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Panel: Do Business Schools Teach What Their Customers Need?

19th CEEMAN Annual Conference
Georgia - Tbilisi | 2011
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I am delighted by this opportunity to make a presentation at this CEEMAN forum because the relevant issues in Sao Paulo are the same as those that we are discussing here. 

Since the fall of the Berlin wall, a whole new world has unfolded. This is the socalled post-cold war era. It is a period of consolidation and spreading of the current business model and business school model. 

Business school customers can be defined as those studying at business schools and their institutional sponsors as well. In my view, business school students need a set of managerial tools that help them solve problems in a sustainable way. We are talking about different types of sustainability: economic, environmental, societal and emotional, which means personal. Students are increasingly looking for career support and ways to balance their professional and personal lives. Networking helps you solve a lot of managerial problems, including the main one: how to get a job. 

There is also a second group of needs that I define as being the need for an intellectual roadmap. This is what helps graduates in adapting their business careers to changes in the environment. What I mean by “environment” is the political, economic, social, technological, natural, and regulatory environments. 

Business schools have been successful in addressing the first type of needs, less successful with respect to the second. Why is that so? The current model for business schools was developed in a very specific environment: the so-called “Western liberal late capitalism”, strongly based on neoclassical economics. It has expanded heavily during the early post-cold war period, known as the “neo-liberal globalization”. That model has a number of implicit assumptions. First, it is assumed that the allocation of resources by free market forces and financial markets is optimal, or at least it is much more efficient than the alternatives. The second assumption is the universal validity of political and economic Western structures, which would ideally spread throughout the world once obstacles were removed. Francis Fukuyama’s book The End of History and the Last Man was the flagship of that philosophy. Yet those predictions did not come true. According to that model, China should not be the global power that it is. 

There is a major and ongoing geopolitical shift. We are in the vortex of the storm. It has changed business in Brazil and its repercussions have been felt in this part of the world as well. It seems capable of changing the political and social environment. This generates anxiety in our students. They are increasingly seeking information to understand what is going on. 

The time has come for business schools to adapt to these changes. In the long run, the inability to address the need for an updated intellectual framework can prove to be damaging also for the ability of business schools to address the need for managerial tools. That could happen for a simple reason: the optimal utilization of managerial tools must be preceded by an adequate analysis of the larger environment. 

What should we do? In times of change, business schools should remember that ultimately they are schools of applied social sciences. This may sound strange to some but that is our core function. We need a large gamut of intellectual approaches to business. It should include political science, sociology, and psychology. Business schools should not limit themselves to one single approach without understanding the broader picture. A focus on a single “philosophical” approach is useless, and even dangerous. We need a variety of tools and approaches to explain what is going on in China, for instance. This is something that we cannot do with our current models. Business school students should also receive the opportunity to learn about the many different “near futures” that could eventually unfold out of the current global situation. It is up to us to decide if we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution. 

How do we bring together the local and the global requirements? I think we should keep chasing the global dream but without falling in the abyss of global delusion. That delusion would imply that everything across the world is following the same pattern. That is just not true. That is why I say that we are schools of applied social science. It is not a matter of extending the curriculum. It is a matter of approach. We can extract many different lessons out of the same business cases. In order to adapt the global model to our local realities, we have to be able to understand the local society. This may sound like some kind of snake oil that solves all problems, but it is not. For example, I cannot imagine an entrepreneur who does not understand his or her society. In fact, that is the reason why so many entrepreneurs do not need business schools in order to be successful. They are sociologists and psychologists by nature and by intuition. Their experience teaches us that we need to provide our students with a deeper intellectual ability. 

Professor Sandoyan tells us that some MBAs are capable of delivering excellent presentations that lack any content. It is true; when times are easy, appearance may seem more important than content. But when times are difficult, it is the other way around. And I do not need to convince you that we are living in hard times.
19th CEEMAN Annual Conference: Management Education in a Changing World: Are We Ready for the Challenge?
September 2011
Published from:
October 2011
Antonio Gelis Filho, Panel: Do Business Schools Teach What Their Customers Need?,
Accessed: June 24 2019,
Available at: http://ceeman.lecturehub.com/lectures/645/2011_ceemanac_tbilisi_gelis_fliho_dbstwtcn
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