Soapbox

May 9, 2013 6:24 pm

Putting the politics into business education

MBA students must understand the business implications of political change

Following the death of former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher there were, as expected, tributes from far and wide. But now as the dust settles we are seeing heated debate and discussion about her political ideology.

This is, therefore, an opportune moment to highlight the paucity of politics education as a part of many MBA programmes and business education generally。

The rapidly growing Asian region with all its obvious business opportunities has become a part of many MBA and business education programmes. Across Asia, however, the political landscape differs vastly from that of Europe and the US.

There is a view that many leading political parties in developed nations have moved to the centre and share similar attitudes and policies on the economy and towards business. However, such a view is misguided and nowhere is it more untrue than in the area of foreign policy where, for example, Political parties in the UK and US differ drastically.

In the case of the UK the ruling Conservative Party appears committed to offering a referendum on continued membership of the European Union with the very real possibility of withdrawal. In contrast the official opposition party will not offer a referendum. Clearly, the business implications of EU withdrawal are vast and will form part of the teaching in many business education programmes. But, the ideological rationale behind such policy differences rarely finds its way into the business lecture theatre or seminar discussion room.

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Strategic management education, long time bedrock of most MBA and business education programmes, continues to focus on consumer and organisational behaviour in the teaching of competitive strategy and leadership. Yet, little or no attention is paid to the business implications of political change. Different political systems around the world, how they work and how to access the key decision makers and tailor business strategy accordingly are similarly ignored.

Asian markets and China in particular are the attractive markets of the future but the political systems in these regions are even less understood by western business students.

If we take China, for example, the Chinese government attitude and policy towards international business is crucial to business success。A detailed understanding of the intricacies of this government’s workings is, therefore, vital to any business success. China’s recent leadership changes are common knowledge but little more is known about any policy differences held by the new president and prime minister, let alone any information about other current and potentially influential party officials. Such knowledge should form part of most business education programmes.

This injection of politics education into an MBA programme is not only necessary to complete any business education, it should also serve as a way of stimulating business students’ interest in political debate and ideology. Successful business leaders need to infuse their organisations with a clear sense of purpose and direction and raison d’etre that goes well beyond economic gain. The development of a clear, personal set of political values and a depth of understanding across the political spectrum will prove invaluable in any effort to establish organisational values too.

So, how should any politics course fit into an MBA or other business education programme? The quick and dirty approach would simply be to add on a course but this would immediately defeat the main purpose of integrating political debate and thought into the heart of business students’ thinking. Far better, therefore, to insert say a “political issues” section into each of the main business functional programmes, e.g strategic management, marketing, finance….etc

For those political systems which are different and opaque, such as China for example, a stand alone politics module might be necessary. Putting the politics into business education is long overdue.

The author is a researcher at Nottingham University’s School of Contemporary Chinese Studies and visiting professor at China’s University of International Business and Economics

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