“Changing Roles of Business Schools, an outlook in the future”. A talk by Howard Thomas.



At the 1st EFMD Americas Conference in Sao Paulo, Howard Thomas began by praising the organisation of the conference and the quality of the speakers present. “At many conferences, you listen to things you have heard before, but not at this one.” He then outlined the challenges faced by business schools and how they should be addressed.

Business Schools fulfil a variety of roles like providing (executive) education, knowledge production or facilitating entrepreneurship. Are these roles changing and how do they look like in the future?

“You have to understand the culture and the region, you have to understand the different context and the cultures in order to operate properly as there is no meaning without context.”

He then went on to point out that business schools used to be called “schools of commerce” with their roles mainly focused on improving management. However they have gone through many changes, and the 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of the European Business School. Today, the Asian management model is now on the rise. However, there is also the possibility to have a Latin American business school model.

The term Business School emerged as an American term. The AACSB, which was founded in 1916 with 17 schools, gave them legitimacy in the US. We should now look at ourselves as schools for management and as schools for business rather than business schools.

“Do we really have a theory of managing?” he asked. Much of the criticism from the corporate world is that we are not addressing criticism, synthesis and analysis. Henry Mintzberg’s PhD is still relevant today because it asks what managers really do. By looking at a theory of managing we can improve what we teach. We need to look at the process of managing and teaching more closely.

He argued that we are stuck in a paradigm trap that has been set by predominantly US business schools.


Challenges in Management Education

Business Schools have been overarching. Technology is not just massive open online courses. There is so much data but our statistics courses aren’t always showing us which data to use. We also need to teach people the relevance about research being done but also whether what we are teaching will help us get a job when the studies are completed.HT2

The US is has now got $1.2 trillion of debt just in student loans. This is huge and cannot be allowed to continue. There is a real problem of translation and dissemination.

Competition is coming from all sides and many business schools are too luxurious and need to rethink their business model. However on the other hand Business model innovation is everywhere and we are unsure what we are doing.

The Gordon and Howell model which has been around since the 1960s has been the dominant logic. Gary Hamel has described Deans as being map makers in an earthquake zone.

There is a herd mentality with little differentiation to be found in our business. There will soon be a shift to Masters Programmes. The tenure is less than 5 years for a Dean in the US.

The problem is that the ranking and accreditation agencies are not blameless in this cycle because they force us towards creating a common recipe which is hard to diverge from.

There are many barriers to change and one of these is the existence of the tenure. In fact if anything, tenure protects the professors rather than the institution.

“Once I have got tenure, I can let the inmates run the asylum.”

Added to that we are also in danger of becoming complacent and thinking we have done well.

Secondly many schools say they should be doing more cross discipline research but in the end they just don’t do it. There is also a problem of hiring leadership professors but the same goes for good leadership amongst Deans. He cited the excellent development of IMD under the leadership of Peter Lorange.


The status quo is an inside out perspective which reinforces the exiting model. A number of alternative models have been suggested by Lorange, Sheth and Thomas. Many of these models are incremental around a common theme. “It is a tweaking, not a radical change.” Smaller changes are the way to change the herd mentality. Look at Online, it has been around for a long time and is a very important development.

If anything the business school world needs anticipatory leadership. David Saunders at Queens University is a prime example of this. The best time to change is when you are doing well, this is when you are more able to actually implement the changes and not cause further problems. But there is a need for greater innovation and less imitation.

You have got to have a clear differentiation and positioning. For example, SMU students are required to do 100 hours of community service and it has positioned itself in social entrepreneurship. Added to that, they are also hiring business historians for the first time.

There is a real need to teach in a moral way. Not to mention that 75% of SMU students go outside of the country.

See also:

Charla – Interactive French & Spanish Talks

Lisa, Alejandro, Diana, Nadège, Elodie, Tristan and Isabelle, graduate management students from Grenoble EM, describe their experience within the Charla language classes. Charla, or chat in English, gathers French speaking students learning Spanish and Hispanic students learning French. For half an hour the students speak in French and then switch to Spanish during another half an hour. The idea is to put students in an authentic situation as explains Carole Gally, initiator of Charla along with Ana Cerro. Subjects and guided activities are only suggested, the students can go far beyond these basic guidelines as they meet natives with whom they can interact about cultural or linguistic subjects which they are concerned about rather than sticking to more artificial situations like you can find in a regular classroom.

Business schools: the unloved child of prestigious universities?

Business schools: the illegitimate child of prestigious universities?

A good friend of mine who had set up a very lucrative business school in a traditional university once complained to me: “The university like what I do and they like the money I bring, but they don’t like me.“ Traditional, prestigious universities often have a very strange relationship with their business schools treating them like the illegitimate child who has had a very successful career.

BOOK REVIEW: “Business Schools in Transition?” by Howard Thomas, Eric Cornuel, Arnoud De Meyer, Kai Peters, David Wilson, and Peter Lorange (2012)

Business Schools in Transition?This book is a collection of essays written by some of the major names in management education (Eric Cornuel, Howard Thomas, Arnoud De Meyer, James Fleck, Kai Peters, David Wilson, and Peter Lorange). It looks at the reasons behind business schools wishing to internationalize, how social media is having an impact on how business schools work, challenges  some of the criticisms thrown at business schools and also looks at how sustainable the current model is within the industry. Like other books in this EFMD collection, it is a thought provoking read for all stakeholders in higher education.

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Filed under Business Schools, Conference, Education, Higher Education, Learning

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