Monday, March 16, 2009

New York Times -- Retraining B-Schools

In a recent article in the New York Times, "Is it Time to Retrain B-Schools?" it is argued that business schools need to seriously reexamine their curricula and foci. Clearly, this stems from the economic/financial collapse and the reexamination of important values, social issues, as well as, ethics. The article also emphasizes the need for business education to promote "relevance." I must say that it was precisely "relevance" that attracted me to be an academic at a university-based business school, since I recognized that in business research and education interdisciplinarity is essential. The NYTimes article also appears to criticize "technical" approaches to business problem-solving and perhaps that is a misunderstanding -- business problems can gain an immense amount of insights from technical approaches but these require appropriate methods and methodologies and not just a quick and simple approach. Hence, business scholarship and research are ever more important today as is the education and mentoring of PhD students in business. The article also goes on to highlight that B-schools should be emphasizing environmental research. We have been doing that since the early 1990s! For some articles on supply chains, risk management, and environmental issues, we refer you to the publications page of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks.

As for societal relevance, let me add the following. Last year I had the distinct honor and privilege of convening the conference, "Humanitarian Logistics: Networks for Africa," under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller Foundation and its Bellagio Center Program. The conference took place May 5-9, 2008 at the Foundation's Center on Lake Como, Italy. You may ask, what is the relevance of a B-school professor being engaged in such an activity? It was a high-risk endeavor but life and research-transforming. I brought together researchers and practitioners in humanitarian logistics and members of NGOs and the United Nation's International Telecommunication Union. Invited speakers were from the continents of Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. The logistics of getting the speakers together, in itself, was a challenge, due to visa issues, for example, of several African conferees. And then, Cyclone Nargis hit in Myanmar/Burma, and our representative from the World Food Program had to be rerouted but, nevertheless, relayed information to us from the field! The faculty at the conference included faculty from top B-schools in Europe as well as from top engineering schools in the US. The insights and experiences of our African scholars and practitioners provided a serious reality check for all.

No conference that I have participated in to-date moved me more nor challenged me more. By the end, we all recognized that different perspectives to pressing issues of humanitarian logistics, both quantitative as well as qualitative, are essential, with lessons learned and best practices obtained from experiences in the field. The approaches to resolving problems in humanitarian logistics are years behind those in corporate settings, especially regarding supply chains. Where, however, is the risk higher or the uncertainty greater than in humanitarian logistics while the need to provide essential services and provisions the greatest? Where is the need for cooperation greater? Where is the need for forecasting events greater than in those scenarios that affect humans' lives and the fundamental resources and infrastructure?

So I say back to the New York Times, look more deeply, and you will see that some of the toughest problems surrounding humanity and the new world order are being recognized and studied in B-schools!