Chairs at business school offer innovative ways to tackle challenges

As business schools look for fresh ways to empower future leaders and implement transformation in their own schools as well as society, Associate Director Stephanie Mullins and colleague Ariella Durban at specialist business education PR consultancy BlueSky Education explore how Chairs can be a way to encourage research and teaching to revolutionise different societal and economic challenges.

Placed under the responsibility of members of the faculty body, each Chair has an objective to produce new knowledge, develop science and management practices, and create a flow of data and market analyses.

The teaching and research Chairs at ESSEC Business School, for instance, bring them into close collaboration with companies keen to develop innovative skills in their sector. The Chair of Leadership and Diversity is a great example of how a chair can promote a greater good, whilst educating students towards an end goal.

The Chair offers students a specialised programme combining theoretical perspectives, practical knowledge acquired from professional presentations in the seminar, and hands-on experience through concrete projects with their partner firm L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company. The objective is to heighten awareness, create experiences, and gain insights into the relationships between leadership, diversity and innovation. The Leadership and Diversity Chair is grounded in the idea that understanding and harnessing diversity is essential for responsible and innovative leadership. It introduces students to current diversity and inclusion issues through seminar sessions with company representatives, and to see diversity and inclusion as not only a social responsibility but as a source of innovation and collective intelligence.

Social enterprises

Another example of an impactful initiative is at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) where Tine De Moor is Professor of Social Enterprise & Institutions for Collective Action. Professor De Moor conducts research into the creation, functioning and evolution of social enterprises and their evolving role in the development of a more sustainable economy. This Chair is sponsored by the Dutch bank ABN AMRO and has been jointly initiated by Social Enterprise NL and the department of business-society management at RSM.

“As a scientist, I want to be at the heart of society, focus on important social themes, and enter into dialogue with citizens, governments, and companies,” says Professor De Moor. She adds that it fascinates her to discover how organisations can become resilient through historical insights. “The many disciplines represented within RSM make it possible to study organisations from many different perspectives, and to connect academic research more to the grand challenges our society is currently facing.”

Strategic management

Chairs can also be symbolic of the progress that a university has made. For example, Trinity Business School has appointed Catherine Welch as its first-ever Chair of Strategic Management. Professor Welch’s appointment as Trinity’s first chair of Strategic Management marks yet another significant milestone for the business school, both in terms of the school’s broader strategy, but also in its commitment to gender diversity — Welch is the first female Full-Professor at the school. The news of Welch’s appointment comes only a number of weeks after Trinity Business School secured the Athena SWAN Bronze Award in recognition of its commitment to improving gender equality and representation among staff and students.

Professor Welch says “This complex world poses countless challenges to studying it, and I am well known for my advocacy of methodological pluralism and innovation in international business and management research. This means I am also passionate about doctoral education, research quality, ongoing methodological training, and rethinking assumptions about knowledge production.”

Family businesses

Chairs can also be reflective of the kind of academic research a university is interested in, perhaps due to the context of their location or what they specialise in. For example, family businesses are extremely successful and dominant in the Dutch, as well as the global, economy. Nyenrode Business University saw an opportunity to investigate this further and have been conducting systematic research since 1992 to get insight into the dynamics of family businesses. This gave rise to the establishment of the RSM Chair in Family Business and Business Transfer in 2002. This chair is sponsored by RSM, a consultant agency, and NPM Capital, an investment company and has provided much insight into what is important within the Dutch economy.

Chairs, as demonstrated, can really be an innovative way to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Whether that be through promoting diversity and inclusion or finding new ways to promote sustainable economic growth, it gives business schools and universities a chance to further their research and provide important insights. We enjoy hearing about them as well as promoting them.