The importance of leading by example with Karen Spens, BI Norwegian Business School Dean

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Throughout 2023, BI Norwegian Business School has been celebrating its heritage and societal impact in line with the vision of its founder, Finn Øien. Last year, as the institution prepared to celebrate its 80th anniversary, BI also welcomed a new President.

We spoke with Karen Spens, BI’s first female and first international President, about her experience within the business education sector, how the school should contribute to society, and her vision for the institution moving forward.

What do you believe are the most important responsibilities of a business school leader?

My leadership mantra has always been listen, learn, lead. I believe in leading by example. In order to do so, it’s crucial to understand the organisation and challenges people at different levels face.

Then, you have to set clear priorities and make decisions that hopefully can bring out the best in your colleagues and the organisation as a whole. My main motivation as the leader of a business school is the desire to see students and colleagues succeed.

How does BI Norwegian Business School collaborate with other industries and organisations to enhance its students’ learning experience?

Being connected with industry and society is a strategic priority for BI. Partnerships between academia, business, and private and public organisations play a crucial role in furthering research, education, and value creation.

Through close collaboration and interaction with industries and businesses, we seek to offer relevant education programmes that provide students with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in their careers. BI is always looking for long-term strategic partnerships that can benefit our students and enhance their learning experience. 

As a member of the EQUIS Committee and a trustee of AMBA & BGA’s international board, what insights have you gained into the operation of business schools from these positions?

Business education is an international field, and many business schools face similar challenges and opportunities regardless of location. Being able to discuss and share reflections with international peers is a great way to gain insight. This has given me new perspectives that I otherwise might have missed. 

How can business schools help contribute to a better society?

I believe business schools will prove indispensable if we are to succeed in solving the greatest challenges we face. In an increasingly volatile world, business schools can be powerful arenas for dialogue and open and critical debate.

We are in a unique position to impact decision-making both in business and politics through cutting-edge research, knowledge sharing, and educating future leaders. I believe business education can be beneficial to society as it provides students with strong analytical and operational skills that are relevant in all sectors and industries.

I also think business schools can be a source of inspiration in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. From my point of view, diversity in business can be achieved when business schools themselves embrace diversity within the communities they serve.

What challenges do you think higher and business education might face in the coming years?

Artificial intelligence is certainly here to stay and something higher educational institutions need to embrace to remain relevant. It is difficult to predict the future, but new technological developments, geopolitics, climate change, and economic uncertainty are all likely to continue to influence business education and research in the years ahead. 

What are your ambitions for BI and hopes for the future of business education?

BI Norwegian Business School’s goal is to shape business and the labour market of the future through our research and teaching. We want to continue to prove that business education is an excellent starting point for a range of career opportunities where graduates can make a positive impact.

For more information on Karen Spens and BI Norwegian Business School’s organisation, mission, and strategy, please visit here.

For additional insights, profiles and inspiring vignettes on leadership, follow the conversation here.