Introducing the Arrival of the Kinder, Gentler MBA

Introducing the Arrival of the Kinder, Gentler MBA main image

A changing demographic and a cultural shift are forcing business schools to evolve. Some of this is a marketing tool as well. After all, business schools took heat in the wake of the global recession a decade ago, and they need to address this negative perception.

MBAs have long held a reputation for being greedy and uncaring, but now that's all starting to change. One might refer to it as the arrival of the “nicer, gentler MBA.”

Overcoming stereotypes

Now, business schools are aiming to undo that stereotype and help mold a generation of leaders who conduct business with compassion and foresight. This latest batch of students happens to be demanding this kind of evolution.

You can see the dramatic changes from the beginning of your interactions with some of the top business schools. For example, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business requires applicants are “nice” before they can get accepted. The change was part of a greater initiative to lower barriers and simplify the application process.

“What we’re looking for is emotional intelligence, empathy, and respect for others,” said Luke Anthony Peña, executive director of admissions and financial aid at Tuck, according to the school’s website. “Tuck is a distinctly collaborative community, so being able to challenge others tactfully and thoughtfully is important.”

Previously, business schools might have mentioned character and leadership, but those traits were not as clearly defined. Asking for “nice” candidates is a refreshing change of pace. It also leaves room for interpretation. Still, it is indicative of a school aiming to create a more compassionate culture, which is a departure from previous programs.

Finding fulfilment

This shift is not only evident in admissions. Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) at Erasmus University is making happiness a part of its curriculum. In the school’s Personal Leadership Development program, students spend one year trying to decide what kind of leader they would like to be.

“We’re in a part of the world, where the stakeholder is more important than the shareholder,” RSM Dean Steef van de Velde told a QS writer. “Everyone pays huge taxes and has a base income. The stakeholder’s value is important. The main goal of life here isn't to be very rich, it’s to be happy.”

While this is dramatic, more schools are changing their mission statements to better reflect this new approach to business education. They are emphasizing a desire to produce grads, who will have a social impact. In fact, they emphasize a number of challenges the world is facing that MBAs should address.

Embracing diversity, fighting for equality, and tackling climate change are among the issues at hand. The reason for this is because increasingly, people are looking to businesses for answers to society’s biggest problems. Again, applicants are seeking to create more meaningful careers. Earning an exceptional salary is no longer enough. They want to change the world too.

Schools are not just talking the talk. RSM, in fact, changed its mission to “be a force for positive change in the world.” In addition to the Personal Leadership Development program, the school is revising its curricula and encouraging relevant research to demonstrate its new purpose. RSM administrators are also making admissions and hiring decisions with this approach to business in mind.

Other examples of schools trying to incorporate ethics and empathy into their programs are Grenoble Ecole de Management and Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB). GEM has proven its mission statement to be genuine by initiating social projects, such as taking in qualified refugee-status students and offering them a free education and making the campus more environmentally friendly.

Meanwhile, CKGSB infuses the idea of making the world a better place while conducting business throughout its curriculum; it requires students to take humanities courses designed to help them think through ethical dilemmas and their own greater purpose.

What the future holds

Frankly, these changes are refreshing. QS is all about innovation in education. We even run an awards program related to that very topic and co-host the Reimagine Education Conference and Awards.

However, business schools cannot lose sight of teaching good corporate practices. Ethics and sustainability should be part of the education. But the curriculum, of course, must still address the basics of finance, operations, etc.

In addition, they have to enable students to argue the merits of incorporating these ideals into a corporate setting. When they graduate, students must be able to convince stakeholders that the future leader must be empathetic and concerned with consequences of his or her decisions on the greater society. Ultimately, they have to be able to fight for the new way to do business with an eye on the triple bottom line – social, environmental, and financial.

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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