Business School Resolutions for 2011

With the turning of the calendar, organizations are granted the gift of a new year and a clean slate. Business schools are no different. Administrators at top programs have visions of gifted applicants, motivated faculty, strong student leaders, and higher job placement numbers in a renewed economy. But that's not all. Still reeling from the financial meltdown that began in 2008, B-schools are aiming to be a part of the economic cleanup.

"Managerial problems in companies, governments, and society cry out for better management education and research," says Eric Weber, associate dean and head of U.S. operations at Barcelona-based IESE Business School (IESE Full-Time MBA Profile). "Business schools need to drive change and promote personal, corporate, and social progress."

Recently, Bloomberg asked professors and administrators at top MBA programs to send in, via e-mail, their New Year's resolutions for management education and the institutions charged with producing tomorrow's business leaders in 2011. Here's a roundup of their responses.

Show Me the Relevance

James O'Toole, professor of business ethics at University of Denver's Daniels College of Business (Daniels Full-Time MBA Profile), and co-author of the much-discussed 2005 Harvard Business Review article "How Business Schools Lost Their Way," thinks business schools need to understand their purpose better in the new year. To accomplish this, he suggests that they ask themselves a series of questions, including, "Should we be trade or professional schools?", "Should we stress academic disciplines or areas of concern to real businesses?" and "Should faculty be more mindful of preparing students or of their research projects?"

"These and other related questions are not easy to answer because, obviously, they are not either or," O'Toole says. "But in discussing them, it might become clear that B-schools are, in fact, currently choosing one course over the other, often unconsciously, and that's not a good way to make policy."

O'Toole's questions point to the greater issue of the relevancy of MBA programs. It's one that has plagued business schools for a number of years, says Scott Carson, director of the Queen's MBA (Queen's Full-Time MBA Profile) in Kingston, Ontario.

"This [issue] is not dissimilar to the demands made by students in the university uprisings of the 1960s, as a generation of youth who were becoming more aware of poverty, racism, and inequality wanted their education to address these realities," Carson says. "The message now, as then, is not to dilute the use of management theory in courses in an attempt to make them more practical or to change academic research agendas."

As a resolution for 2011, Carson would like to see business schools prove their contribution to society in the classroom. "Business schools should do a better job of grounding what we teach in the concrete business world of today," he says, "and show the relevance of theory to solving problems in the real world context."

Set Forth a Higher Mission

Once business schools determine their distinct role and relevance, they have to figure out how best to do their jobs. According to IESE's Weber, in addition to developing faculty better by helping young professors set the right balance between research and teaching and defining better the role of faculty, alumni, and board members, B-schools need to get beyond the idea that their main purpose is to develop business professionals intent on maximizing shareholder value at all costs.

"Business schools [once] sought to educate entrepreneurs and general managers for the good of society," Weber writes. "At many schools, this idea has been lost. Business schools need to revisit the mission of companies and managers vis-à-vis the common good."

Essentially, Weber is calling for business schools to show their softer side and to be more human by helping to create leaders who care about the greater good of society. It's a tall order, but one that others in management education are aiming to fill, as well.

Rediscover Ethics

Georgia Tech's College of Management (Georgia Tech Full-Time MBA Profile) has resolved that the development of the "highest ethical standards in all its students" be its top priority for the new year, Dean Steve Salbu says. "In 2011, we shall continue our work, supported by a grant from the Rich Foundation, to incorporate ethics into all courses we teach."

Santiago Iñiguez, dean of IE Business School (IE Full-Time MBA Profile in Madrid, sees the biggest challenge of business schools as reinventing capitalism. His solution? To have future business leaders learn about art and literature as opposed to just numbers.

"We believe that learning, for example, the history of different civilizations or modern art helps prepare well-rounded graduates and managers who will also behave as global citizens," writes Iñiguez.

Come up with Sustainable Solutions

One way business schools have been trying to improve themselves is by being at the forefront of educating students about sustainable business practices.Going green is not just a nice thing to do; it also can make good business sense, says David Schmittlein, dean of MIT Sloan School of Management (Sloan Full-Time MBA Profile ) in Cambridge, Mass.

"[The resolution should be] to stimulate thoughtful business school faculty, alumni, and students to contribute well and visibly, in 2011, to the needed debates around sustainable economic development in the U.S. and globally," Schmittlein says.

Ultimately, all the resolutions have one common element: They are meant to help business schools become better citizens of the world. From having future leaders inform their decisions with everything from history to the arts to encouraging greener approaches to business, the point is to make the world a better place. "Management, when performed with personal modesty and a sense of service to the community, can be one of the noblest professions," Iñiguez says. "It creates growth, wealth, and development in society; it provides jobs, fosters innovation, and improves living conditions. Good management is one of the best antidotes to the world's afflictions, since it promotes convergence and understanding among civilizations."

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