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Former Rotman dean Roger Martin says MBA programs are the 'most successful education endeavour of the past 100 years.'

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The Globe's biweekly business-school news roundup.

By every yardstick, business education is an international hit.

Rising student demand, a proliferation of business schools and expanded offerings of specialty degrees fuelled a near-unquenchable thirst for business education worldwide.

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"It's the most successful education endeavour of the past 100 years," observes former Rotman School of Management dean Roger Martin, who this week kicked off a one-day conference held in his honour on the future of business education. The MBA is "a market-share triumph of epic proportions," he adds, accounting for 27 per cent of graduate degrees in the United States.

But he also sounded a cautionary note, one shared in varying degrees by deans from Canada, the United States and Europe at the Toronto conference.

"The problem with business school education that it has been far too successful for its own good," he told the conference. He urged improvements in the design of business education to deliver a deeper, broader and more dynamic experience for students and, ultimately, generate benefits for society.

In that spirit, many deans stressed the value of providing students with a transformative learning experience. In class, and increasingly beyond the classroom, they say, students need to acquire a range of skills (listening well, asking the right questions and being humble about what they don't know) and real-world experience.

"I don't see any substitute for getting people engaged in an active way with the problems of business and the world," says Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. "MBA education must become even more experiential than it already is and move away from traditional classrooms."

Meanwhile, globalization and technological change (including the rise of massive open online courses) offer openings for schools to rethink where, how and to whom to deliver programs.

For example, the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Conn., and 23 international business schools have teamed in a consortium to offer digital courses that enable students and faculty to work across borders on the same project.

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"Enterprises of all kinds need people who have the ability to look up, connect and leverage to figure out all kinds of things," Yale dean Ted Snyder says.

Rotman, Queen's make grade

For the first time, Rotman at the University of Toronto made the global list of top-42 executive MBA programs ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek. In this year's survey, Rotman placed 41st based on responses from graduates and EMBA program directors.

Queen's School of Business placed 19th in the publication's top-20 global list of open enrolment executive education programs this year. The school was not ranked in the 2011 survey.

Knowing the numbers is not enough

Business school graduates seeking careers in finance will need more than math smarts to get them where they want to go, according to a global survey. They also need to demonstrate some savvy in communications, interpersonal skills and strategic thinking.

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That's the blunt message from than 2,200 corporate finance professionals in 75 countries questioned by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), a publicly-traded U.S. company that provides advisory services to its global network of members.

"We were hearing a lot of pain and frustration from CFOs [chief financial officers] and heads of finance about the lack of appropriate skills on their teams," Kruti Bharucha, CEB senior director and finance practice leader, says of the impetus for the survey. "We wanted to understand if there are a totally different set of competencies that people now need to bring to the table."

The response was a resounding yes, she says, with 85 per cent of respondents dissatisfied with the skills mix of their finance teams.

In its research, CEB found the typical finance team is "strong in functional and technical capabilities but weak in the strategic and visionary qualities that distinguish industry leaders. This gap becomes more critical as finance is called on by its business partners to provide guidance that will lead to profitable growth in tough markets."

Ms. Bharucha says employers are looking for graduates who, in addition to their finance knowledge, are "builders" (able to create a vision and foster buy-in), "persuaders" (able to explain complex ideas in simple terms) and "strategists" (understand business operations and technology).

She says business schools are hearing the message from prospective employers.

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"Increasingly schools are also recognizing that some of the competencies of the builder, strategist and persuader have not been emphasized," she says. "So there is a need to work that into the curriculum."

That was the goal when Queen's School of Business introduced its one-year master of finance program four years ago. In designing the program, officials talked to banks, pension funds and other top finance employers for feedback.

"The one thing that every single one mentioned was that graduates were coming out with strong technical skills but were lacking in the ability to communicate," says Sean Cleary, director of the master of finance program. "Some people call them soft skills," he says of the missing competencies identified by CEB. "They are critical skills."

Former banker economist joins DeGroote

As chief economist and executive vice-president of Bank of Montreal, Sherry Cooper was a frequent commentator on economic issues. Now retired, she is expected to play a similar role in her new post as TMX Industry Professor at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business.

"She is exactly the kind of professional we want to collaborate with as we serve the business community and our students," DeGroote dean Len Waverman says. Her three-year appointment is funded by TMX Group (including the former Toronto Stock Exchange).

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