Deans From Top B-Schools Share 2021 Resolutions

Eloïc Peyrache of HEC Paris: “a strong need to unleash the magic” in 2021. Courtesy photo

Scott DeRue, dean at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, says despite the unprecedented tests of the past year, he is optimistic about 2021, for which he has three main resolutions.

“The past year has tested every leader, whether you are in business, education, public service and government, or within your local community,” DeRue writes. “It has been a challenging year for everyone, and yet as I look forward to 2021, I am filled with hope and optimism. And it is within that spirit that I have three resolutions for the new year.

“The first resolution is to work tirelessly to create a more accessible and inclusive business school experience for all students: not just at Michigan Ross, but across business education. For example, this fall we hosted a wonderful panel of deans from across the country in a discussion of race in business education, and how we as deans can lead the way towards a more diverse and inclusive business community. It was inspiring, and I resolve to continue this work with an unwavering commitment to progress in 2021.

“The second resolution is to be even bolder and more courageous. For those who know me, you know I like risk. I like being out of my comfort zone. It is here where we grow, learn, and stretch our potential. I think all of us in business education can be bolder, more courageous, and get outside of our comfort zones even more than we are today. We have an opportunity to emerge from this pandemic with new insights, new ideas, and new innovations that could propel business education forward in profound ways. The question is — will we have the courage? My resolution is to make sure I approach each and every day with courage and a commitment to supporting my team as we together reimagine business education for the future.

“My third and final resolution is to find joy in every day. Looking back on 2020, it’s been a year of challenges, stress, long days, and simply not enough joy, not enough fun. We all need more joy, laughter, and fun in our lives. So, my final resolution is to find joy in every day for myself, but even more importantly, to bring joy to others. If you’re like me, you miss the social connection and the joy that is at the heart of our most meaningful relationships. If I can find ways — big or small — to bring joy and happiness to others in 2021, that for me will be living a life of purpose.”

BUILDING ON WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED

Cornell Johnson Dean Mark Nelson

Dean Mark Nelson of the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University says the lessons of 2020 will inform — and improve — 2021 for the majority of graduate business institutions.

“My resolution,” he writes, “is to build on what we have learned in the last year to continue supporting the needs of our students and community in innovative ways that leverage Cornell’s unique strengths. Covid really highlighted how lucky we are to be part of one of the world’s great universities and to be located in beautiful upstate New York, and 2020 showed how important it is to have a diverse community in which we are stronger together. The combination of Cornell’s science-based, people-centered pandemic response and our supportive community enabled us to keep people safe while also delivering on the promise of our degree program, and we will build on that success going forward.

“We also learned new ways to utilize technology. Our Executive MBA Americas program has used synchronous distance teaching since 2005, and we utilized that platform and others by expanding interactions with new recruiters, distinguished alumni, corporate partners and industry leaders.

“As we all emerge from this challenging time, I am excited to see Johnson poised for even greater success going forward.”

ON DIVERSITY FRONT, ‘TIME FOR CHANGE IS NOW’

Georgetown McDonough’s Paul Almeida. McDonough photo

Paul Almeida, dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, says after a year of “unprecedented challenges,” his school has embraced the importance of ensuring “we do more than simply oversee the running of our very complex daily operations during the pandemic. We have kept our focus on building for the future, with the mindset of not just surviving, but thriving in a post-Covid world. That will continue to be our priority in 2021.

“The conditions of the pandemic have forced all schools to approach business education in completely different ways, calling for us to adjust our norms and be creative in how we deliver on our educational mission. We have a tremendous opportunity to learn from these experiences in ways that will forever change — for the better — how our faculty teach and conduct research, how our students learn, and how our staff manage our programs and operations.

“Additionally, the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion has become ever more apparent in 2020. The time for change is now, yet we have seen for years that swift actions are often fleeting. At McDonough, we are working as a community to enact meaningful change from within so that we may form a ripple effect that extends to our city, our alumni network, and the broader business world. We have much to do toward an initiative that will continue to need our care and attention well into the future. Our rededication to DE&I began in 2020 and will continue in the new year and beyond.

“At McDonough, our faculty are discovering how to use technology in new and innovative ways to engage students in learning. Our students are building skills that many of us have had to flex for the first time in 2020 — adding new technology acumen, adaptability, and resiliency to their toolboxes, on top of the business knowledge they sought when enrolling in business school. And, as an organization, we are re-thinking our workforce, from telework policies to space utilization.

“We also know we need to listen to the market more carefully to position ourselves in times of change. If anything, Covid has shown us that adaptability is more important than ever and building a flexible organization has allowed us to adjust to new challenges as they arise. We have not slowed in our commitment to create interdisciplinary collaborations throughout Georgetown University around the intersection of business and key areas, including analytics and technology, sustainability, public policy, and healthcare. By developing new perspectives, lines of thought leadership, and academic programs, Georgetown McDonough will best prepare our students and alumni to address the world’s most complex challenges.”

A YEAR OF TRANSFORMATION & ‘MAGIC’

François Ortalo-Magné, dean of London Business School, resolves that 2021 will be a year when more women enroll in the MBA — progress for which the foundations were laid in 2020.

“We will see a greater focus on broadening access to business education in 2021 and, in particular, on making world-class education available to individuals from non-traditional backgrounds,” he writes. “In 2020, London Business School welcomed its first Laidlaw Scholars with the support of the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund. These women may not have seen business school as an option available to them; they are now on their way to join our alumni community.

“All of us in business education agree people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives belong in positions of leadership including boardrooms. For 2021, let us all commit to growing the availability of educational opportunities like our Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund.”

And at HEC Paris, Eloïc Peyrache says it’s time to change the world. 

“After a very difficult year for everyone, there is a strong need to unleash the magic and making sure that a business school like HEC Paris is part of the solution,” Peyrache writes. “We will do so by investing even more in research that will change the world, be it around AI, climate change or new modes of leadership.

“We will do so by making the sense of purpose — of the HEC community and of business at large — decisive.

“We will do so by transforming our students into entrepreneurs of change.”

‘IF NOT NOW, WHEN?’

2021 marks a quarter-century since Oxford Saïd Business School was founded, notes Dean Peter Tufano, which will be both “hopefully the planet’s first post-Covid year, and my final year as dean. It’s fitting that my resolutions, or more accurately my hopes, reflect these inflection points and the responsibilities that lie ahead. 

“Sometimes people exhort us to ‘build back better’ but going backwards seems counterproductive. Why would we want to go ‘back’ to a slightly better version of a world that was characterized by tremendous inequality, heighted nationalism, racial injustice, unpreparedness for a pandemic, severe social divisions, and a looming climate crisis? Let’s go forward boldly, not back better.

“In this spirit, my resolutions are to look forward with fresh eyes about possibilities — as my idealistic students do, rather than being captured by history and tradition.   To ask, ‘Why not?’ rather than proclaim the nihilistic ‘Not realistic.’ To accept the challenge, originally attributed to Hillel the Elder, ‘If not now, when?’

“As we at Oxford Saïd look forward to our next 25 years, I join with my colleagues — and hopefully with others across our entire sector — to proclaim that we are not vague ‘forces for good,’ but rather that we must be forces for justice. Justice is the administration of fairness. As businesses and investors accept the responsibilities of stakeholder capitalism and the stewardship of people and planet, they — and implicitly we — will be called upon to administer fairness. Justice is not simply the province of courts and lawyers: economic justice, social justice, and climate justice are our responsibility.  

“As researchers, educators, and influencers — whether as deans or faculty members — we can help advance the most important agendas of the world.”

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