The Crystal Ball: B-Schools Acknowledge Challenges, Put Positive Shine On 2022

We don’t talk enough about optimism in graduate business education. A certain brightness of outlook, a sunny disposition, a cheerfulness is required to succeed at the highest levels of higher education. In business schools, that hopefulness — a professed belief that though society’s problems are large, business can and must lead the way in solving them — is never more clear among those in leadership positions than at the beginning of a new year.

This is important to keep in mind because for many at the leading B-schools, 2022 is unquestionably starting off on a challenging note. It would be a massive understatement to say that deans, faculty, and others have been challenged in their otherwise relentless optimism this fall — not to mention across the last two chaotic years. But it’s also true that, in many ways, the hurdles that the global health crisis has thrown up against the edifice of graduate business education have brought out the best in B-schools. Coronavirus certainly hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the big and the bold; if anything it has fueled it.

This last fact is illustrated well by leadership at two elite B-schools on opposite ends of the San Francisco Bay Area. Deans Jonathan Levin of Stanford Graduate School of Business and Ann Harrison of UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business — Poets&Quants‘ Nos. 1 and 9 schools in the United States, respectively — both have offered predictions for the coming year characterized by confidence in the talent nurtured on their and their peers’ campuses to tackle not only coronavirus but all of society’s thorniest challenges — to, in short, make the world a better place.

“We are expanding our thinking and teaching about societal issues such as inequality and inclusion, and the relationship between business and democratic institutions,” Stanford’s Levin says.

“Sustainability is mission critical,” UC-Berkeley’s Harrison says, adding that to achieve Paris Agreement targets by 2050 “will require a revolution in everything from what and how we produce to what we consume, and that revolution has already started. And we are ready!”

STANFORD DEAN SEES 2 BIG TRENDS IN 2022

Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin

Levin, one of 15 B-school officials to offer their prognostications this year for Poets&Quants‘ annual feature, says he sees two big trends accelerating in 2022. The first: “The data revolution” will continue apace, “enabling new advances in knowledge and the changing societal expectations for business and business leaders.”

“Business school faculty are drawn from social science disciplines that are being transformed by data and more powerful empirical tools,” Levin tells P&Q. “Historically, many of the great ideas from business schools that changed management practice came from one or two faculty members working together. That continues today, but now many colleagues work with huge datasets, teams of collaborators, companies, and governments. This new frontier promises to deliver insights about decision-making, organizations, and markets that can invigorate thinking in business schools and beyond for many years to come. In a sense, it is parallel to the digital revolution that’s transforming so many businesses and industries; it is driven by the expanding ability to measure and track information. The returns lie in using all this new data effectively — asking good questions, and developing the tools to answer them. 

“The other trend I see accelerating in 2022 is the rising expectation for businesses to show leadership around the rapid changes taking place in technology, in society, and in globalization. Businesses must respond to these changes in ways that are both innovative and responsible. 

“These changes are driving much of our thinking at Stanford around management education. We are developing our teaching of data science and algorithms so that our students are prepared to responsibly guide advances in technology. We are looking to integrate sustainability into our curriculum, across accounting, finance, operations, and marketing. We are expanding our thinking and teaching about societal issues such as inequality and inclusion, and the relationship between business and democratic institutions.

“Importantly, we need to accomplish this in a way that fosters and encourages classroom debate and differences of opinion, so that we expose students to a broad range of thinking and prepare them to lead in an era of more complex social dynamics.”

HAAS PREPARED TO LEAD ON SUSTAINABILITY, DEAN SAYS

Berkeley Haas Dean Harrison says many of 2022’s innovations and changes will revolve around sustainability, an evolution that the top public business school in the U.S. is well-positioned to lead.

“I predict there will be a surge in demand for expertise in sustainability as companies across the business landscape, from real estate to manufacturing, confront the world’s climate emergency,” Harrison tells P&Q. “At Haas, we are doubling down on our investment in sustainability and preparing the next generation of sustainability leaders.

“During emergencies, governments typically are on the frontlines, leading, setting policy and the agenda; business follows. But what is striking about climate is the reverse is happening. Business is taking action; it is sounding the alarm. Influential companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla, and Nike are promoting more eco-friendly products and practices. 

“At Haas, we’ve taken the sustainability revolution to the classroom by no longer treating it as an elective: We are weaving the fundamentals of sustainability into the school’s core curriculum. By the end of 2023, all core courses at Haas will incorporate cases, topics and assignments that will empower students to address climate change and other sustainability challenges through business. 

“Leadership on sustainability is not just for business leaders who work directly on climate issues or in climate technology. Accountants need to plan for the effects of climate change on valuation and outcomes; real estate developers and financiers will need to consider climate changes in forecasting risk; so will consultants and investment bankers.”

BUSINESS IS MAINSTREAMING SUSTAINABILITY ‘BECAUSE IT MAKES BUSINESS SENSE’

Ann Harrison, dean of UC-Berkeley’s Hall School of Business

In addition to the changes to the core “that will touch every student,” Harrison says, more than two-thirds of Haas’ 2021 graduating class took a course focused on sustainability.

“And in the first full term for an all-new graduate Sustainability Certificate program, students jumped at the chance to sign up — nearly one out of five of the school’s second-year full-time MBA students are now enrolled in the program. Haas also is developing a dual master’s program with Berkeley’s top-ranked Rausser College of Natural Resources that will combine an MBA with a master’s in climate solutions. 

“It is business that is mainstreaming sustainability, because it makes business sense. This show of leadership is why we believe that business graduates who have skills and training in sustainability increasingly will find themselves with more opportunity to lead. They won’t need to wait for the definitive government policy on efforts. They can lead now. …

“In a recent op-ed leading up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Fortune writers noted it was encouraging to see more than 100 companies, across 16 countries and 25 industries, pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement 2050 goal. It is business that is mainstreaming sustainability, because it makes business sense. 

“This show of leadership is why we believe that business graduates who have skills and training in sustainability increasingly will find themselves with more opportunity to lead. They won’t need to wait for the definitive government policy on efforts. They can lead now. 

“Sustainability is mission critical. Getting to net zero by 2050 will require a revolution in everything from what and how we produce to what we consume, and that revolution has already started. And we are ready!”

IN CANADA & THE UK, ALL EYES ON CLIMATE

Outside the U.S., the need for business and business schools to address the world’s greatest crises — climate foremost among them — is widely recognized and expected to only grow. Susan Christoffersen, dean of the University’s of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says 2022 will accelerate this need.

“I predict that the role of businesses in society will only increase in importance as we face unprecedented social challenges and change,” Christoffersen says. “Governments cannot meet these challenges alone, placing greater need for innovative, purposeful and responsible business leaders. With a greater spotlight on the role of business to innovate, create prosperity, and address complex social issues, I predict an increased demand on business schools to develop leaders with these skills. Rotman is positioning itself to meet this demand.”

And in the UK, London Business School Dean François Ortalo-Magné says his school’s faculty are focused on climate and what commerce can do to help.

“From what I see happening with our faculty at London Business School, 2022 will see increased research focus and impact on issues related to the climate emergency,” Ortalo-Magné says. “Business scholars will contribute to a wide breadth of conversations, from influencing individual behaviors and corporate strategy to the setting of meaningful reporting standards and framing of macroeconomic policy.”

See the next pages for 2022 predictions from more than a dozen leading voices in graduate business education in the United States & Europe. 

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