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Chairman’s Corner: A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste

The GBSN team has been busy organizing and running the GBSN Beyond experience which will culminate in a virtual conference in the coming days (Nov 9-13). Due to the Covid crisis, we could not hold our usual in-person annual event this year, but the crisis also presented us with a unique opportunity to be bold and to innovate in how we engage the GBSN community. The traditional annual event has morphed into a highly creative and engaging experience over several weeks that is bringing together more than 1500 students, faculty and administrators from nearly 150 member and non-member institutions. I would like to thank Dan LeClair, CEO of GBSN and the entire GBSN team, especially Nicole Zefran for their creativity, dedication and commitment in designing and executing on the GBSN Beyond experience.

As part of the culminating virtual conference, we shall have several keynote speakers including influential faculty thought leaders, deans and senior administrative leaders from important global institutions. I hope you will have a chance to listen to some of them and engage with them on how we can collectively shape the future of education in the midst of the global Covid crisis. I have also been invited by GMAC, a close partner and sponsor (thank you!) of GBSN Beyond to moderate a discussion with a group of more than 40 deans and directors of global business schools. This is a unique opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with academic leaders who are in the midst of steering their institutions out of the crisis and towards a better future.

Looking Backwards. Learn from the Past to Confidently Move Forward.

This current year certainly has been a very special year – one which I am confident no one anticipated. The global economy is trying to cope with a unique pandemic and educational institutions are at the heart of the challenge. Business school leaders have to deal with the complexities of a multi-faceted crisis – affecting the health of our communities, the core operations of learning and the finances of our institutions. With a possible vaccine in sight over the next six months, some are hopeful in seeing a small beam of light at the end of the tunnel. However, much uncertainty reigns as the second wave of the pandemic has recently triggered a series of second lockdowns in multiple countries.

I am curious to hear more from the deans about what they have learned from their experiences over the recent crisis. Have they been impressed by the resilience of their communities, by how different groups have come together to help each other? Have they been surprised by the ability of their faculty, some of whom might have been appeared as technology Luddites to adopt new remote learning platforms and successfully teach their courses online? Have they had to deal with mental health and other stress related issues for their students, faculty or staff? How did they reassure their students that the world was not collapsing around them and that they would still have bright futures? How did they maintain transparency and trust in the community in the face of uncertainty and fear? How did they manage their own selves, their own levels of stress and work-life balance? What would they have done differently had they known what they know today at the start the crisis?

Looking Forward and Planning for the Future.

I am sure that there will be rich reflections in the panel on looking backwards with these questions. Of equal if not greater interest are questions related to looking forward. Do the deans see light at the end of the tunnel and if so, in which time frame? Will the model of education change in a post-Covid world and if so how? Will our schools grow in size or shrink as market demand for our programs and services change? Will the content of what we teach in our programs change and if so, how will our faculty adjust to these changes? Will the business models of business schools change and if so how will resource allocation strategies change? Will technology disruption finally hit education and business schools? How will be best prepare our students to be well rounded business leaders to help create a sustainable future for all? What will the successful business school of the 21st century look like and feel like? Are there any other black swans that may hit us in the future and how to cope with such extreme situations?

“It is important to look backwards, learn from the past, and to confidently move forward with hope and positive energy. It is often said that in every crisis, lies a valuable opportunity. The current crisis is no different. We have had to collectively face considerable uncertainty and stress over the last months but we can still glean positive lessons from our experiences.”

This is what I also tell my students when I teach them remotely. I tell them that they can either complain about how online teaching many not be as good as an in-person classroom experience or they can embrace the reality of online teaching and experiment about how to best do online networking and learning, a phenomenon which will be important for them in their professional lives.

The GBSN Beyond experience is no different. Rather than dwell on the disappointment that the traditional in-person GBSN annual event could not be organized this year due to the Covid crisis, I commend Dan LeClair and the team for taking the challenge to redesign the whole event and create a longer and whole new GBSN event experience. While the traditional GBSN event attracted around 150 to 200 attendees in any recent year, more than 1500 participants are active in the GBSN Beyond experience. While few students participated in the traditional in-person event, we have several hundred students participating in the GBSN Beyond experience. The formats of panels and activities is also richer such as with the inclusion of new faculty workshops and student forums. The Covid crisis has stimulated the GBSN team to innovate and create a better experience in many ways. Even when we revert back to an in-person format in future years, it is very likely that the lessons from this special year will stay on with us forever, creating new extensions to the in-person event and offering new engagement experiences during the year.

GBSN has changed, for the better – thanks to the crisis. As they say, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste!

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 is also the President and Co-Founder of the Portulans Institute.

Email: sd599@cornell.edu; Twitter: @soumitradutta; LinkedIn: soumitra-dutta