Business schools need help. They know that they must train leaders who can thrive in today’s increasingly interconnected and complex business environment, yet for all the talk of being “global” and “international”, when teaching students how to best operate in such a world schools struggle to go beyond scratching the surface.
While single business schools can emphasise the international composition of students or faculty and staff, even the largest schools cannot replicate all the various business contexts around the world to allow their students to truly understand the subtleties of working globally. Business schools can only give their students a taste of globalisation and what it implies. But is this enough?
I think that the answer is no. Being globally aware is not only about understanding the interdependence of the different economic systems, or knowing how to design a globally distributed supply chain. These issues are relevant, but they tend to be moving targets.
I would argue that the key to good management in a global world is to be open minded, which is far harder to teach because it is an attitude; it is not something that is learnt, it is something that is developed. And it is not just students who need this open-mindedness. Business schools, too, need to be open minded about the ways in which different parts of the world work, about how different people face similar problems and how their criteria for problem solving can differ. It is not about judging whether your approach is better or worse, it is about understanding other people’s approach.
In such an interconnected world, forging alliances with like-minded institutions is crucial. The combined effort, expertise and perspectives that such alliances bring can make a vast difference to how successfully the business education sector can train future leaders.
But although many business schools have established relationships with one another, often these are solely concerned with developing programmes together. What is needed is true collaboration, pooled knowledge and an exchange of teaching faculty so that business schools can contribute to each other´s development.
Establishing effective alliances with other schools helps business schools to open their minds and also helps students to open theirs. Close collaboration with business schools that are deeply embedded in their local environment can bring schools closer to the realities of management and society at a local level in other parts of the world.
In turn this contributes to the faculty’s knowledge of what is happening in other markets. Students too can also draw upon a broader range of business environments and expertise – a prized commodity in today´s connected world.
Schools can use alliances to combine resources and learn from each other, particularly when expanding into terrains that may be unfamiliar to one partner. Alliances between business schools in different parts of the world are more productive the more asymmetric they are – as complementarity is crucial to opening our minds to the wider world.
Long-lasting relationships between schools helps to foster trust, close personal knowledge and collaboration among teaching and staff.
We need many more of these alliances to ensure that business schools continue to be fit for purpose and jointly contribute to the development of responsible business leaders.
The author is professor of marketing at Iese Business School.