As we look ahead to the new academic year, the Business and Society blog is spotlighting The International Centre for Higher Education Management. Throughout the month of September we'll feature research which looks at university leadership, management and policy.
“Creating a better world together” was the annual meeting theme of the Academy of Management (AOM) 2022. Here Volker Rundshagen, of Stralsund University of Applied Sciences, reflects on the role of business schools and management education in doing this. He summarizes three selected conference sessions, integrating his insights gained from a decade of research on more meaningful business schools serving society.
For decades people have been voicing severe doubts of the future viability of our current lifestyles and ongoing business paradigms, with increasing urgency. The role of business schools as providers of knowledge and management graduates has been scrutinized accordingly, both from within these institutions and from the outside.
In 2009, I entered ICHEM’s DBA (Higher Education Management) programme, then working as a business school lecturer in Germany, starting my doctoral studies in the unfolding aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. Since then, I have been committed to fostering more meaningful management education, in line with many calls for re-orientation of business conduct and its theoretical underpinnings. Ironically, it seems however that the more widespread initiatives for sustainable business conduct and responsible management education surface, the worse it gets out there - with Luxemburg leaks, Panama papers, Diesel emission scandals, groundings of unsafe aircraft types to name a few spectacular tips of the iceberg.
The 82nd annual meeting of AOM (conducted 5-8 August 2022 in hybrid format) encouraged the global community of management scholars to improve the world together. Here, I will highlight and comment on three exemplary sessions heeding the call.
MED Ambassadors foreseeing a better world
Since attending AOM’s annual meeting for the first time 2009 (a few months into my rewarding DBA journey) I have been an active member of the Management Education and Development (MED) division. This session united participants sharing the conviction that education has the power to improve the world and to enrich personal life paths. There was a common understanding that, as business or management educators we have influence and responsibility to take on global challenges in classrooms and beyond.
Session highlights: Madina Rival (Director of LIRSA lab) and Anne Berthinier-Poncet (both CNAM, Paris) presented two approaches to train research and critical thinking skills through artistic work: a literary writing workshop and an arts-based project culminating in artists’ workshops bringing post-graduate students from different parts of the world together. Lisa Fröhlich (President of CBS International Business School, Cologne) shared her experience with a sustainability-centred escape room game her institution has designed, for undergraduate business students to develop a better understanding of the challenges facing humanity. It was refreshing to hear how much more business schools can do and how exciting re-oriented education can be once it unleashes the power of creativity and imagination!
The purpose of business organizations and business schools revisited
This session gathered some of the most distinguished scholars advocating for management education for the common good and individual flourishing. Among others, Jeffrey Sachs (Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York) emphasized in his video message that we got stuck with inappropriate measurements (such as the GDP) instead of focusing on the real good of humanity: having more fulfilling lives. That requires holistic thinking concerned about economic wellbeing, harmony in society, environmental safety and further elements neglected in mainstream management education. Henry Mintzberg (McGill University, Montreal) pointed out that rebalancing society is paramount. The overwhelming power of corporations pursuing their profit interests through political influence has harmed benevolent trajectories of humanity. He argues that business should stay where it belongs: into the market, not into government decision-making! Only balanced power of governments, the business world, and civil society would ensure a viable path. By the way, from an earlier AOM I recall Henry Mintzberg’s reflection that he sounded like a “broken record in a broken world” –repeating his messages every year with no betterment in sight, despite growing awareness.
CMS keynote address: Re-imagining capitalism? Or enacting post-capitalist practices?
Since my first attendance in 2009, my second AOM home has been the Critical Management Studies (CMS) division that is all about challenging mainstream thought, fostering critique of contemporary capitalism, and promoting alternatives both in scholarship and the business world. I find the CMS trajectory within the Academy quite fascinating: during my first attendance, its constituency seemed to me like an almost ‘freaky niche’ of feminist, Marxist, post-colonial scholars elaborating gorgeous ideas in the shadow. As academia became more receptive to the debates about the crises and unsustainability concerns, CMS moved ‘en vogue’. A first highlight in this regard: “Capitalism in question” was the astonishing All-Academy theme of the 73rd annual meeting in 2013.
Katherine Gibson (Western Sydney University, currently based at Harvard University), held this year’s CMS keynote. She is well known for research on rethinking economies as sites of ethical action and her role as activist scholar. In her speech, she strongly affirmed that there is “a need to create future institutions, relationships, systems, and processes that are different from the past”, quoting an AOM theme subline. Katherine Gibson pointed to the Community Economies Research Network fostering the diversity of economies and involving many scholars from all over the globe. She also highlighted the remarkable recent commitment of $40million by liberal philanthropic foundations in the United States (whose wealth is derived from private business) to the project of ‘Reimagining Capitalism’. So we can see that there are many initiatives of scholars and activists, even from unexpected sides.
Despite its still modified and hybrid format, I found AOM 2022 very refreshing and encouraging. It is reassuring that many initiatives and encouraging ideas driving more meaningful management education are alive, showing ever more creativity and substance. Considering the current backlash trends and events, however, it also became clear to me that the journey resembles the task of Sisyphus. At least, then I can find some consolation from Albert Camus, and I am looking forward to AOM Boston 2023 …