Over the past 30 years, business schools around the world have worked tirelessly to “globalize.” What this actually means however, and how successful these efforts have been, remains unclear. So, in this age of increasing international interdependence, what does it really mean to offer a global MBA program or create a global business school and why should it matter to prospective MBA students?
Answering the second question is relatively simple. There is very little business done anywhere in the world today that isn’t influenced in some way by the international economy. Whether you are running a small farm in Iowa or a large financial institution in Hong Kong, you are affected every day by international markets and geopolitical events. In some sense, ALL business is now international business.
Therefore, anyone planning to build a career in business needs to have skills, experiences, and knowledge that will help them understand the challenges and opportunities of the global business environment. My Fortuna Admissions colleague, former INSEAD Director of Admissions Caroline Diarte Edwards, makes a persuasive case for the international MBA in her recent article, 3 Reasons to Pursue an MBA in Europe Right Now. And while an international MBA is an outstanding way to launch a global career, many stateside business schools also offer experiences and programs that embody a global perspective.
So what are these skills and how should business schools impart them? From my perspective as a Fortuna Admissions Director and former Chicago Booth Associate Dean, there are several areas critical to success in global business.
FIVE FUNDAMENTALS FOR A GLOBAL MBA AND A GLOBAL CAREER
- A firm grasp of the fundamentals of business. Whether or not you are doing business in Chicago, Fontainebleau or Tokyo, there are certain principles and skills that you need to understand. A thorough knowledge of economics, data analysis, consumer behavior, and management (psychology) and organization behavior (sociology) are critical to effective business leadership. The key tenets of these courses apply across time and around the world, and every school that aspires to global leadership must provide a solid foundation in these subjects.
- Keen understanding of the elements that differ across cultures and geographies. Next, students must learn which business concepts differ across regions. Clearly, there are institutions, practices and “norms” that differ from country to country. Effective business leaders must be able to assess these differences and adjust to the local business environment. That isn’t to say that global business schools must teach courses in “how to do business in [choose your favorite country].” On the contrary, schools couldn’t possibly find the time to teach all the intricacies of every market around the world. Instead they should focus on what can change, how those differences affect business strategy, and the kinds of questions you need to ask to determine just how the environment is different from your own.
- An appreciation of other cultures and world regions. Effective business leaders are curious about the world and eager to learn more about other markets, management techniques and cultural norms. Opportunities to study abroad and the chance to study with students from abroad can help foster this curiosity.
- Exposure to, and practice in, doing business outside of one’s home country. Real experience in working across cultures is a tremendous learning experience. Such opportunities can offer exposure to a particular country’s business practices, but more importantly, it will hold up a mirror to your own biases and cultural assumptions (if you choose to see them). Regardless of whether you build a career a certain part of the world, learning how to modify your own assumptions and approaches is invaluable. That’s why so often you’ll see successful business leaders move from one part of the world to another – they have learned how to adapt.
KEY CHARACTERISTICS FOR ASSESSING GLOBAL MBA PROGRAMS
As you explore business schools with the above elements in mind, here are other criteria for evaluating whether a program truly embodies a solid perspective on global business:
- A globally diverse student body
- Faculty who have international experience
- Opportunities to study and work abroad
- Relationships with global firms for internships, projects and careers
- A strong global alumni base
- A well-articulated global strategy that might include international coursework, physical facilities abroad, global student projects, and a strong sense of the importance of the global business environment.
Attending a school with these characteristics can provide you with the tools to help you build a global career. However, it’s up to you to take advantage of them. You’ll need to take some risks and likely step out of your comfort zone to truly develop the skills to be an effective global leader.