Mark Thomas reports on a stimulating conference session with practising managers.
The EFMD 2014 Conference on Master programmes at Grenoble EM provided an opportunity for three professionals to give their opinion on the things business schools are doing well and things they could do better.
Many academic conferences can be quite insular, with academics largely talking to themselves about what the rest of the world wants or needs. However, EFMD has always actively encouraged input from business to help the development of schools.
The conference steering committee therefore invited experienced senior managers and stakeholders in the management education scene from Hewlett Packard, Schneider Electric and Google to share some candid feedback on what they had learned from their own time in a business school, their opinions about the graduates the schools produce and where they thought improvements could be made.
Getting a lot right
The reassuring news from the panel of professionals was that in general business schools are getting a lot right. The case study method, often a source of great debate in academic circles, was deemed to be of considerable use to all of the participants.
Indeed, drawing from her experience as an exchange student, Ms Grandidier from Schneider Electric suggested that the cases she had studied were far more relevant to her current work than some of the more theoretical courses. There seemed to be general agreement on this.
The three stakeholders also praised business schools that were prepared to give future managers the practical skills they needed such as making formal presentations. Being able to use software such as SAP was also considered to be a major advantage for freshly graduated business students.
Even the hectic periods around exam time, so often a source of complaint from students, were considered to have the positive effect of preparing them for the periods of intense work that they would face in their careers.
There was also a plea from the panellists to take this practical application a step further by ensuring that all graduates were capable of writing a convincing business or communication plan.
Ms Barret from Hewlett Packard pointed out that companies such as her own need good salespeople who are capable of communicating effectively with different people in a firm and who truly understand how to create value for the customer. “Sales” has acquired a bad reputation and business schools have seemingly eschewed this aspect of teaching in favour of more “noble” disciplines such as marketing, strategy and finance.
“Please can you train some good salespeople as our companies can’t develop without them” Ms Barret asked the 100-strong audience.
Ms Radojicic from Google pointed out that business schools are very good at showing students “best practice” but this does give a rather idealised view of what happens within an organisation.
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