GBSN CEO

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.

The Evolution of Twitter and Future of ChatGPT

ChatGPT Chat with AI or Artificial Intelligence. Young businessman chatting with a smart AI or artificial intelligence using an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI.

Twitter has a lot of uses. It helps people connect with others who have similar interests by sharing research and resources. Users can track and contribute in areas of interest, increase the visibility of their companies, and build their personal brand. All these things are important, of course, but I was looking for more when I signed up in 2009. 

I saw Twitter as an opportunity to gather insights from a more diverse set of people both inside and outside higher education. Through my work, I was lucky to learn from the leaders in business schools around the world. But I was feeling insulated and sought new and different perspectives. I somehow envisioned a broad community; sharing a wide mix of perspectives that intersect to generate new ideas.

The platform, I thought, could also help me become a better writer and communicator. The character limit at the time was 140 characters and that was a real and binding constraint. It would force me to isolate and articulate the main point of an article, speech, or conversation more concisely—and do it in a way that draws attention. Twitter provided a practice field for thinking and writing for clarity and engagement, and the feedback was almost instantaneous.

The way I (and I’m sure many others) thought about it, Twitter was about improving our work and not just about amplifying it. Although both are important from my point of view, the platform evolved more to serve the latter than the former. In 2016, the company introduced an algorithmic timeline, which displayed tweets based on popularity and not just chronologically, as was initially the case. It was a business decision to increase interaction and engagement with the platform, but it also created information bubbles, making it more difficult to explore different points of view. 

A year later, the character limit of a tweet increased from 140 to 280 characters. Relaxing the constraint provided additional room for content but meant we didn’t have to work as hard to generate shorter tweets. The change reminded me of what Mark Twain said long before Twitter, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” 

Overall, the platform now seems better suited for self-promotion rather than self-development. This point is captured in the sarcastic (and Tweetable) first line of a David Brooks piece appearing in The Atlantic, “Whenever I feel particularly humble, I tweet about myself.” Worse, social media platforms have carelessly enabled the spread of misinformation, contributed to diminishing trust, and exacerbated political polarization. 

*****

Now what, if anything, does the evolution of Twitter tell us about the future of ChatGPT, which was released in November to a flurry of commentary?

In our own field of management education, initial concerns about ChatGPT have focused on students and scholars using the AI as a substitute for their own work or otherwise, “game the system” to improve their position rather than themselves. These concerns are not surprising. I’ve seen articles about using ChatGPT to make your job easier, write a book, and, of course, simply to make money. Many universities and business schools are hurriedly rethinking and rewriting their academic integrity policies, while professors are revising their syllabi. 

Others have been more optimistic about the potential for ChatGPT as a tool to enhance and improve learning. As Christopher Grobe writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, most of the initial concerns about ChatGPT are “not so much about writing, understood as a process and adjunct to thought, as they are about writing assessment, understood as a tool for sorting students and awarding distinctions.” According to Grobe, “if we treat learning (not distinction) as the goal of education, then generative AI looks more like an opportunity than a threat.” 

More generally, professors are writing about using ChatGPT to develop critical thinking skills, serve as a learning companion or teaching assistant, and generate alternative perspectives. I was especially excited to see Alain Goudey of Neoma Business School write about ChatGPT and “The art of prompt engineering,” emphasizing the increasing importance to companies of being able to get the most out of AI. Is there a better way to develop skills for working with generative AI’s, than to use it to learn business and management? As many of my professor friends have told me, students (and professors) should worry less about being displaced by AI and more about being displaced by people that know how to use it. 

As I’ve written before, advances in technology hold the greatest potential to solve the grand challenge in education, which I believe is “to do things that work AND are accessible.” Imagine the power of AI to help us contextualize content and create immersive experiences. These opportunities are especially important for the mission of GBSN, which is “to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world.”

Of course, the opportunities associated with AI go well beyond education. It can make us healthier and safer, as well as more productive and innovative. But there also are major risks for society. If we are not careful, AI could increase inequality, facilitate human rights violations, further divide us, and more. The immediate impact on jobs and employment are a major concern. If you are skeptical about the risks, read the New York Times article “Bing’s Chatbot Drew Me In and Creeped Me Out” in which Kevin Roose writes that he’s still fascinated and impressed by the AI, but “also deeply unsettled, even frightened, by this AI’s emergent abilities.” 

I started this blog with the Twitter story to illustrate the tensions across various uses of technology. Business schools are, of course, compelled to pay attention to the implications for teaching and learning. But they are also responsible to help the world anticipate and address the myriad challenges that AI will bring to the world. These challenges have less to do with technology and more to do with the role of business in society. OpenAI, which brought us ChatGPT, has a mission to  “to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.” 

It won’t be easy for business schools to shape the future of AI. To get ahead of the issues, we must continue to climb out of our “ivory towers” and get more engaged with policy and practice. To address the complex problems, we must break down silos and work with other disciplines, such as medicine, psychology, and law. To influence direction, we must take stands and be more confident in speaking out on controversial subjects, even if it alienates potential donors. To make a bigger impact, we must build stronger connections with governments and NGOs, as well as business, to test our ideas, put them into action, and adapt our approaches based on what we learn. To empower our graduates to drive change, we must help them be better systems thinkers and lead beyond their organizations.

Many business schools are already changing in these ways. For an interesting example of what business schools are doing, take a look at NYU Stern’s Center for Business and Human Rights. One of their four work streams is dedicated to technology and building on the benefits of Internet companies, while minimizing the potential for harm, especially by spreading mistrust and misinformation. They are working “to define a way forward that combines the right mix of government oversight, company self-regulation, and public education and action” – and this work has required a different model for research and engagement.

I’m optimistic about the future of AI because of the changes we are seeing in business schools. With a little help from organizations like GBSN, business schools can and will do more to positively impact economic and social development—to build more inclusive and sustainable communities.

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.

A New Life for Milton Friedman’s Pencil

“Look at this lead pencil. There is not a single person in the world who can make this pencil.” 

That was Milton Friedman 16 minutes into the first installment of “Free to Choose,” the 1980 television show by the Nobel Laureate and his wife, Rose Friedman. For the next two minutes he told the remarkable story of how the pencil is produced. Here is an excerpt:

“The wood from which it [the pencil] is made, for all I know, comes from a tree that was cut down in the state of Washington. To cut down that tree, it took a saw. To make the saw, it took steel. To make steel, it took iron ore. This black center—we call it lead but it’s really graphite, compressed graphite—I’m not sure where it comes from, but I think it comes from some mines in South America. This red top up here, this eraser, a bit of rubber, probably comes from Malaya, where the rubber tree isn’t even native! It was imported from South America by some businessmen with the help of the British government. This brass ferrule? I haven’t the slightest idea where it came from. Or the yellow paint! Or the paint that made the black lines. Or the glue that holds it together. Literally thousands of people co-operated to make this pencil…”

I was captivated. It seemed magical.

Later I learned the Friedmans used the story as a tribute to Leonard Read, who founded the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946, who was serving as its president in 1958 when he published “I, Pencil.” Read’s version was wonderfully told from the point of view of the pencil itself. “I am a lead pencil… Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

Of course, the main point of the story has little to do with the pencil. There was a larger objective. According to Friedman:

“I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith’s invisible hand—the possibility of cooperation without coercion—and Friedrich Hayak’s emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that ‘will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”

So that’s how Friedman and Read elevated the pencil, the simple pencil, to a symbol of free market capitalism. 

I was inspired by the pencil story as a teenager. I went on to study economies, earn a PhD, and eventually teach my own university economics courses. I often oopened my courses with similar stories about the power of markets. I wasn’t the only one. “I, Pencil” and Free to Choose, were incredibly important in shaping the attitudes and behaviors of people in the 80’s and 90’s.

But 65 years have passed since “I, Pencil” was first published and it has been more than 40 years since “Free to Choose” was released. Although I no longer teach economics, I have been thinking about the pencil story and how it would be received by learners around the world today.

Sure, I think it is still relevant and useful, but it is no longer capable of standing alone in defense of free markets. Too much is left out. In today’s complex and ever-changing world, it can be nothing more than a starting point for understanding business.

Today the story would invite critical reflection and discussion. Learners have access to more information. They can fact-check statements, assumptions and fill in missing pieces. They can immediately track down information about the market size and gather insights to assess its potential in different parts of the world. 

More importantly, I believe students today are more likely to ask tough, higher level questions. To what extent are the trees reforested? What are the ecological implications of open pit graphite mines and how are workers treated in them? Are there more sustainable alternatives to pencils and if so, how can they accelerate the transition? Pencils are not the biggest consumers of wood, graphite or rubber, but each of the markets have unique and important challenges related to the environment and sustainability. 

Given that the market system is now more widely accepted, the simple version of the pencil story could also lead to a more nuanced discussion about the respective roles of business and government. Tim Harford, also known as the “Undercover Economist,” points out that the pencil is actually “the product of a messy economic system in which the government plays a role and corporate hierarchies insulate many workers from Friedman’s ‘magic of the price system.’”

In the end, I think stories about how things are made are particularly helpful when teaching “globalization,” which is getting more complex and challenging to teach. Because global processes can be abstract and difficult to comprehend, it helps to develop concrete examples. Better yet, let the students do it. At the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, a GBSN member who’s highly recognized for excellence in teaching international business, students are asked to map global value chains for familiar products. Researching how specific things are made can help students anywhere to be better managers, consumers, and global citizens. At GBSN, we are working with the school’s Sonoco International Business Department to make their teaching resources available to schools around the world. 

So, the pencil story stands, but no longer as a beacon of free enterprise. Instead, it serves as a starting point for critical discussions about business and government, globalization, and sustainability. And, just perhaps, will enable us to think about and discover new market-based approaches that better serve society. 

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.

Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year, From GBSN

For a few weeks every four years, many of the people I work with around the globe, even some of the more reserved ones, turn absolutely bonkers. It is, of course, the World Cup. 

To be clear, most of these people have traveled the world. They traverse borders for a living. They respect and can easily adapt across cultures. But during this time, they wear their national flags, sometimes literally. 

For me, there always comes a moment during the World Cup in which I wonder whether global society is on the verge of collapse or on the cusp of solving its myriad problems, such as inequality and the climate crisis. 

I always land in the same place. And it is a good place. 

The World Cup reminds me that competition and cooperation are never that far apart. It is possible to live in a world in which people care deeply about their own countries and communities yet find ways to work and play together. 

Now, I’m not so naïve to think politics and economics vanish on the football pitch. Or that competition and cooperation are easy off the field, especially when the stakes are high and the future of our world hangs in the balance. We cannot afford to ignore the most pressing problems facing global society, even for a moment. The world doesn’t stop for a penalty kick.

The World Cup displays how connected we are. Despite our loyalties, and our rivalries, we are brought together for our love of a game. We can at once care deeply about our own nation, while being part of and contributing to something bigger. 

Although the tournament has never been played during this time of the year, the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months, it does not feel to me like a bad fit. This is, of course, also a festive time of the year. Because I work around the world, I’m lucky to begin sensing the spirit of the holiday season in November and keep it all the way through the Lunar New Year in January or February. 

The traditions of the season highlight that we are part of larger communities. We take time to celebrate together with family and friends who share the same beliefs. We decorate our lives to show others what we care about. And, yes, we organize ourselves to help others.

For this year’s holiday message, let’s be reminded that all these communities are ultimately part of the same world in which differences in cultures, religions, histories, and more coexist and even enrich our lives. We have the remarkable capacity to play on the same field while wearing different colors. That is something worth building and protecting.

Wishing everyone in the diverse GBSN community the very best for the holidays, and always. Thank you for everything you do to make the world a better place.  

Sincerely,

Dan LeClair

CEO, Global Business School Network

What Can Higher Education do to Address Gender Inequality?

According to a 2018 World Bank report, “globally, the loss in human capital wealth due to gender inequality is estimated at $160 trillion.” Presented differently and more positively, “human capital wealth could increase 21.7 percent globally, and total wealth by 14.0 percent with gender equality in earnings.” Three years earlier, the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that a “full-potential scenario in which women participate in the economy identically to men, would add up to $28 trillion, or 26 percent, to annual global GDP in 2025 compared with a business-as-usual scenario.” No matter how you measure it; improvements in gender equality can create huge benefits to society.

Numbers such as these make a big impression, but a lot can be lost. While they illustrate the overall magnitude of the problem, such measures don’t usually reveal much about the differences across countries and regions. These differences are especially important for the work of Global Business School Network (GBSN), which is built on the fact that business is still largely contextual. Our mission is “to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world.” And one of our core strengths is to activate our global network to support local institutions and communities.

That was the idea behind our latest webinar, which brought together experienced scholars and professionals from around the world to explore the role of higher education in addressing gender inequality. It was offered in partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the PNGAus Partnership, and motivated by work that GBSN has been doing to assist universities in Papua New Guinea to develop entrepreneurship education and well as address gender inequality. To put things into perspective, in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2021 Gender Inequality Index, Papua New Guinea ranked 160 out of 161 countries.

I won’t try to summarize the webinar in this blog. Instead, I will highlight a few high-level themes and encourage readers to watch the video on the GBSN YouTube channel.

First, gender equality is inextricably connected with other important issues and challenges.

It’s not just SDG5, which aims to achieve “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Gender inequality affects (or is affected by) almost every other SDG, including the obvious ones, such as poverty reduction, health, education, decent work, and reduced inequalities, and also others such as clean water and sanitation and sustainable cities and communities.

Gender-specific benchmarks are formally tied to nine other SDGs, according to Juliane Iannarelli, Senior Advisor to GBSN and former Chief Knowledge Officer and Head of Diversity and Inclusion at AACSB International. With so many touch points across the SDGs, said Iannarelli, gender inequality is an inherently complex issue, and we should expect the issue to be viewed through many different lenses. Part of our responsibility in higher education is to unpack the issues and enable learners to view challenges from multiple perspectives.

Second, it is not only the right thing to do; gender equality also improves results.

In her opening keynote, Connie Gonzalez, Deputy Director for the Center for Women’s Economic Empowerment (CWEE), based in El Salvador, focused on the positive impact that gender equality can have on organizational leadership and performance. For example, there is increasing evidence that company profit, teamwork, and responsibility improve when more women are in leadership positions.

“To me, the key point is that this evidence demonstrates that gender equality should be a central part of core curricula and research agendas in business schools. It is not a side issue, nor is it strictly about social responsibility. Gender equality is as integral to business performance as finance, information systems, and strategy.”

Third, universities and business schools should think broadly and creatively about the ways they can foster gender equality.

The panelists addressed questions in three general areas, increasing access to women, increasing efficacy of education for women, and how to ensure that gender initiatives have the intended impact. Their discussion highlighted a wide range of opportunities that go beyond changing what we teach and study in business schools.

Panelists brought up the importance of role models and mentors for women—and pointed out subtleties, such as how much more beneficial it is when women are enabled to seek their own mentors, rather than have them appointed. They pointed to the value of developing entrepreneurial mindsets and skillsets, not only for starting a new venture, but also for the psychological impact of women knowing that they can. The panelists talked about the power of simple interventions that have been shown to work, activating alumni for gender initiatives, uncovering bias in assessments, strategies for strengthening the pipeline, and more. Again, I encourage you to watch the video. I will be happy to help you reach out to the panelists if you have questions.

Panelists

Neha Agarwal, Lecturer (Assistant Professor), Department of Economics, University of Otago, New Zealand

Yvette Mucharraz y Cano, Professor of the Personal Management Area, IPADE Business School, Mexico

Kathy Korman Frey, Professorial Lecturer of Management; Director, Center For Entrepreneurial Excellence, The George Washington University School of Business, USA

Connie Gonzalez, Deputy Director, Center for Women’s Economic Empowerment (CWEE), El Salvador

Mahreen Mamoon, Assistant Professor, BRAC Business School, Bangladesh

Nicole Sutton, Senior Lecturer of Accounting, University of Technology Sydney, Australia

I want to close this blog by saying that this was a special group of panelists. Their interactions in the webinar say a lot about the GBSN community, which draws its strength from people like them who want to positively impact the world. This webinar is just one example of how GBSN creates value for participants, while engaging them in the mission. Our work often begins with events like this one, in which participants share ideas and resources, then rises to facilitating collective action. With that in mind, we look forward to seeing the community come together for GBSN Beyond 2022 in Amsterdam, 7-9 November.

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.

Improving Access to Business Education is Not Enough

Have you heard about the best-selling author and professor who is building his own business school? He’s bringing in some of his friends, other superstar business professors, to teach short, intense courses called “sprints”, which are open to anyone. These “sprints” will attract tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of learners. The venture will disrupt higher education and earn a ton of money “making elite business education accessible to all.”

I’m rooting for our education entrepreneurs and others building online education for the masses. Making business education more accessible is a good thing—the first three words in the GBSN mission are “to improve access.” The demand for management education will continue to grow beyond our capacity to provide it. Great business professors and their insights and ideas can have a profound impact on society, as well as on business and the careers of individual learners, even at scale. 

What if superstar professors could indeed reach a massive global audience? Are “MOOCs” and online “sprints” the only answers we need for our mission? Unfortunately, as I often tell the GBSN team, “if we just improve access to management education, it is not enough.” Expanding access is not sufficient to achieve our vision “for the developing world to have the talent it needs to generate prosperity” or for our mission, which is “to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world” when written in full. 

I have written before about the challenge of local relevance. Three years ago I started my monthly blog by asking “What if we took a group of high performing managers from Canadian paper mills and placed them in the Hawassa Industrial Park in Ethiopia. Would they succeed?” What do you think? What about Chinese managers in a glass factory in Ohio? If this question interests you, check out the documentary American Factory.

The point is that cross-border differences in business and management limit the potential of education to scale globally. Some go further and say that because of these differences, especially cultural ones, bringing education from the Global North (with technology or not) to the Global South can do more damage than good and could distract leaders from the real task of building local capacity for business and management education. 

There is another nagging question about what has been taught in business schools. GBSN was created and built on the belief that management education is critical for international development, which is about enriching lives by reducing poverty, improving health, increasing access to education, protecting the environment, and more. Yet, business education was built on a different paradigm, one in which business prioritizes profit maximization and government and NGOs are responsible for international development. As we transitioned from the MDGs to the SDGs, all societal sectors, including business, have become key development actors and need to work together. Many GBSN schools have been leading the way in rethinking curricula and partnerships for the SDGs.

That’s why so much of the GBSN agenda is about responsibility, sustainability, and ESG. Simply expanding access to what schools teach in more developed countries will not be enough to help leaders in less developed countries build more inclusive and sustainable communities. Indeed, it is possible that the reverse could be more beneficial. It is not just about access to education; part of our job now is to work with other organizations, such as EFMD and AACSB to rethink the foundations of business curricula and research to achieve our development mission. 

Much of this work is being led by GBSN Impact Communities. For example, the Business & Human Rights Impact Community has been making the case and facilitating the research needed to strengthen human rights education in business schools. The Sustainable Finance & ESG Investing Impact Community convened a Seed Course to support efforts in rethinking finance education in the Global South.

Finally, improving access to education is not enough because we also need to ensure that the work of business schools translates into meaningful international development progress. The way GBSN used to achieve its mission was through grants—we were a project-driven development organization. Now, we still do projects but can be described more as a purpose-driven network organization. This means that we must build the connective tissue between business schools, helping them to work together more effectively for international development, and between business schools and other sectors, to help business schools to lead beyond their organizations

GBSN Beyond is designed to support these two initiatives: (1) rethinking education and research to address the issues that matter for inclusive and sustainable development and (2) building the platform to support the societal impact of business schools. At the in-person conference, 7-9 November in Amsterdam, we position business schools at the nexus between business, government, and civil society, and structure sessions to help business schools work more effectively together. 

Leading up to the in-person conference, we engage student teams in the Social Logistics Challenge in which teams apply supply chain and logistics knowledge and skills to build solutions for the SDGs. We also partner with Capsim for the Micro-Simulation Development Lab and with EFMD for the Going Beyond Awards in which business schools share their work to build more inclusive and sustainable communities. 
We look forward to seeing you there. Remember, as always for GBSN Beyond, to emphasize our commitment to inclusivity and access, the base registration package includes one ticket to the in-person conference AND unlimited virtual access to both the pre-conference track experiences and the conference program for the institution’s community.

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.

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.

Are Business Schools Working Together?

“The scientists are coming together to think about moonshots. But we, in business schools, are still working separately.” said Peter Tufano when Soumitra Dutta and I interviewed him for our book, “The World After Covid”, April 2020, during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you agree with him?

Of course, business schools do work together. Many have long lists of partner schools for student exchanges, support connections to scholars at other schools, collaborations to create and offer joint or dual-degree programs, share resources, and more.

Still, I agree with Professor Tufano. His point was less about whether business schools are collaborating and more about why. In my experience, most business school collaborations are driven primarily, if not exclusively, by the strategic or financial benefits to participating schools. By working together, schools believe they can strengthen degree programs, penetrate new markets, build their reputations, increase revenues, decrease costs, and publish more journal articles.

There is nothing wrong with collaborating for mutual benefit. Why else would organizations work together? Leaders should know “what’s in it for my school” before agreeing to join forces with others. 

However, the reference to “moonshots” suggests that there is something more than self-interest that brings scientists together. The term came out of the US Apollo 11 spaceflight project, which had the objective of putting the first person on the moon. Although the term originally indicated “long shot,” it is often used more generally today to describe a lofty goal. 

When I hear the word, I think of bold initiatives to solve society’s “grand challenges” and save and improve lives— unlocking our full potential to achieve the SDGs. Moonshots, I believe go beyond a single organization. They require collaboration, especially internationally. Think International Space Station and the Human Genome Project. I’ve been paying more attention to the International Cancer Genome Consortium, which aims to map the genetic impact of 50 common cancers by sequencing the DNA of cells at distinct stages in the lifecycle of a tumor. 

Though the objectives may be less tangible, we have some examples in business. When Professor Tufano was Dean of Oxford University Saïd Business School, he “walked the talk” by helping to start Business Schools for Climate Leadership in which eight European schools are currently working together to accelerate business activities towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Addressing the climate emergency is as important as putting a person on the moon, don’t you think?

And consider the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). It has become the world’s most comprehensive source of information about entrepreneurship and their ecosystems, which are as vital to building more inclusive and sustainable communities as accelerating economic growth. Perhaps it wasn’t envisioned as a moonshot when launched in 1999 by Babson College and London Business School, with a focus on 10 countries. But today with more than 300 institutions covering more than 115 countries, its potential for positive impact is huge.

The Global Business School Network was started with societal impact in mind—a vision to accelerate international development by improving access to quality, locally relevant management education. For most of our history, we pursued this vision through grant projects. Today, we also achieve it with our own programs that engage network members—their students, faculty, and leaders—in important and impactful work that drives inclusive and sustainable development. 

We have been bringing together business schools for important societal initiatives, such as building more resilient communities (Social Logistics Challenge and previous Humanitarian Logistics Challenges), steering consumer preferences to more nutritious and sustainable foods (Demand Generation Alliance), improving human rights education (Business and Human Rights Impact Community), helping SMEs in emerging economies to trade across borders (DHL GBSN GoTrade Fellowship), developing leadership skills of female entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa (Ellevate Leadership Training Programme), and more. 

Unfortunately, collaborations that focus as much on society as well as strategy are still uncommon across business schools. Perhaps that is because the culture of business education reflects the culture of business, and we’ll see more only when the “business case” is clearer. It could be because of the extraordinary influence of rankings and entrenched systems for evaluating and rewarding research. I also worry about the changing geopolitical landscape (between the US and China, for example) and its impact on academic collaboration. It is important for the management education industry to understand and address these and other potential obstacles.

This year at our signature event,  GBSN Beyond, we will explore the opportunities and difficulties of business schools working together for societal impact. We will challenge business school leaders to think not only about the difference their business school can make alone, but also about the bigger difference it can make by working together with other schools and at the nexus of business, government, and civil society. 

We invite you to join us, in-person and online, as we convene in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, November 7-9, 2022. Remember, as it has always been for GBSN Beyond, one registration to attend in person means all your colleagues and students can join us online for the Social Logistics Challenge and Micro-Simulation Development Lab, as well as the conference. 

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.

EdTech and the GBSN Mission

There is a scene late in the movie Her where the main character Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is nervously questioning Samantha, his AI-based operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson. By then, Theodore had fallen in love with Samantha, who was designed to learn about and serve him, claimed to love him too. 

In the scene, Theodore was anxious and concerned, doubtful about their relationship. Was Samantha also having intimate conversations with other people? Was she also in love with them? Theodore had to ask. 

Being sensitive to Theodore’s feelings, Samantha was hesitant to answer. Finally, she admits to having similar conversations with other people. How many? 8,316, at that moment. Worse, breaking Theodore’s heart, she admits to being in love with 641 of them. You can watch the minute-and-a-half scene here.

I know, it’s science fiction. But still, it was a meaningful moment for me, and shaped my view of the future of management education. I thought to myself, “If technology can scale empathy and love, then surely education would have no limits.” I could envision management education that’s not only accessible to everyone, but is also individualized, inspirational, and immersive. 

Nearly a decade has passed since I first watched Her. Since then, I moved from AACSB to lead the Global Business School Network (GBSN). Conversations about education technology at AACSB often revolved around whether it will disrupt the industry. It was easy to believe that we wouldn’t need as many business schools, or teachers for that matter, in the future.

However, as I moved to GBSN, I was more excited about how advances in education technology can support our mission “to improve access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world.” We were built on the belief that access to management education is essential to international development. Technology, I thought, will be the key. I quickly learned about some of the challenges. 

Of course, my enthusiasm has been partially curbed by the realities of the digital divide. Access to the Internet, especially broadband, is hardly universal. According to the Internet Communications Union (ITU), “an estimated 37 per cent of the world’s population – or 2.9 billion people – have still never used the Internet” and “of the 2.9 billion still offline, an estimated 96 per cent live in developing countries.” 

I also began to realize that my basic ideas about education technology were less relevant to the mission of GBSN. When considering the potential for education technology, it was easy for me to think of education as a product. It is about curating the best content, packaging it, and delivering it to customers. The key is that once a digital product is created, the marginal cost of adding another user is very small or zero. I also understood the basics of network models in which subscriber benefits grew as the number of users increased. Economics was the dominant driver in my edtech thinking.

Our international development work at GBSN caused me to think differently. Sure, our mission is about access to education; educating, empowering, and enabling individuals in emerging economies, but our mission is also about helping their communities grow and thrive. I sometimes say that at GBSN our programs need to prioritize the development of places as much as the people.

The reality is that business and the practice of management and entrepreneurship remain largely contextual. Conditions (e.g., economic, regulatory, cultural, technological) vary enormously across geographies. Of course, a substantial part of the content (i.e., theories, models, techniques, etc.) in business education can be universally or globally beneficial without much adaptation. But the application of that content is fundamentally shaped by the context. As an example, imagine a course on starting a business. Although general concepts, such as the sources of value, might be useful anywhere, the way those concepts play out depend on economic and regulatory factors, access to talent, financing, and security, and numerous other local factors. 

I have come to believe that unless we start locally, with the conviction that management education ought to positively impact community development. It will be difficult to realize the full potential of education technology. Education for development is not only about providing access to global content, but also about building the capacity to generate locally relevant ideas, experiences, and developing the tools and skills of local scholars to produce them. That is why we offer faculty development programs, run the Micro-Simulation Development Lab with Capsim, partner with Gnowbe to provide faculty scholarships for their micro-Learning Instructional design certification program, and build collaborative models that enable local institutions to create additional value around globally distributed digital content.

When the overarching objective is to build communities, the focus of education technology also shifts, connecting learners to share ideas and co-create knowledge—and building the social capital that drives innovation and development. That’s why we run the Africa Business Concept Challenge and Humanitarian Logistics Challenge—to bring together a global community to help learners generate local solutions. Another example is the GoTrade Fellowship Program which we created with Deutsche Post DHL to connect selected, post-graduate business students to SME leaders in developing countries. 
Don’t misunderstand, I’m still excited about the potential for education technology to increase access, improve quality, and reduce costs. After all, the greatest challenge in education is to do things that work and are accessible. But as we move forward, I believe that the real gains and positive impacts for economic and social development will come from investments in local management education capacity, capabilities, and connections. In the end, EdTech shouldn’t put local schools out of business, it should strengthen them and enable them to make a bigger difference in 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.

What Are Business Schools Built For?

A very long time ago, I welcomed students to my MBA course with a Peter Senge story. The influential author of The Fifth Discipline, I told the students, would ask participants in his workshops to, “imagine your organization is an ocean liner and that you are the leader.” Then he would ask, “what is your role?”

As Senge explained in the MIT Sloan Management Review, the most common answer was of course “the captain.” But some people would point to the helmsman, who controls the direction; the engineer, who provides the energy; the social director, who is responsible for making sure everyone is engaged; and others.

Rarely, according to Senge, did anyone mention the role of the ship’s designer. Drawing attention to the oversight, he would suggest “what good does it do for the captain to say, ‘turn starboard 30 degrees,’ when the designer has built a rudder that will only turn to port, or which takes six hours to turn to starboard?”

I used the story to introduce my course on managerial economics, which addressed the architecture of organizations as well as structure of markets. Instead of treating the firm as a black box—an efficient profit-maximizing machine—we tried to get inside the organization and understand the systems and processes from an economics point of view. We talked about incentive compensation and decentralizing decision rights, of course, but we also spent time with job design, recruitment, ethics, and leadership. We applied game theory models and insights from behavioral economics, which were already finding their way into other disciplines.

Of course, organizations are not exactly designed by architects and engineers like buildings and ships. Organizations are social structures and shaped over time through the policies and actions of managers. Managers are designers of their future organizations, as in the scary expression, “we are building the airplane while flying it.” Senge’s point (at least one of his points) was that leaders should be more conscious and purposeful about this role.

Corporate leaders have come to appreciate the importance of organizational architecture, especially of aligning it with strategy. One reason is that the shelf life of a strategic plan has diminished considerably as the environment has become more dynamic and volatile. Many experts now say that the role of the strategic leader boils down to identifying and building the organization’s most important capabilities.

Now, what if we were to ask business school leaders the Senge question. What would they say? My hope is that more will offer “the ship’s designer” as a result of reading this blog.

More than ever, we need to be purposeful about building the architecture of business schools. During my time at AACSB, I was the staff point person for the Blue Ribbon Committee (BRC) on Accreditation Quality charged with developing the 2013 Standards. For the first time in AACSB’s long history, the standards were released with a tagline. It consisted of three words: engagement, innovation, and impact. These three words later became the foundation for AACSB’s current mission, which is “to foster engagement, accelerate innovation, and amplify impact in business education.”

Yes, it was duly noted—the word “quality” wasn’t part of the tagline. For an accrediting body, that was a big step. The best business schools were built on well-established conceptions of quality and now aspire to go beyond. How do they transform for engagement, innovation, and impact? Here are a few basic questions to get started.

What jobs does my business school need? Going beyond requires new leadership roles. I have been excited to find more GBSN schools with Chief Innovation Officers and Associate Deans for Research Impact. The Gies College of Business has an Associate Dean for Innovation, who also is the Chief Disruption Officer. Sasin School of Management in Thailand has a Chief Impact Officer who is also Head of Accreditation. Directors of external relations are becoming chief engagement officers and instructional designers are becoming experience makers.

Does my business school have the right systems? Are faculty, for example, evaluated and rewarded for impact? What about for the type of engagement that leads to innovation? How important is fit for culture in faculty recruitment processes? In GBSN’s Impact Communities, I have been impressed by the number of scholars who are more interested in the difference they can make than the article they can publish. Their schools are leading the way in building powerful cultures of impact.

Is my business school measuring the things that matter? The financial models of business schools, especially university-based ones, have never been all that clear and sometimes create outcomes inconsistent with the school’s mission. For example, some schools might over-emphasize foreign students because they generate more income than local ones, even if the mission is largely focused on local jobs and communities. In higher education, we also tend to conflate “quality” with “selectivity” and “salaries.” How does that play out for schools that are Going Beyond.

Of course, this list of questions is not comprehensive or new to many of us in business education. I suggest, however, that we need to be bolder and faster in addressing them. Doing so won’t be easy. It is not difficult to feel powerless to change a system when it has been built over centuries or if it puts my school at a disadvantage relative to others. Change in higher education can also feel extremely complicated. After all, few other organizations have the breadth of stakeholders (students, alumni, donors, faculty, community leaders, recruiters, etc.) with conflicting perspectives. Regardless, it is time to elevate our role as designers in leading business schools, and the business education industry, for the future.

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.

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