What can policies of development in emerging Latin American economies have in common with the experiences of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO), a symphonic ensemble of over 100 young people from regions torn by intense political, economic, cultural, religious, and psychological tension? Well, if the underlying philosophy of a new program in management is to be accepted, it is their embodiment of lessons that next-gen corporate managers must assimilate in order to be truly effective.
Fast, furious, and technically competent - once upon a time in the not-so-remote past, these were the primary qualities associated with the successful manager. However, the importance of bringing values, reflection and a broader world view into corporate offices and boardrooms has perhaps never been more sharply felt than at this juncture in the history of business. And it is the growing perception of this need that has led to a new unique executive MBA program from Madrid-based IE Business School and Providence, Rhode Island-based Brown University. The program, titled the IE Brown Executive MBA will combine the best of IE's expertise in delivering effective business education and Brown's fabled tradition of research and studies in the liberal arts and philosophy.
Ironically, while policy-makers at one level have been almost obsessed with their emphasis on the so called STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), higher up in the education value chain and applied fields, there is increasing appreciation of the need for interdisciplinary instruction and a deeper knowledge of complex global socio-economic, cultural and political developments shaping our world. This is almost an all-pervasive need that extends beyond specific domains.
Many senior managers - those responsible for a business unit or organization, or making the transition from functional management to general management - need more than a solid grounding in technical management to be successful in what they do. Many of the challenges they deal with come from other domains - pertaining to social, political, cultural or philosophical areas. Thus, for producing more rounded and more effective managers a program that stresses these aspects without sacrificing the quality of management training would be invaluable.
IE, in particular, has always been known to be a business school that stresses innovation in teaching and research driven by entrepreneurial thinking and interdisciplinary exchange. David Bach, Dean of Programs and Professor of Strategy at IE Business School and among the key architects of this executive program, explains At IE Business School, we have been interested in going 'beyond business' in many of our programs. We started incorporating elements of the Humanities in some of our programs about 4 years ago; we have worked with architects to bring a design perspective into our programs, though none of those efforts matches the scale and ambition of what we can do through this collaboration with Brown University. On the Brown side, faculty members in a variety of interesting fields encompassing history, philosophy, psychology and others felt that their knowledge and expertise could be very relevant for managers, particularly senior executives, but Brown had never had a chance to participate in their education because it does not have a business school. Under the partnership signed between the two institutions in 2009, the overlapping philosophies were brought together to give rise to the innovative executive program which commences its first class in March 2011.
Integrating the elements of business and liberal arts in one management program curriculum can be a challenge. One had the easy option of adopting a narrow approach - showcasing how certain particular non-business perspectives or issues could influence management, but the IE-Brown team did not want to restrict themselves to that. Says Professor Bach, We wanted to preserve some of the uniqueness of the approach to deep questions rooted in psychology or sociology or philosophy; so, Brown faculty members would be teaching their courses and IE faculty members theirs; much of the integration would happen at the level of the student. On our part, we have been working very closely with faculty from Brown to identify connection points between what we teach. We will have a process facilitator who will help students make that connection between all that they learn. That will generate the glue to keep the pieces together, but in terms of delivery, it will be more of a well-knit mosaic than one big blend.
The IE Brown Executive MBA, which is a 15-month program combining interactive online modules with 5 face-to-face sessions, is mostly targeted at senior management professionals with an average of 10 years of experience. While there is nothing by way of nature of experience that was identified as a must-have, a large proportion of applicants come from industries such as technology, healthcare, real estate and pharmaceuticals - typically, those industries which could be expected to be impacted by issues not strictly related to business, such as social ramifications of operation, policy and regulatory issues, ethical considerations and the like. Whether operating in a global or local context, all participants are bound by their inquisitiveness and desire to be well-equipped to negotiate the various forces at play in shaping the future of their businesses.
As Professor Bach points out, traditional management education has always emphasized how managers need to be fast, how they need to be able to hit the ground running; but as one becomes more senior, it is imperative to know when to apply the brakes or shift or turn around and go in a different direction. The most able managers of the future will be people who possess, along with technical aggression, the judgment to stop, reflect, connect and put things in context. That is what a liberal arts perspective can bring to the MBA.