Guest Post by Jorge Haddock, University of Massachusetts Boston, Chair of the Conference
New York City, USA – 29November – 1 December 2017

Four themes emerged throughout the conference, (1) the impact of technology in pedagogy and all other aspects of business education, (2) business disruption, most led by technology, (3) the talent gap, and (4) the disconnect between academia and practice.

In the opening keynote, Julio Portalatin, CEO & President, Mercer, USA argued that it’s all about leadership rather than management, leading for success and positioning the company for the future. More jobs will be created than displaced by technology.

He also posited that although business disruption is being led by technology, companies like Amazon realised that it’s not all about technology and that some human interaction is required. That’s why they acquired Whole Foods and will penetrate the pharmaceutical market. In this technology led disruption of business we can foresee 65% of children born today going into a career that doesn’t exist today. We can also expect much of the disruption to continue around AI development.

Given the above, 93% of companies will do something major to incorporate technology and AI in the near future. It is important to recognise generational change especially around technology. For today’s, technology is a given. Hence, it is all about the organisational culture embracing technology, which requires a new work environment.

One major CEO complaint is the inability to match opportunity with talent. Another issue is how academia prepares students for the job market. On the one hand they need to be job ready on the other hand they should have wide critical thinking skills and cognitive flexibility where a more Liberal Arts type education would be more appropriate. Business schools that stay relevant among these changes will prevail. The trend indicates the rise of specialised masters programmes, but the MBA will remain the most valuable degrees. However, it will only remain so given well-rounded MBA programmes that teach students to think critically.

The panelists on Trends in Online Education showcased some of their work at their institutions and discussed the major challenges, opportunities and threats. The major challenges include a sometimes negative market perception, resistant faculty, a lack of innovation culture and pedagogy and definition of the right portfolio. The opportunities and threats include increasing interest in ROI (ROE) Return on Education, demographic shifts, adjacent markets and product subs, the parcellation of the education offering and the integration of AI.

The panelists from the corporate world (Accenture, Allianz and GloCap Search) on Preparing Students for an Unpredictable Future discussed the major challenges that organisations face when integrating talent. Two of the major challenges that organisations face are the skills gap and performance improvement.

The takeaways include:

  • Diversity of thought and experience is key
  • Ideal students are flexible, think on your feet and are good listeners
  • There is an exponential growth of knowledge that is required from students
  • Students need to communicate effectively, develop social skills and EQ
  • Ability to navigate office politics is often lacking among graduates. This includes the necessary patience and time it needs to grow within an organisation
  • Command of technology is important
  • A class on where student experience failure and how to deal with it could be highly valuable

There is a disconnect between academia and practice due to faculty who believe they know what they should be teaching. Business Schools are supposed to provide great thinkers and people with the necessary hard skills to hit the ground running: to what extent are Business Schools responsible, to what extent are companies responsible and to what extent individuals?

Attendees finished the day in the Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Networking Session and had the opportunity to engage in an open-format interactive session where they identified and discussed with their peers challenges that they face at their institutions.

The next morning, Dean Soumittra Dutta discussed New York – the Epicenter of Creativity and Transformation. He described Cornell Tech in New York City and its implications on disruption in Higher Ed and economic development: An alternative ecosystem to Silicon Vally that combines business education, computer science and engeneering while being close to Business. The ambitious vision is to transform New York ‘s economy by horizontally affecting existing industries with innovative technological disruption. The incredibly resourced poject showed innovation by an interdisciplinary set-up going so far that faculty hiring decision are done by an interdisciplinary committee, faculty offices were abandoned and impact became a promotion criterion for faculty.

Creating sustainable ecological and financial systems was discussed in the final session titled Unconventional Leadership in a Complex World: social innovation through partnership & creative thinking. Tijuana was one of the most dangerous cities on earth according to homicide statistics and the place where Torolabs works, an art collective that creates change on the microlevel by applying social innovation. Leveling canals, buidling farms, bringing together architects, artists, psychologists, business men, researchers, MBA students and engineers to create a community in the middle of the most dangerous hot spots of Mexico led to a 85% decrease of the crime rate. Participants saw a wonderful example how impactful change is possible.

Questions for reflection to take home:

  • Is social media adequately embraced by academia?
  • What is the importance/impact of machine learning for your school and business in general?
  • What should business schools be doing other than teaching students to get a job?
  • How are you adapting to the different behavior of younger generations (shorter attention spans, listening skills)?
  • Are you comfortable with embracing change? Are you comfortable with the uncomfortable? How to prepare for what’s coming next?
  • Are you, your students, your alumni, your institution lifelong learners?
  • Should business schools be managing expectations upon graduation? Who is to blame? Parents, business schools?
  • Do your programmes teach failure?
  • Are you ready for the technological change that affects almost all industries?