The world changes, and with it changes business. Where once the men and women who run corporations were shy about expressing their political views in public, for fear of alienating segments of their customer base, now — in a digital world where cameras are always rolling and the news never stops — having and defending a viewpoint is practically part of the job description.
That’s how Aaron Chatterji sees it. This year the associate professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business will teach Strategy Beyond Markets, an examination of the intersection of business and politics, paying articular attention to how CEOs feel increasingly comfortable speaking out on issues not directly related to their bottom line. Chatterji, a former aide to President Obama, says in the new business landscape students need a “toolkit for leaders to tackle complex social issues.” He says the course, which begins in spring 2018, will show students how to find reliable information in the era of “fake news” and challenge them to make strategic decisions in political environments.
His new offering is just one of 132 new MBA courses on offer from 21 of the top U.S. B-schools. Some courses break new ground while others embark on new explorations of familiar territory. Analytics, the darling of business education for the last few years, is the foundation for 18 new courses, while “new economy” subjects — fintech, disruption, e-commerce, innovation, and others — account for 15 new courses. Fintech itself is the subject of six courses, ranging from Columbia Business School’s primer on “idea validation, lean user research, iterative and rapid prototyping, and user testing” to Cornell Johnson’s spring intensive of four courses taught over the first seven weeks of the spring semester. Meanwhile, 14 courses are dedicated to some element of leadership, while nine have a global element. In a drop-off from last year, when it was the subject of 19 new courses, there are only 11 new marketing courses at the leading schools this year.
A WIDE ARRAY OF OFFERINGS FROM THE TOP SCHOOLS
Entrepreneurship has not been forgotten, with 12 courses devoted to some aspect or other of the startup world — the same number of courses given to social responsibility/impact investment, another rising star in the biz ed universe. Among the highlights: Stanford’s The Power of You: Women and Leadership, taught by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, and Spontaneous Management, by S. Christian Wheeler, which looks at techniques for improving spontaneity, creativity, presence, and collaboration skills.
The school with the most new courses overall is Chicago Booth, with 18, including The FinTech Revolution, taught by Luigi Zingales, and Chinese Economy and Financial Markets, taught by Zhiguo He. Among the most prolific schools with 10 or more new offerings each are USC Marshall (15), Stanford (12), and Northwestern Kellogg (11). Marshall’s offerings include Philanthropy and Social Impact by Ben Van De Bunt and Laura Fox and The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Intellectual Property by Luke Dauchot; Kellogg’s slate is highlighted by Commercializing Innovations by Terry Fadem and Customer Loyalty by Thomas O’Toole.
A few schools reported only a couple classes they wanted to spotlight, rather than their whole slate of new courses; but even schools with smaller full-time MBA programs like Virginia Darden (with seven) have an array of new courses on new subjects this year. And then there are the celebrity additions. Indiana Kelley is offering a leadership course called A View From the Top: The CEO as Change Agent, taught by Cheryl Bachelder that will discuss the turnaround she led at Popeyes restaurant chain. At Duke Fuqua, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey will teach a course titled “The Leadership Imperatives of Our Time.”
NEW REALITIES THAT NEED STUDYING
Other disciplines with healthy representation in the newest course offerings at the top B-schools include strategy, with seven courses, and healthcare, with a somewhat surprising six courses, including Dartmouth Tuck’s Entrepreneurship in Healthcare: The Practitioner’s Perspective, taught by Adam Groff, M.D. Surprising, that is, until you consider what’s going on in the U.S. healthcare scene. The world changes, and business schools reflect new realities.
Which brings us back to Aaron Chatterji and Duke. If corporate America has jumped into politics and there’s no going back, as he posits, then business education must follow.
“It started back in 2015 when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and a Fuqua grad, spoke out on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Chatterji tells Poets&Quants, describing the controversial law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence that many believed would lead to discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Also criticizing the law: Subaru, Angie’s List, the NCAA, and Salesforce, which halted plans to expand in the state. “It struck me as a really interesting form of activism, because I’d always imagined CEOs as reluctant to engage in politics, particularly politics that related to controversial social and political issues that are not directly related to the bottom line,” Chatterji continues. “For a long time there’s been interest in CEOs and companies and how they interact on taxes and trade and immigration, but I think that Tim Cook and the RFRA story really was the beginning of something.”
Subsequently, Chatterji says, corporate backlash against political action — from boycotts in the wake of North Carolina’s passage of the so-called “bathroom bill” to CEOs disavowing Trump in the aftermath of violence sparked by white supremacists in Charlottesville — has become much more common. Business leaders are getting more political, he says, and that’s a phenomenon that needs studying. “With the election (of Trump) being such a watershed event for so many people, I felt that there might be a hunger to talk about the intersection of politics and business,” Chatterji says, adding that interest is already high for the course..
See the list of 132 new courses at 21 leading business schools at the bottom of this article.