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Recent articles have questioned the future of MBA programmes and their relevance in the world. Are they still viable? Are their graduates still valued by employers?

As MBA graduates ourselves and leaders of organisations who today employ MBAs around the world, we believe business schools need to innovate to ensure these programmes fulfil their responsibility to prepare leaders able to have positive impacts on their organisations, communities and society more broadly.

The boom of new programmes around the world, and increasing competition for the brightest students, ought to spur innovation in curricula. The complex challenges confronting contemporary society, such as addressing climate change, reducing inequality and ensuring the sustainability of health systems, also demand it.

As renowned scholar Henry Mintzberg, professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management, says, we must begin by acknowledging that management is not a science. It is a practice, where art, science and craft combine. We need to provide MBA students with an understanding of how they can reason in different modes and draw on real-life experiences to tap into the power of intuition, creativity and design thinking. While technical skills and scientific approaches within management disciplines are essential, the practical application of management knowledge, as well as an appreciation of its art and craft aspects, should be enhanced in MBA programmes.

A more integrated form of education is a great way to do this. Integrated management teaches students to appreciate the innovative potential of multiple perspectives on value. It also shows them how to draw upon these perspectives to generate creative solutions. This is done by breaking down the boundaries separating traditional silo approaches to teaching, research and problem-solving.

We know from experience how hard it can be to break down boundaries within our own organisations. It can be messy. But it’s worth it, and frankly, necessary to remain globally competitive. Within programmes such as the MBA, we have a unique opportunity to contribute to the intellectual and moral development of tomorrow’s leaders. Let’s teach students how to think more reflexively and holistically. Show them the advantages of leveraging the diversity of views held by legitimate stakeholders. Encourage them to embrace their capacity for synthesis and judgment. Develop within them the ability to collaborate despite differences. To do so we will still need to provide them with discipline-based knowledge, but it also means we must provide them with more hands-on projects, internships, practicums, service learning opportunities and live cases.

MBA students need to confront the reality that tackling real-world problems requires knowledge sharing across more than one subject matter, and across sectors. Let’s start by giving them opportunities to apply their knowledge and take action in real-time, exposing them to the complex decisions we face every day, before they come out of their programme. Not only will the students benefit, but our organisations and communities will as well.

The real world is an expensive place to get a management education. An MBA will be the best and the cheapest way of reducing losses. The more knowledge and skills students can acquire now, the more they will avoid costly mistakes later.

Alain Bellemare

President and chief executive of Bombardier

Tullio Cedraschi

RET president and chief executive of CN Investment Division

Bertrand Cesvet

Executive chairman and senior partner at Sid Lee

Darren Entwistle

Executive chairman of Telus

Lili de Grandpre

Managing director of CenCEO Consulting

Marie Joseé Desrochers

Director of the Artistic Department at Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal

Rita-Rose Gagne

Executive vice-president of Growth Markets, Ivanhoé Cambridge Inc

Dave Hackett

Executive producer of Hakuhodo Media Partners

Inez Jabalpurwala

President and chief executive of Brain Canada Foundation

Hubert Lacroix

President and chief executive of CBC/Radio-Canada

Eduardo Mandri

President of Tuango

Francois Moscovici

Partner and director of White Water Group

Luc Pinard

Executive vice-president of corporate performance and knowledge management at CGI Group

Samer Saab

Chief executive of eXplorance

Seymour Schulich

Entrepreneur, philanthropist, author

Alexander Toeldte

Chairman of Jitasa

Bill Webb

Chief investment officer at Gluskin Sheff

Renee Yardley

Vice-president of sales and marketing at Tembec

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