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Thursday, October 15, 2015 at 3pm

Globalization and the Global MBA

Evolution of global MBAs and global leadership training

Formalized management education does not have a very long history. Harvard Business School, offered its first degree in 1908, INSEAD in Europe was established in 1957 and Australia joined the list with the foundation of Melbourne Business School, in 1963. From the humble beginnings of 33 regular and 47 special students in Harvard, today around 250,000 students globally take the GMAT test alone. It has truly been an eventful century for management education.

Over the last century, management education has evolved, reacting to the ever-changing business landscape. In its early years, most business schools delivered their curriculum through a compartmentalized academic format. From almost the very beginning, financial analysis and metrics (with some rare exceptions) were the primary mode of decision-making, and success was primarily measured in financial parameters such as return on investment, thus encouraging linear decision making. The shortcomings of this approach was pointed  out in a 1959 report from the Ford and the Carnegie Foundation, which criticized the American business management curriculum’s lack of relevance to real-life business.

Soft skills help global leaders

Globalization has been instrumental in shrinking the world into a global village, especially in the latter half of the last century. With more economies running in a cohesive and interdependent manner, globalization demanded a rethink within management education, as critics declared that business schools were again divorced from reality. Global financial crises clearly emphasized flawed pedagogy that relied too heavily on mathematical risk models and not adequately on rational judgment in global leaders. The outcome of the crises called for an immediate rebalancing of the business school curricula, with more global focus and an emphasis on much-needed soft skills to ensure a practical approach towards business education and to bring more cohesion between academia and practice. This ushered in the era of a global MBA focused on experiential learning methods, which reinforce soft skills.

In the last couple of decades, the ever-increasing pace of globalization meant that business schools could not afford to expand their purview beyond the geographical confines of their countries. Global MBA students no longer could afford to be led by theory-driven modes of thinking. They had to be challenged by perplexing situations in the real world, and well attuned to a globalized, multicultural business world. Thus, cultural sensitivity, cultural awareness and cultural intelligence needed to be developed in conjunction with soft skills, to allow students to interpret cultures other than one's own.

The question that business schools must ask now is whether they are training their students to become global leaders capable of working across distances, in different countries, and among varied cultures. In essence, are they creating global leaders, who can respond to the rapidly changing global issues, who are prepared with the leadership traits of adaptability, flexibility, the ability to embrace ambiguity, be innovative, think laterally and remain unfettered by conventional wisdom? In other words, a true global citizen of the future who can look at any business situation in a holistic and global manner.

The key to may lie in the adoption of simulation-based learning that presents students with a world of unstructured problems; ambiguous data, rapidly changing environments, and multi-scenario analysis that forces students into problem finding in perplexing situations.

Today, many top-ranked, global MBA programs have found the relevance of simulated teaching as the most effective way of teaching business skills. Courses such as finance, operations, organizational behaviour and leadership are extensively taught through simulations.

To sum up, in my opinion, application-oriented and industry-driven curricula, global faculty, a focus on the soft skills, critical thinking and problem-solving, and fostering the creativity and innovation to design unique solutions will be some of the key attributes in a educating true global leaders.

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