WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be connected in today’s world? As business schools, we have always crossed academic boundaries, connecting with disciplines as diverse as strategy, operations, psychology, and consumer marketing. But I believe today’s business schools should be crossing many other boundaries as we examine, in the broadest terms, why we exist.
We increasingly find that the problems facing the world are multifaceted, multidimensional, and involve multiple stakeholders. If business schools want to be part of the solutions, we must seek out in-depth collaborations with industry, government, and society so that we can address the world’s problems in a holistic manner.
This theme of connectedness lies at the heart of what AACSB International views as its central mission. As a global organization, the association is working to connect its members across geography and bring together business schools from the Americas, Asia, and Europe. It works to design programs and events that create and strengthen linkages among individuals, institutions, and industries in all parts of the world. But today, the association is stepping up its efforts even more, with the intention of enabling collaboration across dimensions that go far beyond geography.
In a recent series of meetings held by AACSB’s Innovation Committee (previously the Committee on Issues in Management Education), three themes quickly emerged: connecting across disciplines, connecting with business, and identifying potential disruptors to our field. The idea of making connections was so powerful that it was the focus of two of the three sessions. In fact, the third session—on disruptors— also related to this theme as it focused on the processes that enable or inhibit connections.
As I assume the role of AACSB board chair for the 2017–2018 academic year, I want to take a moment to reflect on the organization’s many initiatives that encourage these connections—and to consider what we can do to make these bonds even stronger.
BEHIND THE BRAND
Those who attended AACSB’s International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in April had a chance to see firsthand the introduction of the association’s updated brand. The new tagline, “Business Education. Connected,” makes explicit this theme of networked business education. Similarly, the new logo, with its pattern of interwoven colors, provides a visual reminder of the fact that we all become stronger when we bring together diverse people, perspectives, and practices.
We chose this new tagline and brand because our research showed us how much our schools value the connections that AACSB enables. These connections primarily take three forms: connecting to business, connecting to other educators, and connecting to society.
AACSB made some of those connections explicit in the Collective Vision initiative that it rolled out in 2016. The initiative considers how business schools can remain relevant into the 21st century by playing five key roles that enable them to engage with multiple stakeholders. For instance, schools connect with society as they become leaders on leadership and enablers of global prosperity. They connect with business when they act as catalysts for innovation and co-creators of knowledge. And they connect with other educators as they become hubs of lifelong learning.
The association spent two years developing this industry vision, and I encourage all member schools to integrate it into their strategic thinking as they consider, “What does this vision mean for our school?” AACSB will support the vision by creating programs, venues, and processes that connect individuals and organizations along these three dimensions.
CONNECTING WITH BUSINESS
The association unites business and academia in a number of ways—for instance, by making sure that some of its board members are corporate leaders. But the association also connects with industry representatives through a variety of other initiatives, including:
- The Business Practices Council. This collaborative partnership, which brings together business leaders and business school deans, strives to improve management education while addressing issues that are important to both schools and companies. The association also makes sure that the public, private, and nonprofit sectors are all represented on the Business Practices Council.
- The Co-Lab Conference. At this event, educators and practitioners come together to explore how to build partnerships that serve both industry and academia. Programming events address questions such as: How can schools and businesses work together to create relevant knowledge? How can they collaborate to develop and deliver programs? How can they work together to create social impact?
Business schools are encouraged to register for the event in tandem with their own corporate partners, such as members of their advisory councils, to create even more opportunities for synergy. The 2017 event was held in June and hosted by the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
- The Bridge Program. This program guides senior-level executives through the steps necessary to become practitioner faculty at business schools. These new faculty members can draw on years of knowledge and experience to show business students how theory connects to practice in the real world. They also build relationships between their business school colleagues and their former co-workers, providing opportunities to collaborate on research and pursue knowledge together.
- School-based initiatives. AACSB also encourages business schools to make their own efforts to reach out to members of their business communities. Recently, the Innovation Committee surveyed members to discover what kinds of initiatives they had instituted in their own regions. The responses were varied and impressive.
For instance, the Institute of Corporate Responsibility at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C., has partnered with Ford Motor Company to launch Sustainable Urban Mobility with Uncompromised Rural Reach. This initiative seeks to learn how Ford can use its vehicles and technology to provide rural communities with access to healthcare, clean water, and education. Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business runs the Baylor Angel Network, which provides early-stage capital to entrepreneurs; it is overseen by an advisory board of successful entrepreneurs and one faculty member. Oxford University’s Saïd Business School in the U.K. has partnered with executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to speak to 152 CEOs who anonymously reflected on their leadership challenges. They discovered that leaders must develop a “ripple intelligence” as they anticipate what factors might interact to disrupt their organizations.
Through all these collaborations, business schools are building strong bonds with corporations—and creating graduates who are fully prepared to succeed in the workplace.
CONNECTING WITH BUSINESS EDUCATORS
Similarly, AACSB manages a number of initiatives designed to connect business professors with educators at institutions around the world. Among them:
- Conferences and seminars. Connections happen frequently and organically at AACSB events that range from the annual ICAM conference to the dozens of seminars on topics from accreditation to leadership. At these events, attendees network with peers, hear about the latest trends in education, and learn how other schools have solved challenges or implemented new programs. These connections are maintained even from a distance as members continue to share ideas and information through the Exchange, AACSB’s member-only online forum.
- Affinity Groups. AACSB members create additional connections through these networking groups that facilitate communication among individuals who share common interests or job responsibilities. Among the current Affinity Groups are those devoted to entrepreneurship, technology, small schools, metropolitan schools, new deans, women in management, minorities, and various global regions. The members of Affinity Groups convene both virtually and at events to exchange ideas, share effective practices, and collaborate on developing data sets that support industry benchmarking.
- Collaboration Concourse. Through this global virtual platform, member schools seek out other schools with which to partner on opportunities such as student and faculty exchanges. Schools that want to initiate partnerships complete a semiannual survey detailing the collaborations they would like to pursue; they can search for interested schools through the Exchange.
CONNECTING WITH SOCIETY
As AACSB members, business schools also understand that they must partner with society to address some of the great challenges facing the world. Some of the association’s activities are meant to support these partnerships:
- The Influential Leaders Challenge. Through this annual event, AACSB asks business schools to submit names of some of their most outstanding alumni and describe their accomplishments. Past leaders highlighted by the challenge have focused on key issues such as reforming healthcare, changing public policy, empowering women, improving low-income housing, and bringing prosperity to emerging nations. The 2016 Influential Leaders Challenge included individuals from more than 15 sectors living in 11 countries.
- Innovations That Inspire. In this annual event, AACSB members are invited to describe their most distinctive and impactful programs and initiatives. For 2017, the association received 315 entries from member schools in 33 countries. Many of the innovations that schools highlighted clearly were designed to benefit society, such as programs focused on increasing gender diversity, developing minorities into leaders, and aiding refugees. More details and access to the full database of submissions can be found at www.aacsb. edu/innovations-that-inspire.
- Advocacy and awareness. It’s critical for the association to join other organizations that emphasize how business can benefit society. For instance, AACSB works with the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI) to promote socially responsible leadership by convening events, fostering collaborations, prototyping new methods of community building, and sharing ideas. At AACSB’s Deans Conference in February, GRLI facilitated a workshop titled “Deans as Agents of Change,” in which participants discussed ways that business schools could be forces for good.
AACSB also helped draft the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), which outlines the steps needed to educate socially aware business leaders. In addition, the association maintains close relationships with organizations such as the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, which is dedicated to making sure that business decisions and investments are aligned with the longterm health of society.
In the coming year, I would like to see AACSB expand all the ways it makes connections. For instance, we already have excellent relations with industry, but I would like to see us do more to bring business perspectives directly and indirectly into AACSB’s initiatives. I would like to see us strengthen connections between schools—for example, by finding ways to help institutions in emerging markets connect to each other, not just to schools in the developed world. How can we help all of our members build better networks?
I would like to make this notion of connectedness a living reality for AACSB and its member schools. I would like us to consider how we can be ever more effective and inclusive in the way we educate students, conduct research, and seek solutions to society’s problems. Promoting this theme of connection across the whole AACSB ecosystem will be one of the important goals of my tenure as board chair.
Soumitra Dutta is founding dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.