Business School Partnerships: Like Porcupines Making Love

B-school partnerships - porcupines making love

It seems that hardly a month goes by without the announcement of a new partnership, alliance or joint venture among international business schools. A recent example saw The University of Southern California, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Italy’s SDA Bocconi coming together to run a three-continent undergraduate programme next year. In a time when the orthodoxy is that students must get as broad a business education as possible, going it alone abroad is becoming increasingly unfashionable.

The problem with joint enterprises is that it can be like a marriage. When it works out it is great. But it can take a lot of time and effort to maintain and is prone to breaking down under the accompanying strain. Take, for example, the recent dissolution of the partnership between Columbia Business School and Berkeley’s Haas. The two came together with some fanfare in 2002 to create a joint EMBA that was promoted on its ability to offer participants exposure both to Silicon Valley and the international financial centre in New York. Both parties maintain there is still plenty of interest and demand but, like some bored, long-married couple they seem to have simply drifted apart. The promise of a continuing exchange programme and ongoing support to alumni is reminiscent of divorcees remaining civil to each other for the sake of the children.

However, most marriages do survive. The OneMBA programme, for example, is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary, a notable achievement by any standards, and particularly impressive given that this relationship embraces five participants that span the globe from the Americas to Europe to the Pacific Rim. The schools seem to attribute the longevity of their relationship, at least in part, to the problems they have had to deal with in an equal, international and multi-cultural partnership. “Anything worth doing is difficult to do,” says Peter Brews of the programme’s American partner, North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler school, “and, perhaps perversely, we set out to create something that was going to be really difficult to get going and keep running because tough stuff is hard to copy. So all along we’ve had to approach things like porcupines making love—very deliberately, very carefully.”

The market for business education cannot keep expanding forever. And faced with intensifying competition it is likely that more schools will take the joint venture route in a bid to differentiate themselves from the crowd. At business school campuses around the world, learning how to act like a copulating rodent may become essential over the next few years.

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