GBSN CEO

An Invitation to Go Beyond with GBSN


30 Oct – 1 Nov

Contact: beyond@gbsn.org

QUICKLINKS

Social Logistics Challenge

Going Beyond Awards


“Motivated to address the most pressing needs of society and enabled by digital innovation, business schools have been redefining the boundaries of their work.” I wrote that in a 2020 blog to introduce our first GBSN Beyond, a new version of our flagship annual conference reimagined for a virtual format. In addition to pushing us to think more boldly about the content, the word Beyond reflected our vision to be more inclusive and to do more than talk and network with each other. The event was a huge success—the name stuck, and our fourth GBSN Beyond starts on October 30, in-person and online. This blog describes what to expect.

Before getting into the details, I want to say that we are absolutely thrilled that GBSN Beyond 2023 is hosted by The American University in Cairo School of Business and to have generous sponsorships from MIT Sloan School of Management, Leeds University Business School, BI Norwegian Business School, China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Hanken School of Economics, Monash Business School, CarringtonCrisp, ETS GRE, and others with commitments pending. Our hosts and sponsors are true impact leaders in our industry.

Contributions from sponsors not only make the event possible, but also enable it to be accessible to education leaders from low-income and developing countries. Please reach out to me directly if you are interested in adding your school or organization to the list of prestigious sponsors or want to contribute to need-based scholarships for schools.

The Theme – The Transformative Power of Talent and Technology

At GBSN we always put people first. After all, management education is about enabling and empowering people to create, build, and sustain organizations to solve problems of people and planet. Yet, we cannot ignore the power of technology to help people to create a better world, through business and education, and specifically to transform important sectors, such as health, agriculture, energy, and more. 

At the same time, we cannot discount the challenges that new technologies bring and the risks they create. There are new and important questions about trust, human rights, privacy, equity, and the future of our planet. And there are tensions between the Global North and the Global South, as well as the East and West, that have important implications for how we think about the future of business and business education.

That’s why this year’s GBSN Beyond theme is about opportunities and challenges at the intersection of talent and technology. As with everything GBSN does, this theme cuts across borders, sectors, and disciplines. We believe business schools should collaborate internationally, bring together multiple perspectives, and operate at the nexus of business, government, and civil society. We must transcend boundaries to do our part in building a better world.

The Program

There are multiple parts to GBSN Beyond. We’ll start in person on Monday, October 30, with the Members Only Meeting followed by a Welcome Reception on the Nile. The main program on Tuesday and Wednesday features an internationally diverse set of speakers, including Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation and leaders from companies, such as Visa, DHL, Microsoft, and Amazon, and other institutions such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UK-based CFTE. And of course, we’ll have business educators from leading schools around the world sharing their experiences and aspirations. We are especially excited about a session featuring African entrepreneurs led by MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship. Finally, all participants of GBSN Beyond are also invited to attend the Business Schools for Climate Leadership Africa Meeting, which is scheduled for Monday morning, just prior to the Members Only meeting. 

Since this is our 20th Anniversary, we have planned several opportunities to celebrate the impact of network members, especially at our social events. You can count on the Gala Dinner (on the second night of the conference) being extra special this year, because we are celebrating our 20th Anniversary and because of the venue—the fabulous Dahab Palace.

The Vibe

Every event has its own distinctive character, but there are three things that we are committed to carrying from event to event. First, we strive for diversity because we think innovation happens at the intersection of different perspectives. More importantly, we want to create inclusive events by focusing on the purpose of GBSN—and our shared vision for the developing world to have the talent it needs to generate prosperity. It’s why schools join and engage in the network, as well as what takes them to Beyond.

Second, we believe context matters for business and always will. But have you ever noticed that it is difficult at some conferences to know where you are in the world? Everything looks and feels the same. Well, we want participants in GBSN Beyond to know where they are and they create memorable experiences while there.

Finally, our aim is to facilitate meaningful connections for projects and initiatives. We want to make things happen—to “move the needle on the mission”—by bringing people together. The program is designed to highlight initiatives and provide opportunities to learn about other schools and people, and to connect with them. GBSN’s 20-year history includes hundreds of threads connecting schools and organizations across borders and over time. Our annual conference has played an essential role.

On behalf of host AUC School of Business, our sponsors, and Board of Directors, we invite you to come to Cairo for GBSN Beyond. To learn more and to register, go to https://gbsn.org/conference/beyond/

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 Role of Economics in Business Curricula

“What is the place of economics in the curriculum of business?” That was the opening sentence and principal question of an article by Roswell C. McCrea in the Journal of Political Economy nearly 100 years ago. Keep in mind, it was early in the development of collegiate schools of business in the US, and schools at the time were largely “proliferations of departments of economics.”

I reckon McCrea was influential in business education. When the article appeared in 1926, he had already been Dean at the Wharton School (of Commerce and Finance, at the time) and would go on to become Dean at Columbia Business School and President of AACSB, which was then the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business. His article was published along with “discussion” by four prominent professors, a mix of men (an indicator of the times) who were either economists, Deans, or both like McCrea.

The article and discussion are interesting and offer more to learn and enjoy than is covered here. Of immediate bearing is McCrea’s belief that the answer to our question depends on what we think about the purpose of business schools and the nature of economics. Here is an excerpt:

“I have encountered two extremes of attitude toward relations between schools of business and departments of economics. One is based on the view which stresses the profit-making objective of business and the resulting desirability of concentrating educational effort toward this end. The other disparages this emphasis and urges the importance of saving economics from the insidious encroachment of private-pecuniary upon social-welfare ideals. (pp. 21-22)”

Oddly, the opposing views lead to the same answer, which is to separate economics from the curriculum of business.

“The proponent of the first view would confine economics to its own little compartment in the university structure, in order to hold the school of business to the primary task of training for business vocations. The advocate of the opposing view would keep economics largely in its own particular bailiwick, not to save business from economics, but to save economics from business. (p. 221-222)”

Reflecting on my own teaching experience, I can testify directly about the difficulties of combining economics and business education. While teaching managerial economics in a part-time MBA program, I was careful, almost apologetic, about explaining that economics is an academic subject, not a vocational one. We don’t do economics in the same way we do accounting, I explained to students, so my job was to curate concepts from economics that can enable them to manage organizations more effectively (i.e., profitably) and build their careers in business (i.e., get promoted and make more money).

While this might sound harmless, it made me uneasy. Economics is about what’s best for society, not just for business. I was providing only part of the picture and encouraging students to use it for their own benefit. 

Of course, anyone who believes the Friedman doctrine would say there is nothing inconsistent in my approach—teaching students how to maximize profits and pursue their own self-interest is exactly in the public interest. Alternatively, some critics of business education believe that the inclusion of economics, especially its assumptions about rational, self-interested behaviors, and competitive markets, is part of the problem with business. 

McCrea had this to say.

“In my own view, economics, wherever else it may or may not belong, does belong in the school of business. Both business and economics need to be saved from themselves. Without the presence of economics in some vital form, the work of a school of business is likely to degenerate into detailed description of business organization and procedure, with no organizing principle other than the possible one of search for effective competitive devices, and with no clear vision of the social goal of business activity. (p. 222)”

The discussants avoided disagreeing with the conclusion but offered some things to think about. A. B. Wolfe (an Ohio State professor who later served as president of the American Economic Association) suggested that the “acquisitive” approach was inevitable in business schools and that economics offered “too many things that are unreal and untrue” (p. 229) to be useful. To Chester Phillips (founding Dean at the University of Iowa) “the study of economics may be conducive to social motivation but is not essential to it.” (p. 231) He believed political science, philosophy, and ethics could be at least as useful to business education. 

Although J. C. Bonbright (a professor at Columbia University) suggested economics has a “wider angle of vision” (p. 239) and could be most helpful to examining the environment of business, he questioned how much business executives need to understand. Perhaps they are “in the position of a small boy who needs no knowledge of mechanics in order to learn how to throw a baseball.” (p. 240) Finally, Edmund Day (founding Dean at the University of Michigan) highlighted the challenge in instilling a real professional attitude in business schools when the “relation of business administration to public policy remains unlike that of economics.” (p. 243)

That was nearly 100 years ago. What has happened since then and where do we go from here? 

My impression is that business schools have become less inclusive of economics. That’s partly because separate bodies of knowledge have been developed in business subjects, such as management, marketing, finance, and accounting. Business schools are no longer compelled to recruit professors from economics departments. Surely the mathematical progression of economics has also played a role, driving the perception that it has become more academic and even less relevant to management practice.

Economics can, according to the Economist in April this year, “plausibly claim to be moving toward a unified science of business.” However, while it has come a long way (e.g., advances in asymmetric information, behavior economics, institutional economics, and more), it still falls short of a “realistic theory of the firm” and can’t ever be enough. According to the magazine, “most of what makes for a flourishing business cannot be captured in a tight theory with a few equations” and “many of the influences on any topical issue—which tech firm will win the AI race, say—lie outside its purview.”

But the Economist addresses only one side of McCrea’s equation: the evolution of economics as a discipline. It doesn’t address the shifting purpose of business schools towards societal impact (CSR, ESG, and SDGs). The social orientation, relevance to policy, and wider angle of vision of economics make it particularly useful to schools that view business education as a mechanism for positive change in business and society. 

To be sure, I’m referring to mainstream economics, not radical departures from it. It’s about material and social incentives, for example, which when combined with personal preferences, define behavior. “This behavior may or may not be in the general interest,” according to Jean Tirole in Economics for the Common Good, and economics “involves constructing institutions to reconcile, as far as possible, the interests of the individual with the general interest.” (p. 3) This highlights the opportunity to combine the experience of business schools in serving individuals and organizations with the emphasis in economics on serving society and policy.

I also believe economics can play another role in business education. In Good Economics for Hard Times, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo write that “the world is a sufficiently complicated and uncertain place that the most valuable thing economists have to share is often not their conclusion, but the path they took to reach it—the facts they knew, the way they interpreted those facts, and deductive steps they took, the remaining sources of their uncertainty.”

And it works both ways, economics as a discipline can be strengthened by the orientation towards practice at many business schools, especially the ones that are most interested in aligning business and individual actions to improve society. As McCrea duly noted, “The joining of socially motivated thinking with a knowledge of concrete, shifting reality, such as can be affected in a school of business, may well escape the puttering of the strict vocationalist on the one hand, and the futility of the closet philosophy on the other.”

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.

Technological Change, Economic Growth, and Business Education

In the late 1950’s, MIT professor Robert Solow published a series of influential articles describing a new framework for understanding economic growth. He showed that increasing labor and capital investment explained very little of the growth in the US between 1909 and 1949. Nearly all the growth was, instead, attributed to a broad set of “technological” factors (called total factor productivity). For this work, he was awarded the 1987 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel

Solow’s work helped us to understand and appreciate the economic importance of technological change. But it also drew attention to how little we knew about the relationship between technology and growth. To this day, economists have not been able to unpack the components of total factor productivity and isolate the economic consequences of specific innovations. Solow himself called total factor productivity, “a measure of our ignorance” about innovation. Another frustrating aspect of the Solow model was that, like labor and capital, technological change was “exogenous,” meaning that it existed outside of the model, independently determined by external factors. As a consequence, the Solow framework offered little guidance about how economic policy can foster long-term economic growth.

Not surprisingly, growth theory languished as economists struggled to address these and other challenges. It was “dead” according to Paul Romer, when he picked up the topic as a doctoral student in the 1980’s. Yet, Romer ended up pioneering what’s called endogenous growth theory, by introducing a model with technological change driven by the choices of economic actors, such as entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists, responding to market incentives. Suddenly, anything that affects their choices (such as taxes, funding, education, etc.) can shape long-run productivity and growth.

The implications of Romer’s work were exciting of course, but I was especially interested in the underlying assumptions. At the time, I was trying at the time to rethink the MBA microeconomics course considering the digital revolution which was starting to happen. A lot would stay the same, but there were some critical differences.

There were three premises central to Romer’s work. The most fundamental had to do with the nature of ideas. When most of us think of goods and services, they are what economists call rivalrous, meaning that if one person is using it, others are precluded from also using it. Like my toothbrush. But Romer pointed out that ideas or “technology” (he refers to “instructions”) are different. They are non-rival goods. The Pythagorean Theorem is often used as an example. Its use by one person does not prevent others from also using it. Indeed, it is possible that the more people who use it, the more valuable it is to everyone. From there, it is not difficult to imagine a community in which ideas cross-pollinate each other and generate increasing returns.

But Romer’s model also had to address a second attribute of goods, excludability, which has to do with whether the owner of a good can prevent others from using it. That depends in part on the legal system. What is interesting (and to some, problematic), is that ideas/instructions must be at least partially excludable to motivate individuals to invest in developing them. This point explains why patents and copyrights are useful and their owners have at least some degree of market power in the short term.

The fundamental starting point, that “technology” is a non-rival good, is central to understanding the digital revolution, as well as productivity and economic growth. When combined with advances in technology infrastructure (for storing, retrieving, manipulating, and transmitting data), it is easy to see how powerful the digital revolution can be in improving lives. Romer admits that the conclusion of his research was not really all that surprising, since people intuitively understood that technological change is the key driver of growth. For him, it was the surprise connection—this “non-rivalry or shareability of discoveries that is… why is there so much benefit from connecting with so many people.”

Why is all this important? It serves as a launch point for understanding what we need to do moving forward in business schools. For example, we can debate whether economic growth (with GDP) is the most appropriate yardstick for comparing economies. Economists continue to be perplexed by the fact that enormous advances in technology have not translated into faster growth as measured by GDP, a paradox aptly described by Solow, “you can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” Could it be that we are better off but that’s just not captured by the standard metrics?

We can also begin to understand our role in creating and disseminating “technology”, which is not as frictionless in the real world as in Romer’s world. What pedagogies are most appropriate when management ideas are not easily applied across contexts? Part of our job is to improve ideas, as well as accelerate their distribution. As Romer says, “Growth springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking.”

Understanding technology and growth also challenges us to think critically about the role of business in society. The Romer model helps us to appreciate the role of universities in shaping policies that contribute to innovation and growth, as well as in creating and disseminating business ideas and insights. I also hope it inspires us to address some of the larger issues related to human rights (e.g., privacy), climate, and health. For example, vaccines are useful to illustrate the difference between a rival good (the actual dosage) and non-rival good (the formula), as well as the potential tradeoffs between innovation and access.

At GBSN we are about educating and empowering people—the ones who create and manage organizations. And if we get it right, that translates into more responsible economic and social development. Our vision is for the developing world to have the management talent it needs for prosperity. Yet, as we have seen, we cannot ignore technology as a fundamental driver of growth and prosperity—and as a threat to both. That’s why this year the theme for GBSN Beyond is the “Transformative Power of Talent and Technology.”

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.

Teach a Village to Fish

What if we were to take the popular adage “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” and modify it slightly. Let’s make it:

Give a village fish, and you feed its people for a day. Teach its people to fish, and you feed them forever

On one hand, the change doesn’t disturb the central message. Whether it is the man or village, over the long term, they are better off being taught to fend for themselves. On the other hand, it is easy to see that this small change complicates matters considerably. 

Moving from helping a single person to helping a group of people raises new and difficult questions. If, for example, the quantity of fish you can give is limited, on what basis will it be divided? Should every adult and child get the same portion? And how will the fish be distributed to ensure each person receives their allowance? Alternatively, if you can’t teach the whole village to fish, who should be eligible for training? Will learners be expected to use their newly acquired skills in ways that benefit the village?

Suddenly there are questions about equity, as well as power, politics, and economics. And sustainability now matters. The solo person, as if marooned on a deserted island, doesn’t need to worry about other people and whether they are hungry. If part of a village, she has future generations to worry about. How will the village transfer the knowledge across generations and ensure the survival of the fishery?

Our village version is closer to reality than the solo one. Most people live in groups. They live in villages—towns, cities, communities, societies, and economies—with existing customs, traditions, and cultures and established social, political, and economic systems. The contexts can vary significantly and that can make assisting people complicated. We’ve seen how this plays out in the space of international development. 

In The Great Escape, Sir Angus Deaton points to a central dilemma with foreign aid, “When the ‘conditions for development’ are present, aid is not required. When the local conditions are hostile to development, aid is not useful, and it will often do harm if it perpetuates those conditions.” Without proper institutions for legal protection, enforcement of contracts, access to clean water for sanitation, managing communicable diseases, and the like, aid will seldom reach the people intended to be helped. According to Deaton, “we often have such a poor understanding of what they need or want, or of how their societies work, that our clumsy attempts to help on our terms do more harm than good.” 

Moreover, technical solutions, including “teaching villagers to fish,” are also harder to get right for similar reasons and others. Techniques that work in one village often do not work in others. Foreign-designed training programs may perpetuate existing inequalities. When local problems are viewed as technical, we are more likely to ignore the larger (institutional or systemic) reasons why hunger continues to be an issue. 

So where does that leave those of us who care about reducing poverty, improving health, and protecting the environment? For some people, they believe we won’t succeed in our fight against poverty unless we stop trying to help completely. For others, we must continue to learn and get better at technical solutions to poverty and health problems. Regardless, to me it is clear we must focus on education, enabling and empowering people where they live. By doing so, we help people to develop and discover their own ways forward—and to build more effective organizations and institutions. 
Networks like GBSN can play a special role. By working together, we can build education capacity faster. We can exchange information about what works and doesn’t work in different contexts. Technology helps. It reduces the friction, enabling us to quickly share innovations in business and in business education across the network. Through global networks, discoveries made anywhere can move swiftly across the planet, especially to places where they can be of greatest value. The key for networks is that these innovations are pulled in by local institutions in developing countries rather than pushed out to them. As the great development economist, Jagdish Bhagwati, argued, “it is hard to think of substantial increases in aid being spent effectively in Africa. But it is not so hard to think of more aid being spent productively elsewhere for Africa.”

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 Was It Like to Lead in the First Year of the Covid-19 Pandemic?

About this time three years ago, the two of us were interviewing deans and business leaders, trying to make sense of the future. Covid-19 was breaking our normal, magnifying long-standing injustices, and pulling the future forward. We wanted to see the world beyond what was happening at the time.

What we discovered, however, was that the interviews were more about the journey than the destination. As we wrote in the preface to The World After Covid-19, the interviews often revealed more about leading and living during a profound crisis. The people we interviewed were discovering different aspects of their work and themselves, just as we were learning about both. They reminded us that leadership is an intensely human activity, and that’s why it is so difficult. 

It’s now 2023 and for many of us the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic is starting to feel like a distant memory. That’s why we are resharing the introductory chapter to the book. Perhaps you’ll be interested in comparing what is happening now against what leaders were predicting then. But we think the real value is to help you to recall and reflect on what it was like to lead in the early stages of the pandemic, and reflect on what that means for your leadership today and in the future.

Introductory Chapter from The World After Covid-19
by Soumitra Dutta and Dan LeClair

When, in early December 2019, news of a pneumonia-like illness emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan, few beyond infectious disease experts had any inkling of what might follow. By 30 January 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a “public health emergency of international concern” – its highest level of alarm – the novel coronavirus had not yet spread very far. There were 98 cases and no deaths in 18 countries outside China; the WHO recorded eight cases of human-to-human transmission outside China – in Germany, Japan, the US and Vietnam. 

Four months on, the public health emergency had become a global economic crisis. National governments tried desperately to slow the spread of the virus by limiting movement and gatherings. Global supply chains collapsed and the flow of people across borders slowed to a trickle. Every organization, large and small, local and global, public and private, was profoundly impacted. It was a time of great uncertainty.

Everyone was sprinting, working overtime and under a great deal of stress to adapt to the situation. It was no different for the team at the Global Business School Network (GBSN). But, amid the chaos, we wanted to know how best to live up to our mission: to  “improve access to quality, locally relevant management and entrepreneurship education for the developing world”. How could we support the strong network we’ve built up over the years? What lessons might that network learn from each other’s adaptations and challenges? Business school deans, caught in the very teeth of these changes, seemed a logical place to begin. So we reached out to deans from schools in countries like Nigeria, England, Mexico, Egypt, China and the United States with an invitation to speak with us. We invited them to pause, look up and ahead; to see past the immediate emergency and to think about what the future might look like in a world after Covid-19. The deans were generous with their time and many agreed to introduce us to business leaders who were willing to have a similar conversation.

We conducted the interviews between April and June in 2020. Of course, everyone who reads the transcripts will have the benefit of knowing all that has happened since then. Readers will know that the virus has taken more than two million lives worldwide since then. They will know how long it took to develop, test, and approve vaccines; and about the rush to distribute them fast enough to get ahead of the variants. They will know more about Covid inequities and the virus’s long-term trajectory.

At the time of this writing, February 2021, the pandemic is far from over. The world after Covid is still under construction, but we hope insights from the interviews will encourage and enable us to “build back better”, as they say. Regardless, we believe the true value of these interviews is that they capture the moment: the views during the crisis about the unknown future to come. Our memories are surprisingly short and soon it will be easy to forget how we felt and the future we envisioned during that stressful time. We also hope the interviews serve as inspiration and guidance to leaders everywhere, especially about managing in a crisis. The interviews were at once deeply personal and necessarily universal. Several themes emerged.

HUMAN – AND HUMANE – LEADERSHIP 

We sensed that our questions about the crisis were not just intellectual exercises for the leaders we interviewed. Responses were personal and sometimes emotional when leaders discussed their responsibilities for the health and well-being of their people. Managing organizations has always been hard; Covid made it a lot harder. 

We were struck, too, by how vulnerable our interviewees were willing to be. Their answers to personal questions, such as how their own leadership might change and what shifts they’d already seen in their own lives, were deeply considered and freely shared. Some were pursuing new hobbies; others found solace in exercise and time in nature. Most were spending more time with their families than they had in years, reconnecting and learning about the people who matter most. But they had not lost sight of those beyond their immediate circles: there was a real sense of connection and compassion with not just employees, but their employees’ families and communities more broadly. Somehow, they held rapid change –– that acceleration necessitated by Covid-19 –– and small, personal moments together. It wasn’t easy, as Jean-François Manzoni, President of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland explained:

“You’re expected to be cheerful, serious but empathic, patient, decisive but also incredibly compassionate. This job requires extraordinary amounts of patience, empathy and compassion. You’ve really got to work on yourself to make sure that you remain in that space. And it’s actually quite challenging to do, especially with all the additional pressures you face as a leader, including on the personal front as your own family may also be needing more from you.”

This isn’t, as Manzoni and other interviewees made clear, to suggest that leaders shouldn’t be honest and open about their anxieties. Nor, as Sangeet Chowfla – the President & CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC™) – said, did leaders need to pretend to have all the answers. Chowfla had been asking his staff: “What’s the way out? Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel? What do we know? What do we not know?”

He added: “All of us are in search of that light at the end of the tunnel. Even if we don’t have clarity about the light, the fact that we are looking and engaging everybody in search of that light, becomes a very important part of what we do as leaders. It is making certain that everybody is on board so that we can find a way to the end of the tunnel.”

GLOBALIZATION VS TURNING INWARD

Geo-politics was a crucial part of our conversations. Globalization and the shifting role of supply chains emerged as strong themes. Asia’s role as a growing power was repeatedly highlighted; some interviewees suggested that Europe could harness the crisis to re-establish itself as a force to be reckoned with, while others believed Europe was going to be left behind by the Asian giants. The US’s inward turn unsettled many.

In those early days of the pandemic, our thought leaders wanted to know whether the world would work together, or pull apart; they were struck by just how sharply and fast the existing lines between the “haves and the have nots” had leapt into focus. Just about a year on, it is sobering to see how much those fault lines have widened, and saddening to realize how much pulling apart has occurred; by March 2021, wealthy nations were racing ahead with vaccination programs while their poorer counterparts were left floundering. 

Dr Enase Okonedo, now Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria, was Dean of the Lagos Business School at the time of our interview. She pointed out that globalization –– “and seeing things as a global village, with the easy transfer of goods and people” –– had seemed set to remain a way of life before the pandemic.

“Now nations are starting to rethink things like trade policy, foreign policy, as well as what happens in their domestic economies. From my perspective, there is a retreat from what has become the norm in recent years towards more domestication of a number of things. So, I envisage a shift, possibly in the short-term but certainly in the long-term, from globalization to keeping things within borders, because of the impact of Covid-19 on economies and disruptions in the supply chain.”

Dr Bing Xiang, the Founding Dean and Professor of China Business and Globalization at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB), was among those who echoed Okonedo’s sentiments on this point.

“In a sense, economically, (the way countries reacted to Covid-19) may represent a strong pushback against globalization. This de-globalization impact will be huge and long-lasting, potentially even setting globalization back 30 to 40 years.” 

Some, like Claudia Jañez, former President of DuPont Latin America, suggested this shift might turn out to be positive in the long run. She argued that globalization might become as much about collaboration as it is about openness, and that countries may begin to genuinely unite to solve shared problems. 

Perhaps these global shifts might also signal a turn towards a new morality – both in business and in the size of what Veneta Andonova, the Dean of Universidad de los Andes School of Management in Colombia, calls the “moral circle”. In our interview, Andonova said she and her colleagues had been “discussing the way the world and life will be, how it will affect the way in which we interact with different parts of society – be it indigenous groups, business, or government”. 

“We are seeing that these groups have started sending signals of how the state of affairs should be and how we should interact. The degree to which we are capable of aligning and coming together with a common version of how we share and interact will be essential.”

TEACHING WITH TECH

All the leaders we interviewed agreed that the pandemic had accelerated digital transformation. Suddenly, companies had to coordinate work in a physically dispersed environment. The Covid-induced change was profound in education, where technology has had less of an impact than many experts predicted in previous years. A major topic in the interviews was the role of platforms, such as Zoom, in ensuring continuity of synchronous teaching and learning when health restrictions made residential learning impossible. Schools were forced to shift quickly, almost overnight, to deliver instruction, facilitate peer-to-peer engagement, and offer project-based experiential learning, all in a virtual environment. Faculty had to learn new digital skills and schools had to develop new models and capabilities. 

Many of the leaders in education and business talked about how surprised their colleagues were to learn so much of their work can be accomplished without being together in the office. Faculty, in particular, began to discover ways of using technology to make education more efficacious as well as more efficient. It could also, some interviewees suggested, contribute to more openness and diversity.

Erika James, now Dean of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was John H. Harland Dean of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School when we interviewed her. She argued that technology could allow business schools to “open ourselves up to more diverse populations around the world in ways that were more difficult to do in a strictly residential format”.

It wasn’t just how business schools teach that seized deans’ attention — the what was crucial, too. As more faculty rushed to understand new platforms better, crafting their usual in-person classes for digital formats, they also began to reflect on whether existing research might inform at least part of the world’s response to Covid-19. François Ortalo-Magné, Dean of the London Business School, said: “Faculty turned to their research and from the very beginning of the pandemic they ran a series of webinars. They asked, ‘how can I use my research to contribute to the new Covid-19 world?’ Faculty are using their insights and knowledge in a very fresh, immediate and relevant way.” 

Zander Lurie, the CEO of SurveyMonkey, proposed that future business school students — particularly those who are already employed but might consider a further degree — would think differently about their return on investment in a post-Covid world. He identified three “learnings and tools” students would seek out when choosing a business school: curiosity, agility and prioritization.

A few of our interviewees wondered whether elements more often taught in humanities courses may begin to infuse business school curricula. Nelly ElZayat, the co-founder and director  of Newton Education Services and an advisor to the Minister of Education in Egypt on early childhood education and education policy, was among them.

“This pandemic has left us all with a lot of challenges and many of them are socio-emotional; I think this affects businesses, teens, leaders in business, everybody. This is something that business schools need to weave into their programs; these skills that you need to survive … Course material or case studies that highlight things like resilience, empathy and teamwork.”

WHERE OUR NETWORK FITS IN

It wasn’t just the interviewees who took the opportunity to pause and reflect deeply during a time of uncertainty, anxiety and near-constant adaptations. These conversations helped us — and will help GBSN more broadly — to realize that the network’s role must go beyond improving access. It is also to facilitate innovation and change in management education and development.

GBSN’s mission has always been about benefiting society. We say that it was created for SDG4, which is about access to quality education, even before the SDGs were adopted. By building education capacity, GBSN supports the development of leaders that generate jobs and improve communities. 

But it’s not just about education anymore. Covid-19 attracted additional attention to two other ways that business schools make a difference: through research and community engagement. Leaders commented about the general responsibility to help organizations survive — and not only their own. Many businesses deployed students and faculty to address local challenges brought on by Covid. For example, from the beginning many business schools collected, compiled, and communicated about data and information to support policy and business decisions. Students and professors have also worked on projects to help local SMEs pivot online, and to restart the local economy.

GBSN supports research to increase our understanding of business management and entrepreneurship in the developing world. The network is also creating new platforms, such as competitions, to increase the engagement of students and faculty in addressing community challenges. These activities enable business schools to more directly impact communities. GBSN is making a medium and long term investment in development through education and a more immediate impact by bringing students and faculty into their communities.

GLOBALLY CONNECTED, LOCALLY RELEVANT

By definition the Covid-19 pandemic is global. But every country and community experiences and addresses the virus differently. It was interesting to consider the differences across perspectives from interviews in Nigeria, Brazil, Colombia, China, the US, Egypt, Mexico, and many more countries. Business management is contextual and, since its inception, GBSN has been committed to contextual relevance in everything it does. It is about empowering people locally. It is a global network committed to supporting local initiative, which we believe is as important, if not more so, as global leadership in achieving the SDGs. 

For GBSN, relevance is not just about location and content, it is also about people and experience. We believe that peer-to-peer learning and experiential learning are essential for management education to be effective. For example, the GBSN Management Development Institute offered in partnership with Johnson & Johnson emphasizes local content, peer support, and a community-health project. And, as described above, GBSN has started to offer new opportunities for experiential learning in and for the developing world. 

POWERED BY TECH

Like other organizations, GBSN was also forced to move online and has, as a consequence, developed new ways of accomplishing its mission, especially with its training and networking events. Technology has been particularly important in strengthening connections between schools internationally, especially since the network has grown considerably in recent years. Early in the pandemic, we initiated Cross-Border Collabs to bring together the whole international community on the first Thursday of every month to explore trends and collaborative opportunities related to the GBSN’s mission. Moving forward GBSN aims to put technology first in everything it does.

COLLECTIVE ACTION (ACROSS BORDERS, DISCIPLINES, AND SECTORS)

As discussed in many of the interviews, Covid-19 has elevated the need for organizations to work together to achieve important objectives. This is especially true when it comes to international initiatives, as travel between countries has been more restricted. GBSN plays an important role in facilitating collaboration.

But it is not just about international collaboration: higher education remains remarkably siloed. So in addition to connecting schools across borders, GBSN has been working towards connecting scholars and students across disciplines, such as engineering and health, as well as bridging the gap between business and business education. Currently, GBSN is developing programs to involve business students from member institutions from around the world in CSR programs with companies, such as Deutsche Post DHL and Ecobank Academy. The idea is for GBSN to invest in doing work together that can’t be done alone. 

THE STRENGTH OF THE NETWORK

In order to achieve its mission and purpose, the GBSN has been building its strength. Part of it comes from size. At the beginning of 2019, the network had 69 schools. Now it has more than 110. Strength comes not only from size, but also diversity. At the beginning of 2019, members represented 39 countries. Now they represent more than 50. In addition to geographic diversity, GBSN has been engaging a wider array of organizations in the network, including higher education institutions with distinctive strengths, such as online teaching, competency-based education, and corporate management development, and businesses that are investing in their communities through education and development.

Finally, GBSN is getting stronger by building more connections between members. A large family isn’t very powerful if nobody talks to each other. By offering international competitions, monthly member gatherings, and learning communities, GBSN is building more and more connections between members that will continue to strengthen the network’s capacity to achieve the mission. 

Historically, GBSN can be described as a “project driven development organization” that engaged in projects to build education capacity in and for the developing world. Today, GBSN can be described as a “purpose driven network organization”. While projects remain a big part of the GBSN, its power comes more from the network, which is larger, more diverse, and connected than ever. 

LOOKING AHEAD

By the time this introduction was written, more than a year after Covid first began its frightening, inexorable march around the world, it was clear that our interviewees had been extraordinarily prescient. Many of their predictions were borne out. And, as they all anticipated, there is much to be hopeful about. As we look forward to a post-pandemic world and beyond, many more questions remain — as explored in our concluding chapter. It is our hope, here at the interface of society and business; of higher education and business; of leadership and service, that they and others in our network will continue to shine a light on all that matters as we forge ahead in a world that is likely forever changed — perhaps, against all odds, for the better.

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.

S

Soumitra Dutta, Chairman, Board of Directors Global Business School Network

Dean, Saïd School of Business, Oxford University

Professor of Management

Former Founding Dean

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

Chairman, Board of Directors

Global Business School Network

Soumitra Dutta served as the founding dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business from July 2016 till January 2018. Currently he is a Professor in the Operations, Technology and Information Management Area. Previously, he was the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Prior to coming to Cornell, he was on the faculty of INSEAD, a leading international business school in France and Singapore.

He is an authority on technology and innovation policy and is the co-editor and author of the Global Information Technology Report, published by the World Economic Forum and the Global Innovation Index, published by the World Intellectual Property Organization – two influential reports in technology and innovation policy.

Dutta is on the board of Sodexo (a food services and facilities management multinational with $20bn market capitalization), Dassault Systemes (a leading 3D software firm with $30bn market capitalization) and advisory boards of several business schools. He has co-founded two firms, including Fisheye Analytics, which WPP group acquired. He was also the Chair of AACSB (July 2017 to January 2018), the leading global body for the accreditation of business schools. Dutta is a member of the Davos Circle, an association of long-time participants in the Annual Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum, and has engaged in a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Dutta received a B. Tech. in electrical engineering and computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi, a MS in both business administration and computer science, and a PhD in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley. In 2017, he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from his alma mater IIT Delhi.

Highlighting the Future of Jobs Report 2023

The 2023 version of the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report was released this week. I’ve been especially anxious for this (fourth) edition, because it is the first since we started moving beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve been concerned about the world’s most vulnerable populations and interested in the impact of technology and other factors, such as supply chain shifts, on jobs. 

I encourage you to read the report, which includes responses from 803 companies employing more than 11.3 million people globally. This blog highlights some key findings from the report that might be interesting to the GBSN community. These findings are discussed across three broad areas: employment outcomes; technology and jobs; and core skills, assessment, and training.

Employment Outcomes

The report highlights divergent employment outcomes across geographic regions and populations. Low-income and lower-middle-income countries have been slower than high income countries to recover from the pandemic. According to the report, “at 4.9%, the 2022 unemployment rate across the OECD area is at its lowest level since 2001. By contrast, many developing economies have experienced a comparatively slow labour-market recovery from the disruptions induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.” (p. 8) The formal unemployment rate in South Africa, for example, increased to 30% from 25% before the pandemic.

Women, young workers, and workers with a basic education were among the most adversely affected in terms of employment. The report notes that “according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, gender parity in the labour force stands at 62.9%–the lowest level registered since the index was first compiled.” (p. 12) Also, “less than half of the global youth employment deficit projected to have recovered by the end of 2022” (p. 12) and “in many countries the increase in unemployment from 2019 to 2021 of workers with a basic education level was more than twice as large as the impact on workers with advanced education.” (p. 13)

The report also expresses a sense of urgency regarding the lack of social protection for the nearly 2 billion workers globally in informal employment, as well as the differential impact of high inflation. Authors cite research by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicating that “rising food and energy prices could push up to 71 million people into poverty, with hot spots in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans and the Caspian Basin.” (p. 14)

Technology and Jobs

Technology continues to be the most important factor shaping the future of jobs, but it is important to take a more nuanced approach and consider the influence of other trends, such as environmental action. According to survey respondents, the top two macrotrends driving business transformation were “increased adoption of new and frontier technologies” and “broadening digital access.” (Figure 2.1, p. 21) However, when it comes to net job creation, “investments to facilitate the green transition,” the “broader application ESG standards,” and “climate change induced investments into adapting operations” were ranked higher than the technology drivers by survey respondents. 

In addition to big data analytics, companies rank climate change and environmental management technologies, and encryption and cybersecurity as creating the greatest job growth. (Figure 2.5, p. 25) Particularly interesting is that of the 28 technologies included in the survey, only robots (humanoid and non-humanoid) are expected by companies to result in net losses of jobs. While substantial proportions of companies forecasted job displacements in areas such as artificial intelligence, e-commerce and digital trade, digital platforms and apps, and agriculture technologies, those losses were offset by growth elsewhere. It will be important to have strategies and support systems that enable workers to move quickly to new opportunities, created by technological advances.

In general, the report finds that the “fraction of automated tasks has increased less than previously expected, and the horizon for future automation is stretching further into the future than surveyed businesses previously anticipated.” (p. 26) In 2020, employers predicted 47% automation by 2025. This year, employers predict 42% automation by 2027. It will be interesting to see how recent advances in generative AI will impact this horizon moving forward. 

Core Skills, Assessment and Training

The top two required core skills are analytical thinking and creative thinking, followed by resilience, flexibility, and agility; motivation and self-awareness; and curiosity and lifelong learning to round out the top five. (Figure 4.2, p. 38) Not surprisingly, these areas are receiving attention in the reskilling strategies of companies. However, the report also notes several other skills which companies do not rank highly but are receiving much more attention in reskilling efforts, indicating areas of emerging strategic importance. These skills include AI and big data, as well as leadership and social influence, design and user experience, and environmental stewardship. (Figure 4.5, p. 42) AI and big data is the “number one priority” in training strategies for companies with more than 50,000 employees. (p. 46)

Skills are dynamic. Companies now predict that 44% of workers’ core skills will change in the next five years, compared to 35% in 2016. (p. 37) And it is often difficult to hire employees with the needed skills. Businesses cite skills gaps in the local labour market most frequently among factors that limit the transformation of their business. Coming in second is the overall inability to attract talent. Particularly important to GBSN is that “skills gaps are reported to be most problematic in Sub-Saharan Africa, where they are seen to limit the transformation of 70% of companies.”

Companies are more optimistic about developing the existing workforce than about finding and retaining talent. (Figure 5.3, p. 51) Given the positive outlook for talent development, the report considers the composition of training programs. Not surprisingly, the most common approaches are through on-the-job training and coaching and in-house training departments. That’s followed by employee-sponsored apprenticeships. External suppliers, such as professional associations, private-sector online-learning platforms and universities, are expected to deliver very little of the talent development work. (Figure 5.9, p. 58)

When it comes to assessing potential hires, 71% of businesses evaluate work experience, 47% use skill assessments, and 45% look at the completion of university degrees. While currently only 20% look at the completion of short courses and online certificates, that is expected to increase, because of their flexibility and “given that 82% of companies plan to adopt education and workforce development technologies in the next five years.” (p. 54)
There is much more to the Future of Jobs Report. Hopefully, this short preview will stimulate your interest. I especially like the infographics page, which can be found here. I encourage you to read the report and share your thoughts about what is most interesting.

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.

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

>