• Learning

Collaboration: New Models in Executive Education

Impressions, insights and takeaways from Day Three of UNICON’s Directors’ Conference 2021 hosted by Fundação Dom Cabral (FDC)


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This is Part Three in a three-article series documenting UNICON's Directors' conference 2021, with Parts One and Two found here.

While the first two days of the 2021 UNICON Directors’ conference concentrated on the supply and demand sides of executive education respectively, Day 3 saw an exploration into new ways of fostering collaboration between those two sides, and with outside stakeholders too.

Sessions titled: ‘Voices from Competition’—highlighting opportunities for collaboration outside the immediate business school sector; ‘Growing the Pie’—looking at collaboration between business schools; and ‘The CEO Legacy’—on collaboration between business schools and their clients to meet greater societal goals. Each session furthering the debate on collaboration in a different way.

FDC’s Professor Ken Bardach chairs ‘Voices from Competition’, setting out to improve understanding of the current competitor landscape and prompt attendees to think closely about the role of university-based business schools within that landscape, which has evolved in recent times.

One such area of market evolution has been the rise of online asynchronous learning and the arrival therewith of new competitors ‘on the scene’. Ashley Williams, CEO and CLO at Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning sees this competition as natural, and certainly nothing for business schools to ‘fear’. “Looking at this competitive landscape,” she explains, “some universities could be saying, ‘Wow look at all these new competitors, isn’t it a little bit scary?’—but the reality is that the market for L&D in the world is anywhere between $100-$300 billion. If we, as university-based business schools, capture just 1% more of the market, that alone is a billion dollars of opportunity.”

By all accounts, the ‘pie’ of L&D spending is growing further still. “In McKinsey’s recent capability survey over 78% of respondents said it was either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important to invest in capability building and learning—and that those companies were going to invest more, not less,” notes Williams.

Williams submits it is natural that growth like this will, “attract new competitors and different value propositions.” Adding, “For me it is about how do we all play, and how do we play together,”—a fitting sentiment for the day’s agenda: collaboration.

CEO and Founder of Leaders’ Quest, Lindsay Levin, shares her perspective and insight as a non-business school provider of high-end executive learning—and an apt example of the ‘different value propositions’ that Williams raises above. For Levin, Leaders’ Quest is about, “scaling wisdom—giving people very powerful experiences, and helping them make sense of those experiences, such that they come out the other side ‘knowing things you can’t unknow’—deep, new insight that changes who you are and how you see the world.”

Leaders’ Quest develops experiential leadership programs called ‘quests,’ as Levin explains. “The world is our classroom,” she says of a model that has ‘no fixed base’, allowing participants to “meet people from all walks of life—from business people, entrepreneurs, innovators, academics, and scientists—but also to learn from people at the hardest edges of society, working with seriously excluded minorities and people working on the toughest issues of health, poverty, exclusion, incarcerated people, homeless people.”

Common feedback for Levin to receive of these programs—but extraordinary feedback to receive more generally—is that these quests are ‘life-changing’. Specifically, life-changing in the way they offer a deep introspection that stems from sharing an encounter with someone that a participant would never ordinarily meet, with lives so different to their own.

For Ashley Williams there is a range of shifts happening in the sector that are ripe for exploration by university-based business schools—for growth potential, and collaboration potential too. The first such shift she describes is the shift “away from the old definitions of executive education”—once reserved for the very top of the ‘pyramid’ (in old organizational terms) and therefore with a strong focus on leadership programs. For Williams the new definition of executive education is about going deeper into the layers of an organization, where leadership still plays an incredibly important part, but so too do the evolving ‘hard skillsets’, and how they interplay with leadership issues.

Another shift of note to Williams, and an area of potential growth for business education, is the increasing demand for lifelong learning. “What are the implications for executive education of true lifelong learning—learning across different life stages? When and how do we need to learn, and how are our value propositions changing in response to that?”

Previously Global CLO of McKinsey Academy, Williams offers valuable insight into large professional services firms and what they bring to the competitor landscape. “For these firms, capability building is at the heart of everything they do. Their entry into the market was never seen by them as a big, new step. It is something they would say they have always done.”

Williams describes the large professional services firms as ‘content development factories’—"knowledge is coming out at a very rapid rate, and it is credible knowledge,” she says. Crucially, Williams recognizes that the “pace, relevance and immediate business application,” of this knowledge can be viewed as even more relevant than that of the business schools.

Equally though, Williams sees the power and rigour of university-based research as a point of competitive advantage in favour of the business schools—and one that could and should be leveraged more than it currently is. “How do we increase the speed of thought leadership development?” she urges, flagging this as a possible area for business schools to explore forming partnerships.

Williams sees credentialling as another area of opportunity for business schools. “What is our role in the non-degree credentials marketplace? How do we take advantage of the market positioning of universities?” she asks, adding, “I believe there is tremendous power in the credentialling space for university-based business schools.”

Deborah Toledo, Head of HR at UBS Brazil, offers a perspective from elsewhere in the business education landscape—that of the corporate university. “What we have at UBS is a very powerful tool—the UBS university. It is presented to employees mainly online, and we use it for developing and training people—but it is more than that. It is also a culture driver, a culture changer, and a culture representative.”

“There is less use of in-person classrooms than there used to be,” she explains, while noting that this pre-dates COVID-19. “This was done in parallel with the digitization of the business. As a culture driver, if we want to be more digital across all areas of our business, we needed to ‘walk the talk’ on digital transformation.”

Collaboration is a key component of a successful model at the UBS University. Toledo explains, “We do not work alone. We have programs designed and delivered in partnership with many other consultants and business schools of various sizes. However, delivery to the employee is seamless—you always see UBS.”

FDC’s Professor Heiko Spitzeck chaired a creative session on ‘Growing the Pie’, where he encouraged a “rethinking of value creation amongst business schools.” Specifically, Professor Spitzeck urged business schools to employ entrepreneurial thinking and conceive of new and novel arrangements in the sector; co-creation, partnerships, and other forms of collaboration that could ‘grow the pie’ for those involved.

Spitzeck presented a ‘pitching session’ of the kind seen on TV’s ‘Shark Tank’ or ‘Dragon’s Den’. Four speakers—each with their own ‘new and novel’ initiative in the sector to relay—were given three minutes each to ‘pitch’ the audience for the investment of their attention. Rather than being assigned to a breakout room, conference participants would choose which discussion appealed most to them.

One pitch was from the FOME (Future of Management Education) Alliance, presented by Anne Swanberg of BI Norwegian Business School and Nick Barniville of ESMT Berlin’s EdTech Lab. FOME is a global alliance of management and business schools that pools resources and expertise to further excellence in online education. As Barniville says, the alliance takes a “workgroup driven approach,” and “as opposed to being a prestige alliance, it is rather one based on creating tangible value for our members schools and in online education more generally.” Here is a strong example of co-creating value in an innovative way, through an eco-system within the wider business education sector, that is ‘growing the pie’ in a real way for multiple stakeholders.

A pitch from Devin Bigoness, Director of Custom Live Corporate Programs at Cornell University, discussed the topic of university integration—based on his experience integrating a new area of the university, ‘Cornell External Education’.  “How do we tap into that broader university footprint which business schools are a part of?” says Bigoness.

As one attendee put it, the session offered, “Ideas on how I might reach out to certain schools, whether it’s engineering, computer science, or law—and see how we might formally create some collaborative integration with the deans of different schools and build new custom programs together.”

Dr. Jay Stowsky and Professor Mark Rittenberg of the Haas School of Business’ summarized their topic neatly in an elevator pitch: “How did the Haas School of Business quadruple the size of its executive education unit in ten years, and more than quadruple the contribution of executive education to the school’s bottom-line?” This was, unsurprisingly, a popular story to hear and understand.

Dr. Stowsky described how Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School from 2008 to 2018, embarked on a strategy, “based on leveraging the unique culture of the school and turning that into a fully integrated leadership brand.” That brand was based on “shared behavioural norms,” already well-known to Berkeley faculty and alum, but that needed articulating and codifying, ultimately into a set of ‘Defining Leadership Principles.’ Those were, and remain today: ‘Question the status quo’, ‘Confidence without attitude’, ‘Students always’, and ‘Beyond yourself’.

The results of Lyons’ brand-driven competitive strategy, as witnessed by the growth outlined in Stowsky’s elevator pitch, was the creation of a unique selling proposition for Haas—and as Stowsky says, “a fully integrated brand, based on something very deep, very real, and very unique about UC Berkeley and the Hass School’s culture.”

In a fitting conclusion to the day, and to the conference as a whole, the final session opens up to a broader view of collaboration, around the relationship between organizations, business schools, and wider society—and the role of the CEO within that.

Dean of FDC, Professor Antonio Batista da Silva Junior, created The CEO’s Legacy initiative following his decision five years ago to visit senior leaders and CEOs of large companies based in Brazil, holding conversations with over 250 leaders, listening to their pains and needs, challenges, and hopes. These conversations highlighted for Dean Batista a paradox that would spark the conception of The CEO’s Legacy initiative. This is the paradox between the amazing human progress made in recent history—powered in many ways by business—and the problems that persist, in spite of that progress, of conflict, intolerance, and social inequality, all at levels that are “simply unacceptable,” as Dean Batista remarks.

“The problem is not the obstacles,” he says, “Humanity has always overcome obstacles. The problem is hopelessness, distrust, disillusionment—all of which leads to chronic inaction.”

To combat this inaction as well as its root causes the Dean sees that, “We need new leaders—political leaders, social leaders, business leaders. We need people who are willing to undertake and engage without losing their ethics and be able to give meaning and create purpose for people. We have never had a greater need for this in Brazil—for collaborative leaders capable of building a new, inclusive and sustainable world.”

The CEO’s Legacy initiative currently comprises 35 CEOs and takes the form of a dynamic, co-constructed partnership. Together they explore this need that Dean Batista articulates, to “balance performance with progress.” Their mission is to inspire and mobilize leaders to become “agents of progress” in the construction of a legacy that is relevant to people and society.

The initiative holds discussions and debates, including three formal conferences each year. Management issues are not on the agenda, Dean Batista notes, as “CEOs are very good at this already.” Meetings are designed to be “inspirational, provocative, and very interactive. It is an open space to air both your failures and your successes, with intimacy. We bring in different disciplines, arts, psychology, sociology, political science, moral philosophy, biology, theology, neuroscience. It is all part of a personal journey into transformation.”

Ana Paula Assis is the first female executive to lead IBM's operations in Latin America and can attest to the power of the initiative. “The CEO’s Legacy has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in my career,” she says, adding that, “Initiatives like this are absolutely critical—especially when they are pioneered by education institutions. There is no bias against education institutions, there is an acknowledgement that there is honesty there.”

CEO of Novartis in Brazil, Renato Carvalho, echoes Assis’ remarks, “The CEO legacy has been one of the defining moments of my career,” he says.

Dean Batista considers capitalism to be “the best economic system humanity has produced”—commending the competitiveness and productivity it has instilled, which in turn has raised the level of human wellbeing to previously unknown levels. “But the more we grow the more we create gaps,” he warns, acknowledging the flaws in the system.

Carvalho agrees, “When you see there are eight billionaires with the same wealth as that of 3.6 billion people, and you see that another 3.4 billion people are living below the poverty line—this is really a call to action for companies and corporations and their leaders to do something differently.”

Dean Batista believes there are now three primary roles for the modern CEO to play. One, is to deliver results—this includes setting the vision, execution, and financial performance. Two, is balancing interests—the interests of an increasing number of stakeholders. Three—and for Dean Batista the most important role of all—is to create and leave behind a legacy, “for your organization, for your people, and for society.”

He concludes, “If you want to change the world, change your organization first—and if you want to change your organization, change yourself first.”

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