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The DBA: The missing link?

Collaboration
Published on
10 October 2016

Grenoble Ecole de Management Director of Executive Education, Gaël FOUILLARD discusses the benefits of collaboration between researchers and corporate partners and points out the advantages of efficiently connecting both parties in order to bring relevant research, knowledge, and added value to the partners and customers.

The DBA community is an essential valuable resource that can be tapped by employing a more systematic approach and cultivating better communication between the DBA community and Executive Education, and this could help identify future strategic opportunities.

How can business schools contribute more efficiently to corporate learning? Can research developed at business schools be of any use to our corporate partners? Will executive education departments in business schools disappear as corporate universities develop? How can business schools offer more value than “vendors” or consultants?

These questions have been debated for years by academics and professionals. For many business schools, the missing link between research and executive education is still a hot topic, as research-based executive education is the “holy grail” in the eyes of international accreditations. Some schools have chosen to ignore this challenge and consider research and executive education as different activities with very little or no interaction. Therefore, they recruit faculty who carry on academic research and publish in academic journals, while executive education contracts are staffed with a second set of professors and consultants who are not involved at all in the research activities. Consequently, very few institutions have traditionally managed to efficiently connect both activities because it requires at least two key assets:

  • Star faculty (gurus) who not only are good researchers but also have sufficient interactions with the business world to identify research topics of interest to corporations in order to produce rigorous academic knowledge that is potentially useful in the real world; and
  • An organization that effectively supports these individuals to create and disseminate this knowledge, often by constituting teams of experts who work closely with the faculty (including PhD students) and who have the legitimacy to design and deliver content based on the concepts and research produced by the faculty.

While this model works for a few elite institutions in the world (Harvard, IESE, LBS) that have both the notoriety and financial resources to maintain it, it seems out of reach for most business schools, even those accredited and well ranked internationally, like GEM. As a result, even the best schools find it harder and harder to sustain this model because many of their corporate clients are not convinced of the actual ROI and question the stratospheric rates that these schools are charging. So what will come next? Will business schools or will they let corporations develop their own alternatives and thereby take the risk of being excluded from this activity?

After a couple of years of experience managing the Grenoble Ecole de Management Executive Education Programs, I have acquired the conviction that GEM could have part of the answer with its DBA community. This belief is the result of many observations and discussions with GEM colleagues, DBA candidates, and alumni and also corporate clients and experts in executive education.

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