Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Tagged: sustainable business

Remembering Malcolm McIntosh

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📥  Business and society, Sustainability

 

On Saturday 18th November, friends and family gathered to remember and give thanks for the life and work of Malcolm McIntosh. Malcolm was a leading writer and thinker in the business and society field, and a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath. Here, Andrew Crane pays tribute to a much missed friend and colleague. 

 

Friends and family gather to remember Malcolm at the Tate Modern

When I first met Malcolm, he rather alarmed me. Now, when I say I met him, what I really mean is that I bought his book on corporate citizenship – this one – way back in the late 1990s when I was a newly minted PhD student and Malcolm was – well, I will come to that in a minute; Malcolm has never been easy to pigeonhole.

So it would be several years later that I actually got to meet Malcolm in person and later again that we became friends. But, in that first intellectual meeting between me the reader and Malcolm the author I was not sure I actually liked him all that much. I was at the time one of those academics who was – as Malcolm would always disparagingly describe us – rather too preoccupied with obscure scholarly journals that no one ever actually read.

But here was a book that ignored all that academic baggage and captured for the first time the messy and exciting new world of corporate responsibility that was emerging at the time. Like much of Malcolm’s work, it was an exploration of real life practice – of the problems and solutions that were being experimented with by companies at the time – and it was filled with practical, good advice on how to be a more responsible company.

So of course, upstart wannabe intellectual that I was – I hated it. I found it too hopeful and not nearly academic enough for my liking. Where was the criticism? The theory? The intellectual posturing?!

But here it is, fresh off my bookshelf. I still have it some 20 years later. And for many years I actually used it exactly as it was intended – with MBA students and executives who were looking for answers and examples rather than the abstract theory that I had to offer from my own work. Malcolm, along with his co-authors, provided a rich source of inspiration and good ideas.

It is something that his work has continued to provide, right up to his latest book, In Search of the Good Society. In it, you can find some of the best health advice you can get, along with insights on art, prosperity and political economy among other things.

Malcolm's last book, In Search of the Good Society, published by Routledge

It is quite a mix. But as I mentioned, Malcolm has always been rather hard to pin down. Of course, that is probably exactly how he always wanted it to be, too.

When this earlier book came out, he was listed on the jacket as “an independent teacher, writer and consultant”. Now that probably isn’t a bad description for his whole career. Even when he had a formal position – as a Professor, as a Centre Director, as a Special Advisor to the UN – he was just as independent as when he was officially “independent”.

Malcolm, as anyone who knew him soon realized, always had his very own way of doing things. And it never looked too much like everyone else’s way of doing things.  He always crossed-boundaries between academia and practice and he had little time for academic disciplines or departments. His latest book, for example, is so wonderfully ambitious in its scope – part travelogue, part art appreciation, part health memoir – that it is almost impossible to categorize.

So University Vice Chancellors would typically either love or hate him, or very often both at the same time. Other academics also didn’t always fully appreciate him, but those that did, turned to him again and again for inspiration and a healthy dose of straight talking. Students naturally gravitated to him because he was so full of new ideas. And practitioners were often drawn to him because he understood them but also challenged them in ways that no one else did.

And I personally found him constantly invigorating. I asked Malcolm many times over the years to give classes to my students, to speak at conferences or examine the theses of my PhD students – and most recently, to join us as a Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath. But I never really knew what I was going to get. That, of course, was a great part of the appeal with Malcolm. He was always so alive with learning and new insights wherever and however he would find them. You could never predict which direction he would head in next.

So, my own relationship with Malcom – our friendship over the 15 years that have passed once we did eventually bump into one another – has always been a source of fun and intellectual stimulation. If I ran into him at a conference whether in London or New York or KL or Cape Town I would naturally seek him out. He would of course have just flown in from somewhere else and have tales to tell aplenty of his travels. He never, ever, seemed to get bored or tired of visiting and learning from other places. And of course, he would have that twinkle in his eye, and that great hearty laugh, as he unwrapped another little nugget of worldly knowledge – or he unravelled another of life’s ironies – or he castigated (but always with such humour) the continued failings of us all to get to grips with the problems of the world.

Because, at the heart of it all, Malcolm always, always, always had an unending drive to make the world a better place. His work, really, was a means to an end. He was an unstoppable optimist, ever believing that things could one day be better, and that knowledge, love and understanding were the keys to getting us there. He was constantly planning something new, building institutions, writing books, launching new initiatives, and hacking his own path through the status quo. And it was such a pleasure and an honour to be swept up in all that with him.

Memories of Malcolm

So what can I say except that, like many people, I will – I am – missing him terribly and the planet will be a poorer place without him. Right up to the last he was planning the next thing, ready to fire off another book to complete his trilogy. Sadly, it was not to be this time. But he has left us a wonderful repository of knowledge and insight. And in his time here – whether through his work or simply the way he chose to lead his life to the absolute fullest – he helped move us all a little bit closer to the better world, to the good society, that he wanted for all of us.

 

 

Business schools still have work to do to prepare future managers for a "Better World"

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📥  Business and society, Education, Research

 

 

The latest rankings exercise from Corporate Knights aims to show how far business schools are incorporating sustainability into their research and teaching. While the results show that progress is being made, there are also questions around how business schools engage with such exercises, and whether we're getting a truly global view of business school practice. In this piece, Annie Snelson-Powell questions what such rankings exercises really tell us about how future managers are being educated in sustainable business practice. 

October 16th saw the publication of the 2017 Corporate Knights Better World MBA ranking. This exercise provides an annual assessment of sustainability at all full-time MBA programmes that choose to opt into the Corporate Knights process of evaluation, and also includes the top Financial Times (FT) Global MBA programmes.

These global business schools are evaluated via a methodology which involves three key criteria: the presence of core courses on sustainability in the MBA curriculum; school affiliation with related institutes and centres; and the faculty’s research as gauged by the volume of related publications and citations.

The Corporate Knights report reminds us that the role of business schools in educating future leaders is particularly crucial as it’s these new managers who will shape how all types of organisations address sustainability through their decisions and actions.  The report suggests that both society and the business school sector may often fail to sufficiently recognise their responsibilities and opportunities offered by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

As scholars, we also question the actions and motivations of organisations in their approach to sustainability, including a critical concern for how business schools are addressing their responsibilities.  We look to activities at the most prestigious business schools in particular, since their actions serve to define and redefine what an ideal business school should do and hence eventually influence behaviour in the sector overall.  Our earlier research on UK business schools found that while some business schools were failing to implement sustainability, there were also examples of meaningful activity from many schools including the most prestigious.

These findings are echoed in this world-wide evaluation which shows that the six most highly ranked MBA programmes in the world all feature in the Better World MBA ranking this year.  In fact, of the 40 MBA programmes included in the Corporate Knights' list, 18 are also rated as top FT MBAs.  This link between prestige and sustainability is heartening and serves to indicate that we might expect an upward curve in the uptake of sustainability in the MBA as other business schools across the sector follow suit.

However, before we become too complacent about this important progress, questions remain.  Is this uptake of sustainability also reflecting the expertise of the prestigious business schools in becoming ever-more savvy at performing well in the whole suite of games relating to accreditations, rankings and evaluation?  Now that AMBA and other accreditation bodies stipulate that attention must be paid to sustainability, are these business schools merely delivering the minimum required to maintain their status and memberships?  Is signalling an interest in sustainability another means to sway stakeholders without fulsomely addressing some of the profound and inherent tensions faced by business theories and practice, such as the pursuit of maximum short-term profit versus a longer term sustainable means of doing business that respects the environment and society?

Looking more carefully at the MBA curriculum itself, arguably the most direct of the Corporate Knights' measures of the education a future leader will receive, eight of the top 40 Better World MBAs had only one or no core dedicated course on sustainability.  A previous post by our Sustainability & Management MSc students eloquently argues that this kind of education is a fundamental for all business students.  Even at these exemplar “greenest” schools, which should provide the best sustainability education for future managers, there is clearly still more that can be achieved.

Furthermore, this list of the greenest schools is a stark reminder of the over-emphasis on Western perspectives when it comes to thinking about sustainability and management education in general.  These rankings reveal that large geographic blind-spots remain in our assessment of sustainability in MBA programmes.  Of the 40 featured in the Better World MBA list, 39 are from North America, Australia or Europe.  That these regions alone can determine what an MBA for a better world should look like is doubtful.  We should explore how business schools in Africa, Asia and elsewhere in the world are viewing sustainability and seek to understand whether non-Western schools see any benefit in participating in this kind of assessment.  While progress has been made, there is still work to do in establishing a truly global understanding of what constitutes an MBA for a better world.

 

Image by H.Koppdelaney