But Canals’ strongest belief, expressed with the kind of passion that makes him a crusader, may well be his notion that capitalism has drifted from its obligations and responsibilities to society. Too many companies and business leaders have become, in his view, dominated by short-term thinking and financial considerations. They need to rediscover their wider role in society, maintains Canals, and business schools need to help them find it.
A BUSINESS SCHOOL WHOSE MISSION AND VALUES ARE INFORMED BY OPUS DEI
Though unusual for a business school dean to so openly espouse such beliefs, it is not unusual in this case. The business school’s mission and values are informed by Opus Dei, the part of the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to personal charity, social work and the idea of holiness in ordinary life.. IESE’s culture emphasizes respect for others, humility, a commitment to the common good of companies and society, integrity, human and ethical values, and a spirit of service to others.
In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, Canals explains why he believes capitalism must change, how IESE became a global player and how it climbed in the rankings, and how intense competition among three Spanish schools, including IE and ESADE, have put all of them on the world stage. We caught up with him at IESE’s relatively new offices in New York City, located just across from Carnegie Hall.
Jordi, you’re on record saying that business leaders need to rediscover their wider role in society. What do you mean by that?
Capitalism in the west is in crisis not only because of the financial crisis. It is in crisis because we have a model of capitalism that has been dominated by financial considerations. Finance is very important. We need the capital markets and we need the banks. But the purpose of a corporation is much bigger and wider and we need to rediscover this wider view of the corporation.
Like it or not, companies are mirrors of society. Because of the influence companies have on employment and economy activity, we need institutions that can provide an example to the rest of society. I don’t want to say that companies have to be pure angels. But you really need to have a type of professional relationships within companies that could be a reference for the rest of society. I don’t think you can have a healthy society in the long-term if you have a corrupt government or corporations whose purpose is only short-term profit.
A second dimension is that this generation of young people have aspirations that go beyond making a living or even making money. Of course, they would like to make money but it’s not among their first priorities. People doing an MBA today are less concerned about return on investment than they were 10 to 15 years ago. Obviously, they are smart. They are making an investment and they are taking on debt so they need to think about how they are going to pay that debt back. But their concerns are different.
One of the things I do is every week I have breakfast once or twice with a group of MBA students. It’s a way to know what they think about the world and the education they’re getting. I always ask them, ‘If you were the dean of the school, tell me three things you would do right away.’ Ten years ago, when I started these breakfasts, their concerns were No. 1 placement. It was the time of the post-Sept. 11 world uncertainty. The second thing was how they could move from one job to another after the MBA if their first choice wasn’t good enough. So it was career development concerns. And the third issue was, ‘How can we develop a stronger relationship with the senior executives coming here for the executive education courses?’ So it was about having more networking opportunities. Those were the three major concerns.
Today, when you speak with them, the first thing is ‘How can I have a big impact on the world?’ The second thing is, ‘How do I use what I learn here to live a more meaningful life, for me, my family and my friends?’ And the third thing they tell you about is, ‘How can we learn more from this global experience?’ Our students are from 70 to 80 different countries. ‘What is your advice to get the most from that experience?’
It’s not that they are not concerned about career services. They are. But they speak about other things. They may be more poets than quants today. In general, today’s young professionals have slightly different priorities. They say, ‘Look, why do I need to work with a large corporation if this corporation doesn’t serve the wider society more effectively?’
When I speak to CEOs, I tell them you have a problem in the short-term and the bigger problem in the long-term. In the short-term in the race for talent, you are not going to win. This is what I am telling investment banks which have a huge problem of attracting this bright and smart group of MBAs. It’s how they see financial institutions today after the financial crisis. There are banks that are doing a very good job. But MBA students need to see that a bank is actually changing quite radically.
In early October, we had an industry forum for investment banking, including two European banks that were embroiled in scandal. You know they had a hard time with students. Instead of asking the banks about the career tracks they were offering, they were asking them about the responsibility of the banking sector to society.