The evolution of business schools: Nyenrode Business University

Written by
Emily Sexton-Brown

29 Apr 2016

29 Apr 2016 • by Emily Sexton-Brown

1) What was the first business school you worked at? And what were the core components of the MBA?

The first business school I worked at was the Erasmus University in Rotterdam in 1988 til’ 2007. I wasn’t directly involved in their MBA programs and have to refrain from answering this question extensively. However, I have witnessed MBA programs evolving from focusing more on hard-skills and covering a wide spectrum of standardized business practices based on traditional MBA courses found in countries like the US, towards emphasizing more on developing soft-skills and strengthening the professional and personal areas that are required for students’ specific needs and wants.

2) Have you sensed an attitude shift throughout students and faculty members, if so, how do the attitudes compare now to back in the late 90s?

One aspect that stands out is when it comes to the students who are employed these days, we notice that they need to put more effort in convincing their employer to support them in doing an MBA, both financially and in offering time to study. In the late ‘90’s it was more common to get the support of your employer; it is a tendency that these days employees really have to earn the privilege to do an MBA program. 

Demographically, I noticed the average age of the full-time MBA students getting younger, the diversity of their study and industry background getting wider and gender parity becoming more balanced (Nyenrode’s full time MBA kicked off with 59% female participants in 2015). Geographical and national diversity of the students now seems to show more of a balance between those from more developed countries and immerging economies as well. Attitude-wise, I can feel similar levels of ambition and drive from students however, the proactiveness they show towards finding the learning method and career path that suit them better seemed to have increased, and their level of willingness to develop themselves not only as responsible business leaders but also as responsible people has heightened. Thus,  Nyenrode is  proactively responding to the demands of the market – for both students and businesses - for example by introducing a  Modular MBA, which is more focused and flexible learning experience due to the change of the attitude that emphasizes ‘life-long learning” in the way that meets diverse needs and wants.

Faculty has always liked to work with MBA students due to the fact that they are even more motivated and bring real-life experience and cases to the classroom. 

3) What was the desired skillset for leadership in 2005 across large organisations? How much had the syllabus changed in a 10 year period in your opinion?

I truly believe that the emphasis on building personal skills has grown as well as the change in perspective on what leadership is all about. In addition, due to the fast-paced technological development, almost all ‘traditional’ business practices such as marketing and strategy, finance, supply chain, have also had to evolve to embrace innovation. There has been significant growth in the area of sustainability (and in promoting corporate social responsibility and stewardship – particularly at Nyenrode) as well. 

4) What is the desired skillset now in the present day?

I would say in answer to both questions above that in the ‘post-Lehman’ era - after 2008 - the desired skillset tends to be more focused on themes like governance and sustainable leadership. At Nyenrode we base our MBA curriculum on three values; Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Stewardship. We’ve found that contextual leadership has gained importance (meaning to build win-win relationships especially with stakeholders outside of a company’s direct control). Other desired skillsets in present day include the ability to create renewal and innovation, and to exercise influence and power in an energizing and engaging manner. In comparison to 2005, the meaning of ‘performance’ when it comes to leadership has broadened to consider stakeholder relation management and environmental footprint. And of course, internationalization is an increasing factor to take into account. 

5) How much has the advance in technology change how students are taught?

MOOCs, flipped classrooms, the use of portals to share documents and smart mobile solutions to make classes more interactive are a few examples of how the face of education has changed due to advanced technology. At Nyenrode, where our mission is to serve society by shaping responsible leaders, the group and peer-to-peer interaction on campus is vital. The advances in technology facilitate the cognitive part of education better and makes it more efficient. In the future, technology will probably make learning an even more social activity than before, as increased connectivity makes everybody accessible 24/7.

6) What do you predict will be a needed skill for the future of human resources? Do these skills even exist yet?

Adaptability, flexibility, agility, diversity. These are a few key words that define the skills to deal with change. Next to that, branding will be (and already is in a lot of companies) an important skill or competence that HR directors need to master. Brands of organisations are increasingly defined and /or amplified by the engagement of their workforces, and attracting and retaining talent is increasingly helped by maintaining an attractive brand. Zappos is an organization where they have the employer branding and employee engagement around the brand aligned, so these skills do exist but there is a world still to win over with this approach.

7) Do you think executive education will evolve? If so, how?

It certainly will. Measuring the impact of what we do is becoming increasingly important. Return on Education is what we promise and therefore, measuring the impact this has in the workplace is what we strive for. Furthermore, the demands of our clients will change more rapidly, and they require more attention for blended learning, thereby trying to lower cost without losing impact. Also, I think programmes will become shorter in duration. Needless to say, the core topics will most likely change as well, cyber security, innovation, sustainability and sustainable business modelling, integrated reporting & risk management will continue grow in importance. Teamwork and leadership too have different connotations as compared to a decade ago, and will continue to evolve.

8) What do you think is the ultimate aim of executive education?

To ensure organizations and their employees will become, or can remain, future-proof whilst creating shared value for the society and the generations to come.