In light of the tectonic changes the world is facing – rising inflation, widening inequality, and an ongoing pandemic, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business hosted the webinar ‘Navigating Uncertainty and Opportunities Amidst Disruptions’ to gauge the opinions of global deans on the roles that business schools should play in helping business leaders navigate through uncertain times. The event was hosted with the support of Asia House, EFMD Global, FDC, GBSN, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, KikiNetwork, MaKiNetwork, and United Nations’ PRME.
The webinar featured deans at some of the world’s most prestigious business schools, including Xiang Bing, Founding Dean of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business; Antonio Batista da Silva Junior, Dean of Fundação Dom Cabral Business School in Brazil; Soumitra Dutta, Dean of Saïd Business School of the University of Oxford; and Alexander Triantis, Dean of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. The four deans gave a keynote speech which was followed by a discussion joined by Tao Zhigang, Professor of Economics and Strategy and Associate Dean for the MBA Program at CKGSB, and Dan LeClair, CEO of the Global Business School Network.
CKGSB Founding Dean Xiang Bing kicked off the webinar by saying, “We are living in the era of multiple transformational changes, and this may be the first time in human history that we have so many changes and disruptions taking place at one point in time.”
Dean Dutta of Saïd Business School expressed that in an age of uncertainty it is important for business schools to “create backwards,” which he defined as “imagining the future, what it could be, and working backwards from there.” Dean Xiang echoed this view by adding: “I hope students will look at business issues from a long-term perspective that will be useful for mitigating climate change and promoting sustainability.”
Dean Alexander Triantis of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School argued that amidst uncertainties it is important for business schools and companies to have flexibility – a topic which he researched for his doctorate. “Many companies have focused on maximizing efficiency and the sort of classic business school view that we have espoused for many years, and it has come at the expense of the ability to adjust to disruption.”
Dean Dutta also called for business schools to become more flexible and to innovate. The pandemic, he noted, was a platform for business schools to shift to new and innovative models of education, but many have returned to the old ways of offline teaching now. “We are rushing back to the comfort zone, or what we are used to without having the courage to experiment and innovate for the future,” he said.
Dean Batista of FDC in Brazil expressed the need for business schools to adapt to the issues of the 21st century. “During the 20th century, we taught strategy, corporate finance, marketing and statistics, and we were proud to help companies become richer. But today there is a new agenda for business schools to teach sustainability, inclusion, well-being, diversity, ethics, social consumption, sustainable growth, and so on.” He also highlighted that business schools need to go wherever society goes and to track society’s needs and complexities.
Reflecting on this point, CKGSB launched its new 2022 ESG and Social Innovation Report: Our Innovative Path towards Sustainable Development’ during the event, which brings examples of how the business school pursues ESG goals and drives social innovation, which it defines as the collaboration among businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, non-profit organizations and civil society to develop and deploy effective and innovative solutions to humanity’s most challenging issues. ESG and sustainability have become the core topics of discussion in management education.
CKGSB Professor Tao Zhigang also expressed the need for business schools to adapt to today’s evolving landscape. “We have to produce research that addresses some of the most pressing issues that companies face…sometimes professors simply write papers of their own interest.” Dean Triantis further elaborated on this topic saying, “We encourage our faculty to be flexible in what they research…and on the teaching side also to have as little bureaucracy as possible, so that we can quickly change our curricula and bring new innovative courses to continue to be relevant to what our business students need, so as to have an impact in their companies and on society.”
The call for business schools to be more inclusive and the question as to whether they are currently addressing the needs of all in society was raised by several panelists. “We talk a lot about sustainability in business schools, but let’s actually look at what we are doing today inside of our schools…if we are really concerned about trying to achieve the SDG goals in education, shouldn’t we be trying to do other things? Shouldn’t we be trying to address the educational needs of millions of young people around us?” said Dean Dutta. Dean Batista echoed this, highlighting “we usually deal with the top of the pyramid, but there are millions in Brazil and in every country who cannot afford to pay for such programs.” Xiang Bing explained that rising inequality was the reason why he introduced philanthropy and 48 hours of social work into the CKGSB EMBA program. Baptista commented that FDC has a target to teach entrepreneurship to 1 million underprivileged students in Brazil.
The discussion moved on to an interesting debate on the utility of the business schools ranking system. Dean Xiang Bing emphasized, “Given the complexity of the disruption we have it can be very difficult to come up with ranking metrics that can be applied globally.” He further explained, “It is important to come up with groundbreaking Google-, Amazon-type of innovations that are not in-the-box thinking at all and difficult to be measured by current ranking systems.” Dean Triantis, who is the Chair Elect of the global accrediting body AACSB, referring to the accreditation process said, “A chief focus for AACSB now is on societal impact. So schools are expected to provide examples of what they’re doing over time.”
Dean Triantis subsequently pinpointed that business schools need to collaberate on working towards specific SDG goals. Xiang Bing went further on the topic of collaboration: “We have to reach out to different types of schools and different organizations to tap into their expertise… we have to work together with not only business schools, engineering schools, political science schools, but multilateral organizations like the United Nations to address some of the really critical, social and environmental issues.” He emphasized this as the reason to why CKGSB has reached out to institutions, such as UNESCO, to launch a unicorn program for Africa next year, and recently to schools such as UC Berkeley Engineering and IMD to combine expertise.
The webinar was brought to an end with a closing remark from Dean Dutta who expressed, “We as business school colleagues don’t collaborate enough…so I’m hopeful, we have a short period of time, and we should move fast.”