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Building at the Intersection of Business and Business Schools

Lately I’ve been starting my presentations by asking participants, “In what ways do the interests of business and business schools intersect?” The most common initial reaction has been silence, accompanied by a familiar facial expression, the one that says, “Isn’t it obvious?”. 

Still, I press them on the question until someone speaks up. The first answer is always about skills and talent, or the so-called pipeline. “Yes!” I exclaim. Businesses need people with the knowledge and skills to match the jobs they’re hiring for. Business schools prepare learners for those jobs and must learn and anticipate their needs; as well as adapt their curricula as jobs change. The skills answer is indeed obvious, and the audience thinks we’re finished with the exercise. 

“And what else?” I ask. After a short pause, someone shouts “Research!”. Yes! Managers want new knowledge, or insights, about business and management to help them succeed in a changing world. They learn from colleagues and connections, as well as through continuing education, articles, and videos. Meanwhile, quality business schools create new knowledge and often rely on data and information from business to do so. Whether you think business schools have done it well, knowledge generation is another area in which the interests of business and business schools intersect.

This is often a good time to pause and reflect on the kind of relationship implied by the first two responses. It is one in which business schools serve the needs of business. That makes sense. It’s the way most people already think about the relationship. Some even describe business as the ultimate customer for business schools. It is the responsibility of business schools to align its teaching and research to the needs of business. 

A long time ago, before my experience at GBSN, I might have stopped there. Now, I press on and invite participants to explore shifts in their own thinking about business and the kind of work both business and business schools are doing with GBSN. As an example, I’ll explain our collaboration with Deutsche Post DHL, which is designed to enable SMEs in developing countries to grow their businesses through trade. I’ll mention our partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to “drive society preferences towards nutritious and sustainable food.” Lastly, I’ll describe our work with Ecobank to advance women-led businesses in Africa and our work with Johnson & Johnson to improve management skills of front-line healthcare workers.

We explore the role of business and business schools in developing the communities they serve. For business schools, it is often about their role as anchor institutions in the ecosystem as well as catalysts for new business creation. Increasingly, regardless of where the school is located, local economic and social development has become more central to their mission. And, for business, they have a responsibility to their communities and increasingly recognize that these communities must thrive and be sustainable for business to be successful. Businesses must be concerned about the health and well-being of both employees and customers,  as well as education, transportation, safety, resilience, and more. 

The point is business and business schools have a shared interest in developing their communities. And that’s why GBSN exists. We are built on the belief that management knowledge and skills are important drivers of economic and social development. That means management education and research are not just about serving students and business, and not just about job creation. It’s also about serving society and helping communities to develop in more inclusive and sustainable ways—it’s about societal impact.

We often take the discussion further and think about our shared interest in transforming society—to move the needle not only with short-term solutions but also with long-term transformations. This includes digital transformation and that’s why you’ll see GBSN working with the business-focused Center for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CFTE) to accelerate the development of fintech education. It’s why we’re exploring the financial links to biodiversity and ways to power the energy transition. It’s also why so much of our work is to address gender inequality and build the conditions for peace to thrive in areas prone to conflict.

In thinking about our shared interests in building and transforming communities, we begin to see that relationships between business and business schools must be collaborative and long-term, and not just based on transactional, provider-to-customer mindsets. It suggests that business schools should teach students how to transform systems and not just prepare them to work in organizations. It also encourages scholars to challenge the status quo with their research, rather than simply advance the literature in their next article. It brings new light to why network models like GBSN can be particularly effective by building the connective tissue between schools and companies for societal impact.

Dan LeClair, CEO

Dan LeClair was named CEO of the Global Business School Network (GBSN) in February of 2019. Prior to GBSN, Dan was an Executive Vice President at AACSB International, an association and accrediting organization that serves some 1,600 business schools in more than 100 countries. His experience at AACSB includes two and half years as Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, seven years as Chief Operating Officer, and five years as Chief Knowledge Officer. A founding member of the Responsible Research in Business and Management (RRBM) initiative, Dan currently participates on its working board. He also serves in an advisory capacity to several organizations and startups in business and higher education. Before AACSB, Dan was a tenured associate professor and associate dean at The University of Tampa.

Dan played a lead role in creating a think-tank joint venture between the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and AACSB and has been recognized for pioneering efforts in the formation of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), where he served on the Steering Committee for many years. Dan has also participated in industry-level task forces for a wide range of organizations, including the Chartered Association of Business Schools, Graduate Management Admission Council, Executive MBA Council, and Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program.

Widely recognized as a thought leader in management education, Dan is the author of over 80 research reports, articles, and blogs, and has delivered more than 170 presentations in 30 countries. As a lead spokesperson for reform and innovation in management education, Dan has been frequently cited in a wide range of US and international newspapers, magazines, and professional publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times, China Daily, Forbes, Fast Company, and The Economist. Dan earned a PhD from the University of Florida writing on game theory.