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A Google search for Glenn Hubbard will turn up not only results for the dean of Columbia Business School, but also references to the former US Major League baseball star who shares his name. “That’s good for me – it builds my credibility,” jokes the dean. “I always wanted to be a better athlete, so if I can free-ride off his reputation, I’m happy to do so.”

But the academic has more in common with the sportsman – a second baseman from 1978 to 1989 and now first base coach for the Atlanta Braves – than might be thought. Base coaches are a vital part of the offensive effort, as they guide runners around the bases.

At Columbia, the dean is keenly focused on an offensive effort of his own – one to expand the school’s presence into the business world and beyond the university’s walls.

“I describe it as inhaling and exhaling,” says Prof Hubbard. “We’re always looking for more ways of bringing business into Columbia … but also of getting our faculty and ideas in front of business people around the world.”

When it comes to inhaling, the school likes to point out that its location in New York means it is well positioned to bring top business leaders into its programmes (an advantage it shares with its rival, Stern School of Business at New York University).

In terms of exhaling, Prof Hubbard says Columbia uses its alumnus network to set up conferences and other activities that get its faculty out into the world. The school’s executive MBA programme – run with London Business School and the Hong Kong University business school – also helps.

Making these connections has several benefits. First, it exposes the school’s professors to the world’s business leaders. This, says Prof Hubbard, raises Columbia’s profile and puts its faculty in touch with the big business questions of the day.

The financial crisis, says the dean, has underlined the need to develop “whole business leaders”. He adds: “What the crisis taught me was that we in the industry need to double our efforts. I’m not so sure I buy into a lot of the media coverage, that [the crisis] was principally an ethics issue … mainly it was about business leaders who did not connect the dots.”

And when it comes to joining the dots, he talks about everything from ethics to climate change and knowledge of challenges in developing countries. The latter is one of the dean’s passions, expressed in his 2009 book, The Aid Trap: Hard Truths about Ending Poverty.

A programme called “The Individual, Business and Society” is one example of how the school seeks to give students a broader set of business tools. It helps them acquire management skills and teaches them how to handle the trade-offs that arise when business, society and individuals have competing demands.

The programme relies heavily on the experiences of the participants themselves. “We try to get examples from students up front, and these become situations that students can use,” Prof Hubbard says.

In his aim to connect students with the complex challenges faced by people in the business world, Prof Hubbard sees huge potential in executive programmes.

In fact, he believes executive education is “the most exciting market” in business education, particularly given the decline in corporate sponsorship of MBAs. “If you look at the opportunity cost of going to school, and the matches people are making earlier in their careers, the notion of giving up two years of your life and going to school might seem less attractive 20 years from now,” he says.

Reflecting this, Columbia Business School has just launched an programme it calls EMBA Saturday. The course starts in May 2011 and participants will meet each week over the course of 24 months, excluding holidays and other breaks, graduating in May 2013. After completing core courses, students will be able to take elective courses alongside students in other EMBA programmes.

An advantage of teaching EMBA students, the dean says, is that they tend to be older and have more experience. “It puts more emphasis on the ‘whole business leader’ concept.”

It also helps fulfil his desire for the school to become more closely connected to the business world. After all, executive students are immersed in their day jobs during the week.

“They want to be ready to use on Monday what we did on Saturday,” he says. “To be in that real-time focus really helps teaching.”

And if the dean is right to predict that the number of EMBA students will grow as a proportion of the overall MBA cohort, his mission to build “the bridge between what we do here and what people do in the outside world” may advance more quickly.

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