B-Schools (Try To) Predict What 2021 Will Look Like

Brian Mitchell, dean of the full-time MBA at Emory Goizueta. Courtesy photo

It has become an annual tradition at Poets&Quants: Every December, we give the floor to the business schools we cover to offer their unvarnished expectations for the coming year.

Strangely enough, last year no one accurately predicted what 2020 would look like.

But that didn’t stop schools from jumping at the chance to prognosticate once again this year. In fact, more schools than ever eagerly accepted our offer to publish their predictions, including a higher number of European schools than ever before. Among the chief concerns their leadership expressed: that in the wake of the epic disruption of 2020, B-schools must take big steps forward in their efforts to address racism, climate, and systemic poverty.

So without further ado, here are the expectations, the anticipations, the hopes for the new year from the top graduate business education institutions in the world.


“Wise leaders build diverse teams and create inclusive environments,” says Dia Draper, assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “They lead high-performing organizations by cultivating a culture that is safe for honest dialogue, respectful debate, and transformative discussion. The early work to build such teams and cultivate inclusive cultures at companies begins here, with us at business schools.

“The human costs of the progress made on issues of racism and racial inequity in 2020 are maddening and heartbreaking. And yet as I look at the way and the volume by which Tuck students, administrators, staff and faculty have responded to these tragedies, I find inspiration. As 2021 approaches, I am energized by the momentum gained around diversity, equity and inclusion in our community at Tuck and throughout business education more generally. Reflecting on the classroom discussions that are now being had — for example, reparations for Black Americans was recently a topic during the course ‘Leadership in the Global Economy’ at Tuck — and the new programming and diverse cases that schools are adopting, I cannot help but predict meaningful growth in the year ahead. And the most encouraging part of this prediction is the broad coalition of business school leaders who are committed to change. From administrators and faculty improving and developing curriculum and orientation offerings with DEI top of mind to student groups organizing anti-racism book clubs open for the entire community — including staff and alumni — to participate in.

“As I look to 2021, I have to predict growth in our collective capacities to have difficult conversations, to address bias, to cultivate better environments of inclusion, and to make marked progress on measures of diversity and in addressing injustice. Wise, decisive leaders who better the world raise people up by taking harmful and discriminatory structures down. For 2021, I predict even more progress on this front.”


“As much as 2021 will be about rebounding from the sudden crisis of Covid-19, my prediction is the more indelible changes to MBA programs will address the smoldering crisis of racial injustice that also defined 2020,” says Brian Mitchell, associate dean for the full-time MBA program at Emory University Goizueta Business School.

“This has long been an active discussion among many students, but now I predict an important evolution in how business schools acknowledge and address systemic racism, and the roles that businesses have played and can play in that system. In the wake of this summer’s tragedies, Goizueta published our statement of values emphasizing our commitment to inclusion for every person without exception. These are more than just words. Business schools are signaling a real shift in taking accountability for the cultures we create and how the leaders we prepare think critically about humanity.

“This evolution will need to include more substantive co-curricular programming, such as the launch of Goizueta’s John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition — an effort to create innovative and actionable racial justice initiatives for corporations. And while values statements, case competitions, reading series, and other co-curricular programs are important, a critical difference in how business schools approach social injustice and inequity in the new year must be to also include new curricular offerings as deans and faculty members use their pedagogical tools to address structural challenge, reaching students who might not otherwise opt into co-curricular programs.

“At Goizueta, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is now explicitly defined as a strategic initiative under the leadership of our Senior Associate Dean Jill Perry-Smith. I expect this to lead to innovations within the curriculum that have the potential to redefine how we research and teach about the relationship between business and society. This includes leveraging research in decision making, liaising with key external audiences, and responding to justice, equity, and diversity needs by emphasizing actions that are strategic, structural, and sustainable.

“Goizueta is not alone in developing principled leaders, and I have great confidence in my prediction that we will not be alone in our actions, particularly within the curriculum, to go further in 2021 and beyond.”


Scott DeRue, dean of the Michigan Ross School of Business. Courtesy photo

“The past year has been historic and unprecedented in many ways,” says Michigan Ross School of Business Dean Scott DeRue, “most notably a global pandemic that has changed how we live, how we work, how we connect, and of course, how we educate in business schools around the world. Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, we enter 2021 with hope because vaccines are starting to be deployed globally. Yet, we are months away from resuming life as we knew it prior to the pandemic, and we recognize that in some ways, life will never be the same.

“Next year, we will continue experiencing significant challenges and disruptions due to the pandemic, especially in the first half of the year while vaccines are being developed and rolled out worldwide. The impact will be felt both in business and business education.

“In business, the impact of the pandemic will continue to be very uneven. Whereas some industries are thriving, other industries are struggling and will take years to recover. There will be companies that emerge in a position of strength, and there will be companies that never rebound. The difference, in my mind, is whether leadership is forward looking and embraces this moment as an opportunity to inspire innovation, be bold and take smart risks, and build more sustainable and resilient organizations. The pandemic is not our first challenge; it will not be our last challenge, possibly even in 2021; and we need leaders who know how to ready their organizations for the unexpected and lead during uncertain times.

“The same is true in business education. The pandemic has forced every school to embrace new modalities of education, build new capabilities and technologies, and rethink traditional business models of education. In 2021, we will see some schools be bold and take major strides toward using these new capabilities to offer more accessible, flexible, and personalized models of education. For example, at Michigan Ross even before the pandemic, we were investing in new digital education technologies and more flexible MBA degree formats with no boundaries for students. We will also see schools rethink how we design the student journey to offer a more connected and engaged experience, whether it be virtual, in person, and/or hybrid. And lastly, I expect — and certainly hope — that more business schools will have the courage to take on the grand and global challenges of our generation. It is the reason we at Michigan Ross built our new +Impact Studio. We need businesses developing solutions not only to address the pandemic’s challenges, but businesses developing market-based, sustainable, and scalable solutions to issues such as climate change, social and economic inequity, and infrastructure.

“Whether we are in business or business education, we all have a responsibility to build a better world through business.”


“If we’ve learned anything from 2020,” says Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin, “it’s that it’s probably not wise to make predictions for the coming year! There are so many areas that have been disrupted and where rapid change is likely, including new ways of teaching, online education, increased focus on equity, how we prepare students to navigate the shifting expectations of business leadership, and the blurring of professional and social roles.

“However, I’d like to focus on one specific issue, which is the global role played by U.S. business schools, and the value of welcoming international students to our campuses.

“This year has been especially difficult for international students, not only because of travel and public health restrictions, but because of the restrictive and volatile nature of U.S. federal rules regarding international student visas. Stanford has repeatedly joined other universities this year in speaking out against orders from the Department of Homeland Security that would have placed additional restrictions on the ability of international students to study in the U.S.

“International students bring richness and vibrancy to our campuses, and their presence expands the perspective and learning of all students. International graduates go on to create jobs, build organizations, and innovate in every area of business — in many cases, this happens in the United States. It is my prediction, and hope, that 2021 will bring a more welcoming policy and cultural environment for international students.

“The case of China is particularly relevant because of its rapidly expanding role in innovation and the global economy. It is essential that the world’s two largest economies learn to work together, including in areas of global interest such as climate change and preparing for future pandemics. In the New Year, there is an opportunity to move in this direction, and business schools can contribute by fostering connections and promoting productive dialogue between academics, business leaders, and policy-makers. We have done this at Stanford through global study programs, exchanges, and events such as the Stanford China Economic Forum. We have recognized out of necessity the power of virtual programs and events in 2020, but we’re all looking forward to getting together in-person in 2021.”

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