RAPIDLY EVOLV­ING ECO­NOMIC LAND­SCAPE PUTS NEW ONUS ON MBA CURRICULUMS

The new dean of Lon­don Busi­ness School’s Dubai cam­pus tells Chris­tian Nel­son that MBA grad­u­ates are more in­ter­ested in en­trepreneur­ship and dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy than fi­nance and con­sult­ing

The National - News - - MONEY & MARKETS / BUSINESS -

Fran­cois Or­talo-Magne, the newly-in­stalled dean of the UK’s pres­ti­gious Lon­don Busi­ness School (LBS), is well aware of the im­pact of dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies on busi­ness and busi­ness ed­u­ca­tion.

He says curriculums have changed sig­nif­i­cantly for busi­ness stu­dents since the 1990s – of­ten re­ferred to as the “golden age of MBAs” as sec­tors like fi­nance and man­age­ment con­sul­tancy boomed – with the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion shak­ing up every as­pect of com­merce world­wide.

“There is def­i­nitely a sense that fi­nance is no longer the main [draw] for our MBA [stu­dents] ... now you get more of the dis­rup­tors ap­ply­ing for MBAs - from the dig­i­tal plat­forms,” he says, speak­ing at the LBS Dubai cam­pus in the Dubai In­ter­na­tional Fi­nan­cial Cen­tre, which cel­e­brates its 10th anniversary in De­cem­ber.

“Con­sult­ing does re­main strong but what we see is more MBA [grad­u­ates] go­ing into en­trepreneur­ship, try­ing to cre­ate their own start-ups or get­ting into se­nior en­tre­pre­neur­ial po­si­tions within ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions. There has been a di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion.”

As far the dig­i­tal as­pect of MBA ed­u­ca­tion, Mr Or­talo-Magne says the em­pha­sis to­day is on en­abling the lead­ers of the fu­ture to un­der­stand the rapidly chang­ing com­mer­cial land­scape.

“Our aim is to bet­ter ed­u­cate them of the world around them and how digi­ti­sa­tion is shift­ing the con­text and shift­ing the way we re­late to one and other.

“In­ter­est­ingly, we [also] see stu­dents com­ing in with those [dig­i­tal] skills al­ready, what they are com­ing to us for is the man­age­rial as­pect – mov­ing from the engi­neer who de­vel­ops these plat­forms to the ones that lead and de­velop the com­pany and get the fund­ing and make things hap­pen.”

An­other ma­jor change in LBS’s teach­ing, he says, is how MBA stu­dents are en­cour­aged to take ex­per­i­men­tal risks – and ex­pe­ri­ence fail­ures – in an adapt­able but safe en­vi­ron­ment. That, he says, helps cre­ate space for what the school calls “play­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion”.

“I like this word ‘play­ful’,” says the dean. “There is an alum in Kuwait who told me he learnt so much about how to lis­ten through this play­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, in a way that was so dif­fer­ent from his busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence – and he brought that back to his ex­ec­u­tive team.”

An­other main plank of the LBS of­fer­ing is learn­ing to un­der­stand why things hap­pen and the school’s re­search fa­cil­i­ties play a ma­jor role in de­vel­op­ing these in­sights.

“From our re­searchers [stu­dents] can get a bet­ter sense of causal­ity ver­sus cor­re­la­tion – in to­day’s world, un­der­stand­ing when things hap­pen by hap­pen­stance ver­sus what hap­pens as a re­sult of [some­thing spe­cific]; what caused what. [Un­der­stand­ing that] I think is really im­por­tant for the stu­dent,” he says.

“So by giv­ing [stu­dents] the right per­spec­tive and mind­set I hope by the time they grad­u­ate they ask some great ques­tions, which is even more im­por­tant than that they have great an­swers.

“With us one of the big dif­fer­ences is ... with our two-year MBA, the first year is still that grind­ing learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but the sec­ond is much more about ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent elec­tives [sec­tors] – an op­por­tu­nity to find your­self.

“But elec­tives are evolv­ing all the time. For ex­am­ple, fin­tech is some­thing we talk about now, whereas 10 years ago no one knew the word,” he adds.

And the dean points out that en­trepreneur­ship, es­pe­cially in the UAE and wider GCC, is of ever-in­creas­ing rel­e­vance to stu­dents and fac­ul­ties alike.

“En­trepreneur­ship is im­por­tant in this re­gion and, in fact, on Satur­day in Dubai we are hold­ing our first event for en­trepreneurs [the LBS En­trepreneur­ship Evening] with panel dis­cus­sions with lead­ing cor­po­ra­tions tak­ing part.” Very much at the top of the agenda will be digi­ti­sa­tion and the dis­rup­tion of the econ­omy, he says.

“We have a thriv­ing com­mit­tee of alumni here who en­gage in en­trepreneur­ship in sec­tors in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion, which of course is very dear to this re­gion. It’s ac­tu­ally quite stun­ning to see how en­tre­pre­neur­ial our alumni are in the re­gion,” Mr Or­talo-Magne says.

LBS is also proac­tive when it comes to help­ing to de­velop stu­dent or grad­u­ate start-ups that show a def­i­nite com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity. But is the is­sue of own­er­ship one that must be ad­dressed?

“It’s a really good ques­tion, and we deal with it all the time,” Mr Or­talo-Magne says. “What we do is al­ways com­ple­men­tary to the pri­vate mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly in a place like Dubai – it’s not like the pri­vate mar­ket is not work­ing well – what we pro­vide is men­tor­ship, and con­nec­tions with alumni.

“It hap­pens that we have alumni that are par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in in­vest­ing in alumni ven­tures, so there will be help.”

That, he says, is due to the fact that there is a high level of im­plicit trust within the LBS alumni fam­ily, “the same way you find trust within fam­ily con­glom­er­ates here”.

In fact, LBS is di­rectly in­volved with de­vel­op­ing and in­vest­ing in stu­dents’ and for­mer stu­dents’ busi­nesses.

“We have a fund called Sus­sex Place Ven­tures that’s be­ing run by alumni with a pref­er­ence to­wards in­vest­ing in alumni,” Mr Or­talo-Magne says. Sus­sex Place Ven­tures is an early-stage ven­ture cap­i­tal in­vestor which backs en­trepreneurs build­ing soft­ware and dig­i­tal com­pa­nies, and busi­nesses with strong patent-pro­tectable tech­nol­ogy. It in­vests ini­tially up to £1 mil­lion (Dh4.8m) per ven­ture.

“Alumni have come to­gether to cre­ate that fund where it is of­fi­cially owned by the school but it is in­de­pen­dent. They run the fund and they in­vest in each other. So that’s like a for­mal struc­ture but there are also in­for­mal ways in which they help one and other,” says Mr Or­talo-Magne.

“One of our alumni, Savio Kwan, was one of the first ex­ec­u­tives at Alibaba, for ex­am­ple, so you can imag­ine how much the other alumni talk to him about in­vest­ing in start-ups.”

To­day, the big buzz­word in busi­ness is dis­rup­tion but some won­der if that is al­ways a good thing. While Mr Or­talo-Magne ad­mits there are haz­ards, he says there is much to be gained from the com­bi­na­tion of tech­no­log­i­cal progress and new un­der­stand­ing of the way we learn.

“I see [dis­rup­tion] as a pos­i­tive but it is al­ways a chal­lenge. What I like about ... dis­rup­tion in tech­nol­ogy to­day, in ed­u­ca­tion, is it comes at a time of great progress in un­der­stand­ing how learn­ing works within the brain,” he says. “It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to come for­ward with new ap­proaches to learn­ing that are bet­ter - not just digi­ti­sa­tion per se.”

“I do be­lieve at LBS we have unique card to play be­cause of the strength of the re­search at our fac­ulty - we can help peo­ple with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, dif­fer­ent mind­sets, which is com­ple­men­tary to the knowl­edge that you get from video, the in­ter­net.”

In ad­di­tion to creat­ing new ap­proaches to man­age­ment train­ing, Mr Or­talo-Magne has, in part through his stint as the dean of the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin’s Madi­son Busi­ness School, de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for fundrais­ing in­no­va­tion.

“The big shift that I have con­trib­uted to in my lead­er­ship po­si­tions is mov­ing away from fundrais­ing sim­ply based on [alumni] loy­alty,” he says, while stress­ing that such an ap­proach is still im­por­tant.

In­creas­ingly he has helped to forge fundrais­ing ef­forts based on a wider strat­egy, “in the sense that it is un­der­stand­ing you are part of a com­mu­nity mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to the world and you want to in­vest in that be­cause you want to con­trib­ute to the world”.

Such an ap­proach is well suited to the Mid­dle East, says Mr Or­talo-Magne.

“In this re­gion you have gov­ern­ments who are in many ways in­vest­ing public money into mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, not only the UAE but the wider re­gion. There are really in­ter­est­ing ini­tia­tives to cre­ate on­line videos, or trans­late on­line videos for the whole Arab world. That’s very sim­i­lar to the phi­lan­thropy that I’m talk­ing about – how can we work to­gether for oth­ers?

“You [an alumni] in­vest in a busi­ness school also be­cause it helps with your own brand and be­cause you’re proud to see your school have an im­pact on the world around you. It’s really mov­ing to­wards phi­lan­thropy as an in­vest­ment in grow­ing pros­per­ity and the brand of your com­pany. Here [in this re­gion] it is mov­ing to­wards in­vest­ing public money into the brand of the coun­try.”

While busi­ness man­age­ment is, of course, about run­ning an op­er­a­tion in a com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful man­ner, the growth of cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity (CSR) is now an im­por­tant fac­tor in both MBA ed­u­ca­tion and the wider world, says Mr Or­talo-Magne.

“I think it has be­come es­sen­tial,” he says, adding that, as an econ­o­mist by train­ing, he ad­vo­cates that firms should max­imise prof­its – but, cru­cially, that should hap­pen while gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing the needs of the peo­ple, “in­fra­struc­ture, eco­nomic sup­port, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion et cetera”.

How­ever, he points out, to­day we are liv­ing in a world where gov­ern­ments are hav­ing real dif­fi­cul­ties and many, es­pe­cially in the West, are not de­liv­er­ing on the pro­vi­sion of public good.

“So when a gov­ern­ment is no longer do­ing this role of ag­gre­gat­ing peo­ple’s pref­er­ences and reg­u­lat­ing the econ­omy for the ben­e­fit of all - bring­ing this to­gether for the com­mon good then who’s go­ing to do it?” Mr Or­talo-Magne says.

This is where CSR be­comes a crit­i­cal as­pect of com­pany strat­egy, he adds.

“That is why to­day, par­tic­u­larly, many of those giant cor­po­ra­tions are be­com­ing so­cially re­spon­si­ble be­cause they are re­al­is­ing if no one else is do­ing it they are the ones who can step up.

“I think that’s great for us all that those ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions are thinking in this way and I think at LBS we want to be the school that trains lead­ers for the per­spec­tive, the mind­set for un­der­stand­ing how [CSR] is im­por­tant and can make a dif­fer­ence.

“We are a fac­ulty at the fore­front of re­search into cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity – with hard-nosed re­sults as to how good it is for a cor­po­ra­tion to be so­cially re­spon­si­ble – so we train stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in the global con­ver­sa­tion di­rectly and [use] our re­search to bring in the data.”

So, in this fast-chang­ing and ac­cel­er­at­ing world of busi­ness lead­er­ship, what would be the Dean’s ad­vice be to those con­sid­er­ing train­ing to be­come a leader? It is, per­haps, a sur­pris­ingly sim­ple an­swer.

“Lis­ten,” he says. “Lis­ten.”

En­trepreneur­ship, es­pe­cially in the UAE and wider GCC, is of ever-in­creas­ing rel­e­vance to stu­dents and fac­ul­ties

Reem Mo­hammed / The Na­tional

Fran­cois Or­talo-Magne says MBA curriculums are adapt­ing to the digi­ti­sa­tion and en­tre­pre­neur­ial revolutions that are chang­ing the face of global com­merce. ‘It’s ac­tu­ally quite stun­ning to see how en­tre­pre­neur­ial our alumni are in the re­gion’

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