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Leading Beyond Our Organizations

In an HBS Podcast, Carter Roberts, President & CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) encouraged corporate leaders “to not just think about their own company, to not just think about their own footprint, but to embrace both the promise and expectation that they be a force for good in the world that goes way beyond their company.” 

What does this mean? Should our jobs as leaders really extend beyond our own organizations? And, if so, why, and how far? Is it only about being a force for good? Or is this elevation in thinking also about performance. Isn’t managing a company hard enough, especially in a corporation where my responsibility is largely to shareholders? How do we handle competing (and conflicting) interests across organizations and sectors? 

Addressing these questions from a business perspective would take a lot more experience than I’ll ever have. Luckily, we have leaders like former Unilever CEO, Paul Polman. He dedicates two chapters in his book, Net Positive, to exploring the role of business executives beyond their own companies. Chapter 6, “1+1=11,” is about collaborating within an industry or value chain to address challenges. Chapter 7 “It Takes Three to Tango” presses on the need for leadership across sectors to address the most challenging issues facing society, such as climate change and inequality. 

For now, I would like to explore the opportunities for business schools—how this simple change in thinking about business leadership can have profound implications for the work of business schools.

The views of Roberts, Polman, and many others about business leadership open new avenues for thinking differently about our curricula and what we teach. Topics like systems thinking and geopolitics can become central, rather than peripheral to business education. Thinking about our broader leadership role provides a new lens through which we can view and discuss old cases. When it comes to what we teach, Polman emphasizes the importance of “pre-competitive” strategies and long-term thinking. The key is to draw out new and meaningful insights that shape the development of new leaders.

When Indra Nooyi, former Chairman and CEO at PepsiCo, was a student at IIM Calcutta, she interned at the India’s Department of Atomic Energy. She was teamed up with a student from IIM Ahmedabad to “look at construction models of six nuclear power plants and determine which would be completed on time.” She notes in My Life in Full that she and her teammate learned “that some developed countries held back their state-of-the-art technologies from emerging markets to extract a little more return from outdated designs that were flawed and expensive.”

She wrote that the experience left her with a “sharper focus on the interdependence of business and society” and convinced her that “MBA students could play a constructive role in helping governments.” She also wrote that the experience “did not leave her encouraged about the motivations of wealthy countries toward emerging markets”—a statement particularly relevant to our work at GBSN. Nooyi went on to enter a new program at Yale linking private business with the public sector. Most will agree that her experiences with business schools were not typical at the time, or now. Part of our role at GBSN is to change the way we think about emerging economies.

In addition to redesigning business curricula, at GBSN we believe business schools (like business) play a leadership role at the nexus of business, government, and civil society. We love to see business schools engaging governments and NGOs, as well as business. More importantly, we make a difference by initiating efforts to bring those groups together. 

In thinking about the role of business and business schools, I have found the UN SDG Partnership Guidebook (2022) particularly helpful. It is a “practical guide to building high-impact multi-stakeholder partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals.” As an example, to illustrate the changing landscape, the following chart (from page 11) contrasts the underlying purposes and approaches of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

On page 33, the guide offers the following list describing the types of resources that academia can bring to multi-stakeholder partnerships:

  • Research and analysis
  • Trusted neutral convener
  • Monitoring and evaluation capacity
  • Partnership learning and knowledge development
  • Evidence-based policy advice
  • Open Data Collection
  • Teaching / capacity building
  • Innovation development

What does this mean for how leaders of business schools think about their competitors? I wrote about this topic in last month’s blog “Are Business Schools Working Together.” I’ve been known to say to business school Deans that their job is not only to lead their organization, but also to lead an industry. My view was about their personal involvement in organizations like GBSN, which benefit from school leaders stepping up to shape the industry’s future. It was also about how they bring together competitors and other organizations in the ecosystem to benefit society.

Indeed, creating the platform for schools to work together as a force for good is GBSN’s primary role. While other organizations help each school to improve quality and be more competitive, we help schools to think beyond their individual schools, connect with each other to generate collective impact, and develop meaningful relationships across business, government, and civil society. 

These opportunities – to redefine what and how we teach, engage in our communities, and lead our business schools for inclusive and sustainable development – are at the heart of GBSN Beyond 2022, which will be our 19th annual conference. In addition to the in-person conference scheduled for November 7-9 in Amsterdam, GBSN Beyond includes separate virtual tracks for students, faculty, and leaders in business schools in the weeks prior. A single registration for the in-person event entitles your whole school to participate in the virtual activities. 

I want to draw special attention to the second annual Going Beyond Awards, a GBSN partnership with EFMD, which calls for examples of business school programs that go beyond the norm and make a big impact on the communities they serve.

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.