Guest editorial

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 11 April 2008



Thomas, H. (2008), "Guest editorial", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 27 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial

About the Guest EditorHoward Thomas is Dean and Professor of Strategic Management at Warwick Business School. He was previously Dean of the College of Commerce and Business Administration and James F. Towey Distinguished Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA 1991-2000. Prior to this he held posts as Foundation Professor of Management at the Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney, as Director of the Doctoral Programme at London Business School, and visiting and permanent posts at institutions such as the European Institute of Advanced Studies of Management in Brussels, the University of Southern California, the University of British Columbia, the Sloan School of Management, MIT, and Kellogg School, Northwestern University. He is past President of the US Strategic Management Society, past Chair of the Board of the Graduate Management Admissions Council, member of Beta Gamma Sigma, and Fellow of both the Academy of Management in the USA and the UK; Fellow of the Strategic Management Society and the Sunningdale Institute of the Cabinet Office, Honorary Life Member and Vice-President of EFMD. He also serves as a board member (Chair) of GFME, EFMD, ABS and State Farm Bank. He is a companion of ABS and Chair Elect of the Association of Business Schools, UK, 2008-2010, and Vice Chair, Chair Elect of AACSB International, 2008-2010. He is the author of over 30 books and 200 articles in competitive strategy, risk analysis, strategic change, international management and strategic decision making.

Evaluating the future role and purpose of business schools

As I have already pointed out elsewhere (Thomas, 2007a, p. 5) there has been a growing literature over the last decade questioning the roles and purposes of the business school in modern universities. While the business school model, and its “gold standard” MBA programmes have been extremely successful (Antunes and Thomas, 2007 p. 382), business schools are at a turning point in their development and evolution. Indeed I also note (Thomas, 2007b, p. 9) that business schools “currently face an image and identity crises and have been subject to a wide range of critical reviews about their societal status as academic and professional schools” (Bennis and O’Toole, 2005; Ghoshal, 2005; Pfeffer and Fong, 2004; Mintzberg and Gosling, 2002).

The volume of current writing on the limitations of business schools continues in an unabated fashion catalysed by Mintzberg’s (2004) timeless critique of MBA Programmes. Schoemaker (2007, p. 1) stresses that “the traditional paradigm of business schools, with its strong focus on analytic models and reductionism, is not well suited to handle the ambiguity and high rate of change facing many industries today”. Starkey and Tiratsoo (2007, p. 8) point out that university administrators tend to view business schools as “cash cows” and, therefore, often seek to “extract the maximum commercial benefit from courses such as the MBA, regardless of what it means for pedagogy or learning”. They believe that enlightened deans, faced with an ever-increasing pressure for growth, financial results and the bottom line, should use their growing influence and power in universities to stress the parallel need for moral as well as business values. They argue that (Starkey and Tiratsoo, 2007, p. 10) they should “make the curriculum more critical, using a much boarder array of linkages with the social sciences, the humanities and perhaps the natural sciences”.

Antunes and Thomas (2007, pp. 389-90) demonstrate that in the UK business school market there is already evidence of a wide range of schools and approaches e.g. quasi US model schools (e.g. LBS and Oxford), professionally-oriented schools (e.g. Ashridge, Cranfield and Henley), social science-based schools (e.g. Warwick or Lancaster), schools with specialisms in finance or technology (e.g. City and Imperial) and humanities/social science-based schools (e.g. Leicester’s “critical management” school). This indicates clearly that deans are increasingly developing more challenging intellectual and educational innovations and evaluating business school niches that address wider sets of values than simply those focussed on the bottom line.

In perhaps the most insightful recent critique Khurana (2007), based on a study of the historical evolution of the business school over the last 100 years, argues that business schools have overly stressed business values through aggressive selling of the MBA product and treating students as consumers. Thus, they have substituted previously well-articulated moral and professional ideals of business for the relentless pursuit of shareholder value and have become morally bankrupt as educationalists. He concludes that a new moral and intellectual compass should guide future developments in the training of our future business leaders.

These recent writings guided Michael Hay of London Business School and Eric Cornuel to specify the theme “Challenging the purpose of business schools” for the EFMD Deans and Directors Conference in 2007. The papers in this special issue have largely been selected from papers and presentations made at that conference.

Michael Hay, as conference Chair, developed a framework for identifying a new sense of purpose for business schools. He argues that “put at its simplest, the purpose of a business school is to create value through three types of value, namely, academic value, through research and its dissemination; personal value through their teaching and public and social value in the form of knowledgeable and skilled graduates and through the way in which they engage in the societies in which they are based”.

Ken Starkey and Susan Tempest are very much in sympathy with Hay’s broad themes. They argue that “business schools seem to us to have inexorably moved along a vector which tends to emphasise business – and one model of business – at the expense of school”. They try to present and develop alternative formulations of what a business school might or even should be. They believe strongly that business schools need to emphasise new directions and narratives that encompass socio-economic, political, technological and cultural forces of change and provide a sense of identity and purpose – moral and intellectual – that will better serve society (i.e. avoid Enron scandals) and produce more reflective, critical, creative and insightful business leaders.

Pankaj Ghemawat in a very thought provoking essay, focuses on the influence of one of the key forces of twenty-first century change i.e. globalisation and proposes the lens of “semi-globalisation” as a conceptual umbrella for organising curriculum change so that concepts of globalisation can be more effectively incorporated into future business school curricula. He emphases that less than 5 per cent of 150 deans surveyed by him at the conference believed that their school’s commitment to globalising business education had matched either their rhetoric or their implementation capabilities.

James Fleck addresses a similar theme when examining the influence of technological forces on business schools. He emphasises that schools should recognise the distinction, originally offered by Christensen (1997), between sustaining technologies, which enhance existing operations, and disruptive technologies that can alter existing routines and processes in a quite radical manner. He, therefore, argues that schools should actively embrace and shape technology or else they will be destroyed competitively as a consequence of its rapidly changing impacts.

Hans Ulrich Maerki, from a very influential practitioner perspective, concludes by offering a thought provoking essay which argues that business schools need to increasingly address “cross-cutting” themes in their research and teaching. He notes that services represent a major force in the world economy and believes that a formal interdisciplinary curriculum called “services sciences” embracing scientific and social sciences disciplines must be developed and taught to foster both service innovation and the more flexible capabilities that students require in the twenty-first century business world.

Overall these essays are offered to stimulate thoughts and insights about the future evolution of business schools and their curricula. The next decade will provide many challenges for business school leaders and will require business school leaders and deans to examine and re-define the purposes, visions and creative strategies that will promote success for their schools.

Howard Thomas


Antunes, D. and Thomas, H. (2007), “The competitive (dis)advantages of European business schools”, Long Range Planning, Vol. 40 No. 3, pp. 382–404

Bennis, W.G. and O’Toole, J. (2005), “How business schools lost their way”, Harvard Business Review, May/June

Christensen, C. (1997), The Innovators Dilemma, HBS Press, Boston, MA

Ghoshal, S. (2005), “Bad management theories are destroying good management practice”, Academy of Management: Learning and Education, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 75–91

Khurana, R. (2007), From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ

Mintzberg, H. (2004), Managers Not MBAs, FT/Prentice-Hall, London

Mintzberg, H. and Gosling, J. (2002), “Educating managers beyond borders”, Academy of Management: Learning and Education, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 64–76

Pfeffer, J. and Fong, C.T. (2004), “The business school business: some lessons from the US experience”, Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 41 No. 8, pp. 1501–20

Schoemaker, P. (2007), “Rethinking management education: the future challenges of business”, working paper, Department of Marketing, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 17 November

Starkey, K. and Tiratsoo, N. (2007), The Business School and the Bottom Line, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Thomas, H. (2007a), “Editorial: strategic themes and challenges facing business schools”, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 5–8

Thomas, H. (2007b), “An analysis of the environment and competitive dynamics of management education”, The Journal of Management Development, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 9–21

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