Thursday, June 24, 2010

‘Business Schools should be extremely nervous’

One of the benefits of going to big global conferences is that you meet old colleagues and friends. So I was very pleased to bump into Peter Lacy (now Managing Director Accenture, Sustainability Services, Europe, Africa and Latin America). I enjoyed working with Peter while he was Exec. Director at EABIS (an association of businesses and academic institutions to boost CSR in Europe) and built up the organization in the early/mid 2000s.

Peter was here, among other things, to present a Survey on CEO perceptions of the Sustainability topic which I mentioned earlier in another post. I won't bore you with some of the bickering raised here (too small sample of 'converted' companies, CEO rhetoric is no data etc.) since it does not jeopardize the main message of the research: that sustainability is now clearly on the strategic agenda of many major companies and in fact 93% of surveyed CEOs globally see this as a key imperative. No more just an 'issue', a blip on the screen, as it was ten years ago. Though Peter told me, too, that the survey probably just hints at the sheer magnitude of the task ahead, which is implementation. He is a little cautious about some of the statements in the report regarding implementation in these companies as of now, but his main point is well made: what about those non-UNGC members and other companies, who aren't even yet in the strategic stage?
Since Peter knows both worlds, business and academia, I was also interested in his view on what the survey means for us in the ivory tower. Two things emerge. Since one of the findings was, that the investment community cares next to nothing about sustainability, Peter thinks we need to develop tools to make the actual value of sustainability more explicit. This is closely related to performance management as – given current business practices – only if I can give sustainability as a measurable task to my crew, I can reward and assess them on success.
But the main point he made was that in his view, business schools in general have not even entered the first 'issue' stage and are lagging behind their main target audience by – mas o menos- a decade. Of course, he hastened to add - that he is aware that there are a good number of schools out there which have understood the challenge and are able to provide education of managers with regard to sustainability issues. But personally I could not agree more that by and large, business schools are still largely operating within an agency-, efficient markets- and shareholder value-framework. This applies certainly to many of the top North American and European schools. And while this is bad enough I would add that this thinking is still dominating our research by and large – and today's research is the teaching material ten years from now, as Peter put it. He added that from his current work of running a department of 800 staff, in recruitment he finds precious few candidates trained by business schools in sustainability. So Peter's message was that business schools really need to take into account the changing imperatives for business – otherwise business might more and more look for other sources of education (something which came already up in an earlier post).


  1. Should the schools be nervous or the students? I feel that a lot of the schools when talking about "sustainability" are too backward looking. We study a lot what has been done before but we rarely address the "so what?" and end up with no resources on how to implement our ideas. Do you think there is room for simulation-style activities in sustainability classes?

  2. I think there is definitely room for this. On the whole, I think the agenda for more sustainabiltiy in b-school education relies heavily on student demand. I want them to be more vocal, more outspoken with regard to these issues. And you are right, not only schools should be nervous, but the students. The role of future business leaders will look very different in the next decades - and to be equipped for this is vital.


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