Throughout the 20th century, management education has been shaped by two major trends. The first is a progression toward increased academization—that is, the rapprochement of university operations and the growing importance of research. As academies, business schools can focus on more rigorous methodology and promote more transdisciplinary studies among the social sciences, hard sciences, and math. Provided this progression is controlled, increased academization is a positive development.
The second trend is a tendency for both academics and practitioners to look at the bigger picture so they can better understand the impact of business on society and how managers should account for that impact. This means that business education now encompasses more subjects as it becomes increasingly transversal and interdisciplinary.
In the 20th century, management education has grown in terms of both breadth and depth. While each type of growth is positive on its own, the challenge for business schools today is to make these two tendencies compatible—in other words, to provide students with a broad vision that is rooted in rigorous academics as well as in concrete practices.
At the ESSEC Business School, we aim to follow this double trajectory by providing students with diverse experiences and interactions. We have assembled a professorial body that is increasingly international. We continue to internationalize our programs with the ambition of being present on every continent, but we also want to help our students better understand local business and managerial particularities. We have increased the presence of women on our campus to the point that they account for half of our student body and one-third of our faculty.
We connect our school to the surrounding economy and the larger society through initiatives such as our apprenticeship program. In that program, launched in 1993, students are guided by an ESSEC tutor and a professional expert as they alternate their time between attending classes and acting as paid apprentices at one of our partner companies. In another outreach initiative, we are training manager-engineers through our alliance with our sister institution, Centrale-Supélec, a graduate school of engineering.
Our accreditation processes have accompanied and sometimes even stimulated these developments. Becoming the first AACSB-accredited business school outside the Americas has encouraged ESSEC to recruit more international faculty, develop research activities, and promote our social involvement. Our goal is to bring together international teaching practices into a French-English cocktail and position ourselves as a top international school.
For the future, we believe that management education must absorb all the consequences of the transformations of the 20th century and place itself at the practical and intellectual crossroads of our time. Our responsibility is to think of the 21st century in terms of great economic and intellectual paradigms as well as in terms of the concrete managerial challenges our students will face once they graduate.
These challenges include guiding companies as they internationalize, understanding entrepreneurial dynamics, dealing with companies of varying sizes, and developing their own careers. Just as important, we want our graduates to understand their key roles in the development of enterprises, the stewardship of the economy, and the creation of value in business. I believe, if business schools can teach students to see the big picture, they can train graduates to be prepared for this complex future.
Jean-Michel Blanquer is Dean and President at the ESSEC Business School in Paris, France.