The Trans-National MBA

The Trans-National MBA: A Chance for Business Schools to Take the Lead

In most fields universities lead the way with innovation and new thinking. We expect the Medical School to pioneer new techniques or even the Archeology Department to uncover a new way to look at the past. But with Business Schools we struggle to keep up with the real world and often find ourselves debating issues and practices that have already become obsolete.

Most of us were way behind the curve in creating a culturally diversified student body and faculty to match that of the businesses for which we were providing graduates. And then we waste the global opportunity by debating cases that are almost exclusively American based.

Introducing socio-political elements into our MBA programs is our opportunity to finally leap ahead of business rather than continuing to struggle just to catch up. In the area of socio-political expertise, businesses have been incredibly slow to grasp the impact social trends and public policy can have on their business. Society is much further along the green path while the automotive industry, food processing or even tourism business leaders try to catch up. The tumultuous events affecting financial institutions are now affecting us all and it is already clear that public policy will be driving the solution rather than Wall Street. But how closely connected is the public policy department and the Business School in major universities? Isn't this a critical moment in time when business and public policy could benefit from some cross-pollination?

We have seen the re-emergence of local government control of key industries around the world - from oil and gas in Russia (Gazprom) to financial services with the nationalization of Northern Rock in the UK and the gigantic mortgage bailout currently underway in the US. Add Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia and it becomes clear that managers need to be extremely savvy about how public policy - and the threat of government intervention and regulation impacts their strategies - especially in emerging markets.

In Europe, the expansion of decision-making and regulatory power of the EU is not just freeing up markets but also creating what Brussels perceives to be acceptable regulatory regimes across a continent of 350 million consumers. The newest phase in globalization (post-internet globalization) will focus on environmental technologies and their global diffusion. Governmental and societal attitudes towards the adoption of new environmental technologies will be crucial to their successful adoption. All of the above require managers to think within and across borders not just in terms of trade and investment but also to anticipate the social and governmental impact of their strategies and tactics. And the same is true coming from the other direction with government leaders needing to better understand the economic and business impact of their policies both internally and across borders.

So clearly a real need exists, but how many MBA curriculums today offer political science, sociology, regional studies or history? It isn't that hard to do. Most of us have the tools at hand; we just need to pick them up. Few companies have the benefit of sociologists within their midst or political scientists to help them chart a course through waters that have become incredibly convoluted. We do.

Business Schools need to do a better job in helping businesses develop a new breed of what we at CEU Business School call ‘trans-national managers' that can move in and quickly adapt to a local market regardless of their country of origin. We need to help them get past the international manager trap that tends to homogenize differences with broad cross-border strategies and practices that so often lose their impact within individual markets. The debate about global versus local in marketing ended ten years ago – the reality is that you have to do both. In business strategy we also have to do both and Business Schools and multi-national corporations are way behind on the local understanding piece. Start thinking in terms of a new breed of trans-national managers that can easily move from one country to the next, or even manage multiple countries at the same time. We need to build their capability to quickly assess in any country the socio-political realities that will surely impact his business – for better or worse. 

At the CEU Business School in Budapest the need to incorporate socio-political studies into our MBA program may have hit us a bit sooner and harder. We have the dual challenge of being surrounded by rapidly developing markets, and because of the economies of scale necessary to doing business here, our graduates usually find themselves managing operations in several countries at the same time. It was far easier in the past to look for common ground to gloss over the differences between countries than to dig deeper for the underlying factors that can spring up to surprise an internationally trained manager. With 80% of our students coming from over 60 countries, we had cultural diversity covered from our inception 20 years ago. What were missing from our program were the courses and tools that could help graduates assess the political and social drivers in individual countries beyond the business and economic studies we had focused upon in the past. Because we are a part of the larger Central European University with a strong reputation in law, public policy and the humanities, we are able to draw upon the experts in these fields to ensure our graduates will appreciate the overlaps between business and society. Our socio-political courses are integrated with the core subjects in the curriculum such as marketing, finance and economics to help managers understand that they cannot make decisions on functional issues in isolation from the broader environment.

We are not all the way there yet, but we believe we are embarking on a much broader business education path that will develop the skills and capabilities of our graduates to anticipate and then proactively affect the many changes in our world that are yet come. 

Author: Paul Garrison,Dean and Managing Director of CEU Business School


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