Are business schools still relevant in the 21st century?
Management was one the great inventions of the 20th century, and business schools are the foundations of management. Leadership, similarly, can be learned in a systematic way. There is compelling evidence of the positive effects that business schools have had on graduates, companies and societies.
But corporate needs are changing and society’s expectations of companies and business leaders are also evolving. Managerial problems in companies, governments and society are becoming bigger, and there is a need for better management education and better research.
Business schools should exist not merely to profit from those opportunities, but also to drive change and promote personal, corporate and social progress.
Business schools need a deeper sense of mission, and they must better explain what they want their role in society to be if they truly want to continue to have a positive impact in the future.
The growth of management studies has taken for granted one of the basic hypotheses of finance: that the only goal of companies is to maximise value for their shareholders. This goes against the ideas of the founders of some of the most important business schools in the United States and Europe, who thought that companies had a wider role in society. They believed that educating entrepreneurs and general managers was important for the good of society.
Many business schools have lost sight of the wider role that companies should play in society. They therefore have to rethink the foundations and the purpose of companies and the role of senior managers in society.
They also need to better integrate an ethical view of management across the curriculum. Financial incentives have a role to play, but the hypothesis that they alone can drive individual and social progress contradicts the evidence. Society needs a more humanistic view of the firm and management.
The current economic crisis sweeping the world is a great opportunity for business schools to reflect on their mission and their strategy. It is an important challenge for each business school and a collective one for the business-school industry.