January 25, 2010 12:01 am

School profile: Stern eyes the global stage

Stern School of Business

As business schools race to meet student demand for more global content in the MBA programme, Stern School of Business is about to get a shot in the arm in this respect with the arrival of a new dean. Peter Blair Henry was born in Jamaica and comes armed with research on emerging economies and experience as leader of the Obama transition team’s review of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The future is really in emerging economies,” says Prof Henry, who arrives on campus this month... “And for business leaders in the twenty first century, it’s going to require an education that’s not just focused on finance, marketing and economics, but that takes a broader and more integrated approach and looks at how all these things fit together.”

Stern’s global outlook predates the arrival of Prof Henry, however. With a location at New York University, just minutes from the international financial centre that is Wall Street, Stern also has links to schools around the globe, most prominently through its Trium Executive MBA programme – operated in partnership with the London School of Economics and HEC Paris – but also through the overseas study opportunities offered to its full-time MBA students.

A recently launched two-semester course focusing on social impact strategies in India, for example, combines learning in the classroom with applied learning in the field through partners in India. “We’re going to see more of an international flavour in the things that we do,” says Thomas Cooley, Stern’s outgoing dean.

Like Prof Henry, he sees globalisation dominating everything from economics and policymaking to the growing interest in social enterprise, a subject for which the school recently won eighth position in the Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking, the Aspen Institute’s measure of how business schools incorporate social and environmental issues into research projects and curricula.

However, Prof Cooley stresses that the school’s approach towards the subject of globalisation has been cautious - something he believes has paid off. “One of the things the crisis has highlighted is some of the upsides and the downsides of globalisation,” he says.

Moreover, he also advocates exercising restraint when it comes to designing the on-the-ground programmes in emerging markets. While there is vast demand from students for these programmes, Prof Cooley stresses the need to strike a balance between active learning experiences and the classroom teaching.

“We have trouble keeping the supply up in terms of meaningful study trips to places like India, China or Brazil,” he says. “And we could fill as many such opportunities as we could offer but we are cautious about doing so because we want to make sure they have intellectual and academic rigour. And we’re very careful about screening partners, because we don’t want these trips to become tourist ventures.”

Of course, Stern does not need to venture far to expose students to compelling on-the-ground experiences. With some of the richest and some of the poorest communities in the US on its doorstep, the school has been able to offer students everything from a case study on the Metropolitan Opera to the chance to join the Stern Consulting Corps (SCS), through which students work with New York City-based non-profit organisations based in low-income communities.

The SCS programme has proved a magnet for students. For alongside international themes and entrepreneurship, students also rank highly the chance to work on social issues.

This does not necessarily represent a sea change in terms of post-MBA careers, however, says Prof Cooley. While the school’s student body is made up of a growing number of individuals working or planning to work in public sector or non-profit jobs, he points out that most people who attend the school still have in mind a career in areas such as banking, consulting or entertainment.

Nevertheless, he believes that, even for those who return to the corporate world after completing their MBA, programmes the school offers are shaping attitudes towards the role of business. “It means we’re producing students that have a deeper awareness of the responsibility of business and society,” says Prof Cooley.

Of course, in the light of the financial crisis, words such as “responsibility” and “sustainability” have taken on a different meaning. Some have laid at least a portion of the blame for the crisis on business schools, calling for them to develop individuals who are better able to understand financial system’s risks and to manage those risks more ethically and effectively.

Stern’s response, says Prof Cooley, has been to act as a commentator. In March, the school published a book, based on a series of white papers written by 33 Stern professors, entitled Restoring Financial Stability: How to Repair a Failed System.

Earlier this year it also opened a new research centre, the Volatility Institute, designed to measure and forecast financial volatility, producing daily analyses using a variety of models.

“In a situation like this, schools should be a dispassionate voice in analysing the issues and thinking about the solutions,” says Prof Cooley.

For a business school that is part of a university known as a research institution, this approach comes as no surprise. And while Stern has increased the number of faculty with business experience, as well as bringing in individuals who are more focused on teaching than research, the school’s research agenda is likely to continue under the new dean.

“It all starts with research,” says Prof Henry. “By doing research on these questions, you come up with the facts – facts that you then teach.”

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