The Professor's Perspective

Four business faculty offer glimpses into what challenges and inspires them amid the changes affecting their profession.
The Professor's Perspective

The Practitioner

Allen H. Kupetz is the executive-in-residence at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.

Allen Kupetz thinks his biggest challenge is honoring what’s best about traditional academia, while continuing to experiment with new approaches. Embracing innovation, he emphasizes, is one of the most important aspects of his job.

“There is sometimes a generation gap between older and younger professors when it comes to trying new approaches. I’ve seen syllabi for intro to marketing courses that do not talk about social media, search engine optimization, or the wisdom of crowds,” Kupetz says. “Sometimes I want to shake folks and tell them, ‘I know you didn’t learn this 30 years ago in your PhD program, but talk to business leaders—they’ll tell you they need these skills from MBAs.’”

Fortunately, his dean gives him freedom to follow new paths. For example, Kupetz was allowed to create and teach two new courses, Technology Entrepreneurship and Technology Management, which have proven to be popular electives.

His biggest concern? That business education still remains too focused on theory. He points to “How Business Schools Lost Their Way,” the provocative article by Warren Bennis and James O’Toole that appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 2005. Even now, he is struck by a seminal point in their argument.

“They wrote that while medicine is a profession taught by doctors and law is a profession taught by lawyers, business is a profession taught by PhDs with little or no nonacademic experience in the subjects they teach. How much has changed in the past 10 years?” Kupetz asks.

He adds, “Forward-thinking deans, as well as efforts like AACSB’s Bridge program, are bringing more practitioners into classrooms. But change is slow—too slow.”

To emphasize the importance of practice-based curricula, Kupetz opens all of his syllabi with this quote, often credited to Yogi Berra: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” He believes that hands-on, real-world consulting projects—with deliverables determined by companies—should become as common for business students as residencies are for medical students. “No MBAs should graduate without having done real-world consulting, preferably both in their own countries and internationally.”

Whether professors are academics or practitioners, Kupetz views teaching business as a privilege. “I don’t have a job for life. I have to earn my slot every year,” he says. “In my course evaluations, students regularly respond positively both to what I teach—practice versus theory—and how I teach it. I am grateful for that.”

From Practice to Pedagogy

Allen Kupetz suggests that business schools offer these words of advice to practitioners who want to make the leap into academia:

1. Focus on being great teachers. Attend classes taught by your colleagues. Talk to students about their most and least favorite courses and professors. Ask them why.

2. Write cases. Draw on your real-world experience and contacts to develop cases. “Your students will love that you can speak to the cases firsthand, and that you can invite the executives from the companies involved to present their real-world solutions to the class,” Kupetz says.

3. Embrace your status. Share your background with students. “They know you’re there to complement their theory-based courses with real-world experience,” says Kupetz. “I tell my students, ‘My title is executive-in-residence. If you are impressed, remember that just means I’m the least educated member of the faculty.’ It gets a laugh, but it gives me a chance to say that I’m not better or worse than my colleagues with PhDs. I’m just different.”

The Consultant-Turned-Professor

Tatiana Andreeva is an associate professor in organizational behavior and human resource management at the Graduate School of Management at St. Petersburg University (SPbU) in Russia.

Eight years ago, Tatiana Andreeva went from being a business consultant and part-time teacher at SPbU to becoming a full-time professor. Once she joined the university full-time, the school asked her to give up consulting to focus on conducting research and teaching her courses in organizational behavior, knowledge management, and cross-cultural management.

Her appointment was part of a program to attract practitioners with research-based doctoral degrees back to academia, as the school adopted a more research-focused strategy. But Andreeva soon found that her students most appreciated that she could bring her practical experiences into her lectures.

This has led to a tension that she still struggles to resolve. “On the one hand, I know I must publish research. But on the other, my students think research is too theoretical. They want me to tell them about real-life business,” she says. “My challenge is finding ways to balance the two.” She now brings guest speakers into her classroom to keep her courses’ connection to real-business fresh, but that comes with its own concerns.

“The best guest speakers come from my personal network, because I can explain to them what I need and even help them plan their presentation slides. But that resource is not eternal—I cannot invite the same people over and over again.” Andreeva seeks out other guest speakers through her school’s career services office, but admits that she often is not in a position to ask executives she does not know personally to align their presentations with course objectives.

Andreeva would like to work with corporations more often in her research, but in Russia, that, too, is a challenge. “Many of my international colleagues do this, but Russian businesses are suspicious of business research or view it as irrelevant. Even our own corporate partners are not willing to engage in our research projects,” says Andreeva. She recalls one project in which a company agreed to allow faculty to interview employees for a study. It was a herculean task to negotiate the deal.

“Once, when I was consulting for a Russian company, I found its employees were unmotivated because they had no clue of the company’s strategy. When I asked managers why they didn’t share their strategy with employees, they told me that if they shared too much, their competitors would find out their plans,” Andreeva says. “That mindset goes back to the Soviet era, but it’s still an issue in Russian organizations today.”

Her school has since lifted its restrictions on consulting, but Andreeva now doesn’t have the time to take on extra work because of her academic responsibilities. She is delighted when her students tell her that something they learned in her class helped them solve problems on the job. She also appreciates the opportunities she has to engage her curiosity, such as her current research project on collaboration and knowledge sharing among secondary school teachers.

“Teachers can be lone wolves, especially in Russia. If we want to improve the quality of education, we must improve collaboration among teachers,” Andreeva says. “I am passionate about this project, because of its potential to contribute not only to management theory, but also to the wider community. Sharing among secondary school teachers is not a common subject of management research. If there is a challenging question like this with no clear answer, I love that I can help answer it.”

The Innovator

Mitrabarun (MB) Sarkar is the H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and academic director of the Global Immersion Program at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

ike many educators, MB Sarkar views technology as one of the biggest drivers of change in business education today. He has flipped his classroom to spend less time teaching foundational topics and more on helping students apply that knowledge, and he’s a staunch proponent of using online delivery models to push student learning to the next level. However, he says another shift is having an even more profound effect on business schools: the changing compact between business and society. Today, companies are expected to solve social problems, and they must do so in ways that make financial sense—especially in the world’s emerging markets.

Yet, says Sarkar, few schools have formal curricula focused on serving the needs of people at the base of the economic pyramid. “How many business schools are looking at the challenges of urbanization and the rise of megacities? At water, food, and health security issues?” he asks. “Poverty is not just a problem of underdeveloped countries. It’s a living, palpable disease that afflicts richer countries, too. If companies want to grow sustainably, they must strengthen the lives of those underserved by global commerce. Business schools have to help companies think in different ways and move toward a more experiential model.”

This means that schools need to rethink both how they compose their faculty rosters and how faculty performance is measured, says Sarkar. He believes that schools should encourage faculty not only to generate scholarly work, but also to delve into solution-focused research and to integrate this expanded mindset into their classrooms. “When I was a doctoral student, the advice I received was that I shouldn’t spend too much time on teaching or consulting, that it was far more important to make sure my A publications went out,” says Sarkar. “I don’t know if that’s applicable anymore. The notion of the unidimensional research professor disconnected from reality is becoming an anachronism. Today, faculty must be excellent on multiple dimensions. The hard currency of the industry is still peerreviewed publications, but we also need to be excellent teachers and innovators who drive change and engage with organizations in the real world. Faculty have to think hard about how they can create value. Else, their programs might not exist tomorrow.”

Sarkar embraces his role as teacher, receiving Temple University’s Great Teacher Award in 2013. He also has taken on one more responsibility: designing and implementing the Fox Global Immersion Program in Emerging Markets, a new experience for MBAs.

Sarkar believes that faculty must take more initiative to help their schools succeed. When Sarkar took his idea for the immersion program to his dean, the response was both encouraging and daunting. “Dean Moshe Porat said, ‘Sounds great. Go do it.’ So I had to do it!” he says. “Academics often struggle with this dimension. It’s something we’re not trained to do. But if we have ideas that we believe in, we must take action. If we see a gaping hole, we need to fill it ourselves. Business schools call this service, but it’s really entrepreneurship. I remind myself constantly that I must be an entrepreneur and innovator in an academic setting.”

To inspire more faculty to follow his lead, he describes a conversation he once had with a cab driver in Mumbai, India. He asked the cabbie this question: What would he do with a sudden financial windfall?

“The driver pulled the car to the side of the road so he could look me in the eye. He told me, ‘I would put a bathroom in my house. Every night my daughters have to go outside, and each time I wonder if they’ll come back,’” says Sarkar. “Stories like his should inspire us to see if we can create business models to give effective sanitation to this man and his family.” Such simple innovations, he adds, can make differences in people’s lives.

“Much of the conversation today is about how many business schools will go bankrupt in the next few years. That’s a nonproductive conversation,” he says. “It’s far more productive to talk about how we can transform ourselves, how we can help organizations unlock the big problems of our times. This is a rare moment, and we have a rare opportunity.”

The Collaborator

Marielle G. Heijltjes is a professor of managerial behavior, the associate dean of strategic development and internationalization, and the director of postgraduate education at the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics in the Netherlands.

Marielle Heijltjes’ list of responsibilities has gotten longer, especially as society’s expectations for business schools have changed. This is particularly true in Europe, where business schools are expected to create visible societal and economic value. In the Netherlands, this concept has been labeled “knowledge valorization.” This has meant that in addition to conducting research and teaching, Heijltjes and her colleagues also are expected to “collaborate and co-create” knowledge in ways that advance their industry and address today’s social challenges.

If business schools are to help faculty fulfill this new role, they must change in fundamental ways, Heijltjes says. But in her view, business schools have only recently— and reluctantly—begun to address this shift. She points out that promotion and tenure decisions and other faculty incentives most often revolve around research production. “The challenge for faculty is balancing what it takes to survive in the old system while producing the innovation required to create the new,” she says.

Heijltjes is encouraged, however, by efforts such as the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI), a consortium of more than 50 business schools, corporations, and associations dedicated to redefining the purpose of 21st-century corporations and business schools. For instance, the GRLI’s 50+20 project, launched in 2011, aims to identify best emerging practices among business schools today.

“I am fortunate to work at Maastricht, a GRLI partner school. There is an understanding among our board members and program directors of what needs to change,” she says. “The next step is to broaden our dialogue to all faculty members, and put our money where our mouths are. I hope that we will be courageous enough to convert this understanding into new budget decisions and faculty HR policies, even when other colleagues in the industry might not yet be changing.”

Policies change when likeminded individuals stay connected, says Heijltjes. She shares her school’s progress and obstacles with executives, policymakers, and other academics. This activity cultivates the “co-creation of knowledge” that she finds most valuable. “Progress has been possible because we learn from each other on questions that have meaning for all of us,” she says. “The most positive reward is our ability to address the challenges we collectively face.”

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