BOOK REVIEW: “Strategic Leadership in the Business School: Keeping One Step Ahead” by Fernando Fragueiro & Howard Thomas (2011)

CoverAccording to Fragueiro and Thomas, the world has gone through a state of semi-globalization.  Though businesses are concerned by working globally, and many of their operations are handled on an international level, there still remain a lot of local idiosyncrasies, which include consumer habits and behaviors.  Business schools have been under pressure to adapt to this by giving their students a global outlook, but also remaining schools that are directly involved with their communities.  The financial crisis has added to criticism of what has been done in business schools, with one former Dean of a top business school even suggesting that the diploma should expire every 10 years, since clearly what was taught is no longer relevant.  Increasingly, the business school curriculum is being asked to offer a value proposition way beyond status and salary. 


Business School and money

Money is an important asset that business schools can rely on.

Chapter 1 of the book sets out the business landscape, including trends and dilemmas within the industry.  Criticism of business schools is nothing new, and dates back to the late 19th and early 20th century, when most of the schools were created.  In the 60s, there was criticism from the Carnegie Report and then the Ford Foundation, which invested nearly $40 million to promote business education and research in 5 institutions.  The authors point out that, in fact, money is a huge advantage.  Of the 14 business schools that regularly appear in the top 20 in the Financial Times, virtually all of them are private, and have huge amounts of funds to call upon.  This is a self-reinforcing dynamic, because then they get funds from large donators.  Baden-Fuller and Ang (2001) described this process as building a charmed circle of resources and benefits.  European business schools, though, do have one advantage over their American counterparts in that they are much more highly rated on areas such as international, career progress, and value for money.  However, American business schools out position them on salary, research, and alumni criteria.


Business schools as professional organizations.

Chapter 2 is a beautifully put together chapter, which sets out business schools as professional organizations, or professional service firms.  This refers back to Mintzberg’s definition of the structure of organizations, which can be either entrepreneurial, machine, adhocracy and professional.  Business schools tend to resemble the adhocracy and professional models.  They contain a highly trained core of professors, pursuing their own interpretation of the organization’s mission of teaching and research.  There is little strategic planning or strategic learning, and strategic venturing is generally done at a very individual level.  Professional workers expect little direct supervision, and a very indirect form of leadership, which involves protection and support rather than direct intervention.  Finally, professionals working in such fields have a much stronger link to the professional standards and values than they do to the actual employer.  This makes them incredibly difficult to manage.  Networking within the professional service firm is vital, both on an internal and external level, since this is what brings knowledge, and therefore the power or ability to do certain things.

BS environment

An autocratic type of management style would not work in business school environment.

Chapter 3 talks about the leadership within a business school.  The authors’ underlying fact that there is a need to consider leadership more as a process, and to be sensitive to the needs of getting groups to work together.  Since deans are often seen as first amongst equals, particularly when they are elected and not appointed, having subtle leadership skills can be vital to the success.  An autocratic type of management style would not work.  As the authors point out, academics are not like business executives and do not particularly report to a hierarchical superior, but look to their colleagues for approval and respect.

LBS network

London Business School profited from its rich alumni network.

Chapter 4 takes this leadership one step further by looking at the workings and practice of three top business schools: IMD, INSEAD, and London Business School.  In particular, it looks carefully at how Laura Tyson managed to change the image of London Business School around, particularly by developing the alumni network and thereby being able to launch a big campaign to improve its finances.  For anybody about to embark on a fundraising exercise, Tyson’s strategic plan is well worth looking at.

peter lorange

Peter Lorange developed IMD also thanks to listening to feedback from professors.

Chapter 6 looks more specifically at the role of the dean.  It gives a good example of how Peter Lorange successfully developed IMD when it was in a very critical situation.  Rather than bringing in a very autocratic style of leadership, he wrote to every professor and said, “if you were in my shoes, what three things would you do to make a positive contribution to the school, and what would you not do.  Please help me.  Send me a little note.”  The success of this policy is quite outstanding, and when Peter Lorange finally retired just a few years ago, IMD became completely transformed.  Finally, Chapter 6 finishes with a personal reflection from the two authors on their times as Dean.  For anybody trying to understand the workings of a business school, particularly in terms of its governance and how decisions are made, this is an excellent and well-put together book, which will give you lots of the keys to successfully working within the industry.

Interesting Quotes

Amidst this semi-globalised setting of recent decades, management education and, in particular, business schools have come under strong pressure to adapt their knowledge creation and teaching practices to the new realities of business. Schools have responded proactively to these challenges.

European schools rate much more highly on international dimensions, career progress and value for money but fall behind on the salary, research and alumni criteria. The latter criteria, of course, reflect longer established reputations.

khurana final

Khurana´s argument.

Khurana maintains that business schools have lost their moral and ethical high ground in educating business leaders. Hay (2008; emphasis in original) argues is “to create value through three types of value, namely, academic value, through research and its dissemination, personal value, through their teaching; and public and social value, in the form of knowledgeable and skilled graduates and through the way they engage in the societies in which they are based.”

Mintzberg describes McGill University as the classic professional organization, with a highly trained corps of professors pursuing their own interpretation of the organisation’s mission of teaching and researching, with little or no collective strategic planning or strategic learning and with strategic venturing being largely an individual pursuit.

Løwendahl 82001: 41) mentions, PSFs provide innovative problem-solving services, based on a high degree of professional expertise and individual judgement. She adds, “The core of the resource base of the professional service firm resides in the professionals employed and their ability to solve whatever problems the clients may want them to solve.”

Mintzberg (1989: 190) notes: ‘In the professional organization, major innovation also depends on cooperation. The single professional may perfect existing programs, but new ones usually cut across the established speciality…and so call for collective action. As a result, the reluctance of the professionals to cooperate with each other and the complexity of the collective processes can produce resistance to innovation.’

PSFs can enhance or harm trust through different managerial decisions, such as incentive and recognition systems, project assignments, the appraisal assessment process, internal promotion criteria, the stress (or lack of it) on professional competence development, the degree of autonomy and discretion for project resolution and execution and, finally, involvement in strategic decisions.


PSF – different actors with different skills work together.

Howard (1991) underlines the importance of leadership in PSFs by pointing out that it is the most critical factor in managing these kinds of organisations, because of their diffuse authority structure, in which professionals typically resist authority and look for independence and autonomy.

In studying different PSFs, Pettigrew (1992) and Denis, Langley and Cazale (1996) underline the importance of considering leadership more as a process, in which different actors with different skills handle alternative aspects of the change process but work together as a group.

Schools need to map their faculty’s profile, background, teaching skills, research competencies and needs, finding the way to attract, recruit and compensate the academics who meet those requirements.

School’s strategic agenda needs to be built with initiatives that match their academic model and executed with means provided by their economic model. As Lorange (2008: 215) concludes, ‘There are so many different directions that a business school could potentially follow. A clear focus seems paramount.’


The dean is rarely viewed as the boss; rather, he/she is regarded as more of a colleague.

The dean of a business school is sometimes seen by its internal constituencies as ‘first among equals’. The dean is rarely viewed as the boss; rather, he/she is regarded as more of a colleague. Antonio Borges, INSEAD dean from 1995 to 2000, remarked, ‘So the dean, to a certain extent, is also accountable to the faculty, having been elected by them.

As Laura Tyson, LBS dean from 2000 to 2005, has pointed out, ‘The main thing that I think a dean is trying to do is actually trying to represent the institution to the different groups that don’t quite see the institution in the same way. So you’re standing for the collective interests and the future of this institution.’

Tyson laid out a plan: “Hire a high-ranking associate dean for external relations; put him or her in our management committee; recruit several additional fund-raisers; and then convince the faculty, our alumni and everybody that this had to be a major issue for LBS.”

See also:

Related Articles

Cover cover
Sets out some of the challenges and external pressures on business schools today and the impact that may have for the coming years. Excellent advice taken from Lorange’s business and academic career.
The book is an “insider’s account” of why business schools have never gained the respectabilty they have searched for over the past century.



Filed under Behavior, Book Review, Business Schools, Education, Higher Education, Leadership, Management, Strategy, USA

4 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: “Strategic Leadership in the Business School: Keeping One Step Ahead” by Fernando Fragueiro & Howard Thomas (2011)

  1. I loved reading this great post! 🙂

  2. Pingback: 1st EFMD America Conference: Executive Education and the Corporate Perspective | GlobalEd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s