Forecast 2018: The Future of Business Education

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Professor and Associate Dean Jerry Davis explains the role business schools play in making an impact on society.

EXPERT Q&A

Jerry Davis is the Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Professor of Business Administration, professor of management and organizations and associate dean for Business+Impact at Michigan Ross. He shares his thoughts on how business education is changing to embrace the societal impacts of business. His research is broadly concerned with corporate governance, finance and society, and new forms of organizations.

Q: What is your new role?

DAVIS: My new role is about helping the Ross School create the most progressive business solutions to our generation's greatest challenges. Our working theory is that you can't take on the world's biggest problems without involving businesses. That's how we're thinking about this.

Q: Are today's students looking at business differently?

DAVIS: This is one of the fascinating things. Our class of first-year MBAs is 43 percent women, representing 45 countries and with an average GMAT score of 716 — the highest number we've ever had. It's a tribute to get such qualified candidates. When they are asked what industry they want to go into after graduation, the biggest category is consulting. The second is social impact.

Impact is not a hard sell for our students. It's not like we're trying to get them to eat their vegetables against their will. Making an impact on society is what they want. My goal is to help us think of business as a means to achieve that.

Q: How do you define impact?

DAVIS: The community has a lot of ways to think about impact. Academic impact is almost always defined by how many times your research has been cited. This feels somewhat narrow. An alternative would be to measure against the United Nations sustainability goals, which is how I define it. We are doing a series of workshops with alumni, staff, faculty and students to work through our diverse perspectives on impact.

My job is to be scrupulously agnostic about this. We're trying to be collaborative, trying to get all of the people whom this will matter to at the table. One way we've had an impact is for the last three years, we've had juniors do a project aimed at pursuing the sustainable development goals in different contexts. This year, we focused on how to create a for-profit or nonprofit business to increase well-being in Detroit. It's a pretty great way to expose the students to business impact.

Q: Is this becoming a trend at business schools?

DAVIS: Yes. There are centers for social impact at schools all over. But while many schools have claimed to be focused on impact, it often feels like window dressing. It's like companies saying they are all about corporate social responsibility because they spent a day volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. Ross is very well positioned to solve big problems. We have more potential throw-weight than other schools in terms of societal impact. We have 19 schools and colleges at U-M, and they're really good. We have lots of collaborators here.

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