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A Business School Aims to Mint Leaders Who Think About More Than Profit

(Bloomberg Businessweek) —

The world is changing faster than business schools, and some deans—cajoled by students and employers demanding different skills from MBAs—are responding to the shift. We spoke with Federico Frattini of MIP, the Graduate School of Business of Politecnico di Milano, about his plans to introduce a “new generation” MBA this September.

What’s missing from traditional MBA programs?
There’s a chasm between what we teach and what we preach as researchers and management scholars. There’s a lot of momentum around rethinking the foundations of private businesses so they can become actors for positive change. We know this is what society needs from future business leaders. But business schools use a framework that hasn’t changed over the past 40 years. We’ve added sustainability, CSR, ESG, and impact courses—but only as elective modules around a program that remains exactly the same.

How is MIP’s new MBA different?
The program will start with workshops and modules run by The Mind at Work, a London company that specializes in psychology applied to leadership and management. We want to lay the foundation needed for more responsible and purposeful business leaders. Then when the hard skills and core courses start, every week or so there will be a half-day workshop where we’ll take what the students are learning and discuss how these skills can be applied to run organizations with a higher purpose than simply maximizing profits. It’s a continuous conversation that we want with our students, to discuss what they’re learning to generate purpose at the organizational level.

It sounds a bit New Age.
We’re not saying companies need to be societal actors or political actors. We want to engage them in a conversation to make them aware that having a meaningful organization can also deliver results to shareholders. If too many people think what you’re suggesting, we’ll have empty classes. But companies that recruit our students tell us, “You’re preparing wonderful, skilled leaders, but they’re not rich enough as human beings.” Too much focus on outcomes really reduces critical thinking, systemic thinking, and understanding complexity.

How will you determine the success of the change?
We shouldn’t be concerned about the numbers. I really want to see what the students say at the end of the program. Of course, if nobody enrolls, it means the signs I’ve seen aren’t big enough to justify an investment in an MBA. But it’s important to try.

Your program encourages students to self-reflect. What have you gotten from this process?
I’ve learned that change requires time and effort. As a faculty, we tend to follow patterns and ways of looking at our business that are very path-dependent and hard to change. We’re often bound to our previous conceptions and our previous way of looking at things. When I spoke to the finance professor, it wasn’t easy to explain that we want to challenge most of the points of view that we’ve taught for years.

Edited for length and clarity.

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