Why MBA curriculum should focus on politics
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In the third of an occasional series featuring two experts debating a hot topic for students, Mike Bastin, a visiting professor at Beijing University of International Business and Economics and Jim Moore, managing director of the Business, Society, and Public Policy Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, share their views on teaching politics to MBA students.
Profs Bastin and Moore will also answer readers questions in a live Q&A on Wednesday, 22nd April 2015, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST. Register to our MBA blog to participate.
Prof Bastin, Beijing University of International Business and Economics
In May British voters will go to the polls in what appears to be the most unpredictable and uncertain UK general election in recent times.
Nowhere is this unpredictability and uncertainty felt more than in the business community, where clear policy differences exist across both major and several minority parties. But despite this there is still little or no inclusion of any aspects of the dominant UK or international political issues on MBA and related programmes.
The Conservative party’s in-out referendum policy pledge on UK membership of the single European market, for example, is opposed by the Labour party.
It is of course not just the UK political system that carries considerable influence in business. Relationships with key political decision makers in emerging markets across Asia and South America are often cited as an absolute necessity if business plans are to succeed.
China, the second-largest economy in the world, presents perhaps a perfect opportunity to highlight this yawning gap between rhetoric on the importance of political systems and policies, and the paucity of detailed learning materials and in-class discussion reality.
The mainland China market plays an increasingly important part in most business education programmes, with detailed analysis of second and third-tier cities now as well as the usual first tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
Recent policy initiatives, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and mergers across state-owned enterprises announced by China’s central government, could influence the world of international business enormously.
However, we still do not see any attention given to the workings of the Chinese political system on business education programmes.
Immediate implementation of the following initiatives would lead to a more rounded business education: government ministers delivering guest lectures; case studies developed, updated and analysed on government policies and their implications; a regular Q&A session where MBA students represent each of the main and minority parties and the rest of the class form the audience and ask questions.
Paradoxically, globalisation may well lead to bigger and bigger (private sector) businesses and smaller and smaller governments, but government power and influence is on the increase and business students need to know more.
Prof Moore, The Business, Society, and Public Policy Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business
Silos are for farmers, not for business schools. The days of teaching finance, marketing and accounting in specialised fortresses as the sole path to business success have long passed.
Future business leaders demand an education that prepares them for grappling with the intersection of business, government and society. They need to understand the impact of public policy on the course of business and how they shape one another, as well as how businesses can be a significant agent for change in society. This is not just altruistic sentiment but a critical part of the formula for success.
In the US alone, business has become attuned to issues such as comprehensive healthcare reform, the changes coming to our telecommunications law, or imminent recalibrations in the policies of the Federal Reserve. All of this underscores how dependent business, government and society are on one another.
Business school students have a laboratory in which to understand the merits of communication, engagement, and co-operation within this critical intersection. They can come to learn by example that communication, engagement and mutual co-operation are critical to everyone’s success.
Beyond domestic considerations, this convergence in a globalised world becomes even more striking. The continued onslaught of Isis, the outbreak of the Ebola crisis and the imposition of sanctions that follow the invasion of foreign lands remind future business leaders and the world of the harsh reality of the unexpected. Risk, anticipation and flexibility are critical to a business education that promises that leaders will graduate ready for a world where the best laid plans can be dashed in an instant.
Take cyber security for an example. With the rise of and dependence on the internet, both professional and amateur hacking have become a scourge to companies. As experts have concluded, there are now only two kinds of companies in the US: those who have been hacked and those who don’t know they have been hacked.
The answer to this ever present threat will come only by concerted collective efforts that involve business, government and society at large.
There is every reason to believe that business will face even greater challenges ahead. Business schools need to be more attuned to the dynamics and possibilities that lie ahead and that means tearing down silos.