CentreCourt London: Fireside Chat With IMD Dean Seán Meehan

Seán Meehan, dean of IMD

Symonds: And as you look at the aspects of the curriculum where some basics can be taught through technology has that enabled you to then place more emphasis on experiential learning in the MBA program?

Meehan: About a third of program is experiential, and that’s a big chunk. Most of that is a start-up project that people work on, a two-week around the world discovery expedition, and our international consulting projects which we’ve had for a long time. Those are the main ones. We have a digital lab, a one-week coding course, and an innovation lab which is a human-centered design workshop. So when you add all of those things together, it’s around about a third of the program.

I think experiential has its role, but there is a role also for learning the basics, having them explained to you, and having a learned or knowledgeable expert in the room to share experiences and to explore problems. A well-run classroom is an experiential learning endeavor. We don’t lecture. You’ve never, at IMD, seen someone come in, go to a podium, and say, “Take notes. Here are my 47 slides. I’m going to explain them all to you and tell you a bunch of stories.” That’s not how we do things. The student has to come prepared. The groups come prepared. We debate. We discuss. We look at different perspectives.

The practice of business is a social science. There are very few correct answers, apart from your discounted cash flows, and other figments of analyst’s imagination. So you can construct any reality you want, and have spreadsheets, and there will be answers, but in business there’s judgment. And to development judgment, you need to understand people’s points of view, you need to challenge those points of view, you need to explore them, and that’s what classrooms are fantastic for.

Matt Symonds, co-sponsor of the CentreCourt MBA Festival with Poets&Quants

Symonds: How do you bring global perspectives into the learning experience?

Meehan: I think the first thing is that we demand tolerance. That can come off as a strange statement. But we come from a point of view that is not an Anglo-Saxon economic model, not a continental economic model. We don’t have a point of view that is West versus East as a school. We’re genuinely global, and we call it, “open”. So that’s the first element. I think we have two professors who are Swiss, out of 45. And they come from everywhere. Lots of countries in Europe, from Asia, from Africa, and Latin America: from everywhere.

The case materials and the companies we work with, because of the institution that we are, those are global companies. Our client roster is the United Nations of the corporate world. So our experiences, our professional practice experiences, are global. So that’s the third element.

The fourth key element is the students themselves. Because they are from everywhere, they can go, like, “Whoa! That would never work in my country, because …” And then, they can give examples, and you’ will have gained fascinating perspectives and issues.

I would say those elements alone represent 90% of the global experience. We do bring people around the world, and that’s a great experience to bring the entire class together. Last year we went to Silicon Valley, Singapore, and Bangalore. This year we will go to Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, and Dublin. And again, the themes are always technology, but they are in totally different contexts. Don’t forget, it’s not the subject of international business we’re concerned about, we’re concerned with globalization: one world.

Symonds: Now, in that one world, some of the leading U.S. business schools have made great strides in the last ten years in terms of gender balance which has been a challenge for European business schools. What is your challenge in moving to the largest numbers of women in the MBA classroom?

Meehan: What is our challenge? Well, we just have to do it. The challenge is we must fix this. It’s not okay. We’re committed to parity, and the sooner we can get there the better. We invest all of our marketing bucks towards women. We’ve created two scholarships this year. We converted a bunch of scholarships in the recent past. We moved from 19% to 28% over the last two years, and we need to move again. We’ve tremendous experiences with the women we have in the class. What we’re not willing to do is have a quota. So everyone, once they apply, must then meet the same criteria, move through the process on a fair level. And that’s exactly what men and women want. The women that we are working with don’t want to be treated differently.

So the key challenge, to address your question, is to fill the pipeline with women. Our challenge, apart from increasing the pipeline, which we’ve had some success with through the measures I just mentioned, is conversion. On the one hand, we don’t have enough women in the overall pool. That’s too bad, and over time I think that will change. But converting an admit to an enrolled student is a challenge because they are going to have offers from several other schools. So our yield will be lower with those women than with men because all the schools aren’t fighting over getting the men.

So I think funding is a challenge. If we could have more funding for women’s scholarships, that would help us. We just have to maintain our resolve and talk about it openly, and listen to our women alumnae. Listen to people who come to these fairs and understand what they’re asking for, what they’re looking for, what’s attractive to them in a program. And we, along with the rest of the corporate world, need to just buck up and fix this.

Symonds: So, perhaps, a final word for all of those that are joining us this afternoon at Centre Court. What’s your advice to today’s applicant?

Meehan: My advice to anyone, at any stage in their life, is to develop more options. You need options. We don’t know how things are going to turn out. We don’t know what opportunities are going to present themselves. We don’t know what’s going to happen to our own health, with our own family situations. All of these things are real, they are important from just a natural human perspective. Individuals need to be as best prepared for life as they possibly can. And it feels to me that a one-year MBA is a fantastic investment.

If you really are interested in business an MBA is, I think, a must, in terms of grabbing the technical credentials. But if you want to lead and have the passion to make changes in society, being in a corporation, driving change, is a fantastic place to be. And you need to develop the skills to do that. People have some natural instincts, but even natural leaders can be so much better with development and with coaching, with feedback, and with persistent trial and error. In that one year, you just change so much. The single thing that we hear from our alumnae is, “It was a transformational year. This year changed my life.” And they say that forever. When we meet the alumnae from one year ago, from 10 years ago, and from 30 years ago, they all have the same story.

So, it’s never bad to have more options. And the MBA gives you huge options.

Symonds: Right. So, that’s a great note on which to finish. Sean, thanks very much for the discussion.


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