New generation of deans leads Atlanta area business schools into the future

A new school year will soon be starting, and thousands of students will crowd into Georgia’s…

Georgia (Jul 25, 2014) — A new school year will soon be starting, and thousands of students will crowd into Georgia’s business schools. What’s the future of business education? What are the changing business education needs of employers? Who better to ask than the educators who lead the schools?


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So Atlanta Business Chronicle posed these questions and others to five business school deans: Erika Hayes James of Emory University’s Goizueta Business SchoolMaryam Alavi of Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, Kathy S. Schwaig of Kennesaw State University’s Michael J. Coles College of Business, Susan P. Gilbert of Mercer University’s Eugene W. Stetson School of Business and Economics; and Faye McIntyre of the University of West Georgia’s Richards College of Business. Their comments have been edited for length.

What are the challenges students (and business schools) are facing today, and what are your schools doing to address these challenges?

James: One of the challenges is a need for greater global competence … Our role as leaders of a business school is to be much more adept moving forward to make sure that our graduates are adept and facile in the broader global world.

Alavi: Obviously the globalization is going to continue, and emerging economies join in global markets very fast. That creates an opportunity for all businesses, but it also creates great competition so that is an important issue …

Schwaig: I think business schools are in the middle of a drastic change in higher education. I think the public looks at higher education differently than it did years ago … We as business schools need to make sure that our value proposition is in place, that students have a reason for higher education and that that benefit is there for them.

McIntyre: Both students and business schools face similar challenges today – communicating value. For students, a key constituent is potential employers. Upon graduation, students must convey to employers what value they can bring to the company.

Gilbert: The students coming to business schools … know that business education provides a great leg up in getting desirable first jobs and ultimately, promotions and satisfying careers. However, they are naïve … regarding the importance of communications skills and preparation for meetings, interviews and networking opportunities.

What are you seeing employers asking for right now, in terms of qualities they want in their employees and knowledge they want these new recruits to have?

McIntyre: Communication skills are top among employer requests. Unfortunately, students sometimes write as if they were texting friends instead of communicating professionally. Technology has helped business in many ways, but it has also created some challenges in communication styles.

Gilbert: The consistent message I get from employers is that they want loyal, responsible individuals with good communication skills, business knowledge and analytics capabilities. They want employees who are comfortable with social media, data retrieval and analysis, as well as traditional topics taught in business schools.

James: One of the things that kept coming up [with employers] time and time again was … to be adaptable and flexible … The other, I would say … is a cultural competence, the ability to work across cultural values and norms and languages in order to understand, make decisions and work together.

Alavi:… What we hear increasingly is [employers are looking for candidates who have] tech-savvy and analytical skills, and really having an entrepreneurial mindset so they can come up with new ideas of how to leverage capabilities that technology is offering to be able to create value for the business and consumers and society in general.

Schwaig:… I think having an interdisciplinary mindset is very important. I also think being creative is very important. We no longer need students that act like robots, that can just answer questions and respond in a certain way. We need employees that can be creative, that can ask the questions that haven’t been asked yet …

How has being a woman in business changed in recent years? Do you think this change will continue?

Gilbert:… It is not as hard as it used to be to identify great female business speakers, mentors, faculty, students and alumni to engage with business schools. At Mercer, our enrollments in the most recent full-time and executive MBA programs are at least 50 percent female, as is the representation of women on our faculty …

James:… Leaders of tech companies are women; that was unheard-of even 10 years ago. Women are in the highest branches of government and the nonprofit sector that are leading tremendously important institutions. I think that visibility that we’re seeing women leadership will create the next wave [of change in the workplace] …

Schwaig: I think what’s happened over time is that women now can truly be themselves in these [leadership] roles. Because they’ve really entered business in a time when it was a man’s world and was defined by the terms that men had established, they oftentimes had to go in and play by those rules, but now you have women in there shaping those rules and shaping the culture of organizations in such a way that I think it’s a lot more comfortable for women to be in business now.

Alavi:… I think certain barriers still remain. The term that has been used is second-generation discrimination for women. These are biases that are not overt … in many cases that are not even intentional … There’s this perception that men are more competent … This creates a situation where women have to work so much harder in the same position for the same opportunities.

McIntyre: Women are still in the minority in business C-suites and among business school deans. However, more women are being bold enough to step into leadership roles or to decline roles that aren’t a good fit …


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