can problem-solve, communicate, and capitalize upon diversity in the workplace. These are the people that are driving success in the businesses of today, and these are the types of leaders that will head the
successful businesses of the future. It is no longer adequate to address cases and coursework that deal only with large corporations. As we shift our focus toward emerging markets, we also need to consider a more holistic academic approach, studying the issues related to small and medium-sized businesses, as well. An internationalized, thoughtful, and comprehensive curriculum will produce well-prepared and conscientious graduates who will be competitive
forces on the international job market.
At ESSEC, we did all the above. But as the Product Life Cycle theory reminds us, competitors do the same thing, the same way, more or less at the same time. A sustainable competitive advantage remains an illusion. And so we adapt.
Schools need to adapt to the new global reality that business will need diverse skill-sets and with globalization students will come to the classroom from all over the globe. Building diversity in class rooms happens though engagement with international partners, international faculty and international companies thereby building an international community. And the international community is not just academic. Schools engage with international
companies to establish grants and scholarships, to arrange speakers and treks and career fairs, for event sponsorship and for career placement and training programs. In this way, they can work towards building their brands in areas where their partner companies are already well-established while enhancing the exchange between students, current practitioners, and the business community at large.
At ESSEC, we recognize the importance of international collaboration. We have developed the Global Alliance, a partnership with renowned business schools in the US, China, India, Singapore, and Germany. We host exchange students from 88 exchange partners. Our students can participate in study abroad programs and internships abroad. In the Global MBA, our students spend a term in Singapore, a week in Eastern Europe or any other emerging market, and a month immersed in a project internationally. They are also given the opportunity to participate in exchange programs with such institutions as Cornell, Chingua, IIM Ahmedabad and others. We engage often with international companies on a variety of levels, from case study competitions, company visits and speakers, partnerships for our entrepreneurial and incubator programs, sponsorship for our immersion and consulting projects, etc. As a small sample, some of those companies that we have been particularly active with this year include Accenture, Cap Gemini,
LVMH, Google, Apple, GE, Boston Consulting Group, PlaNet Finance, and Total, all major international players.
To go one step futher we created the Council on Business & Society. It is a global alliance of five top international business schools of Management. The partner schools are University of Mannheim Business School (Germany), Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (United States), School of Management, Fudan University (China) and Keio Business School (Japan). The partnership will use a multi-cultural, multi-school, multi-location approach to engage academics, policy-makers and corporate leaders in addressing key issues at the intersection of business and society. The Council hopes to create a multi-school process to study a series of critical issues facing business and society, organize an annual international forum for dialogue, and develop and disseminate educational materials designed to foster continuing debate on the issues. Combining the expertise of faculty members from each of the partner schools with
that of representatives of business, government, and non-governmental organizations from around the world will lead to unique insights and initiatives.
As the tools used to make business more efficient change, business schools as well need to prepare their participants to function in a climate defined by an ever-changing use of information and communication technology. This is a way to stay agile. High-quality video conferencing software, easy document sharing tools, and online everything all mean that in multi-location or multi-national organizations, the way people get things done is dramatically different than the way it was twenty, ten, or even two years ago. Business schools need to embrace this, and function likewise. We now have the ability to have multiple campuses that are effectively one thanks to technology. We can now reach more students in more locations and allow professors a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy, since with internet access and a computer almost anyone can now work or study from anywhere. Online course offerings can supplement the traditional classroom experience, and the number of tools, databases, online publications, forums, etc. that can bolster learning and information access is astounding.
At ESSEC, we have embraced the possibilities afforded to us by new communication technology by establishing a second campus in Singapore. The dual campus approach allows us to offer our students the benefits of education and networking in both Europe and Asia. Students, professors, and staff at both campuses are able to function seamlessly across both long distance and several time zones thanks to new technologies. And depending on these technologies to keep the school running smoothly means that we’re always pushed to innovate and stay on top of the latest and greatest, a benefit that is passed on directly to our students.
At ESSEC Business School in Paris, we have recognized this need for a program that takes into account these international perspectives and that is agile enough to be adapted to the ever-changing needs of the international business community. As such, we have created the Global MBA, which launched this last year with a first class of students representing 12 different nationalities. The academics and extra-curricular elements of the Global MBA are specifically designed to train managers to function in today’s volatile, dynamic, and complex business environment. It focuses on emerging markets and the ‘new frontiers’ of business; in addition to specialized coursework (Geopolitics in Asia, Art & Culture Management, Global Strategy, Energy Efficiency, etc.) students spend a study term in Singapore and have a field trip in Eastern Europe.
Moving forward we believe to stay agile, students need to be immersed in different and difficult business environments, try to apply the learnings from class room and even if they fail, try to learn from their failure. We have thus meticulously planned our International Immersion Projects in emerging markets which involves a hands-on business project and period of field work in an emerging market that is also related to social impact. This year, students are are in their summer immersion trips with Total in Venezuela, with PlaNet Finance in Egypt and Uruguay, with L Capital in India, on a sustainability project for the wine industry in South Africa, and on the ground with a Manila-based non-profit organization for youth.
The globalization of economies and of the business education industry is a reality, and it is a change that is occurring at a rapid pace. To stay competitive, and to continue providing future leaders with a business education that is relevant, conscientious, and forward-thinking, business schools need to embrace internationalization and approach it as an opportunity, not a threat.