Feature

How Should Business Schools Prepare Students for a Global Economy?

What skills and knowledge do future leaders need to navigate an ever-shifting global economy? And how is the mission of business schools changing in response?


At a panel titled “Preparing Leaders for a Flatter World” at the Business + Society conference, held to mark the opening of Yale SOM’s Edward P. Evans Hall, nine Global Network for Advanced Management deans set out to answer these questions and discuss the challenges facing each of their institutions. Margaret Warner YC ’71, senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour was the moderator.

The deans addressed how their schools are taking on the challenge of preparing students to lead in a world in which nearly every company has global aspirations, and how the Global Network can multiply those efforts.

Jiye Mao, executive dean at the School of Business, Renmin University of China, pointed to cross-cultural understanding as a key skill for companies doing business across borders. He provided an example from China. “People like to bargain and have a connection with the buyer and the seller,” Mao said. “It’s a very different culture. So for us in management education, we need to educate our students to be aware of the cultural differences.”

María de Lourdes Dieck Assad, dean of EGADE Business School in Mexico, agreed. “We provide [students] with a capacity to understand not only the culture but the implications of that culture, the political systems, and the different kinds of interactions that are key to different countries,” she said.

Ted Snyder, dean of the Yale School of Management, said that the Global Network speaks to the need for a deep understanding of the complexities of the global marketplace, in addition to the traditional business school subjects. “Yes, students need to understand markets and organizations, but they also need something new,” he said. “You can call it cross-cultural awareness. It’s certainly that ability to connect and rigorously—I emphasize that word—understand differences and commonalities.”

Effective leadership in a global society requires the ability to adapt to the unexpected. Nida Bektaş, executive director of the Koç University Graduate School of Business in Istanbul, said that one of the benefits of the Global Network is that it provides students with opportunities to build contacts internationally and learn multiple approaches to problems.

In Global Network Courses—online courses in which students from multiple schools form virtual project teams—“the students build groups together and are challenged to solve business problems” Bektaş said. “They learn how to talk to each other, to discuss things and analytically solve complex problems, which is the case when they graduate and start working.”

Strong communication skills are vital for any company building a global presence. “That is a cultural skill,” said Michael Barzelay '82, PhD '85, head of the Department of Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In a global context, “the content of the communication will be very different because you have to try to understand what someone who is coming from a very different experience is trying to say, but you need a way to communicate.”

Technology is a useful tool, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction, added Miriam Erez, vice dean of the MBA Program at Technion—Israel Institute of Technology. Global Network Weeks provide an opportunity for students to gain cross-cultural understanding while enhancing communication skills, she said. “They then not only have to listen to what we tell them about about cultural characteristics, but they also have to experience working together,” Erez said.

Santiago Iñiguez, dean of IE Business School in Madrid, said that effective communication was one of a variety of skills that leaders needed to add to the traditional management toolkit. “[Students] need many different forms of intelligence and not just the traditional ones like analytical skills,” Iñiguez said. “There are many other forms of intelligence: emotional, spatial, creative, artistic…the challenges are big and we are in the process of facing them.”

The deans also spoke about how global trends, such as the shift to market economies and the rise of income inequality, translate into local challenges. Kwame Domfeh, dean of the University of Ghana Business School, said that the university is shifting its focus as the nation’s economy develops. “Our school was established right after independence to create personnel who would service the public sector,” Domfeh said. “If you look at the situation now, it’s changed and we need to create people who will not only focus on the public sector, but also the private sector.”

Devanath Tirupati, dean of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, said that his students grew up in a country where pockets of affluence can be just yards away from the nation’s poorest people. “It’s created many problems, but one of the things we believe is that the leaders of tomorrow should operate in this environment,” Tirupati said. “They should understand this context to operate effectively.”

Watch the discussion.