Leadership for the future: nurturing a sustainable, long-term approach to business strategy through MBA programmes


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By Andrew Main Wilson, Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA)



We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and this requires a new breed of leader to navigate through. Business needs people who have a high level of awareness about what’s going on in the world, a high level of engagement in wanting to do something about it, and equally high levels of humility and humanity.


The simple fact is that companies will be able to sustain growth on the scale they hope for, unless these leaders – and leaders of the future – rise to the challenge a new way of working.


AMBA – The Association of MBAs – is the international impartial authority on postgraduate business education and the only global MBA-specific accrediting body. The Association currently accredits programmes at 238 schools worldwide. AMBA is also a professional membership association with approximately 18,500 MBA members in more than 100 countries, connecting high potential MBA students and graduates, accredited business schools and employers across the globe and making us the world’s largest MBA networking group.


In January 2016, we surveyed 2,000 of our members on the skills they were obtaining during their MBA versus the requirements they believe employers will be looking for over the coming five years, and found that 71% had received modules in ethical and sustainable leadership and 68% believe employers will be looking for these skills more and more in the future.


This is great news but more needs to be done.


A long-term view


As the global labour market becomes increasingly heated and economies remain impossible to predict, a five year or even a two-year strategy is impossible to plot – agility and a long-term view has to take precedent in the boardroom and businesses are crying out for leaders to future-proof economies, ride the chaos and innovate through this complexity.


Businesses and businesses schools have to collaborate and rise to the challenge of finding these diamonds in the rough – and AMBA is at the heart of this fusion.


In January this year, I was honoured to me made Chairman of United Nations’ PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education). The mission of PRME is to transform management education, research and thought leadership globally by providing the Principles for Responsible Management Education framework, developing learning communities and promoting awareness about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.


I believe the world has now reached a tipping point, looking to leaders in business and education, to play not only a pivotal role, but possibly the lead role, in solving our planet’s resources, energy and social equality problems.


I know that we have to draw on the strength of our network, to nurture sustainable change because there is no one thing any one company could do to make this a more sustainable world.


Addressing the dilemma


Putting this into context, earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Polman, Global CEO of FMCG giant Unilever. He agreed that while no one company has the answer to the sustainability dilemma, business schools can work collectively to address this.


He explained: ‘Truly integrating sustainability into the curriculum is not a side course or an optional module. There are a few schools that have really integrated sustainability into their curricula and it permeates all parts of the university and the way the university itself lives and breathes. I haven’t seen this in many institutions, and some are notoriously difficult to change. In many parts of the world, the MBA programme is still one-dimensional and definitions of GDP, profit and loss and shareholders too dominant.


‘We need to make these multi-dimensional – economic, social, environmental – and have broader coursework between different departments. The silos we have to watch for in companies, as we move this agenda forward, also exist in universities, so the more we can move towards

horizontal training and get people exposed to the social, psychological and economic, the better the human beings we will create. This is a challenge for MBA programmes.’


In saying this if we can join forces and take the sustainability agenda forward, Polman told me we have a realistic opportunity, within the next 15 years, to eradicate global poverty.


Doing this is will benefit of all of us. The effects of runaway climate change, poverty and the refugee crisis, plus increasing unemployment, are more apparent each and every day.


Innovations in technology mean that have the tools to address this, but we need individuals who want to put the interest of the common good ahead of their own. AMBA’s mission statement is “to advance postgraduate business education throughout the world” and I see the sustainability agenda as an imperative to achieving this.


Business schools need to prepare the leaders of tomorrow to invest not just in their own development, but that of others and society (‘the common good’, as Paul Polman describes it).


Sustainability skill sets


There are some basic skill-sets employers will always look for: integrity is one of these things; being hardworking probably comes second; and intelligence.


Polman told me: ‘The crisis we saw in 2007/8 is something I always describe as ‘a crisis of morality’ because too many put their own interests ahead of the common good. We look at people

who are broader, and hire them from different backgrounds, so we have different perspectives. If you’re single-mindedly focused on your own advancement, it wouldn’t go well in a company such as Unilever. You would be flushed out or unhappy in your career here.’


So what employers are successful rising to the challenge of the sustainability agenda?


Peter Lacey, Global Managing Director for Sustainability Services at Accenture Strategy is one leader that does appreciate the value sustainability brings to the business world.


I interviewed him at AMBA’s Global Conference for Deans and Directors in Venice Italy, earlier this year, when he gave the example of one of the world’s leading disruptive businesses.


‘Airbnb is fundamentally clearing inefficient markets,’ he told me. ‘It is better matching supply and demand using digital technologies, with assets that are idle, wasted resources, and they’re finding they can connect these with customers and produce a better customer experience. They’re addressing wasted capacity – albeit indirectly – and it’s having a game-changing effect. This means we don’t have run hotels at empty capacity.’


Lacey added: ‘The key [to a sustainable future] is about using the power of business to drive the products and services people want and to fundamentally think about that in a different way, that delivers the ultimate goal of sustainability: enough, for all forever.’


The situation, at least as I see it, is obvious: The planet is under pressure. Resources are finite, global terrorism is rife, social inequality is a prevailing issue. With a growing trend among MBA graduates towards working together for a sustainable future.


AMBA is committed to driving forward this long-term approach to business and societal change.






The Association of MBAs (AMBA) is a global MBA-focused accreditation and membership organisation founded in 1967. AMBA accredits 2% of the world’s top business schools.


All MBA students and alumni of the 241 accredited schools join AMBA as members free of charge and in 2016 membership had reached 18,500.


The Association of MBAs was founded in 1967 as an MBA alumni club by eight UK graduates from Harvard Business School, Wharton, Stanford and Columbia, and two graduates from the first intake of London Business School. The founders saw a lack of awareness in Europe of the value of the MBA degree, which at that time was primarily an American qualification. They decided to form a lobby and membership group to promote the benefits of postgraduate business education.


As AMBA prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017, it is now recognized as the world’s impartial authority on postgraduate management education. It accredits Business Schools’ entire portfolio of postgraduate management programs but does not accredited undergraduate programs.


AMBA’s long-serving president is Sir Paul Judge, the founding benefactor of Cambridge Judge Business School. The AMBA Chief Executive is Andrew Main Wilson, who joined the Association in August 2013. The Chairman of the AMBA Board of Trustees is Len Jones, who was elected in September 2014.


As of 2016, AMBA has accredited 238 Business Schools offering more than 800 different MBA, DBA and MBM programs in over 70 countries. AMBA accredits Masters of Business Administration (MBA), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Masters in Business and Management (MBM) degrees. The Association’s process of accrediting a school’s MBA programs portfolio includes reviewing compliance with over 100 criteria, most of them qualitative rather than quantitative.


Some of the key AMBA criteria for the accreditation of an MBA program include:


•  all admitted students should have at least three years of full-time post-graduation work experience upon the start of the MBA course (a criterion which the vast majority of the top US business schools cannot meet as US MBA programs sometimes admit applicants with only a bachelor’s degree and no work experience);


•  a new school applying for accreditation should have a track record of at least three years of graduating MBA students before it can be accredited;


•  an MBA program should have a cohort size     of at least 20 students.


•  at least 50% of the faculty of an MBA program (including visiting faculty as part of the total) are expected to have PhD degrees;


•  a full-time MBA curriculum should contain no less than 500 contact (scheduled classroom) hours and a distance-learning MBA program should have no less than 120 synchronous contact hours.


AMBA’s membership has grown to more than 20,000 students and alumni, making it the world’s largest network of MBAs.


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