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Talking to the top: Manchester Business School’s Nigel Banister

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 5:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 2:27pm

A key challenge for every leading business school is to give MBA students the know-how, skills and experience to operate successfully in a global business environment. That is not simply a matter of having good faculty and a first-rate curriculum, but also of recognising the changing imperatives of international business and incorporating them accordingly.

Having offered a highly regarded global MBA for over 20 years, UK-based Manchester Business School (MBS) is adept at doing just that. The programme has advanced and evolved to reflect everything from tighter accounting standards and the rise of technology to changes necessitated by the financial crisis and new approaches to strategic thinking. And, along the way, there has also been steadily increasing emphasis on the importance of managing operations, moulding teams and building bridges across national, cultural and political boundaries – something which the modern corporate leader must be properly equipped to do.

“Major business is now global and public sector organisations benchmark themselves internationally,” says Nigel Banister, chief global officer for MBS, who oversees part-time award programmes taught through seven international centres including Hong Kong. “The broader business community therefore expects us to respond to those needs and prepare students who can help them achieve their aspirations.”

The MBA programme, which this year is being taken by close to 3,000 students spread around the world, is designed primarily for mid-career professionals who are typically in their thirties. Besides essentials like finance, marketing, organisational structure and human resources, it also covers such complexities as finding new ways to create value and developing the global mindset needed to improve efficiencies, serve new markets and tap the best available resources.

To meet obvious demand, MBS is also on the point of launching a new global executive MBA programme aimed more specifically at individuals who are already at board level or expect their next career move to take them there. For that reason, there is more focus on high-end skills built around strategy and leadership, different aspects of people development and expanding personal networks, so that executives have the abilities and resilience to occupy senior positions in almost any kind of organisation.

The part-time 20-month programme starts in July and, in the course of their studies, the class will have the opportunity to travel to various parts of  the world to see first-hand how business functions in other countries and cultures. 

“We hope the global EMBA will satisfy the needs of multinationals and other companies at the highest level by giving tremendous experience and creating well rounded professionals,”   

Banister says. “At MBS, our research helps us understand what is required because, unlike some schools, we go out and engage with businesses in other countries to ensure we have a global footprint and can develop strong partnerships.”

He adds that to secure a long-term share of the higher education market, it is essential these days to have a direct presence in leading centres of international business. Previously, it was possible to attract students with a model which depended on them attending classes on a home campus in, say, Europe or North America, but that is no longer so viable.    

“For a whole variety of reasons – visas, expense, career and family commitments, opportunities elsewhere – international students may not now flock to western campuses as they did before,” Banister says. “Part of being a top school in years to come will be to offer quality teaching in different global centres, doing collaborative research with other institutions, and engaging with top executives – for example, in banks in Shanghai – to understand what is happening on the ground,”

To guarantee the necessary quality and consistency, MBS basically ensures its own faculty teaches courses in Hong Kong and other designated centres, rather than relying on “franchising” or large blocks of online distance learning. This may limit student numbers, but is preferred in order to maintain standards and reputation.

“We contain growth, so our worldwide activity doesn’t outstrip our capacity to deliver,” Banister says. “But we remain aware of increasing demand, particularly from students in China, and want to be established in more of the world’s top business locations where the leading global companies are now operating.”

This makes it possible to offer courses like “doing business in Brazil” - currently one of the most popular in the MBA – which detail practicalities and give broader themes a context. It also helps in identifying and teaching best practices and transferable initiatives in areas like sustainability and corporate social responsibility, which now command more time and attention.

“Some multinationals in some sectors come in for a bad press, but there are just as many good companies bringing major benefits to people, which are conscious of the environment and should be applauded for the way they are run,” Banister says. “As a school, we also hope to participate socially in each environment in which we operate and intend to add value to the local business communities.”