Are Business School Leaders Up to the 21st Century’s Challenges?

Are B-School Leaders Up to the 21st Century's Challenges?

Back in November, Eric Labaye, chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), was asked to speak at the Annual Forum of the Council on Business and Society, an alliance of five of the world’s top business schools.

In his speech on the challenges and opportunities facing business in the 21st century, he identified five key issues that organizations needed to confront. Of course, being a polite and considerate guest, he refrained from assessing how well business schools themselves fare on these issues. So let’s do the job for him:

Sources of growth: Choosing which markets to enter is an organization’s most important strategic decision affecting growth. There are many opportunities, and executives must decide which ones to pursue and how to execute their plan.

Given the exponential growth of many emerging markets in recent years, it might have been an irresistible temptation for business schools to launch headlong into as many of them as possible. But, with a few unfortunate examples, schools have adopted a measured approach, both to new geographies and new products, such as “pre-experience” master’s programs, designed for new college graduates. At least, for now, selective targeting is winning out over the scattershot approach. Score: 7/10.

New opportunities for innovators: To compete in emerging markets, innovation is essential. But innovation is changing, and business needs to learn from local markets and adapt accordingly, or use a different business model using new technologies such as cloud computing.

Practically every school on the planet now has some form of course or elective devoted to fostering entrepreneurship and the innovation that drives it. More effective partnerships between business schools and their equivalents in science and engineering are helping to give the next generation a real commercial awareness. The rise of the MOOC (“massive open online course”) is revolutionizing online teaching, but can business schools adapt and bring the benefits of business education to a much wider audience than ever before? Score: 6/10.

Being able to leverage data: The amount of data available in the interconnected world has exploded, and can generate significant financial value. Businesses want to take advantage of these data but need skilled individuals who can do so.

Business schools are increasingly using data to target potential students and tailor their messaging to them. But, in comparison with many of the more sophisticated and ambitious users of data in the outside world, they still have a very long way to go. So not bad, but could do better. Score: 6/10.

Raising resource productivity: As resources become more costly and constrained, companies—especially those that need resources for buildings (i.e., electricity) or transportation (i.e., gas)—must think differently to use resources more efficiently.

Schools are doing their bit for the environment with more eco-friendly buildings, but this isn’t where they demonstrate real value. Instead it’s in the way they have integrated the importance of sustainability into practically all of their programs. Whether this means that the next wave of business leaders is really digesting the lesson or merely paying lip service is still to be seen. So for now: 7/10.

Managing a global organization: Leaders of global organizations face challenges in attracting the best talent, creating a collaborative culture, and leading organizations that perform effectively both internally and with external suppliers and innovation chains.

You’d actually be hard-pressed to find a more international business than a business school. Faculty, students, and staff come from almost every country on the planet. Schools are increasingly moving away from any form of national identity and toward the idea that physical location doesn’t matter. They’re also successfully building partnerships with regional specialists to deliver genuinely global programs. It’s definitely an area where schools can claim to be ahead of the curve. Score: 9/10.

Overall score: 35/50. So still some way to go. But perhaps even the mighty McKinsey itself might be tempted to give the sector a pat on the back for progress made so far?

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