One of the most meaningful and beautiful holidays in the USA is Thanksgiving, celebrated on the Thursday of the last week in November each year. Thanksgiving is a wonderful celebration that cuts across religious communities and unites all in a unique moment of being grateful for the many privileges we enjoy and thankful to all those who makes our lives meaningful and happy.
Many years ago, when I was a foreign student at UC Berkeley, my host family, a Berkeley professor and his wife invited me and other foreign students at their home for Thanksgiving. Being alone in a foreign country for the first time and far away from my family in India, I still fondly recall the warmth and hospitality with which they invited us into their homes. Now my wife and I have embraced this tradition, and do our bit to give back by inviting each year a select group of students to our home over Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving and the holiday period in December provide us with opportune moments to reflect on our lives, both personal and professional and be grateful for all that is good in our lives and also strengthen our resolve to work on areas where we need to improve. So I thought that I would use this last blog note of the calendar year 2019 to share a couple of reflections with you, especially as they pertain to business education and GBSN.
A strong network today, but how do we shape the GBSN family for the future?
We just finished a very successful GBSN Annual Conference in Lisbon. Special thanks go to Dean Daniel Traca and his colleagues who hosted the GBSN Annual Conference at their wonderful new campus. I have attended a few GBSN Annual Conferences over the last years, and I felt that this meeting was probably one of the best, if not the best. We had a very strong conference program and benefited from extensive participation by Deans, faculty and staff leaders from our member schools. The GBSN member network has expanded and become significantly stronger over the last year. This is both due to the leadership provided by incoming GBSN CEO, Dan LeClair and the particular resonance which the mission of GBSN continues to have with business school leaders around the world.
As we have successfully grown the GBSN member network, we have also been forced to confront the key challenges in advancing the mission of GBSN which is to improve access to quality, locally relevant management (and entrepreneurship) education for the developing world. The demands for quality management education in emerging markets is too large to be satisfied by the current group of GBSN member schools, no matter how good we are and how dedicated we are to the mission of GBSN.
To exponentially scale up our impact and influence, we will need to become more inclusive of which students we aim to reach and which institutions (including both teaching orientated academic institutions and selected corporate members) we invite to the GBSN family. This will allow us to create models of collaboration and delivery of management education that brings together GBSN member schools along with interested corporations and non-traditional academic partners. An early example of this are the programs for frontline healthcare professionals (nurses, field practitioners etc) which GBSN coordinates in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson and GBSN member schools in key African geographies. The target students for these programs do not have the usual MBA or executive profiles, yet, their real impact on the ground is significant.
Making progress on our impact, but are we asking the right questions?
The focus of the GBSN Annual Meeting was on measuring the impact of business schools. I was impressed to hear about the many different and innovative ways in which GBSN member schools are measuring their impact on not just student success, but also on a variety of other stakeholders including corporations, not-for-profits and even society at large. Driven by the actions of key accreditation bodies such as AACSB and EFMD, many business schools are formally incorporating measures of learning outcomes and overall impact in their programs and school strategies. From my discussions with delegates at the GBSN Annual Conference, I am convinced that there is a lot more that we can do within the broader GBSN family to learn from each other and to improve our collective ability to measure our impact.
An essential component of good leadership, it is often said, is the ability to ask the right questions. At the GBSN Annual Conference, Dean Peter Tufano from Oxford’s Said Business School outlined a process of rethinking that he is now leading with the help of his faculty and school’s advisory board. He has posed the following question to his faculty: what is our purpose? Or in other words, why do we exist as a business school? He categorized the responses he received from his faculty in the following categories: (a) to carry out our activities (research, teaching etc) in an excellent manner (b) to train leaders who do good things for their companies (c) to have a positive impact on the world (d) to tackle big problems like the UN’s sustainable development goals and (e) to instill virtues such as justice, courage, etc.
Dean Tufano then conducted a simple exercise with the conference attendees – asking them to rank where they thought the purpose of their respective schools was today and where they thought the purpose should be. As one can imagine, there was a gap identified in the conference group, with most thinking that their schools should move “up” from the initial goals of (a) and (b) to the later goals of (d) and (e). This simple exercise forced me and others to ask the question if we are asking the right questions of ourselves – of our own business schools (like what Dean Tufano is dong)? Of GBSN and why we exist as a larger family? I am not sure we all have the “right” answers for these hard questions but now is a good time to start reflecting on them.
With gratitude and best wishes
As I look forward to the end of the calendar year and the start of another new year, I am filled with gratitude for my own family, my professional life at Cornell and my role as Chair of GBSN. I am grateful to Guy Pfeffermann who founded GBSN many years ago and made it possible for us to come together as a larger family. I am thankful to Dan LeClair, Nicole Zefran and many others in the GBSN staff team who are doing all the heavy-lifting for us within GBSN. I am also grateful to the Deans, faculty and staff leaders of GBSN member schools for their many contributions and support.
As a final note, I would like to wish you all the very best for the forthcoming holiday season. May we all have a wonderful break with family and friends and look forward to another exciting year ahead. Happy holidays and best wishes for 2020!
Soumitra Dutta is a Professor of Management at Cornell University and the Chair of the Board of Directors for GBSN. Previously he was the Founding Dean of the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell and Chair of AACSB Intl. He also co-chairs the Global Future Council on innovation ecosystems for the World Economic Forum.