Disruption at 40: A Nova School for a New Time

GBSN Member Schools

40 years ago, Nova School of Business & Economics was born of the determination of vanguardist spirits, at a time of incredible disruption in Portugal. As the country faced post-revolution turmoil, our founders, led by Alfredo de Sousa, understood that our future laid among liberal, market-oriented economies and modeled our school after the best international benchmarks in the U.S.A. And we chose not just to better ourselves, but also to impact Portugal.

Illustration by Fernando Cobelo

On the pages of the weekly newspaper Semanário, our faculty helped steer the country toward the future, making the case for the virtues of economic freedom and markets. Thus we contributed to open up Portugal and bring about economic development and modernity.

It is not by accident, but because it is part of our DNA, that we were the first in Portugal to set up an MBA, the first to teach in English, the first to seek international accreditations, the first to adopt Bologna without gradualism, the first to build a Campus with private funding… and so many other firsts. We were born out of disruption. We were born to disrupt.

We did all this, remaining truthful at all times to untainted academic rigor, to the incessant pursuit of excellence, and to unwavering discipline and hard work. We did all this when it wasn’t politically correct, when it wasn’t conventional wisdom. The desire to look to the future and to the world, the responsibility to risk and to lead have always remained with us.

The upshot has been our increased reputation and international visibility, and the tremendous success of our graduates who, despite hardship and challenges, have always trusted in our commitment to the future.

Illustration by Fernando Cobelo

As we start a new era, moving soon to our bright new campus, with an ambitious strategy of growth and internationalization, we must remain true to our heritage in the face of an increasingly complex and uncertain world. Over the next decade, the disruptive power of the digital revolution and globalization will be a source of incredible opportunity and hope for humanity, but will also provoke tremendous upheaval, challenging the cohesion of our societies. At the same time, the challenges for the sustainability of our planet and the fight against global poverty will continue to require effective solutions.

The skills of the future will dramatically change. First, the frontier between business functions, technology, and international relations will tend to disappear. Henceforth, all problems in business or economics must be considered in their technological and international context. Second, given the speed of change of technology, the half-life of learned skills will be falling fast, and the odds replacement with machines can never be discounted. As Jack Ma puts it, teaching to compete with machines is a lost battle. The abilities to judge, risk, lead, care, and motivate will be the future-proofed capabilities. The flexibility to unlearn the old and learn the new throughout our lives will be key. Third, in a society where technological and economic change will bring such volatility and uncertainty, a keen sense of purpose and personal motivation, and the resilience that comes with it, will be core to succeed personally and professionally.

Universities must also consider their role as sources of new ideas that translate into creative, responsible solutions for the challenges of societies and nations. This must increasingly arise from the impact of our research and our graduates in the world.

The challenge for business schools is to discover the methodologies that bridge rigor, creativity, and discipline with technology, flexibility to unlearn, purpose, and resilience. Only this way, we will be able to develop conscious and responsible leaders, able to create solutions to the challenges of companies, society, and the world. How we challenge and empower the youth to take leadership in the redefinition of our world will determine not only their chances of personal and professional success, but also how our progressive societies will face the 21st century.

At Nova School of Business & Economics, as we grow and internationalize at a time of such massive disruption, we must stay true to the same core values that have served us so well throughout our history. Rigor, discipline, excellence, and hard work are the DNA that defines us and cannot be compromised. But, we must turn this challenge to our advantage to leapfrog among international business schools. We must, again, be ahead of our time.

Our new brand aims to portray our ambition to fully embrace the disruption of technology and globalization to help address the world´s challenges. We will adjust the way we teach, and what we teach, to place our students at the forefront of the market for talent. We will renew our commitment to research that marries rigor and impact. We will further our engagement with companies, social organizations and government, in Portugal and around the world. All this in our new home showcasing the unique lifestyle attributes of Cascais, Lisbon, and Portugal; a nation where people from around the world have always come together; a sea that we have discovered through boldness and courage; a resilience and ingenuity that have sustained by the everlasting hope of our people.

Over the upcoming years, and as attention shifts from the construction of our campus to the transformation of our school, an array of initiatives will unfold in three key areas: 
 1) developing the skills of the future; 2) building a convergent economy that unites stakeholders across society in Portugal and in the world; 3) helping drive the transformation of organizations that are part of our community.

Some initiatives are already on the way. Our curricula are being adjusted. In Bachelors’, computer programming skills will be introduced next year and a more structural overhaul is likely to follow. In Masters’, majors in digital business and data analytics have been introduced, and our offer will be further improved next year. In Executive Education, our offer of digital training to companies and executives has increased tremendously. Our engagement in the areas of new ventures has grown steadily and our curricula will soon offer opportunities exploring entrepreneurship as a key skill for the future. Our commitment to corporate innovation will bring students to bear on the transformation of companies and organizations while developing new creative skills. Our pledge to a convergent economy that fosters inclusiveness and betters the lives of people has already created the Inclusive Community Forum along with many academic and extra-curricular initiatives in Social Innovation. And many others are currently being implemented or being planned.

As a Dean, as a professor and as an alumnus, building the clear horizon for a future of hope for our community of students, faculty, staff, Alumni and partners, and to society, in general, is the fulfillment of a duty to the founders that taught and inspired my generation, to the students and alumni that for over 40 years have trusted our vision, and to the companies and individuals who have pledged their support. But, above all, it is also part of my personal accountability toward the future because “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Daniel Traça is Dean and Professor of Economics at Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), in Lisbon. He is also Visiting Professor at INSEAD, in France and Singapore. Previously, he was Assistant Professor at INSEAD, and held the Marie et Alain Philippson Chair in Managing for Sustainable Human Development, at the Solvay Business School, in Brussels, where he was Vice-President and Director of the MBA Program. Daniel was Visiting Professor in the KDI School of Management and Policy, in Seoul, and in the Graduate Institute of International Economics, in Geneva. Daniel graduated from Nova School of Business and Economics and obtained his PhD from Columbia University, New York. He has worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the European Commission and published his scientific research in several leading international academic journals in the field of Globalization and Economic Development.