Reflections from the 2024 EFMD Deans Conference

2024 EFMD Deans Conference Yolande Chan

The annual EFMD Conference for Deans and Directors General wrapped up after two and half days of thought-provoking discussions and networking in the charming and picturesque city of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

As this year’s conference chair, it was an honour to steer this unique forum that brought together nearly 500 leaders in higher education from across the globe. I must commend our world-class speakers, our host, the University of Amsterdam Economics and Business, our strategic partner GMAC, and the dedicated EFMD team whose contributions made this an unforgettable experience for participants.

The conference theme of “Keeping up with transformation – Thriving in an evolving landscape” underscored a significant evolution we are all experiencing and inspired the exploration of topics such as technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability, social impact, and future-readiness. Although every session of the conference left me with fresh insights and valuable connections, several stood out, leaving a particularly strong impression on me.

Getting future-ready together

Technological disruption in teaching, learning, and research was a frequent topic of conversation throughout the conference and was the focus of a plenary I moderated on the first day. As a researcher of information systems, I was fascinated by our discussion on the increasing need for more responsible use of technology, particularly the need to incorporate more policies and safeguards into the systems we will adopt in the future.

Another relevant topic explored on the first day revolved around embracing an entrepreneurial culture and mindset to be future-ready. One speaker that stood out was Professor Mirjam van Praag of Copenhagen Business School who reinforced the importance of playfulness for innovation—a refreshing and provocative take on the entrepreneurial skills and competencies we need to foster in ourselves and in the next generation of business leaders.

One size does not fit all

Although we may label ourselves similarly as “business schools” or “management faculties,” I certainly came away from this conference appreciating the wonderful distinctions among us. Whether we look at our communities, offerings, or funding models, we are vastly different, and yet there is space for all to compete and collaborate across the globe.

It is a beautiful thing to know we can each thrive in our spaces while still encouraging and celebrating others. One presentation that particularly captivated me was delivered by plenary speaker Dr. Fons Trompenaars. With a touch of humour, he skillfully explained cultural differences and cross-cultural communication, reinforcing how cultural models can be oversimplified. Through his presentation delivery, Dr. Trompenaars also showed us the effectiveness of learning while laughing.

Maximising rankings through impact

We business school deans often lament about feeling at the mercy of global rankings whose criteria don’t always align with our institutional priorities and strategies. During one of the breakout sessions, I appreciated the reiteration of how we should not be driven by rankings but instead by impact.

If we maximise impact, eventually, our rankings will follow, reflecting our efforts. On the other hand, if we aim to maximise rankings and not impact, it will inevitably lead to a lose-lose scenario. Although easier said than done, I strive to keep this firm focus on impact as a mindset going forward.

Can’t put a woman dean in a box

As a dean who is also a woman and racialised, I greatly appreciated the transparency and vulnerability of women leader panellists as they shared their journeys and challenges during a breakout session on “Women as business school leaders.”

What struck me was how wide the spectrum was—we had shared experiences but also vastly different ones. Simply put, you can’t put a woman dean in a box. If I were to find commonality among the panellists, it would be that I thought these women all exemplified resilience, brilliance, excellence, and strength.

Final thoughts: The dean community is vibrant and strong

If I were to sum up this conference in two words, they would be “powerful” and “transformative.” To add another layer, “community” emerges as a third choice. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to network with my counterparts from around the world and to hear their perspectives on issues we share.

While the plenaries and breakouts were valuable for listening and learning, the meals and breaks were ideal for invigorating conversations. The EFMD conference app was an interesting tool to see what questions were on deans’ minds, illustrating both individual issues and common shared themes.

I was constantly reminded that this community of worldwide deans is strong and vibrant. While all good things must come to an end, I take comfort in knowing we get to do this all again next year. As a member of the conference planning committee, I look forward to helping make the 2025 conference in Lisbon, Portugal, even better.

Yolande Chan is Dean and James McGill Professor at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management and Chair of the 2024 EFMD Conference for Deans and Directors General.

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