B-Schools: Go Global or Die?

B-Schools - go global or die?

No one in their right mind would claim that there is such a thing as a best place in the world to conduct business. After all, how could you compare the City of London to an Indian technology hub like Bangalore? Or Silicon Valley to one of the rapidly developing industrial cities of China? So why do so many of the major business school rankings seem to take the view that there is such a thing as a best place to learn how to conduct business?

Traditionally, and at least for the present, that place would seem to be in the heart of Western capitalism, in North America or Western Europe, at least if the “usual suspect” schools that frequent the upper echelons of rankings are anything to go by. But this may not be the case for much longer. As economic power slides apparently inexorably to the south and east, business education may very well follow it. So does this mean that the ‘right place’ of the future will be a Beijing or Brasilia rather than a Paris or Philadelphia?

A recent conversation with Peter Rafferty, international development director at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, put some sense back into this particular argument. Rafferty is adamant that the whole point of a modern MBA is not to train managers and professionals to work in a particular market, no matter how promising that market may be on the day you sign up for a program. Instead it is to equip graduates with the skills, knowledge, cultural sensitivity and network to operate in what is rapidly becoming a genuinely global marketplace..

How that is actually achieved will remain open to debate. Rafferty’s own school seeks to do it by partnering with Peking University and by operating a dedicated campus in St Petersburg. Many others are still following the diversity route, cramming as many nationalities as possible into the classroom in the hope that an international attitude may emerge from the cocktail of views and experience. And even the mighty Harvard Business School seems to be retreating from its former position that all that needed to be learned could be learned on the Cambridge, Mass. campus and is now dispatching MBA students to do project work around the globe, in what the school describes as a field-based global immersion.

Rafferty may have a point. Following the vagaries of fashion could be damagingly short-sighted. What the next generation of MBAs will need is a much wider range of tools than any of their illustrious predecessors used—tools that will encompass both the best of Western management techniques and the insights of their peers to the east and south—and the energy and open-mindedness of the business community in developing economies. The challenge for business schools is to train their charges to be successful everywhere and anywhere. A big ask, but not one that will be going away anytime soon.

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