What Does Business Want from Business Schools?

Richard Lambert

Sir Richard Lambert is Chancellor of Warwick University in Britain. He was editor of the Financial Times from 1991 to 2001, served on the Bank Of England Monetary Policy Committee 2003 to 2006 and was Director of the Confederation of British Industry 2006 to 2011. He also chaired the Lambert Review on the relationship between higher education and business.

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Sir Richard Lambert suggests four key issues.

What does business want from business schools? The answer is: “exactly what it has always wanted” – great graduates and relevant ideas.

But the qualities required of those graduates and the nature of the ideas that are of most interest to business are both changing radically. The world is undergoing a profound transformation in economic, political and social terms – on a scale and at a pace never seen before. As a result, tomorrow’s business leaders are going to need a new set of skills to handle these challenges.

And the question that readers of Global Focus have to answer is: are business schools as they are currently structured, teaching programmes as they are currently designed best equipped to deliver them?

Of course, there is no single answer to the question. But my guess is that quite a lot of schools still have much to do to keep up with the game in this fast-changing world. This article concentrates on just four of the qualities that businesses will require of their future leaders in this time of transformation. (There are, of course, many more.)

Embracing diversity

The first, and in some ways the most important, is the ability to manage diversity. Consider this. During the 1990s, just 12 countries in the world generated growth in incomes per head at a pace that was twice the OECD average. In the first decade of this century, that number jumped to 83. Nearly half of the two billion people now getting by on between $10 and $100 a day – the global middle class – live in what the OECD calls “converging economies”. (That is, economies that are catching up with the living standards of the West from a low base via turbo-charged growth.)

This has profound implications for global business. So do the massive demographic changes that are already under way around the world.

By 2050, other things being equal, there will be almost as many people in Nigeria as in America; Ethiopia will have twice as many people as Britain or Germany. But the working population of Japan and Russia could fall by roughly one-third over the same period.

The opportunities that all this throws up for business will not be evenly dispersed. Successful leaders of the future will need judgment, imagination and the capacity to work in unfamiliar surroundings if they are to make the most of these extraordinary shifts in global power balances.

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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