Journal of Management Development
Emerald Article: Are business schools doing their job?
To cite this document: Katrin Muff, (2012),"Are business schools doing their job?", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 31
Iss: 7 pp. 648 - 662
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Are business schools doing
Business School Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to further the debate on relevance in business education by
sharing one business school’s experiences.
Design/methodology/approach – A qualitative survey was carried out, reviewed by two
independent collaborators. Conclusions drawn from interviews with more than 30 CEOs and HR
Directors, from across all industries, provide findings on how business leaders think about higher
education in business.
Findings – The results highlight their perspective regarding: how academic programs can add real
value in business; what business schools should teach more; and what they should teach less in their
Research limitations/implications – There was a limited sample size of 30 participants. Also.
the research is used as a part of a case study being conducted about Business School Lausanne by
Prof. Dr J.B.M. Kassarjian, Professor in Management at Babson College, Boston, USA.
Practical implications – A detailed account of an ambitious academic revision provides insights
into how entrepreneurship can be applied and lived in the academic world.
Originality/value – This paper examines how a boutique business school in Switzerland has
undertaken a profound program revision based on the input and perspectives of business leaders.
It demonstrates how key learnings from personally-conducted interviews were effectively translated
into the school’s MBA curriculum, thereby transforming not only the program but also the way the
school interacts with program participants.
Keywords Switzerland, Business schools, Curricula, Master of Business Administration,
Business education, Teaching methods, Leadership development, Management skills,
Paper type Research paper
1. Are business schools focussing their teaching on the right things?
Every serious business school seeks to prepare future leaders to deal with the complex
and far-reaching decisions that businesses face. Why then, do so many seem to fail?
Reformers, the critics of the traditional business school model, suggest a range of
answers from inappropriate research (too much scientific rigor instead of practical
relevance) and lack of professional experience of the teaching faculty, to distortions
resulting from an increased focus on ranking criteria. Traditionalists, the defenders of
the existing model, claim on the other hand precisely the opposite. Rather than adding
to the debate, this paper seeks to develop a constructive response to the challenge
of how to best prepare future leaders. A response based on the specific approach and
experience by one business school, Business School Lausanne (BSL).
The arguments of reformers and critics center around two fundamental questions:
what should be taught in business schools? And by whom should it be taught? Critics
of the traditional business school model suggest that the curriculum taught in business
schools is only weakly related to what is important for succeeding in business
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received May 2010
Revised October 2010
Accepted October 2010
Journal of Management Development
Vol. 31 No. 7, 2012
r Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The author wishes to thank Thomas Dyllick for his very helpful comments and insights during
the various stages of this article, but most particularly in the final draft.
(Pfeffer and Fong, 2002). A Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey
reveals that graduating students see little connection between “what is important to
succeed in business and what is taught in business schools”. Another GMAC survey
highlighted a perceived weakness in personal skills (Jenkins and Reizenstein, 1984),
later confirmed by many critics who felt that quantitatively based analytical
techniques received too much attention, while there was too little attention given to
developing leadership and interpersonal skills, as well as to communication skills
(Porter and McKibbin, 1988). Mintzberg (2004) claims that “conventional MBA
programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.”
He asserts that MBA programs produce functional specialists instead of true
Traditionalists point to the crucial role of defending management scholarship as a
basis for evidence-based teaching. They state that the postwar success of business
schools is largely due to the abandonment of the highly “relevant” but academically
bankrupt “trade school” model in the 1950s with business schools moving toward a
scientific model (Khurana, 2007). Those who believe that the theoretically rigorous
scholarship has propelled business schools to new heights in the late twentieth century,
also claim that scholars do not need to feel ashamed about the alleged irrelevance of
their scholarship (Peng and Dess, 2010). They are concerned that business schools
are transformed into glorified vocational training schools (DeAngelo et al., 2005) and
that “enslavement to relevance is in danger of reducing our independence” (Knights,
2008), highlighting that this does not mean that management scholars do not care for
practice (Walsh et al., 2007).
As such, defenders of the traditional business school model suggest that inside the
“ivory tower,” scholars, by definition, are not supposed to be relevant (Kieser and
Leiner, 2009; March and Reed, 2000). They claim that criticizing scholarship for being
flawed because it is irrelevant reflects a lack of awareness of the nature of scholarship.
They stress that superb scholarship leads to higher institutional prestige (Becker et al.,
2003) which has shown to be associated with higher annual starting salaries of
graduates (Mitra and Golder, 2008). But again, higher salaries must not be mixed-up
with effective learning.
Meanwhile, most reform-oriented business schools agree that effective management
education consists of teaching business students relevant skills for their future
management positions. Cabrera (2003) points out that managers must be able to look
for collaborative solutions and then implement them in socially complex environments.
Traditionalists remind us that experienced students in executive education are able to
examine their assumptions and develop a “complicated understanding” rather than
a single “right answer” thanks to being exposed to rigorous theoretical arguments
(Peng and Dess, 2010).
The second question relates to who should be doing the teaching? Many business
schools have integrated experienced professionals to assure that teaching is relevant
and experience is transformed into learning. Traditionalists argue that they “study
managers like a zoologist might study mountain gorillas” where “you do not have to
have been a gorilla yourself to understand them” (Vermeulen, 2007). Reformers, on the
other hand, would be more inclined to assume that gorillas are best equipped “to show
other gorillas how to peel a banana.” This paper reflects the reformers point of view,
claiming that an MBA should be more about the practice of management rather than
the functions of business (Gosling and Mintzberg, 2004). Practical experience shows
that communication skills, leadership, interpersonal skills and wisdom – “the ability to
weave together and make use of different kinds of knowledge” (Mintzberg and Gosling,
2002) – are much more difficult to teach than theory and analytical techniques (indeed,
part of the problem seems to be the method of instruction applied by business schools).
Experiential learning, where concrete experience serves as the basis for observation
and reflection, may be critical to advance effective learning about management
2. Research methodology
Two core questions will be addressed in this paper:
(1) What skills add most value to an organization?
(2) How can soft skills be taught in an MBA program?
In order to find out what skills add most value to an organization, we interviewed
managers from large Swiss and international companies. The research methodology
will be explained in this chapter, while the results will be reported in chapter 3.
In chapter 4 the second question will be answered by demonstrating how the results
from the interview study were put into practice at BSL.
There are various stakeholders determining when a business school education is
relevant. There has been much emphasis in studying the expectations of students
pursuing an MBA (Rapert et al., 2004) and how an MBA lives up to student
expectations. At BSL we undertook a broad survey of business leaders both of
organizations that employed our students as well as organizations in the highly
international “local community” focussing on:
(1) CEOs and general managers of MNCs and SMEs in order to establish
what skills add most value to organizations from the leader’s perspective;
(2) human resource directors of MNCs and SMEs across all industries to
understand what skills and competences were taken into account when hiring
How did we go about our study?
(1) We contacted 67 companies representing eight industries spanning from
production to service and consulting in order to ensure a broad
(2) We subsequently conducted 34 interviews representing those executives who
responded positively to being interviewed of the 67 companies contacted
without having been re-contacted in a follow-up. The respondents represented
a naturally balanced mix of CEOs and HR directors across all industries. As
a result, we refrained from doing follow-ups with the companies contacted
originally. The interviews were set up either in person or by phone, with the
interviewer asking the precise same three questions, noting down the answers
in a pre-designed notebook (follow-on questions were restricted to clarify the
answers to avoid miss-interpretation of the answers):
What are key factors enabling an individual to succeed in today’s business
Given these factors, what is important to be taught in an MBA program?
And what should not be taught in an MBA program?
(3) The author who served as interviewer transcribed the answers in a tailor-made
database, replacing company names, industry sectors and job positions with
codes to assure a maximum of objectivity in the data analysis.
(4) To assure objectivity in the analysis, two collaborators who had not been
involved in the interviewing process undertook the review of the collected data as
well as the analysis:
In a first step, both collaborators analyzed the collected data in its entirety,
i.e. reviewing and obtaining trends by
organizing the obtained responses in order of priority for each of the
counting the number of occurrences of all responses taking into
account the indicated sequence of priority, adding up to a list of
responses prioritized among the entire sample group for each question;
highlighting the resulting outcomes by questions for the entire sample
In a second step, the collaborators reviewed and analyzed the data
separately once more by focussing on the two different perspectives of the
Collaborator A reviewed all interviews from an industry perspective,
separating the data by the eight industries looked at; and
Collaborator B reviewed all interviews from the job position perspective,
separating the data from CEOs and HR directors.
(5) Once the three data sets were available (total sample, industry sample and job
position sample), the reviewed and analyzed data were formatted into the tables
used in this paper and handed back to the author.
(6) The author subsequently obtained consent validation of the interviewees
by providing each of them with the relevant data set developed by the two
collaborators, asking them to advise if or not they felt appropriately presented in
the data analysis.
(7) The author then generalized the findings the way they are presented in this and
the following chapters, grouped into three sections:
summary review of responses covered in Section 3;
survey Question 1 covered in Section 4; and
survey Questions 2 and 3 covered in Section 5.
(8) Based on the survey results, on existing research as well as the combined
experience of the existing BSL MBA program (originally created in 1987) faculty,
a faculty committee in charge of remodeling the BSL MBA established three key
competences around which the new BSL MBA was to be designed. Each module
needed to be redesigned from scratch to ensure that the key competences were
adequately and appropriately addressed in each module (see Section 5).
3. Summary review of survey responses
We had initially contacted 76 executives in 67 companies, equally split between CEOs
and HR directors, across eight industries (see Table I). Of these contacts, 34 executives
(16 CEOs and 14 HR directors) responded without further follow-up, and interviews
were set up subsequently (for an overview, see Table I).
The 34 interviews were equally spread across the eight industries (mostly four to
five interviewees per industry, in two cases only three, in case six interviewees). For a
detailed overview, see Table II:
The response of the interviewed executives was surprisingly positive:
rapid response: within five business days, 28 (25 percent contacted) business
leaders had responded with an interest to schedule a meeting in person; and
high interest across all industries: executives from large multinationals (e.g.
Dr Daniel Vasella, CEO of Novartis) participated, from medium-sized companies
(e.g. Mr Benoı
t Barbiche, HR Director of Medtronic) as well as from traditional
Swiss companies (e.g. Mr Guy Vibourel, General Manager Migros Geneva)
coming from very different industries. The list of companies interviewed can
be found in the Appendix. Their distribution by industry can be seen in Figure 1.
The company response rate of 51 percent proved significantly above expectations and
may be taken as an indication of how important business leaders consider the topic of
higher business education.
Though the sample size (34 interviews) does not allow statistically relevant
conclusions for generalizations, the results may be taken as original insights based
on qualitative research they provide interesting perspectives for the community of
higher business education. After clarifying the questions, respondents were free to
answer each question from their own perspective.
4. What skills add the most value to an organization?
During the Centennial Global Business Summit of Harvard Business School, Garvin
and Datar (2008) highlighted in their session on the changing MBA an over-emphasis
on analytics across all programs studied. “Often the education provided is seen as
highly academic but with limited value in practice, driven by academic agendas
rather than real-life issues.” They pointed out that recruiters and employers want
more emphasis on practical issues and skills, such as: “leadership, communication
skills, problem identification in ambiguous environments and self-awareness.” The
question is, does this reflect in the results of our own study? What did we find with
regard to our first question.
Industry Contacted Interviewed Response rate (%)
Consumer goods 10 5 50
Chemical and pharma 9 6 67
Consulting and services 9 3 33
Engineering 9 3 33
IT and technology 9 4 44
Industrial 8 4 50
Banking and insurance 7 4 57
Food products and distribution 6 5 83
Total 67 34 51
Overview of interviewed
vs contacted companies
Survey Question 1: what key factors enable an individual to succeed in today’s
Across all industries, it can be concluded that technical skills are considered to be less
important than people skills and personal attitude in the workplace. More emphasis
needs to be given to teamwork and practice than to theory, using less buzz words and
ready-made solutions. Companies seek generalists with good thinking abilities rather
than full heads. They expect and seek employees dedicated to professional
# Industry Company
1 Banking and insurance Banque Cantonale Vaudoise
2 Banking and insurance J.P. Morgan (Suisse) SA
3 Banking and insurance UBS SA Sie
gional de Nyon
4 Banking and insurance Allianz Suisse
5 Chemical and pharma AstraZeneca
6 Chemical and pharma Novartis International AG
7 Chemical and pharma Ferring International
8 Chemical and pharma Kaz Europe SA
9 Chemical and pharma Novartis International AG
10 Chemical & Pharma Novartis Switzerland
11 Consulting and services Ernst & Young AG
12 Consulting and services PriceWaterhouseCoopers
13 Consulting and services Edipresse Publications SA
14 Consumer goods Bulgari SpA
15 Consumer goods Bulgari SpA
16 Consumer goods Johnson & Johnson
17 Consumer goods Nestle
18 Consumer goods Nestle
19 Engineering Siemens Schweiz AG
20 Engineering Bobst SA
21 Engineering Kudelski SA
22 Food products and
23 Food products and
Starbucks Coffee Trading
24 Food products and
Cadbury Europe SA
25 Food products and
Coop – Re
gion Suisse romande
26 Food products and
27 Industrial ABB Switzerland Ltd
28 Industrial BP
29 Industrial Alcoa Europe SA
30 Industrial Vibro-Meter SA
31 IT and technology IBM Suisse SA
32 IT and technology Sun Microsystems (Suisse) SA
33 IT and technology Hewlett-Packard (Suisse) Sa
34 IT and technology Medtronic Europe SA
Overview of interviewed
executives by industry
Key success factors mentioned by business leaders are very similar despite the
different fields of economic activity (see Table III). The emphasis is predominantly
placed on soft skills. Humility and humanity were mentioned as critical success factors
and less arrogance would certainly contribute to doing a better job. In conclusion,
business leaders across all industries pointed out that teamwork, soft skills, leadership,
honesty, communications skills, flexibility, creativity, motivation, being a team-player
and managerial skills are key factors enabling an individual to succeed in business
(total number: 34 interviews)
Chemical and pharma
Consulting and services
IT and technology
Banking and insurance
Food products and
What are the key factors enabling an individual to succeed in today’s business
Getting the bigger picture, self-confidence, focus and motivation, teamwork,
charisma, communication, entrepreneurship, open mind, flexibility, technical
skills, can do attitude, rigor, management skills
Soft skills, ambition, integrity, entrepreneurial thinking, long-term
perspective, respect, honesty, flexibility, multicultural approach, the right
Communication, creativity, motivation, getting things done, delegation
Consumer goods Shared values, passion, authenticity, communication, flexibility, common
sense, soft skills, creativity, integrity, leadership, management skills
Engineering Analytical mind, focus on implementation, calm, seeing the larger picture,
communication, creativity, teamwork, leadership, ability to deal with people
Entrepreneurship, long-term view, communication skills, leadership and
management, integrated view, taking risk, authentic behavior
Industrial Honesty, motivation, leadership, creativity, entrepreneurial thinking,
flexibility, open mind, risk management
Adaptability, confidence, strategic thinking, fact-based decisions, soft skills,
open mind, motivation, being a team player, communication skills
Conclusions Teamwork, soft skills, leadership, honesty, communications skills, flexibility,
creativity, motivation, being a team-player, managerial skills
Key factors of individual
success in organizations:
The importance of soft skills and leadership skills as compared to functional skills
is further highlighted when analyzing the survey results by job position:
A total of 92 percent of CEOs and 81 percent of HR directors consider soft
skills as being of prime importance in succeeding in business today. While
functional knowledge was considered to be an important foundation, soft skills
and getting the big picture are more critical the higher up someone moves in
an organization. Irrespective of the managerial responsibilities, soft skills are
what make the real difference. Or, in the words of an interviewee: “A person
differentiates himself through soft skills and his attitude” and “The HOW is all
Only 27 percent of CEOs and 0 percent of HR directors consider functional
knowledge (i.e. marketing, finance, etc.) as critical when evaluating how one
adds value to an organization. While it can be assumed that subject knowledge
can be taken for granted, some executives were very clear about the difference
in importance: “Hard skills are easier to learn than soft skills and attitude,” or
“Subject knowledge is good for many, but not for leaders,” and “Hard skills can
be more easily learned through books.”
Four broad areas of individual success can be extracted from the interviews:
(1) Entrepreneurial attitude: CEOs (with exception of the banking and insurance
sector) are particularly clear in demanding “people who are entrepreneurs.”
A total of 77 percent of CEOs and 44 percent of HR directors consider it
essential that a person has an entrepreneurial attitude (i.e. the ability to make
something happen, a “can-do” attitude, a willingness to build things, the ability
to get things done).
(2) Authentic communication: 54 percent of CEOs and 63 percent of HR directors
consider an authentic communication as being essential and expressed this
with statements such as: “honesty is the foundation of all collaboration,”
“above all outstanding listening skills,” “ability to communicate effectively,”
“to be authentic, to be real,” “behavioral competences are key,” “a collaboration
(3) Capacity to step back and get the big picture: 38 percent of both CEOs and HR
directors highlighted this skill, supported with statements such as: “ability
to step back from one’s function and adopt a generalist perspective,” “the
higher you move up [y] what matters is the ability to get the big picture.”
(4) Flexibility and adaptability to change: 31 percent of CEOs and 38 percent of
HR directors pointed out this competence with statements such as: “the lack of
flexibility is the major reason for dysfunctional organizations,” “flexibility
and adaptability is key,” “the flexibility and adaptability to deal with
Other important statements can be grouped into two further areas:
Learning attitude: derived from statements concerning “an open mind,” “an open
mind and willingness to question oneself,” “ability to be open and learn,”
“willingness to be criticized, to advance and to improve.” The call for skills in
developing others, in talent management is connected with this demand for
People management skills: derived from statements relating to “sensitivity to
make the chemistry work,” “ability to motivate and energize others,” “be a role
model,” “empathy, social skills,” “ability to deal with a crisis in a calm and
reflective manner,” “charisma,” “self confidence without being arrogant.”
The explicit focus on entrepreneurial abilities across most businesses is an emerging
factor in Europe. Traditionally, entrepreneurs were considered as highly individualistic
personalities that did not necessarily fit well into a corporate environment.
5. How can soft skills be taught in an MBA program?
Garth Saloner (2010), Dean of Stanford University’s Business School, revealed in a
recent interview that “soft skills or people skills are in short supply in managers who
employers want to rise to the most important and significant ranks in their companies.”
He describes the “harder skills” of finance, etc. as “kind of hygiene factors everybody
ought to know”; pointing out that those skill sets are widely available without much
differentiation across different providers. But companies are looking for judgment in
managers and the ability to really do critical thinking.
Survey Questions 2 and 3: what should be taught more/less in business schools?
Quite logically, the emphasis on soft skills appears again when CEOs and HR directors
are asked what should be taught in an MBA program (Table IV). Also, the current
difficult economic situation triggered a need for crisis management and the need for
innovation. These concerns are shared by representatives from all economic sectors.
And, if asked what should be taught less in MBA programs, they mention “less ready-
made answers” which are the opposite of creative thinking. Demanding technical
skills and sophisticated tools should not be taught either, according to the panel of
What is important to be taught in an MBA program?
Soft skills, presentation skills, leadership and management skills, humility,
stress resistance, a generalist perspective
Soft skills, case studies, strategic thinking, leadership skills, emotional
intelligence, implementation skills, cultural sensitivity, strategy, teamwork,
Soft skills, communication skills, personal skills, business skills, emotional
intelligence, decision making, ability to step back, functional skills, crisis
management, customer intimacy, hard work, delegation, public relation skills
Consumer goods Ability to keep things simple (keep it simple stupid), practical experience,
personal skills, case studies, functional skills
Engineering Leadership and emotional intelligence, fast decision making, strategy,
communication, finance, accountability, business planning
Food products and
Generalist perspective, teamwork, values, open mind and confidence,
humility, adaptability, sensitivity to culture, crisis management, historical
perspective, finance, curiosity, analysis
Industrial Soft skills, strategy, functional skills, teamwork, realism, to question oneself
IT and technology Long-term view, cultural sensitivity, leadership, role play, project
management, execution, decision making, governance
Conclusions Teamwork, leadership, emotional intelligence, case studies, financials,
business planning, project management, strategy, management, stress
management, cultural sensitivity
Important topics to be
taught in an MBA
The demand to teach more soft skills is accompanied by the respective request to teach
less technical or functional skills (Table V).
Leading business schools agree that there are a set of leadership skills that can be
taught. However, “they have to be taught experientially, this is not something you can
lecture about” (Saloner, 2010). Executives seem to notice a certain dilemma, as was
expressed by an HR director in the pharmaceutical industry: “It seems difficult to hire
top academics that possess excellent soft skills – there seems to be a trade-off.”
After reflecting of the above-stated research conclusions, a detailed review of the
existing MBA program as well as the accumulated experience of the team, the faculty
committee in charge of the new BSL MBA determined three key competences the new
program would have to seek to develop in its future MBA graduates:
(1) Enabling critical and pragmatic thinking: including the ability to grasp the
bigger picture and to remain calm under pressure while being able to deal with
insufficient and limited information.
(2) Developing leadership skills: effective self-management, the ability to deal
with uncertainty and being flexible and adaptable to change, to communicate
(3) Developing management skills: to bring out the best in team-members, to lead
change and to achieve sustainable results.
The following present an overview of the innovative approaches BSL took to ensure an
effective learning environment for soft skills.
Enabling cri tical and pragmatic thinking
(1) Integrative business simulation: the applied entrepreneurship course seeks to
integrate all foundation courses (both hard and soft skills) and divides the
class into teams of three to four students who run a business simulation in
competition with other teams during three intense, long days. Originally
developed for in-company management training, the model includes a variety
of external and internal factors triggering unexpected situations, high stress
levels and the pressure of insufficient information. The course grade includes
not only the final business result but also the effectiveness of the team’s
performance as well as individual feedback to each participant.
What should be taught less in an MBA program?
Accounting and macroeconomics, complexity in case studies
Old case studies, ready-made solutions, not too much basics
Demanding technical skills, hard skills
Consumer goods Arrogance, too many technical skills
Engineering Not too technical
Food products and
Not too technical, arrogance, ready-made answers, less buzz words, less
theory, more practice
Industrial Less technical skills, do not create loners
IT and technology Less technical skills
Conclusion Less technical skills and more soft skills
Topics that should be
taught less in an MBA
(2) Coaching support during consulting project: the consulting track was
reinforced with a six-month coaching process, enabling participants to step
back from their day-to-day concern and reflect on and review on their issues,
challenges and progress in a structured manner. The class was through the
entire process from planning, strategy, marketing/positioning, HR and
operational considerations, financial and funding issues to the elevator
pitch and final presentation training. Participants met every three weeks
with a coach enabling each participant to compare his/her own progress
with issues of other participants, therefore learning to stumble forward
together, helping each other along the way without knowing the next hurdle
(3) Integrated guest speakers from industry: 10-15 percent of total time in class
is dedicated to having medium to top-level business executives joining each
single course module and enriching a topic with their real-life experience,
bringing in concrete examples of what is being discussed in class.
(4) Assuming program responsibility: the faculty collaborates with participants in
designing upcoming elective courses challenging them to become active
players in their own education, reflecting on what they need to know in order to
be equipped for their own future.
Developing leadership skills
(1) Effective self-management: the very first module in the program sets the
stage: all change and progress starts with oneself. Participants reflect and
write up their personal issues regarding their ability to succeed based on their
personal and professional life. They reflect on common factors that prevent
them from succeeding. The professors act as facilitators and coaches enabling
participants to discover limiting behavioral and belief patterns, clarifying how
action, feelings and thoughts are co-related and how to break patterns with
simple tools that are applied in class and exercised outside the classroom
instantly after and between classes. The post-course assignment focusses on
how participants can apply what they have learned in at least three concrete
domains, which they subsequently report on.
(2) Advanced communication skills: the course starts with identifying each
participant’s preferred communication style as a way to experience first-hand
the different communication styles. Participants learn that the only thing
that matters is the ability to adapt to the style of the person they wish to
communicate with. In a series of experiential exercises, the class discovers that
it is possible to alter one’s style. The learning is both visual and profound, the
tone light and fun, and the results are applied in and around the school
(3) Flexibility to change: adapting a term structure to a modular three-day course
structure enabled BSL to open their MBA modules to external participants.
Creating a constantly changing class environment was the most effective way
to ensure that at the end of the program, MBA participants would thoroughly
accustom to what it means to constantly adapt to change. Business leaders had
requested this possibility and not only local managers but managers from all
over the globe have been joining the modules.
(4) Empowering your future: a career coach spends the last six months with the
MBA class working on each participant’s inherent and developed strengths,
aligning their talents with a clear understanding of how each of them wants
to add value in the future and make a relevant contribution to today’s
world. While some graduates put monetary objectives first, most agree that
compensation is a result not a goal. Many graduates engage in powerful social
and entrepreneurial activities, aligning their newly gained skills to serve their
broader professional vision.
Developing management skills
(1) Advanced teamwork and collaboration skills: the module includes an open
class project that must benefit all participants. One MBA class took this as a
challenge to achieve a certain level of class grades, rather than focussing on
individual grades only. This resulted in support teams and a total change in
attitude toward one another’s.
(2) Leading by example: in the program kick-off session, faculty and participants
jointly develop and subsequently share their personal development goals for
the coming six months. BSL created a collaborative rather than a hierarchical
environment in the school.
(3) Managing the consulting project: having to manage ongoing, unanticipated
change within a company and its environment while having to comply with
BSL’s rigid requirements and deadlines poses a real and significant challenge
to each student. Bridging needs of different “clients” while maintaining the
overall plan, communicating effectively while knowing how to get things done
in unknown circumstances is reported the most effective learning experience
overall in the program.
(4) Time management: BSL established a challenging modular structure, whereby
each course consists of a pre-course and a post-course element for each
participant to complete against a strict deadline. As the program unrolls, the
complexity of submission deadlines exerts increasing pressure on students
who can only manage the program by becoming outstanding in handling time
and pressure while prioritizing their work.
6. Early results and conclusions
Since BSL’s new MBA program introduction in September 2009, first insights have
been gathered regarding its effectiveness. The consulting project is critical for us to
measure to what degree MBAs have improved their skills. Project collaborators,
advisers, coaches and faculty involved in the five-month consulting projects observed
Significant improvement in participants’ leadership and management
capabilities throughout the five-month consulting process.
An increased ability to adapt to change, to identify solutions when unforeseeable
obstacles arose and to assume responsibility for the project’s overall success.
This is measured by the ability to think on one’s feet, to adapt to changing
circumstances, taking into account input from a variety of disciplines all the
while leading this project to ensure that all intermediary submission and review
deadlines are met. These are considered key benefits participants gain from this
More maturity in handling questions during the project defense in front of a jury,
including the ability to adapt their perspective to a different point of view and, as
clearly observed, the ability to adapt their communication style to the examiners
Excellent time management in being able to secure consulting projects world-
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Appendix. List of companies interviewed
About the author
Katrin Muff is Dean at Business School Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland. She serves as
program director of the MBA program. She was appointed Dean in 2008 after completing her
DBA in Business Administration from the University of Mannheim and BSL. Serving as Dean,
she ensures real-life business direction at BSL by merging her entrepreneurial and corporate
background with the academic world by centering her activities on assuring that students and
course participants get the best business education possible. In 2000, she co-founded Yupango, a
coaching consultancy dedicated to developing start-up companies and training management
teams. Prior to that, she was Director, Strategic Planning EMEA of IAMS Pet Food, a division of
Procter & Gamble, in the Netherlands. Throughout the 1990s, she held several positions for
ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America), working in Moscow, Russia as General Manager for
Building Systems International, in the USA as an Industry Analyst for Global Mergers &
Acquisitions and in Switzerland as a Business Analyst for Europe. A Swiss native, she began her
career with Schindler Lifts in Lucerne, then in Australia, and holds both a Master’s and
Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Business School Lausanne. She is a speaker at
international conferences on the topics of leadership in business, executive coaching, developing
future leaders and sustainable entrepreneurship. At BSL, she is responsible for all academic
programs, spearheads the doctorate program and co-teaches the entrepreneurship track of the
MBA & EMBA programs. Katrin Muff can be contacted at: email@example.com
ABB J.P. Morgan
Alcoa Johnson & Johnson
Allianz Kaz Europe
Ernst & Young Starbucks
Ferring Sun Microsystems
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