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 / Summer 2008 / Issue 51(originally published by Booz & Company)


The 21st-Century MBA

The Next Generation
It may be too soon to report on the full impact of the management education transformation, but judging from student input, several things are becoming clear.

First, these changes are all responses to demand from students, alumni, faculty, and practitioners. It is hard to overstate the importance of student demand. Student-run associations that focus on business’s positive role in society, like Columbia’s Social Enterprise program, are growing rapidly. Faculty Director Ray Horton notes that as he has seen an increase in the number of students who identify themselves as interested in social questions, the tenor of the conversation in class sessions has been changing. The MBA association Net Impact — “a global network of leaders who are changing the world through business” — attracted an all-time high of 2,000 current students to its most recent annual conference at Duke University. It decided to expand the membership to include MBA alumni in an effort to build continuity and increase the association’s influence after its members leave school.

Also driving this transformation is a partnership between faculty with new scholarly interests and practitioners with an appetite for creative ideas and new ways to assess them. This appetite is encouraged by a marketplace that is increasingly responsive to environmental concerns and a public sector that is being pushed by the excesses of the previous decades to develop new regulatory mechanisms. More and more, faculty members are fostering and even demanding student projects that focus on social and environmental ventures. Kellie McElhaney of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business debuted such a course at the University of Michigan and took it to Berkeley when she moved there to lead the Center for Responsible Business.

The students who embrace these new curricula are not only intellectually prepared and practically trained but personally empowered to do things differently. For example, a recent report from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute — a pioneering MBA program focused on sustainability — listed numerous part-time students who currently lead sustainability programs for their employers. These employers include a civil engineering and development firm, a major oil company, a leading computer manufacturer, and a large specialty retail chain.

The MBA graduates of these new curricular programs talk about addressing the fundamental problems of business today: balancing short-term pressures against long-term goals, addressing the threat of climate change,  and finding ways to fix an unsustainable health-care system. It is clear that they seek an education that supports their desire to break boundaries and to marry their drive for personal success with a wish to build a better world through business.

The move to a principles-plus-implementation model in business education could lead to a growing cadre of entrepreneurs who are impelled to solve societal problems — for example, water shortages in India or energy needs in Africa — in a way that is both profitable and effective. It could lead to a new cohort of CEOs and CFOs who work together to create persuasive statements of long-term strategy that attract the trust of value-based investors who would like to buy and hold, rather than buy and jump. Or it could mean a new generation of managers who raise questions about the social equity or environmental wisdom of the usual ways of doing things, and who raise those questions in a constructive, open, informed, and practical fashion — who can be nonthreatening in their mode of ex­pression because they themselves are not threatened. At their best, these new business leaders, grounded and trained in a more comprehensive manner than their professional predecessors, may dare to achieve more because their purpose is larger and they have capabilities to match their daring.

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  1. Andrea Gabor, “Lessons for Business Schools,” s+b, Spring 2008: Resources on the history of management education and its relevance to the needs of today’s business environment.
  2. Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly, Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): Illuminates how groups from different sectors working in concert can address problems none of them can solve alone.
  3. Rakesh Khurana, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton University Press, 2007): A Harvard Business School professor’s review of the history and purpose of management education and an outline for reform.
  4. Art Kleiner, “The Thought Leader Interview: Anne-Marie Slaughter,” s+b, Autumn 2007: The dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School on networks and the multisector career path.
  5. James O’Toole, Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership (Ballantine, 1996): Management theorist looks to art, history, and philosophy to demonstrate that values-based leadership is the best way to coax organizational change.
  6. Reggie Van Lee, Lisa Fabish, and Nancy McGaw, “The Value of Corporate Values,” s+b, Summer 2005: Booz Allen Hamilton/Aspen Institute survey of corporate behavior finds that leading companies are crafting purpose-driven identities.
  7. For more business thought leadership, sign up for s+b’s RSS feeds.
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