Business school: United Airlines image and MBA activists

Send your ideas on how you would advise the airline to recover its reputation

Welcome to the FT Business school newsletter, a weekly serving of management wisdom, reading recommendations and business-related challenges. FT subscribers can sign up here to receive the newsletter by email every Monday. If you have any feedback about FT Business school, please email bschool@ft.com.

Andrew Hill's challenge

The FT's management editor sets a weekly test of your business, strategy and management skills.

No doubting the most popular business story of last week: the extraordinary forced "re-accommodation" of a passenger on a United Airlines flight — the video of the incident went viral quickly. Oscar Munoz, United Continental's chief executive, then botched what should have been a rapid apology.

So for my challenge this week, I'd like to hear — in no more than a sentence or two — how you would advise United to recover its reputation. It could be an advertising campaign slogan, a customer loyalty idea, or a way on how to change the staff or passenger mindset, or something else original. Send your ideas to bschool@ft.com.

For further reading this week, take a look at the latest research on management practice, ably summarised here by Peter Orszag, for Bloomberg. The team of researchers provides further positive answers to the cynical question of whether management matters. It does. As Orszag puts it, the study of 32,000 US factories shows "plants practising more structured performance-oriented management are more productive, innovative and profitable" than those that do not.

Professor's picks

Every week a business school professor or academic recommends useful FT articles.

ManMohan S Sodhi, professor of operations and supply chain management at the UK's Cass Business School, selects:

A bigger catch: China’s fishing fleet hunts new ocean targets This is an excellent article for my operations strategy class for discussing sustainability, ‘free’ resources and continual economic growth.

When a ‘free’ resource like fish stock in the open seas falls into short supply, common sense would suggest reducing exploitation — but the “tragedy of the commons” mentioned in this article suggests instead that exploitation would increase. This is what the article describes: depleting fish stocks lead to larger fishing boats and fleets that go further and deeper into the ocean seeking alternative species, eventually resulting in the collision of national interests.

Japan gambles on Toyota’s hydrogen powered car and China’s Tencent takes 5% stake in Tesla This pair of articles is useful in an operations strategy class for highlighting competition between different ecosystems — electrical or hydrogen fuel-cell cars — and the factors that auto companies and policy makers have to consider when choosing which ecosystem to join.

Japan is taking the hydrogen route to build on its manufacturing and chemicals prowess. Petrochemical companies like Shell may also join this ecosystem by supplying hydrogen. For China, it makes sense to back electric cars because, apart from the batteries, electric cars are easier to manufacture than hydrogen cars. Also, for a Chinese internet company like Tencent, apps or platforms can be developed around data collected on the car and driver.

Ask the academics

Got a question for leading business school experts? Send it to bschool@ft.com and we will publish the best replies in future newsletters.

Jonathan Moules' business school news

Diversity has been a buzzword for business schools for several years. Classrooms with a better mix of nationalities, ages and backgrounds, not to mention better gender balance, can improve the quality of debate and learning, the argument goes. It could also be changing the politics of business schools with a greater rise of activism on campuses.

I have been talking with MBA students that have organised demonstrations or attended marches in recent months on a range of issues from racial inequality to immigration, and found people passionate about using their position in workplaces to push for change. This generation of students show very different attitudes to those in the past.

One area of diversity that the Financial Times has focused on recently is that of female leadership in corporate life. Business schools have done less well in this area in the past with the proportion of women in the highest ranked MBA classes remaining stuck at around a third of annual intakes. This might be changing, however, with Wharton recently revealing that 44 per cent of its incoming MBA class consists of women.

The path to greater gender balance is not smooth. A recent study by Harvard University found a surprising difference between single and married women on MBA courses. Those that were unattached were more likely to downplay their professional ambition and tendency for leadership compared not just to their male classmates, but those women that were married. The report’s authors wonder whether this is because single women feel high ambition would make them less attractive to potential partners. A curious outcome if true.

Further reading

Do you need a digital detox? Read Device-Free Time Is as Important as Work-Life Balance in the Harvard Business Review.

Test your knowledge

How good is your grasp of the news? Test your reading of last week's top stories with the FirstFT quiz.

Compiled by Wai Kwen Chan

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