By James Bailey

(This is the text of a speech delivered to the Conference of Management and Executive Development Programs)

It’s a shame that the famed American writer, James Fenimore Cooper, was born about 200 years too early. In his famous Leatherstocking series, which included 1840’s The Pathfinder, Cooper created the archetype of the 18th-century frontiersman. Described by one critic as the maven of truth and rectitude, the lead character, Natty Bumppo – alias the pathfinder – in many ways epitomizes the heroic American, an incredibly popular rebel, albeit ethical, who lives by his wits and guile.

There is a strong resemblance between Cooper and his literary contrivance. Cooper’s high intellect was widely recognized by contemporary observers. So too was his penchant for rebelliousness that bordered on tomfoolery. He entered Yale College in 1803 as its youngest-ever student at that institution, but was expelled in his junior year because of a series of pranks, which included training a donkey to sit in a professor’s chair, blowing up another student’s pants, and stealing food.

Why is all this “a shame?” Hold that thought. And move forward 200 years to the present day. Would Cooper, as author or mischief-maker, find a business school education attractive? Challenging? Worthwhile?

Even a cursory review of the state of business school education today suggests at first blush a resounding “none of the above,” although some schools are trying their darnedest to be relevant 21st century institutions to the point where one might expect (or at least would not be surprised) to see one of the earliest founded, and even today premier, business schools in the world, advertising in an academic journal or a geo-political business-oriented magazine such as the Economist. But it is shocking not a little bit to find an edgy come-on for the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in “Geekipedia” (November 2007), a supplement to the very successful, high tech magazine “Wired.”

What’s more, the ad is quite clever, emblazoned with the challenge “If you are so smart…” answering with the simple “You should be here.” Think James Fenimore Cooper front and center.

If nothing else, the placement of the ad and its provocative content…

Chicago GSB is more than a business school. We’re a business force. We don’t rehash business’s greatest hits. We show you how market realities and truths electrify organizations and people. So when those tough calls come along, the decisions you make aren’t just smart. They’re brilliant.

…represent an unprecedented (some would argue, quantum) leap forward in seeking not only new students, but also greater recognition for a job well done.

In addition, there is a tagline – a slogan right out of Madison Avenue that plays to the ego of Wall Street. To wit: “Triumph in your moment of truth.” At the very least, James Fenimore Cooper would be tempted.

The slogan speaks not only to the financial success story of business schools over the last half century, but also to a hard-fought victory attesting to academic capability and excellence. In this type of environment, teaching the ass to sit in the professorial chair might not be a big accomplishment at all.

True enough that teachers, researchers and graduates involved in the business school vineyards have “proverbially” come a long way baby. In fact, business schools are the success story of higher education over the past half century or more. It is clearly a case of where the numbers do not lie. Business schools have been successful by a great many measuring points – beginning first with a good measure of popularity. According to the US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES), National Center for Education Statistics, out of the 1,400,000 bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2003–04, the largest numbers of degrees were conferred in the field of business, 307,000, followed by social sciences and history, 150,000. The pattern of undergraduate business degrees shows a near steady incremental progression from 226,623 in 1995-96 to 263,515 in 2001 to 307,149 in 2004.

Statistics reveal further that at the master’s degree level, the largest fields were education, 162,000 and business, 139,000. And a lengthy matrix for the graduate master degree in business shows constant growth in terms of numbers. At five-year intervals beginning in 1970-71 with a total of 26,490, the figures reflect significant upward trends culminating at 115,602 in 2000-01. The latest available data show a total of 139,347 in 2003-04.

At the bachelor degree level, out of 1,400,000 bachelor certificates conferred in 2003–04, the largest number came from the field of business studies (307,000), social sciences and history (150,000), and education (106,000).

Other benchmarks continue to thrive as well, including the growth in the number of fully accredited institutions offering business degrees. To date, an estimated 1500 offer undergraduate degrees; 850 offer MBAs, and 130 offer DBAs.

It was not always this way. On the contrary, the evolution of business-related instruction in this country came in stages and fits and starts to its current point. In fact, there were key hallmark points – both problems and successes – over the past century during which business management education learned to crawl then walk and then run to the point where it is now poised to meet head on the challenges of the 21st Century.

To understand fully the current position of strength of business management education as a forward-looking, extremely capable, and widely accepted intellectual discipline, it is important to consider the historic underpinnings of its existence. For instance, toward the end of the 19th Century, the academic environment was plagued by an effete snobbery that had no place or use for business education. As such, the intellectual climate of established educational institutions brooked no intervention by pencil pushers who ran accounting houses.

Founding and the Struggle for Legitimacy

It is appropriate then to reflect on how it all started. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote in The Future of Man, “Everything is the sum of the past and…nothing is comprehensible except through its history.” (Future, p13)

In truth, however, the precursor history of business education was hardly fertile ground for what was to follow. Carter A. Daniel, in his comprehensive study, MBA: The First Century points out that some businessmen argued against a classical education for would-be-businessmen as being ruinous. Daniel cites carriage-maker John W. Cooper in New York decrying the impact of formal study on “the average boy who…if he has any good horse sense in him [has it] educated out of him.” (MBA, p22) Many business practitioners at that time believed that a college curriculum in the 19th century simply did not lend itself to the promotion of business.

Daniel further quotes Andrew Carnegie, writing in an 1899 New York Tribune article, that “college education as it exists seems almost fatal to success.” (MBA, p26) Daniel also mentions financier Henry Clews who at that time expressed scorn for a college education when it came to business abilities. “I do not employ college men in my banking office, none need apply, I don’t want them, for I think they have been spoiled for a business life.” (MBA, p26)

Furthermore, there was also a strong and abiding distaste for the prospect of changing any college curriculum to include a business education orientation. Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, “gasped in shock and astonishment” over the notion of collegiate business education. Daniel cites Wilson’s response as being an incredulous, “Why, you wouldn’t have the colleges teach business would you?” (MBA, p28) The author sums up the temperament of the time by pointing out, “To such people, steeped in the traditional subjects – Latin, Greek, and ancient history – the importation of commerce into the college curriculum, was simply and truly, unthinkable.”(MBA, p28)

And so, the special heritage of the contemporary business management school is a curious blend of starkly different touchstones – none of which is neat and easily compartmentalized. Instead, there is a need to try to appreciate the evolutionary nature of business management education growth pattern, keeping in mind that evolution never revisits its failures or extinctions.

Unlike colleges and universities themselves that can trace their heritage to the revival in classics witnessed during the Renaissance, business education – such as it was – had no similar forward-movement revival. Instead, it remained mired in feudalism, securing for centuries the moniker of guild; and its practitioners wore the mantle of tradesmen.

Also, unlike the long history and prestige associated both with medical and law schools, the notion of a meaningful business curriculum simply had no watershed advancements remotely close to discoveries in medicine and developing legal systems to which it might attach a necessary burgeoning and acceptable reputation.

Unfortunately, business education, even in the late 19th century had, at best, a Johnny-come-lately tag. It took foresight, courage, funding, and persistence to rise above its critics. Consider that the primal ancestor to the modern business school, Wharton, established in 1881, was hardly welcomed with open arms. One of its first professors, Edmund J. James, wrote, “The other departments in the University and most of the other members of the faculty were bitterly opposed to the whole project.” (MBA, p28)

It is important to cite also University of Chicago president, William Rainey Harper, who guided the launch of The University of Chicago School of Business in 1898 as the second-oldest business school in the United States. That school was chartered as an extension of the University of Chicago’s founding principles of “scientific guidance and investigation of great economic and social matters of everyday importance.” Even so, this lofty positioning was widely criticized by faculty and outsiders at the time.

And, even though Dartmouth developed and offered the first full time master program in business at the Amos Tuck School of Administration and Finance in 1900, the scope and direction of the curriculum developed by its first dean, Harlow Person was in large measure at first rigidly subject to classical liberal arts education as envisioned by Dartmouth trustees. (MBA, p36)

Yet, even before the formalization of curriculum offerings, a few keen observers of free enterprise activities foresaw a possible need for some kind of instruction in the what, how and why of economic events, especially in terms of profit and growth. This feature – now in the 21st Century – seems to be the driving force for contemporary business management education. Yet, in its nascent form at the dawn of the industrial revolution in the 19th Century there were no clear strategies, only proffered guideposts. The early pioneers of business education, notably Joseph Wharton, Edmund James, Frank Vanderlip, Harlow Person, William Jewett Tucker, Edward Tuck, and somewhat grudgingly Charles W. Eliot, foresaw the need for focused instruction on the varied elements of business practices. But both their collective recommendations and singular acts of courage failed to transform the playing field overnight.

In the case of Harvard president Charles W. Eliot, as late as 1905, “he was holding the line by arguing that the object of education should not be to teach students how to earn a living but to show them how to live happy and worthy lives inspired by the ideals that exalt both labor and pleasure.” (MBA, p39) Nonetheless, Eliot experienced a practical epiphany during the course of the following three years as pressure to open a business school at Harvard mounted. And “the classically trained Eliot oversaw the opening of Harvard Business School in 1908.” (MBA, p40)

The on-going phenomenon resulting from the Industrial Revolution sparked the interest and intentions of people like Wharton and far-sighted business pedagogues. Major changes affecting both the production processes, as well as the advent of new manufactured products forever altered the agrarian-based economy in the US and Europe. The resulting emergent new economic/business landscape spelled the death-knell for small cottage industries. Mechanization gave rise to not only new productions methods but fledgling new models for business success.

In addition, the economic infrastructure driven by electrical power, the gas combustion engine, and the telephone made evident the need for business managers steeped in a specialized business-oriented education. As pointed out by G. David Hughes in Finding a New Way for Business Schools, “The need to study and teach management practices evolved in the late 19th century when economists introduced management as a factor of production.” The new troika of land, labor, and capital demanded a workable management framework to optimize production. And this transforming trend caught the attention and concern of the aforementioned pioneers.

Still, in the early 1900s, 20 years after the founding of the Wharton, Chicago, and Dartmouth business schools, the struggle for academic acceptance of business management education remained both real and arduous. For two decades, the idea of teaching any manner of business courses continued to be met, for the most part, with outright derision.

By comparison, the next 20 years saw a tremendous proliferation and clarification of the business school concept. During that time, leading proponents of business education developed appropriate courses of study. They also showed a high degree of sensitivity to public concerns regarding the establishment of institutions whose purpose might be construed as educating people just so they could get rich.

Their collective and ongoing efforts bore fruit. And at the dawn of WW II, a mere generation after the Wharton School opened its doors, approximately 120 business management education programs existed across the country.

The evolution from that point forward continued to be an incredible intellectual journey, one filled with pratfalls and pitfalls, but certainly more than a modicum of success. To be sure, other significant crisis points also continued to arise across the spectrum of business management education, mandating periodic reassessments of the reach of the education effort.

Maturation and Academic Credibility

Two important studies released in 1959 – critiques really – deserve special attention. Higher Education for Business, financed by the Ford Foundation, and The Education of American Businessmen, financed by the Carnegie Corporation represent comprehensive overviews and reappraisals of business education at the midway point in the history of the discipline. Each report questioned the credibility of business management education practices. There was across-the-board criticism. Whereas business management schools thought they were responsible for keeping America at the cutting edge of economic competitiveness by supplying graduates versed in the ways of business, the reports condemned the existing curricula as stale, and unresponsive to world competition.

Higher Education for Business, by Professors Robert A. Gordon of the University of California at Berkeley and James E. Howell of Stanford University, described business education in America as “a restless and uncertain giant in the halls of higher education.” The authors argued that 20th Century advances demanded new economic, administrative, and technological perspectives and techniques. And the report underscored the compelling need for greater social responsibility on the part of business and management education programs that provide corporations and government with so-called future leaders.

The Ford Foundation Annual Report in 1959 highlighted the far-reaching recommendations of Gordon and Howell. To wit: “Business schools…need to move in the direction of a broader and more rigorous educational program, with higher standards of admission and student performance, with better informed and more scholarly faculties that are capable of carrying on more significant research, and with a greater appreciation of the contributions to be made to the development of business competence by both the underlying non-business disciplines and the judicious use of clinical materials and methods. http://www.fordfound.org/eLibrary/documents/1959/051.cfm , p72)

The findings in the Carnegie Foundation study, The Education of American Businessmen, by Frank C. Pierson similarly concluded that “the central problem facing this branch of higher education is that academic standards need to be materially increased.”

A much later article called the two reports “damning” in their condemnation of “American graduate [business] education as little more than vocational colleges filled with second-rate students taught by second-rate professors who did not understand their fields, did little research, and were out of touch with business.” (Global Executive, Some History: www.economist.com/globalExecutive/education/mba/display/story.id=2135907)

On the positive side, both studies outlined a new stratagem for remaking business management education – especially more rigid academic standards. Educators paid heed to the call for change. As the Global Executive article points out, “Business schools responded rapidly, raising both their admissions and teaching standards and establishing the now well-known American emphasis on academic research. The overall effect was the creation of the classic American MBA model: a first year of required core courses to provide a grounding in the basics of management and a second year of electives to allow specialization or deeper study.” (ibid.)

In response, business management schools began to look at a variety of business disciplines, and began, somewhat en masse, to deploy scientific methods, cogent analysis, and improved and more applicable models in restructuring curricula. Institutions also added courses that reflected a deeper commitment to social responsibilities, developing also specialized responses to identified needs involving ethics, consumer research, and industry financing.

Business education programs also began to reflect a greater appreciation for international competition, and the nascent globalization of both production and trade.

Competitive Pressures and Internationalization

Still, the waning decades of the 20th Century witnessed a new round of business education bashing – one that curiously came from within. In 1980, Robert H. Hayes and William J. Abernathy in Managing Our Way to Economic Decline wrote, “What has developed in the business community as in academia, is a preoccupation with a false and shallow concept of the professional manager, a ‘pseudo-professional’ really – an individual having no special expertise in any particular industry or technology who nevertheless can step into an unfamiliar company and run it successfully through strict application of financial controls, portfolio concepts, and a market-driven strategy.” (HBA, July-August 1980, p74) Also, Jack N. Behrman and Richard I. Levin in their special report, Are Business Schools Doing Their Job, charged that business schools “are generally oriented toward bureaucratic management rather than toward entrepreneurial activities.” (HBA, January-February 1984, p140) Their report also indicted graduate schools for being “risk adverse.”

The authors offered numerous suggested fixes, including that “students should learn how to learn, and gain a personal commitment to continuing lifetime education and development.” (HBA, op.cit., p142) Furthermore, at the graduate level, the report recommended that schools offer “a complementary and integrative program orientation, rather than one centered on separate disciplines,” (ibid.) and that schools need to select consciously a diverse student body…so that managers will not come out of the same mold…” (ibid.)

Then in 1985, Earl Chiet in Business Schools and Their Critics, focused on the damning sentiment that “the disastrous American emphasis on short-term, bottom-line management owes less to science classes at Central High than to MBA classes at Harvard.” (California Management Review, Spring 1985, p43) This notion resurrected the equally pejorative observation made a generation earlier in The Organization Man by William H. Whyte that “in the popular ideology, science means applying ideas; knowing how, not asking why.” (Organization Man, p205)

Chiet noted further that by 1980 “there was widespread support for the conclusion that the nation’s competitive problems were in large part attributable to managerial problems, which could in turn be traced to business education.” (CMR,p48) But unlike Behrman and Levin, he lauded the response business schools faculties made to the new criticisms. And he pointed out “the changes recently made in many institutions reveal increasing faculty agreement.” (CMR, p58)

Internal Critique

Again, the Global Executive serves as a credible reference point, noting that changes to MBA curricula and program design were forthcoming. The article described the changes as “a reaction to criticism of the degree from business and industry, to press and media reports echoing those criticisms, and to some extent to the growth of media rankings of MBA program and business schools.” (Global Executive, op/cit.) The article added that “this time the criticism focused on a supposed lack of relevance to modern business. The MBA was said to be too academic, too theoretical and divorced from real-life business practice. MBA graduates were criticized for adopting an analytical and quantitative approach to business issues when companies needed managers with more diffuse skills, such as leadership.” (ibid.)

Again, the criticism has come from virtually all quarters. Writing in 1985, Raymond E. Miles tackled the content and future relevance of business education. In The Future of Business Education, Miles cited criticisms ranging from “polemic indictments of business education as the prime cause of all our economy’s industrial woes to more reasoned concerns that business programs, even in the better schools, are in danger of slipping out of synchronization with emerging business and organizational needs.” (CMR, Spring 1985, p63)

Miles spoke to the need for a fairly grandiose series of six differing levels of business education programs. And while he was correct in asserting that at the time each level already had a current model or was under consideration at one or more schools, the actual follow-up to his suggestions has never been precisely measured. What stands, however, as a conduit to future excellence in business education is his unqualified support for closer working relationships between business schools and both the letters and science departments on most campuses. Moreover, his mantra that “narrowness is the continuing nemesis of all professional education” (CMR, op.cit. p73) remains axiomatic.

In addition, Lyman W. Porter and Lawrence E. McKibbin in Management Education and Development: Drift or Thrust into the 21st Century, cited the two outstanding criticisms that applied long after the upheaval following on the heels of the change in the 60s and 70s. The first consideration involved “insufficient emphasis on generating ‘vision’ in students;” the second involved “insufficient emphasis on integration across functional areas.” (MED, 1988, p64-65)

It is interesting that in addressing both questions, the authors treated each area as somewhat ephemeral. They argued that the ‘vision’ “has as much or more to do with the way various courses are conducted and taught as it does with the content of the curriculum.” (op. cit., p82) Furthermore, the authors wrote that integration across functional areas would continue to suffer because “the modern world of business is not very accommodating… and many schools, perhaps most, are relying on the single ‘capstone’ business policy course…having it carry the major integrative load across functional areas.” (ibid.)

Those observations notwithstanding, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina T. Fong in their paper, The End of Business Schools: Less Success Than Meets the Eye, started with the notion that “at first blush, business schools are the success story of late twentieth-century education.” (Academy of Management Learning and Education, 2002, p78) But the authors wasted little time in their article before shooting down that beginning postulate. They argued that numerous critics have observed important, significant, and continuing shortcomings of business schools. The article pointed out that “a large body of evidence suggests that the curriculum taught in business schools has only a small relationship to what is important for succeeding in business.” (op. cit., p84)

The Pfeffer/Fong approach underscores the barriers to change, particularly the inertia that is inherent to any status-based system. They argue that in such a case, “it is scarcely in the interests of those schools winning the competitive war for status to change the rules of the game that have put them on top.” (op. cit., p91) While this observation does not augur well for implanting or implementing the types of things needed to re-focus business education, the authors insisted that change is necessary.

Even two short years ago, Warren G. Bennis and James O’Toole in How Business Schools Lost Their Way, argued that what is wrong with the mature business school marketplace is that “genuine reform of the MBA curriculum remains elusive… because the curriculum is the effect, not the cause, of what ails the modern business school.” (HBR, May 2005 pp96-98) Their curious interpretation – one that is largely based on what is called ‘physic envy’ – suggests that “top faculty members have few responsibilities other than to attend to their disciplines.” (op. cit., p98) What is even more telling is their belief that “although few B school faculty members would admit it, professors like it that way.” (op. cit., pp98-99) Their simple combative approach to this dilemma is a belief that “the most effective levers for overcoming this resistance are personnel policies related to recruitment, promotion, tenure, and other academic rewards.” (op. cit., p104)

Yet, it is dubious that those levers could counter the insistence on the value of a scientific outlook – an insistence that the authors submit, leads to disastrous consequences. “The greatest risks they [its proponents] run are the by-products of their trained tendency to define problems in terms of what they know and then to fall back on past behavior when faced with a new challenge.” (op. cit., p100) Merely stating that business schools must have the courage to achieve this, sounds nice enough, but hardly points the way.

In juxtaposition, Henry Mintzberg confidently claims in Managers Not MBAs, “It is really all so simple: We just need to change our concept of the world of management education.” (Managers, 2004, p238) For starters, the author “questions the very notion of ‘curriculum,’ certainly with its order and sequence; most management education has too much structure already.” (op. cit., p242)

Finally, Sumantra Ghoshal’s article, Bad Management Theories are Destroying Good Management Practices, cuts right to the chase by stating unequivocally that “many of the worst excesses of recent management practices have their roots in a set of ideas that have emerged from business school academics over the last 30 years.” (Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2005, p75) The author’s condemnation does not end there; the article suggests that “by propagating ideologically inspired amoral theories, business schools have actively freed their students from any sense of moral responsibility.” (op. cit., p76)

Ghoshal poses the interrogatory that “if both common sense and empirical evidence suggest the contrary, why does the pessimistic model of people as purely self-interested beings still so dominate management-related theories?” (op. cit., p83) and arrives at the conclusion that “nothing is as dangerous as a bad theory.” (op. cit., p86)

But his proffered solution – a type of an autocracy of deans – is discomforting in both its probability and effectiveness. It is also unnecessary, especially taking into consideration the apparent new highlighted thrust of business education in the 21st Century.

The Current Vista

The truth of the matter is that business educators have done – in one fashion or another – yeoman’s work throughout the past century improving the quality of the overall pedagogic system. As such, the business management education community has continually set the stage for relevance and value. And even a cursory examination of the pathfinding new directions of business schools in the past decade offers strong and verifiable credence to this notion. The seeming plethora of online e-courses and degree offerings, and farsighted Executive MBA programs underscore the current poignancy of business education – responsive to the twin citadels of the modern business landscape, i.e., the Internet and globalization.

The numbers mentioned above notwithstanding, as a field, in and of itself, business management education truly enjoys a welcome surfeit of continuing prestige and overall excellence. Patterns related to global perspectives are emerging and gaining a formidable foothold in the business education curriculum.

Business schools are trying (willingly) different things. For instance, despite the novelty of its approach, the Chicago school is not alone. And this is particularly true at the global level.

There are an increasing number of partnerships between academia and law firms. Oxford, for instance, has developed a solid working arrangement with the British law firm Allen & Overy (A&O), the smallest of the global members of the so-called magic circle – the five law firms in the United Kingdom perceived to be in a class of their own. [For detailed background information and more specific commentary see numerous different calendar issues of http://www.ft.com/businesseducation]

Aside from its commitment to foreign expansion, the last 10 years have seen A&O invest heavily in its corporate practice, building a respected mergers and acquisition team to complement its much-vaunted finance practice. Indeed, A&O has long been feted – internally and externally – for the depth of its finance expertise, which “remains the best finance practice around”. The firm’s strength in finance stretches across the board in all the key areas – including loans, acquisition finance, capital markets and structured finance. In addition, A&O has what is regarded by some as the world’s best global projects team. The firm’s derivatives practice is also something of a finishing school in the business, one reason why A&O has suffered particularly from predatory recruitment from investment banks.

This outstanding reputation in the finance arena stems from the direct involvement of A&O in business management type schooling. Since 1990 when A&O first funded a chair in Corporate Law at Jesus College, the firm has focused on stimulating the co-operation of university lawyers and practitioners in enhancing their understanding of the law and its development as applied to the commercial world. That same focus continues today. A&O strives to promote outstanding teaching and research in corporate law, and also to create opportunities for academic lawyers and practitioners to learn from each other. The association between the chair and A&O creates an opportunity for working closely with practitioners in a leading international practice. This Professorship of Corporate Law also provides leadership in teaching and research at the highest level in the law governing corporate associations.

The post is generously supported by A&O. Moreover, the position places a premium on an outstanding research and publication record indicating potential to produce further significant work of a recognized international quality during the tenure; and on the ability to teach high-achieving students and to supervise doctoral students, including giving lectures, leading seminars and classes, and supervising higher level research. In addition, A&O seeks to develop potential intellectual leadership skills enabling the professor to lead a research group, to provide mentoring to junior colleagues, and to initiate and develop new academic projects and courses.

The A&O professor is involved in a wide-ranging expansion of Oxford’s teaching provision and research strength in corporate law and allied fields, particularly at the graduate, i.e. master business program, level. In conjunction with this effort, the Oxford faculty is developing a new graduate degree with the Saïd Business School.

Established in 1996 the Saïd Business School provides a full service business program and is one of Europe’s newest and fastest growing business schools. An integral part of Oxford University, the School has an established reputation for research in a wide range of areas, including finance and accounting, organizational analysis, international management, strategy and operations management. The School is dedicated to developing a new generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs and conducting research not only into the nature of business, but the connections between business and the wider world.

The impact of this approach on the business school has been extremely positive. In the Financial Times ranking of MBA programs (Jan 2007), the Saïd business school improved its position and currently is ranked 19th in the world. This achievement followed its status according to Her Majesty’s Treasury’s ranking (2005) of the top 50 MBA programs in the world, where Saïd finished number one out of all the UK business schools. In the university league table published by The Guardian (May 2006), Saïd ranked first of all UK universities for undergraduate business. The University of Oxford also ranked first for business studies in The Times report published in June 2006. [For detailed background information and more specific commentary see www.sbs.ox.ac.uk]

Finally, the MBA program at Saïd Business School is at the forefront of dealing with the looming environment and energy crisis with its launch of the Capstone program that focuses on climate change and energy security.

Talking about the new program, Professor Colin Mayer, Dean of Saïd Business School, said, “Business schools have a critical function to perform in improving corporate performance, both in terms of conventional measures of investor return, and in relation to the role that business plays in society. We are concerned with how business can help solve some of the key social and environmental problems of the 21st century. Business should be part of the solution, not a contributor to these problems. Capstone will prepare our MBAs to engage with these problems in innovative and constructive ways.”

Professor Steve Rayner, Director of the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization, who co-developed the new program, commented, “We are aiming to equip our MBAs with an education that will stand the test of their career lifetimes and help them fulfill their potential as tomorrow’s leaders. Today’s leadership challenges require exceptionally good judgment about what is going on, what it means and what we should do about it.”

Interest in scenario thinking and practices has increased considerably in recent years across government, business and public sectors. Scenarios offer alternative “stories” of the future and can help organizations develop strategic insights in a way that helps them accept uncertainty and develop options for continued success.

The connect between A&O, Oxford, and the Saïd Business School is no longer viewed as an exception to the rule. Rather, the arrangement is indicative of the increasing number of strategic alliances being formed by institutions that are aimed at improving the business education end product. In fact, A&O has also pursued a meaningful partnership with the Judge Business School at Cambridge University where Executive Education programs are designed to help business leaders achieve operational excellence and practical business results. [For more extensive information on this see http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/execed/index.html]

Other forward thinking and forward looking business schools also are making a conscious attempt to address what the full meaning of leadership across the entire spectrum of effective business education school leader, as well as other outstanding challenges inherent to business school leadership in the 21st Century. As such, business education experts have become aware of the shifting context of curriculum, research, and purpose, as well as the critical set of tensions needed to create and maintain a balanced and meaningful approach to business school operations.

The joint venture partnership between Duke Corporate Education and Enterprise London School of Economics (LSE) Limited is another case in point. This venture aims to provide specialized custom executive education that directly addresses the business needs of companies throughout the world. The venture relies on Duke Corporate Education, the customized non-degree education company of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, for a business focus and the academic resources of LSE for a geo-political and economic focus. The effort has already completed a number of successful programs including cross-border multi-industry projects in UK, US and Russia.

As one of the leading social sciences institutions in the world LSE compliments well the aim and purpose of Duke Corporate Education which was ranked #1 in the world in custom executive education by the Financial Times (15 May 2006) for the fourth year in a row. By bringing together the strengths of two groups of world-class educators, the joint venture offers an unparalleled range of expertise across the fields of management, political science, and social sciences.

Duke Corporate Education’s pre-eminence in designing and delivering tailored corporate learning along with Enterprise LSE’s access to world leading research in social and political sciences has proved to be a powerful combination. The joint venture has enabled the two organizations to provide robust program for addressing increasingly complex global business problems. According to Blair Sheppard, chief executive officer of Duke Corporate Education, this unique approach offers a corporate education that combines leadership issues, management matters, and functional excellence, and cannot be matched by traditional business schools. “We created a provider that sees the whole landscape of business across the world,” he said.

For its part, since it founding in 1895, LSE has aimed to be a laboratory of the social sciences—a place where ideas are developed, analyzed, evaluated and disseminated around the globe. In addition, the LSE social science faculty provides insights into emerging markets, the changing nature of risk, operating in regulated environments, and other geopolitical issues important to business decision-makers.

Furthermore, the full compliment of LSE activity centers including Industrial Relations, Information Systems, Managerial Economics and Strategy, Operational Research, and Accounting compose with Duke Corporate Education a preeminent cross sectional operation for providing a formidable – and more importantly, workable – interdisciplinary approach to solving problems confronting business executives in the 21st Century.

The reaction of corporations with a global reach has been highly favorable and supportive. And it has helped the Duke Fuqua Business School to build and grow. As the largest shareholder in the for-profit Duke Corporate Education operation, the Fuqua School has grown to a staff of 71 academic and business professionals. During its brief existence, Duke Corporate Education has generated revenue of more than $23 million from its headquarters in Durham, NC and a service office in London. Clients include: PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, Schering, Saudi Aramco, Royal Dutch Shell, ABB, NCR’s Teradata division, Progress Energy, Amvescap, the American Cancer Society, Merck, The New York Times Company, Siemens, Nestle, and Lilly.

“The executive education market has grown and matured tremendously in the last decade,” said Duke’s associate dean for executive education, John F. Cady. “Duke’s achievement of leadership in every segment of the executive education market is indicative of the commitment of talent and resources that the school has made to its mission of educating corporate leaders worldwide.”

The overall joint venture effort is an extension of the Fuqua Advanced Management Program. That program is designed for senior executives with global corporate experience, and combines the diverse experience of an international cadre of executives with faculty ranked # 1 in intellectual capital. The result is a collaborative learning experience that provides the knowledge, skills, and tools to begin to immediately improve business performance.

The Columbia University Business School also has figured prominently in the new reach and vision of business school education. In 2004, Columbia succeeded in adding a major Executive MBA program – one that touts heavily its networking impact, citing the Business School location in New York and its extensive links to the international business community. The focus of the Executive Business Education program is to provide key constituencies with more relevant course offerings. It represents a conscious effort to give students an opportunity to learn from cutting-edge practitioners as well as world-class faculty members. Currently, more than 500 noted business leaders visit the Columbia Business School each year as lecturers, teachers and mentors, sharing their insights with students. [For more detailed background information see http://www2.gsb.columbia.edu/emba]

The EMBA-Global program allows executives with global responsibilities and aspirations to continue their career while earning two full MBA degrees from Columbia and London Business Schools (the latter which just hired a career Bain consultant as dean). Whether through alternative structures or through a COO role, the program focuses on business savvy, and is not dependent on any structure curriculum format. Participants instantly gain a global network and have access to two world-renowned faculties, two exceptional alumni networks, and two world business capitals – New York and London. [For additional information see http://www.london.edu/emba-global.html]

Conclusion

In sum, the nature of the overall new business education endeavor, in many ways, has more to do with management innovation from within, than it does with any trickle down notions espoused and nurtured by curriculum adjustments. In The Future of Management, by Gary Hamel with Bill Breen (Harvard Business School Press, 2007) the authors maintain that the compelling reach of contemporary business education should stem from a systemic solicitation and consideration of and funding for new approaches to new challenges. The authors argue that while there have been various and strategic changes in the business arena affecting both products and processes in recent years, there has not been a corresponding spurt in management innovation. More important, the authors posit certain key management innovation principles that closely address a business world transformed by the Internet – and that is the venue which 21st Century Executive Business Programs must continue to strive to accommodate.

In so doing, business schools will move (many already have) closer than ever before to dealing directly with both the needs and priorities of professional service firms e.g., law practices, lobbying partnerships, and consulting groups. This has led already to a more collegial association among widely disparate student factions, and in the process has eroded significantly the long-time extant accountability hierarchy of teaching, research, and publications.

This bifurcation of faculty and the resulting opposite camps of academic versus practitioner, scientist versus sage, and basic versus applied will not be missed. Moreover, its “passing” will help to eradicate finally the “lines” drawn by faculty regarding what it means to participate in a college. Nonetheless, there will still be an interim during which the troika of business education interests will continue to overlap.

For example, even the Harvard Business School and other Executive Education programs are still developed and taught by a core faculty of skilled educators, groundbreaking researchers, and award-winning authors. That kind of faculty will continue to leverage business expertise and field-based research to create new knowledge and enduring concepts that shape the practice of management. Additionally, the traditional faculties will continue to represent teaching teams that both exposes participants to multiple perspectives, and challenges their thinking on many levels.

It is clear, however, that the thrust of current-day formal business education – in the guise of Executive programs, both degree and non-degree – has laid claim to high profitability and excellence. As such, business education has turned a corner to where it is imbued with bold leadership, critical issue evaluation, and innovation. Accordingly, it is no longer content to serve the pedestrian student insistence on preparing oneself how to make a buck. Instead, business education participants are challenged to examine their role in improving organizational effectiveness.

All this is particularly true of board members of whom much more is now expected than at any time in the history of business. The demand for excellence especially in the are of governance, cuts across a wide swath of “business and organizational interests” including social services, education, healthcare, arts and culture, community and economic development, and international development.

Ultimately, this new coursing of business education will diminish the authority and expertise power deans. In short, faculties no longer want to be “led.” The result is an increased loyalty to the business education profession, and not to any particular institution. Accordingly, traditional business education notions are being replaced by alternative structures that stress and cultivate a free-wheeling curriculum. For example, the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College, focuses on the importance of entrepreneurial thinking. Yet, instead of encouraging the pursuit of start-up ventures, the educational experience stresses the role that entrepreneurial training plays in fostering success in the corporate environment. The idea is that entrepreneurship is not about starting a business; it is a state of mind.

In support of that philosophy, Babson launched its Fast Track MBA in January 2003 – a part-time program combining traditional classroom instruction with Web-based, distance learning. In September 2006, Babson extended the reach of this effort by partnering with Intel Corporation to provide the program to Intel employees in Portland, OR. This effort lets Intel employees earn advanced degrees through academically rigorous coursework that applies specifically to the Intel workplace and is immediately relevant. The program synchronizes with Intel strategic initiatives through electives and action-based projects. [See http://www3.babson.edu/mba/programs/intel/]

The Villanova School of Business also has sought to distinguish its Executive MBA Program by catering to the realities of the changed business education marketplace. The Villanova program begins in August of each year at the Villanova Conference Center for an intensive resident weeklong course introduction, followed by Friday and Saturday programs every other week for 21 months. This scenario allows participants to better balance their professional and personal lives while pursuing graduate studies in business. [See http://www.villanova.edu/business/execmba/]

In sum, business education around the world has responded well and extensively to the burgeoning demand for close scrutiny, considerable reflection, creative thinking, and strategic action. In the process the discipline has become its own pathfinder.

Wayne Eastman and I authored a paper in 1998, Mediating the Fact Value Antinomy: Patterns in Managerial and Legal Rhetoric, which closely addressed the problems presented by the various developments in the broad field of business education. Our approach involved three modes of mediation – formalism, consensualism, and value-partisanship. Our schematic was idealist – based on broad shifts in the intellectual climate regarding science and logic.” (Organization Science, 1998 p232)

The overview tracked the incredible changes and fluctuations which have characterized the history of business management education. Most important, the subsequent dedicated linear historical model lent itself readily to meeting future challenges as opportunities, rather than mere reactions to crisis or hand-wringing angst.

The importance of this supportive optimism, inherent to the model can hardly be overstated. Consider that after over 100 years of near straight-line growth, the commodity known as business education – no matter what the exact appellation – has forever been, and will continue to be, characterized by reactive responses to a wide variety of command audiences. Those audiences range from academic peers to other college faculties to business corporations to students (both professional business people and young collegians) to government officials to journalists to the nowadays bloggers.

Meeting that wide range of expectations has a tendency sometimes to twist unmercifully in the slight winds of need and desire. Yet, we are not now – and never have been – devoid of options. They have been plentiful. They have been well promulgated. And many of them are either useful or at the very least have great potential.

More to the point: Since its inception slightly over 100 years ago, management education has, like all practice disciplines, gone through periods of gradual evolution and wresting revolution. An examination of the animating forces suggests the composition and demands of constituencies like students and recruiters, global economic trends such as international competition and the shift toward service organizations, the professionalizing of management academics as reflected in things like accreditation standards, and the general intellectual climate, including dominant or emergent methodological and theoretical paradigms, have all played an intricately interconnected role.

Moreover, the last few decades have witnessed the emergence of business education as an industry – a highly successful one at that. It has become also an industry with multiple delivery possibilities proffered by new technologies, and a pathfinding rise in customized educational platforms.

In the end, business education – especially in recent years – has sought to go beyond the banal belief of many students that an MBA is easy way to make easy money. It has sought also to deflect the criticism that for the past quarter century, the business education model has produced a virtual phalanx of tin soldiers armed with outdated concepts or rigid research schemes that are devoid of real leadership potential.

In reality, business education has done far more than that. Virtually each and every example cited above – as well as those unmentioned due to the sheer volume of their numbers – demonstrates that Natty Bumppo is alive and well in the 21st Century. Only this time around, the ethical maven of truth and rectitude, who lives by his wits and guile, is hardly confined to the forests of early America. Today, a global citizen (he and/or she) has no difficulty finding a business education provider that is attractive, challenging, worthwhile, and above all else relevant.

James Bailey

James Bailey

Dr. James R. Bailey is Professor and Hochberg Fellow of Leadership Development at the George Washington University, as well as Fellow at the Centre of Management Development at London Business School. A key-note speaker, best-selling author, and award winning educator, Dr. Bailey designs and delivers executive programs for some of the world's most prestigious firms.
James Bailey