As business changes, so does business education (sponsored contribution)

4th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

When the world economy went into free-fall, fingers were pointed in many directions.

Government, banks, financial advisors, businesses: and business schools, especially those offering the most prominent and sought-after MBAs came in for sustained criticism.

Was this fair? Did these groups really bring about the conditions- or more importantly the attitudes – that shattered the growth dream that had prevailed for well over a decade?

The short answer is, ”yes”, in a general sense.  Each of these groups held to the frameworks that had been successful for so long, and did not look forward to the tensions that were being created in an economy that did not actually reflect these frameworks any more.  However, as with all things, the false appreciation was not monolithic: some people and institutions could see what was building, and in some cases started to look at the needs of the future in terms of both recovery and sustainability.  Some, indeed, already had the necessary degree of knowledge and flexibility built in to what they were doing to assist this process.

The Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) was one of these institutions; and its faculty some of the very people who could see more clearly than the general attitude would allow.  It had developed a curriculum in which all of the major elements of social responsibility and good business practice are combined.  This is integrated into all parts of the various MBA programmes– the Full-Time International MBA; Executive MBA; and Global Executive OneMBA – through teaching and example.

The curriculum itself has always anticipated a flexible approach to market changes, and others are added as soon as they are identified.  This process is aided by the use of international faculty who also operate in the market, so that they can quickly and accurately reflect what is happening in their area of teaching and expertise.

The MBA at RSM is a general management programme that looks across the use of resources, both human and physical.  Participants in the programmes are provided with frameworks that look not just at the “how” of the way business works, but also the “why”.  This latter “why” is important because this is the basis by which managers can identify the means and objectives of positive change.  Any manager with this knowledge is sympathetic to innovation: an important objective of the programmes at RSM.  This is summed up in the saying at RSM, “Critical thought, practical action.”

So RSM was positioned to identify changes quickly, and to respond in curriculum and teaching to strengthen the ability of managers themselves to respond appropriately to changed market conditions.  One innovation that preceded the present economic conditions, but is important to address them, is the change from a 15-month to a 12-month full-time International MBA programme.  This reduces the opportunity cost to participants of completing an MBA, and allows them to re-enter the workforce sooner than in a longer programme.

The new curriculum emphasises much more interaction with companies at a practical level of case studies, projects and facilitation of studies by company representatives.  It also allows participants to focus more directly on their career choice with a greater exposure to company representatives and recruiters.  The management education they receive is much more directly related to their career ambitions.

Yet knowing is not enough.  Managers can know what to do, but may lack the organisational knowledge or personal commitment to implement desirable innovation.  It may also seem of relatively little importance compared with maintaining the status quo but the initiative needs to come from within.

An important and crucial part of the curriculum is Personal Leadership Development (PLD) which assists participants to meet personal as well as business goals.  It begins with an individual audit from which a personal development plan is devised.  This plan is then modified, extended and implemented through a series of facilitation workshops, individual work with a mentor, and some group discussions.

The result of this, along with the management education that is received, is a well-rounded manager who has both the education and the personal confidence to take on leadership both in business and the community.  Again, this is summed up at RSM as, “Creating your future and enhancing the future of others.”

Yet this is not a recent innovation for RSM.  PLD and social responsibility have been a component of the MBA programmes since they were established.  The contribution of RSM has been that its development of the orientation to excellence in management education and the “softer” personal skills essential for managers has been ahead of changes.  So, when undesirable changes occur, managers educated at RSM already have an appreciation of what is happening and how they should respond as resource managers and leaders.

At RSM, there has long been a culture that supports the pursuit of sustainable management practices.  In the Grey Pinstripes ranking, a measure of environmental and social awareness and practice, RSM is #3 in Europe.  While a good measure of this comes from the curriculum and attitudes displayed by staff and the institution, it is also a culture that has been picked up by participants, and is both sustained and expanded by them.  Two examples of the social conscience displayed by programme participants are the charity for street children in Indonesia; and the charity food exhibition and fund-raising event that is held annually.

The present economic difficulties are a result of a lack of foresight on the part of many leaders: political; business; and educational.  Yet each of these groups must respond, must change to address and remedy the situation.  While success and renewed prosperity is the responsibility of all, RSM has been one of the leaders in equipping managers for hard times; giving them the knowledge and personal understanding to contribute significantly.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University can truly say that, in creating its own future, it is helping to enhance the future of many others.

About the author: Ken Robertson is the Director of MBA Marketing and Admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University – a top-ranked international business school renowned for its ground-breaking research in sustainable business practices and for the development of leaders in global business and society.  RSM is constantly ranked among the top ten business schools in Europe.

He is an Economist by training, and an international businessperson by experience.  He recently moved to Holland after a number of years’ teaching in MBA programmes in Australia; and business development activities in Asia.

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