Santiago Iniguez, Dean of Instituto de Empresa Business School.
A major challenge for international business schools nowadays is the transformation of their students into “cosmopolitan managers”. By this I mean persons who consider themselves citizens of the world and who are able to manage their companies effectively in multicultural contexts for the creation of wealth of their stakeholders and society. Cosmopolitanism is thus opposed to nationalism, and its adherents consider their membership to a particular country as circumstantial, like the colour of their skin or their height, but at the same time is compatible with a sense of belonging to or being proud of one’s community. The archetypal profile of a cosmopolitan manager prioritises cross-cultural skills and understanding of diversity over traditional analytical capacities or technical knowledge.
How can business schools better prepare its students to become cosmopolitan managers? I will offer three recommendations –here and in subsequent posts- that are, obviously, addressed to institutions that aim at becoming truly global, even though I respect those schools that have a domestic mission and serve their local management cadres –although every educational institution will face the same challenge at some stage.
The first recommendation is that international schools promote multiculturalism in class and foster cross-cultural integration. The more diverse a class is, the more it potentially reflects the wide range of differences that global managers may encounter in real life. The key question, however, is not just how diverse the class is in terms of, for example, the number of nationalities represented, gender, age, religion, professional or academic background and other vital criteria. Diversity should be also reflected in the composition of nuclear class units like, for example, working teams. In addition, and more importantly, diversity should be effectively managed by docents and programme directors for participants’ personal and professional development, as part of the learning process.
Let me tell you about a recent illustrative anecdote at my school, taking into account the highly diverse composition of our International MBA (*). Some months ago, a German MBA student told me that, generally, he felt more satisfied working with his American counterparts than with other fellow participants from Latin America. Let me put it bluntly, although his words were much more subtle: he believed that Latinos, in general, were lazier, did not contribute enough to teamwork, were always ready to start a fiesta and mostly superficial. He admitted that Latinos, again in general, had some virtues such as passion and “joie de vivre” but in the end he preferred Anglo-Saxons as workmates. As such, his views coincided with many clichés spread by cross-cultural studies on management. My response to him was that he could learn more from Latinos –very divergent to his own cultural idiosyncrasies- than from similar people. Certainly, sameness is much less enriching for the learning process than diversity. I believe I did not convince him but I made a bet with him. He is now in his exchange programme at a US business school, with a much lesser diversity in its class profile, and I asked him to tell me when he comes back if the learning environment there or here was potentially richer. We made a bet –you can guess what mine was- and I think I'll win it.
Constructive interpersonal relations among students from diverse cultures create the best context for the education of cosmopolitan managers. In addition, it helps participants to unmask prejudices that, very often, are obstacles to cross-cultural management. Contrary to what my German friend thought, Latinos are not genetically superficial, they are not more prone to cheating and they may be as rigorous as the Anglo-Saxon exemplar, but the best way to learn this is by knowing and dealing with them.
(*) The class starting in the fall this year is composed of 93% non-Spanish participants with 50 different nationalities represented.