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Posted 11.22.05

Dr. Edward Hundert, President of Case Western Reserve University, welcomed the 140 attendees to the Thwing Student Center on October 19th for a summit on the Future of Management Education at the Intersection of Business and Society. He opened with a quote from Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict your future is to create it”.

The three day summit, hosted by Weatherhead’s Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit (B·A·W·B) in conjunction with the Aspen Institute, was then off and running using the Appreciative Inquiry technique to rethink and recreate management education to include corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues. Designed to expand the seed vision of Weatherhead’s Dean Myron Roomkin to create a “school within the school” at Weatherhead - with B·A·W·B as one of the four transdisciplinary schools within that concept - the summit not only achieved that goal but took it a step further. Roomkin challenged the participants to ask themselves how educators and business practitioners shape the world, how management educators shape the world, and how business schools can educate managers to work at the intersection of business and society. By Day #3 of the Summit, participants had responded by recommending a broad network of partners on all continents.

“We look for B·A·W·B to be a leader at Case and in society. This summit is our first work toward defining that concept,” said Roomkin. “Think boldly, think opportunistically, and don’t get caught up in administrative discussions.”

The summit was facilitated by Jim Ludema, professor of organizational behavior at Benedictine University, with assistance from Judy Rodgers, Executive Director of B·A·W·B and David Cooperrider, professor of organizational behavior at Weatherhead and founder of B·A·W·B. Weatherhead doctoral candidates, Duncan Coombe and Lindsey Godwin, assisten in organizing the event and functioned as liaisons with the Aspen Institute’s Teaching Innovation Program (TIP). Weatherhead, through B·A·W·B, is one of 11 business schools in the world chosen by Aspen to join the TIP cohort to create a tipping point in management education.

Participants geared up for the difficult but exciting work of recreating management curriculum by listening to the words of inspirational keynote speaker, Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, one of the largest manufacturers of commercial flooring in the world. An eco-conscious company, Interface’s mission is to be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so will become restorative through the power of influence.

“I am, first of all, an industrialist – some would say a radical industrialist – and as competitive as anyone you know,” Anderson told summit attendees. “I founded my company from scratch and it has grown to be a primary manufacturer of carpet, tiles, textiles and flooring. My assignment today is to make the case for why and how sustainability is important. We all know there is a problem. We are consuming the earth and hurting the biosphere.”

Anderson walked the crowd through an epiphany that came 11 years ago when, at age 61, he read Paul Hawkens’ book The Ecology of Commerce,” and the ensuing challenges of turning an enormous, global corporation from one of the world’s biggest polluters and contributors to landfills, to a more sustainable and ecologically friendly company. The room fell silent as they listened, entranced with the powerful story of change he recounted in his quiet, Southern drawl. Anderson believes 40% of his company is now sustainable and 60% still needs to be turned around.

As Anderson left the summit, winging his way back to Atlanta to tackle Interface’s many challenges, excited summit participants broke off into groups to begin discovering, dreaming about and designing ideas that would change the way the next generation of managers work and think; the way business evolves at its intersection with society.

In one group, Stef Coetzee, a professor of business from the University of Stellenbosch in Capetown, South Africa, and Sayan Chatterjee a professor of management policy from Case Weatherhead, shared stories of how business was involved in the political change in South Africa and about how Grameen Bank is empowering women in Bangladesh and India.

“These stories open up a whole new way of thinking,” said Coetzee. “We must not only learn from the peaks, but from the valleys as well. We must share with others on other continents to create new leadership for the problems we are facing.”

After reporting on what they had learned from one another, attendees listened to a panel discussion followed by a question and answer session with Bill Starbuck, a professor at the University of Oregon and former president of the Academy of Management, Jim Walsh professor from the University of Michigan, Mary Gentile of the Aspen Institute and David Cooperrider of B·A·W·B. Later Andy Ruben, V.P. for Strategy at Wal-Mart, joined the summit via videoconferencing to talk about Wal-Mart’s 12-month journey toward sustainability.

“Twelve months ago the environment was intriguing and something good to do, and one month ago it was the only topic for us on our board retreat,” said Ruben. “It is the biggest business opportunity for us at this time.”

Ruben told listeners that Wal-Mart was shocked at how much innovation and money were sitting on the table when it looked at packaging and realized it could save $500,000 by using different packaging on just one clock it sells. They are now using less cardboard and oil, positioning the company in a different way, and looking at how to increase profits in a way that is good for the environment and for the world. Wal-Mart’s approach is not to market green products that customers will be happy to pay 30% more for. According to Ruben, they see this as a tremendous opportunity for leadership and, although his role at the company is not an environmental one, 95% of his time is now centered on issues of sustainability.

“Change has to involve government policy, business, and customers,” said Ruben. “From what I’ve seen business has a unique opportunity to lead. We’ve started an incredible journey based on great business opportunity.”

After hearing from Nancy Adler, a professor of international management at McGill University, who challenged them to shift from a decision-making paradigm to a design paradigm and think of ways to support students in reclaiming their courage, attendees joined their groups to work on dreaming and designing ideas for change.

Many great ideas evolved from the dream and design phase of the summit. Suggestions were made for Case to adopt the UN Millennium Development Goals and to develop new degrees in the areas of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at Weatherhead. Collaborative relations and genuine partnerships with South Africa, Brazil and others to create a “school beyond a school” were discussed with great excitement. Life-long learning, such as seminars and executive education, were marked as important vehicles to teach new courses on corporate social responsibility and sustainability. Net Impact MBA students recommended schools provide students with the ability to target job placement opportunities where they can pursue their knowledge about, and interest in, these issues in the workplace.

These group discussions followed speeches by a panel that included Hazel Henderson, futurist and founder of EthicMark Productions. The result was a vigorous discussion and agreement that an EthicMark accreditation for advertising, marketing and public affairs firms that create sustainable and socially responsible marketing campaigns is a great idea.

The Summit ended on a high note as David Cooperrider announced that the culmination of many months of effort had resulted in an agreement between the Academy of Management and the U.N. Global Compact to come together in 2006 for the first time in history to discuss connecting business education with business as and agent of world benefit.

Click here for a piece on the BAWB Summit from NPR.

By Janet Roberts



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