4 Elite B-School Deans: MBA Leadership Needed In An Uncertain World

France’s INSEAD is seeing declining applications in many cases where employers offer better, according to its dean. Courtesy photo

The global political environment presents a strong case for needing future business leaders who think critically in unpredictable moments. That’s according to four deans from some of the industry’s leading business schools from around the globe, who attended a day-long event February 22 as part of the rollout for The Financial Times’ 2023 global MBA ranking released earlier this month.

The Future of Business Education: Spotlight on MBA featured a series of panels including one that featured deans from INSEAD, Cambridge Judge Business School, Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, and Nanyang Business School in Singapore, discussing how global issues affect learning and teaching across MBA classrooms.

Andrew Jack, the panel’s mediator and FT education editor, peppered the deans with questions about declining numbers in MBA enrollment, how Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to impact the education sector, and more. At several points the deans returned to the theme that uncertain times present both challenges and new opportunities to educate future action-takers.


Jack pointedly wanted to know the deans’ thoughts around rising tensions among China and the United States, recently centering around the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in the American sky, which it’s fair to say everyone has heard about by now.

“There are geopolitics, but business schools need to rise above it and actually have something to contribute,” says Kellogg Dean Francesca Cornelli.

Cornelli says faculty at Kellogg are responding by focusing to develop a multicultural curriculum and build on students’ networking and interpersonal skills. She drives home the point that B-schools play an important role in contributing to who may become future political leaders.

INSEAD Dean llian Mihov says admittedly we should not discount the probability of some “crazy event” happening between China and the US, and maybe Russia, or some configuration of these three countries, which is “definitely scary.”

He adds: “In terms of applicants, there are a lot of Chinese students who could select non-U.S. schools because they are having trouble getting a visa and things like that.”


4 Elite B-School Deans: MBA Leadership Needed In An Uncertain World

Mauro Guillén took over as Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School in 2021. He says Britain’s B-Schools are at a crossroads facing intersecting trends.

Mauro Guillén, the dean of Cambridge’s Judge, says we are going through a heavy transformation that’s forcing companies to adjust. It’s unclear how the world’s major powers align and how relationships between the U.S., China, Russia and even India will play out. His answer then hones in on why now is a great time to get an MBA.

“We have so many problems in the world and so many things that are changing and we need more managers than ever, we need more people who know how to make decisions under the conditions of uncertainty and that’s where I think business schools can add value in spite of all of this noise,” Guillén says.

4 Elite B-School Deans: MBA Leadership Needed In An Uncertain World

Nanyang’s Dean Christina Soh Wai Lin says career opportunities are becoming more diversified.

Christina Soh Wai Lin, the Dean of Nanyang Business School of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, says different policies are driving companies to diversify their operations and supply chains. Some are moving productions out of China and into emerging countries seeing significant investment, otherwise known as the China Plus One strategy, in places like Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Thailand.

And on the career side, these changes create new opportunity for MBAs or future prospective applicants.

“We’ve got to keep up with where these emerging opportunities are and keep close to our alumni, many of whom have become quite senior in the career markets,” Soh Wai Lin says.


P&Qs concluded last fall a downturn of fewer MBA applicants was contributed to a robust economy, making graduate school less attractive.

The biggest challenge for British B-schools, Guillén says, is they are at the mercy of intersecting trends produced by the American labor cycle and Brexit. Brexit has particularly created problems for student in continental Europe, he says, meanwhile, Judge has seen a drop in international applicants from countries like China and the United States.

Mihov adds that trends at INSEAD echo similar sentiments: “We see this definitely, in simple economic terms it’s the opportunity cost of leaving your job when the job market is very high.”

4 Elite B-School Deans: MBA Leadership Needed In An Uncertain World

Kellogg’s Dean Francesca Cornelli says international applicants at Kellogg are increasing.

Cornelli isn’t quite able to pinpoint this trend. She says at Kellogg their programs, whether it’s the full-time, evening & weekend or executive MBA, correlate with market trends quite differently.

“During this year, the market was red-hot and yes domestic applications were down, but the international applications were up and increasing year-over-year. Now, actually, the market seems to be less hot with tech layoffs,” she says.

Kellogg has extended its test waiver for applicants through round 3, due on April 5, being the first major B-school to formally reach out to laid-off techies last year.

Cornelli believes it has worked out so far.


“What I certainly see is inflation is back in the curriculum, right?” says Dean Guillén.

4 Elite B-School Deans: MBA Leadership Needed In An Uncertain World

Ilian Mihov, dean of INSEAD, thinks  passions have moved toward sustainability.

For a while, businesses didn’t need to deal with changing prices, but the rise in costs have affected all aspects of business now. Students at Judge have been asking a lot about inflation and supply chain operations, which Guillén sees as a major consequence of the war in Ukraine.

In another answer, Dean Mihov says at INSEAD he is seeing students trying to understand what is happening in the world. He says a major part of that includes a move toward sustainability and climate science. This is something both Dean Cornelli and Dean Soh Wai Lin agree with.



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