What is the European management school model?

Howard Thomas

Howard Thomas is Distinguished Term Professor of Strategic Management, MasterCard Chair in Financial and Social Inclusion, and Management Education Director, Academic Strategy and Management Education Unit, Lee Kong Chian School of
Business, Singapore Management University. Professor Thomas is internationally recognised as a leading expert in the field of strategic management. He is the author, co-author or editor of many
acclaimed management books, including the Handbook of Strategy and Management (2001), Strategy: Analysis and Practice (2005) and
Strategic Leadership in the Business School (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Over the last ten to fifteen years the identity, importance and legitimacy of European management schools has been strongly established in the context of the ‘business of business schools’ writes Howard Thomas.

Recent research undertaken with Fernando Fraguiero1 has demonstrated how schools such as INSEAD, IMD, LBS and Warwick have positioned themselves as international business schools in global rankings such as the Financial Times. And, the same rankings, established in 1999, currently show a significant number of European schools in the Top 100 Global Schools confirming the rapid rise and increasing stature of European business schools.

The identity and positioning of the European business school has been strongly influenced and shaped by the strategic role of the European Foundation of Management Development (EFMD) since its founding in 1971. EFMD has constantly focussed on linking European experience and ideas with management practice and learning. It has also emphasised internationalisation and corporate linkages as essential to high quality management education.

Business school evolution

Up until the clear emergence of an European model, the evolution of European business schools largely followed the pathways pioneered by U.S. Business Schools. The early business schools, described by Roger Martin2 as Business 1.0, were essentially ‘trade schools’ which sought to teach managers how they should practically manage the functional aspects of their businesses. There was little or no research carried out in these schools, and no clear theoretical or academic framework. Herbert Simon described this period as a ‘wasteland of vocationalism’.

Following the Ford and Carnegie Foundation reports in 1959 which critically reviewed the U.S. business school scene, a proposal for a new business school structure emerged (Business 2.0 in Martin’s terms). This emphasised greater academic rigour and scholarly depth and linked social science disciplines (e.g economics, psychology and sociology) to the functional areas of business. It mandated the growth of the research mindset, common to the scientific disciplines, leading to knowledge creation (i.e. new knowledge not best practice) and the development of stronger, rigorous analytical abilities. In addition, graduate and doctoral education was further emphasised as essential for modern business schools.

Many European scholars were subsequently trained in these leading U.S. schools and when they returned, many of them adapted the main elements of this U.S. model to their economic and cultural contexts. However, over time as they grew in stature they incorporated a series of elements such as action-based, practice oriented research more reflective of European traditions alongside the more academically rigorous U.S. approach.

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