Snapshot: AACSB

AACSB International looks at the transformative trends it must tackle as it helps shape the future of business.
Snapshot: AACSB

Business has never been more global, more complex, or more rapidly changing than it is today. For that reason, it’s not just a bonus for a business manager to possess an international outlook, a talent for creative problem solving, and a commitment to sustainable development; it’s a requirement. To help business schools develop the programs that will produce such well-prepared managers and leaders, AACSB International must be at the forefront of thought leadership on the most critical issues facing organizations today. Currently, these issues include globalization, innovation, and sustainability.

As I approach the midpoint of my term as board chair of the association, I think it’s time to take stock of the organization’s priorities. It seems clear that we must continue to channel much of our energy into the areas of globalization, innovation, and sustainability. Their influence will be felt in Task Force reports, Affinity Group discussions, accreditation efforts—and virtually every initiative AACSB undertakes.

We need to expand our definition of innovation. Innovative management strategies have changed business almost as much as innovative new products.

Emphasis on Innovation

Innovation has become an issue of such importance that we have formed a Task Force to deepen our understanding of its role in business and in business schools—in what we are teaching and how we are teaching it. Led by Robert S. Sullivan of the University of California San Diego, the Task Force recently issued a report on its findings.

Its central point is that we need to expand our definition of innovation. The word does not apply merely to entrepreneurs creating new inventions, because innovation describes processes as well as products. In fact, the report points out that innovative management strategies—in areas such as customer relations, product distribution, and employee management—have changed business almost as much as innovative new products.

As the report makes clear, business schools can contribute to innovation on many levels. They can create highly entrepreneurial environments on campus, which will encourage students to develop innovative thinking habits and faculty to focus on innovative research. In addition, through interdisciplinary coursework and experiential learning modules, schools can equip business leaders with the skills to creatively manage product cycles and enhance working environments.

Even incremental changes can contribute to big breakthroughs, as the report points out: “Important impacts on innovation can come from advances in the theory, practice, or teaching of management, but intellectual contributions do not have to be revolutionary to support innovation.” In order to discover those inflection points, the report suggests to schools: “Do even ordinary things differently.”

Many programs that encourage innovation are already in place. For instance, open-enrollment executive education programs can be excellent incubators for innovation, since they tend to draw participants from a wide variety of industries whose many different perspectives result in exciting debate. Multidisciplinary courses train students to think innovatively, as do courses that blend innovation with other key themes, such as healthcare or sustainable business. And when professors use their research to approach old problems in new ways, they inject innovative thinking into the curriculum.

The Task Force report recommends that business schools regularly explore—and publicize—their roles in supporting innovation, both by collaborating with other schools and by reaching out to industry. The report also encourages business schools to work with policy makers to promote management education for technical professionals and technical education for management professionals. Reaching out to government agencies might also ensure that funding is increased for research on the management aspects of innovation.

In the wake of the report, AACSB is promoting innovation by making it a discussion topic at conferences. For instance, at the International Conference and Annual Meeting in Anaheim last April, one of the plenary speakers was John Kao, chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation. Kao talked about “wicked problems”—complex multi-stakeholder problems—that require an innovative toolbox if they’re to be solved. Like Kao, other speakers throughout the year will highlight the necessity of innovation and how business schools must plan to incorporate it into the curriculum.

AACSB also has created a resource center devoted to this topic at The site provides a forum where educators can share innovative ideas and achievements with universities, corporations, organizations, and policy makers.

Globalization and Accreditation

Innovation is a large enough challenge in and of itself. But business curricula must be both innovative and global if schools are to turn out graduates who will help companies solve their biggest problems. True, globalization may be one of the most overused buzzwords in organizational vision statements today; however, it’s also a goal that many organizations find difficult to achieve. That reality places it at the crux of many of the association’s upcoming efforts.

AACSB’s Globalization of Business Education Task Force, headed by Robert Bruner of the University of Virginia, is exploring the way business schools worldwide are developing strategies to globalize their programs, research, and other initiatives. The Task Force’s report, scheduled for release in early 2011, will examine the implications of globalization for individual schools, accrediting agencies such as AACSB, and the worldwide management education community.

Globalization is also a challenge faced by the association itself. As the number of institutions that award business degrees swells to more than 12,000, AACSB has a great opportunity to help many of these schools achieve a recognized level of quality in their programs and operations. This also will help AACSB achieve its mission of advancing management education worldwide. But the task is daunting; AACSB has accredited fewer than 600 of these business schools. A key question we face is this: How can we impact a broader range of business schools without diluting the value of the AACSB brand?

To help answer this question, the board of directors has formed the Special Committee on Global Accreditation Strategy (SCOGAS), chaired by Howard Thomas of Singapore Management University. The committee has identified several options, which include changing our current accreditation standards, establishing regional partnerships with other accrediting bodies, adding an intermediate type of recognition that isn’t full accreditation, or adding a separate and distinct level of accreditation.

While all options present advantages and disadvantages, SCOGAS is seriously considering the idea of developing a separate accreditation product. We plan to appoint a working group of volunteers to address the implications of such a decision. We also hope to receive additional feedback on all options from AACSB members at various conferences and seminars for the rest of the year.

The challenges before our association are many and varied, as are the challenges before any business enterprise.

Even as AACSB extends its services to schools in emerging markets, we must continue to be responsive to the needs of our longtime accredited institutions. We also need to consider ways to distinguish various segments of our currently accredited schools. For example, the Carnegie I research universities have different goals and priorities and, therefore, different needs from AACSB.

We continually seek better ways to help our members achieve their goals, and we frequently receive useful insights from our Affinity Groups. These clusters of schools, drawn together by similar needs and interests, meet at international association events and stay in touch year-round through the AACSB Exchange. Their perspectives help AACSB recognize the differences between schools and provide better services tailored to specific needs.

Other Key Issues

While I expect innovation, globalization, and accreditation to be major themes for the organization over the next year, we also will need to keep our sights on other issues of great importance to business and business education. Among these is sustainability—the development of ethical business strategies that keep organizations profitable while causing no harm to the planet or its people.

Business schools around the world offer programs that approach sustainability from many angles, from developing green supply chains to implementing green accounting practices. Many schools are also “walking the talk” by constructing new facilities that incorporate sustainable design features, such as efficient energy systems, low-flow water fixtures, green roofs, and recycled building materials.

Recognizing sustainability as an essential business strategy for the future, AACSB has organized an annual conference designed to help schools add the topic to their curricula and their campuses. In June, the association held its third sustainability conference in Denver. Speakers from GE and Target described how their organizations have incorporated sustainability and corporate social responsibility into their agendas. Presenters from business schools discussed topics that ranged from creating interdisciplinary sustainability centers to encouraging faculty to direct their research toward solving the world’s ills.

Creating courses on sustainability—or any other topic—is impossible without a strong faculty, and the field of management education continues to face a shortage of doctorally qualified professors. While the current recession has temporarily slowed hiring, the global growth of business schools means the industry will need an increasing number of talented, well-trained faculty. AACSB has already worked to address the shortage by supporting Post-Doctoral Bridge-to-Business programs and other initiatives. But we believe there is more we can do. For instance, AACSB’s Committee on Issues in Management Education (CIME) has begun collecting and analyzing data to assess both the supply and demand for faculty members globally.

We also are forming a Task Force that will analyze the production process for PhDs, a process that has essentially remained unchanged for 100 years. Why does the average time for production of a PhD student take more than five years? If this can be shortened, will we be able to alleviate or avert the doctoral shortage? These and other questions will be addressed by the Doctoral Faculty Shortage Working Group, which reports to CIME and is led by Richard Sorensen of Virginia Tech.

Looking Ahead

The challenges before our association are many and varied, as are the challenges before any business enterprise. To carry out our mission, we will need to be thoughtful, flexible, creative, and committed. We also will need to rely on the input and feedback of our members who have insights into what the association should be emphasizing today—and where it needs to be focused tomorrow.

On behalf of AACSB, I would like to thank all of you who donate your time to our efforts on thought leadership, accreditation review, and many other significant activities. AACSB thrives through the creative, productive activities of its volunteers, and we are very grateful to all who provide valuable time and insights.

Andrew J. Policano is dean of the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine.