How do business schools stack up? Guelph prof in Switzerland to discuss rankings with world leaders

Julia Christensen Hughes, founding dean of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph, is currently at the World Economic Forum where she led a discussion on changing global business school rankings.

Julia Christensen Hughes facilitated Deans Dialogue at Davos conference

Julia Christensen Hughes is the founding dean of of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph. She is currently in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. (Julia Christensen Hughes/@LangDean_1/Twitter)

The World Economic Forum is currently underway in Davos, Switzerland, bringing together leaders in business, politics, academia and other areas to discuss what is going well, what could be better and what changes need to be made around the world.

Julia Christensen Hughes is a professor and the founding dean of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph.

On Wednesday, she led a dialogue session that looked at the future of business school rankings.

She also spoke with Craig Norris, host of CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition.

What follows is transcript of that interview, edited for clairty. You can also listen to the interview below.

What are you doing at the World Economic Forum?

Well, I've just stepped out of a meeting room of 50 stakeholders.

We have students, we have business school deans, we have members of the United Nations and corporate sponsors all coming together to look at how we have to change how business schools are ranked and rated  in order to encourage change and helping business both develop leaders that will essentially help create a sustainable world — the ethical long-term thinking business leaders that will help change the world for the better. 

And we also released the results of the inaugural Positive Impact Rating that just rated 50 business schools from around the world on the extent to which their students believe that they are being prepared to make a positive impact. 

So it's very exciting. It was very well received.

You're taking part in the Deans Dialogue at Davos. What are you going to be presenting?

It's actually underway right now. We started a couple of hours ago. I'm the facilitator of the event. 

We presented the results of the positive impact rating and celebrated the schools that were recognized. I was very proud that Lang was recognized amongst what were called the transforming business schools, business schools that are truly committed to doing things differently.

Then we had a very feisty panel, including the Financial Times, Corporate Knights and a representative from the Positive Impact Rating debating what they're doing well, what further change they need to make and now we've put everybody to work in a thought leader discussion about what additional changes need to happen to better align business school priorities with behaviours that the world needs. 

So they're working away. Well I stepped out to talk to you and I'm delighted to do that.

Oh I'm glad you did. We really appreciate it. What was the root of the feistiness of this panel?

Well, there's a number of rankings that have existed for a long time and reflect outmoded ideas of business schools. 

So, for many years business schools taught you know that the only responsibility of a business was to produce a bottom line and a return for shareholders. 

And now we talk about stakeholder capitalism, recognizing that, yes, shareholders deserve a return but that that need or interest has to be balanced with the needs and interests of the environment, of consumers, of employees. So it's a multi stakeholder perspective. 

So the rankings have been incenting one kind of behaviour, one kind of curriculum and that needs to change.

And this was student led right? Or students are far more involved at least.

Yes, the traditional rankings don't engage with students. 

And so this was a survey that was conducted through a number of student organizations including Oikos that engaged with student chapters on their own campuses and had the students conduct the survey.

So this is as students experience their business education, not as deans present what's going on. So really trying to — I guess Gretta Thunberg has inspired this — saying we have to give more voice to youth and really understand what is their experience like in the business school, what are they learning, what kinds of values do they think their business school stands for.

What difference will this make for just the average person listening,someone maybe who's not necessarily interested in going to a business school?

Well, it's interesting. What rankings have encouraged — they typically say they're a business school ranking but they often focus on the MBA if you really look at what's being ranked.

A large part of the point for the metrics often are to do with the salary increase of the graduates and so, for business schools that are producing graduates that want to work for not-for-profits or learn about leadership or perhaps start their own enterprise, perhaps a social enterprise, the schools that focus on those kinds of things are disadvantaged when it comes to the ranking. 

And, for example, at the Lang School of Business and Economics, we offer, I think it's eight or nine minors now that any student from any program at the University of Guelph can take. 

We believe that leadership skills, understanding entrepreneurship, sustainable commerce with knowledge and skills that every student can benefit from, regardless of their program, that commitment of resources to that activity is not currently reflected in any ranking.

There's this disconnect. So we need the rankings to be encouraging the behaviour that everyone can benefit from and that society can benefit from. 

So the movement to the extent that we can produce ethical business leaders then society wins because these will be organizations that care about customer and employee safety, that care about the supply line, that care about the impact on the environment. That's what we need. 

We need more business leaders that understand that there's multiple stakeholders and all need to be valued.

We really appreciate you stepping out of your facilitator role, out of the room there, to talk to us this morning. Thank you so much for being patient with us.

It's my absolute pleasure. I'm so excited. The timing was perfect. 

They're all working hard and coming out of their work will be producing a report that captures their recommendations for making further progress that hopefully we'll be presenting on next year.

Listen to the interview:

Four Canadian business schools made the new Positive Impact Rating for Business Schools presented Wednesday as part of Christensen Hughes session. They include: University of Guelph's Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, Western University's Ivey Business School in London, Ont., and York University Schullich School of Business in Toronto.