The Most Innovative Business Schools

Carey School of Business John Hopkins University

Following the 2007/8 global economic crisis, some people have questioned the value of business schools. Since the crisis itself was arguably brought about at least to some degree by unscrupulous investment banking approaches, there have been important questions raised regarding what business schools teach, and the extent to which ethics should play a part in business school teaching. However, many business schools have taken these questions further and looked at ways in which their programmes can be used for the greater good. In 2010, Terra Stanley, reporting for Forbes, and asking, “Does the world need more investment bankers?” outlined a list of the most innovative business school classes. Of the situation, Stanley says:

 “In the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, more business schools are overhauling their curricula to appeal to a different kind of student – one who increasingly looks to do good while doing well”.

This has not changed the fact that MBA classes still include the bread and butter basics of accounting and finance, but it has led to a change in focus for some programmes. In many cases these include gaining practical experience in the real world, while doing good. Perhaps one of the most interesting courses at Carey is a class that Stanley calls “Innovation for Humanity”. The goal of this course is for MBA students to understand how sustainable business can be created in developing markets. Students go to developing countries such as India, Rwanda or Peru and study issues with infrastructure weaknesses, like water, health or energy, and then they are expected to devise solutions to these problems.

Another interesting class being run by the University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business, according to Stanley, is having students look at what is called “peace through commerce”. Here students look at efforts that have been carried out to achieve peace through commerce and visit places to help them to come up with strategies for rebuilding following war. Places that have received field visits have included Bosnia, Uganda and Lebanon, and students work with non-profit organisations to achieve real goals.

Yet another interesting class is that offered by the North Carolina State University’s College of Management. Here there is a Product Innovation Lab, and students are expected to work on projects that are sponsored by real organisations. The goal is to come up with a real solution to a market need. Students are expected to do real primary research and create prototypes of products. So far students have produced a diet and nutrition tracking application for the iPhone and a video conferencing system for physical therapy patients in rural areas.

Looking at an entirely different aspect of innovation, Stanley reports that the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington looks at what makes women succeed in business and why. The class is called “Women at the Top”. Students are introduced to high flying career women and become clearer about what helps these women to succeed. The assignment at the end of the class is to detail a plan to make a difference in helping women to get to the top within a ten year time frame by looking at their own values and what they hope to do with regard to family and career on a personal level. Both men and women are expected to do this.

Closer to home, Aarhus University in northern Europe has been voted the “most innovative” and has beaten excellent business schools like LSE to achieve this title. There is a motto of “Think, Play, Participate”, and students are encouraged to push their boundaries, work with others and express themselves, as well as to apply critical thinking. The university was praised for its “innovative and visionary spirit”, which it is said to combine with excellence in interdisciplinary programmes and a solid academic record.

Other innovative classes also push the boundaries. For example, at the Marriot School of Management at Brigham Young University students take part in “Cougar Capital” where they invest money to try to make returns. Meanwhile, at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, students look at microfinance and work with bank managers to better understand responsible lending. This course includes field trips to the rural villages overseas that are supported by such programmes. With all of this good innovative work going into designing MBA programmes, it is hopeful that MBA graduates will consider what else they can do in the world with their skills other than investment banking.