It has been a busy two years for Federico Frattini. Appointed dean of one of Italy’s premier business schools at just 39 in 2020, he has presided over the introduction of cutting-edge new programs, including a newly revamped and repurposed MBA, as well as a digitalization effort that includes the launch of a pioneering AI platform.
But the biggest change began soon after Frattini took over, and continues this year. Frattini’s B-school, MIP Politecnico di Milano, rebranded to become POLIMI Graduate School of Management, a move that involved more than a name change for a B-school founded 43 years ago: It was part of a strategic plan and “repositioning” to become a school “recognized as one of the most innovative business schools,” Frattini says, “and because of its commitment to building a more equitable, inclusive and mindful society.”
‘A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY THAT WE FEEL FOR OURSELVES’
It’s a big ambition in any environment. That it was undertaken amid a worldwide pandemic is doubly impressive.
“The path we have taken is not limited to a new logo and visual identity,” says Frattini, who assumed POLIMI’s deanship after a dozen years at the school as a professor of innovation. “POLIMI Graduate School of Management, in fact, wants to be a school rooted in Milan but present all over the world.”
Sustainability is a priority for one reason, Frattini says. Graduate business education is not only the likeliest agent of positive and sustainable change in the world — it may be the only one.
“Because there are 13,000 business schools in the globe, millions of people studying in these business schools every year and millions of alumni who are in touch with their business school,” Frattini tells Poets&Quants. “I really don’t see another place from which to source change, from which a trigger for positive change can come. It will not come from institutions. It will not come from regulation. It will not come from financial markets. It will come from a new generation of leaders trained mostly in business school who become more aware of the role that they can play, of the paradox that they can solve between maximizing profits and shareholder values and impacting positively on society. As I said before, there’s growing evidence in research that this can be done — that there’s a way to combine the happiness of shareholders and the suite of higher purposes. But it’s still not, I would say, in the core of business schools’ actions.
“And so it’s really, I would say, a social responsibility that we feel for ourselves. We have a belief that education is the most powerful weapon that you can have to change the world, using the words of Nelson Mandela. This is the time when, in business schools, we need to act. There are special issues in top management journals discussing repurposing business schools — forums, books — but action is still lagging behind. So this is our little attempt in our small business school.”
BIG PLANS IN MILAN
An expert in AI, Frattini has overseen an ambitious digitalization effort at POLIMI, which for the first time in 2022 was ranked among the top 100 B-schools by The Financial Times. It is ranked second in Italy behind only SDA Bocconi — and given its ambitious array of undertakings, even higher positions in the rankings seem likely in future.
Earlier this year POLIMI launched FLEXA, an AI learning platform developed in partnership with Microsoft that acts as a career coach for potential students, current cohorts, and alumni networks. FLEXA analyzes each individual and suggests personalized materials to close skills gaps while promoting their profiles to recruiters. As dean, Frattini has also been heavily involved in POLIMI recently achieving “B Corp Certification,” an award recognizing companies’ commitment to sustainable development and building a more inclusive society. POLIMI is the first Italian business school to secure the designation, and just one of a few worldwide.
In the classroom, too, POLIMI under Frattini’s guidance is making news. In January the B-school announced a “NewGeneration MBA” that aims to train a new generation of leaders for an era focused on sustainability, promising to deliver advanced management skills combined with tools “to unleash the latent power of purpose and enable a new generation of leaders to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century.” The new MBA launches this fall. Even more recently, POLIMI announced a partnership with French B-school SKEMA to create a unique double degree in product management and UX design that offers students the combination of tech, business, and design skills most valued by companies looking to strengthen their product teams. The new program’s first cohort, which will split time between Paris and Milan, also gets underway this fall.
Q&A WITH FEDERICO FRATTINI
“We want to be a place of experimentation where innovative, practical and applicable solutions are born to solve the most pressing problems that our society is experiencing,” Frattini says. “A school capable of promoting a true sense of community that brings together students, teachers, and alumni, but also all the school staff. An institution that is committed to inspiring and promoting a genuine commitment to making our planet and society better, more sustainable, more equitable, and more inclusive places.”
In an exclusive interview with Poets&Quants, Frattini talks about his plans for the growing B-school, including the rebranding that has led the school to launch a new strategic plan and to redefine its purpose and values. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Poets&Quants: Let’s start with the rebrand of the school. We’re still only a couple of months into the new name. It’s no small thing to change the name of a business school, but this was about more than just a name change, wasn’t it?
Federico Frattini: Yeah, there are two interconnected things that explain why we decided to go for this brave, let’s say, step. One is the fact that starting from 2020, we entered a process of deep rethinking about what the school stands for. What is its responsibility in society? What do we really want to achieve in terms of our purpose, our vision? And this led us to identify a clear positioning of the school as a place where we inspire people and organizations that believe in innovation, to really shape a better future for all, which means that we are seriously committed to take on a more active role in creating a new generation of leaders who are deeply aware, deeply conscious of their inner values, their inner motivations, the meaning that they give to their work. And through this process of building awareness, they are also able to become positive agents of change in their organizations.
We are very much convinced that sustainability and impact do not come from outside, and cannot be seen as something you have to do, because there are certifications, because there are political, societal, institutional pressures. It’s something that really happens, if it comes from a deeper understanding of the role that we play in our everyday action, not only in maximizing the value for our shareholders, but also in impacting broadly our society. So this led to really setting up a new culture for the business school, a new set of values for the business school. And we wanted all of these to be reflected in the entire experience that we offer to our prospective students, current students, alumni, and companies we work with. Which of course required also a change in not exactly the naming, but for sure the branding experience, the values that it conveys. So this is one important trajectory.
The second one is acknowledging that our previous naming today stands for something that is not really identifiable, goes back to our legacy where we were founded in 1979. MIP was the acronym of Master in Production Engineering, which was the very early positioning of the school. So a school which trained engineers on more management-related topics. In 40 years of history, even before our new strategic plan, the school has become really a business school, where we open up our programs also to non-engineers, non-technical people. And so even without the strategic developments that started in 2020, we understood that our name didn’t really convey what we became. We did this process together with Interbrand, one of the top consulting firms in branding, and with data they proved that our name didn’t really convey the essence of a modern business school.
And we decided in the naming to establish a stronger connection with Polytech Milano, the university we belong to. Because it has become really a internationally recognized brand. It’s among the top 10 technical universities in Europe, among the top 15 in the world. In design, it’s No. 4 in the world, architecture No. 5 in the world. So a very well-reputed technical entrepreneurship innovation school. So we wanted to establish that closer connection and then strengthen also our belonging to the city of Milan, which after Expo 2015 has gone through a period of real growth, development, and innovation, and now it’s considered among the top destinations in Europe for students coming from everywhere in the world.
So this is about the name, the values, the tone of voice, the responsibility that we feel are more reflected into the type of graphic elements of the brand, the colors that we use, the tone of voice that we apply. And this is the process that led us to change our name and brand.
See the next page for the rest of P&Q‘s interview with POLIMI Dean Federico Frattini.