Boulding: We’d like to be more active in the Brazilian Amazons

Posted: March 7, 2013 by jennroig in English, Interviews
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This is the English, original, non edited version of the interview to Fuqua’s dean William Boulding, published on AmericaEconomia on March 3, 2013.

William Boulding, dean of Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

William Boulding, dean of Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

It has been said about you that you show a “powerful idealism about what business schools can do for the world”. Would you tell us how that idealism is translated into action?

The point that I make frequently is that there are two interesting observation about the world of business leadership and the world today. One observation is that there has been a decrease in the level of trust in business leaders… by people who formally measure this, people who would tell you anecdotally that there’s less trust on business leaders but at the same time, it’s also true that business can connect into every problem and every challenge that would affect the human condition. Ad you have business leaders who recognize that. For example, the co-CEO of Whole Foods. He argues that business will be the transformational engine for the current century.

I think most those observations are correct. There has been a lot of distrust in business leaders but there is this amazing opportunity to use business as a transformational engine. It’s clear how that can be. Most people think idealism is work that is done for non-profit organizations or foundations and certainly we have many examples of how business could form those activities.

That is the way to use your business skills to have social impact. But at the same time, business is an entry point into questions around health. We are trying to figure out around the world how to increase the quality of care, how do we lower the cost of that care, how do we increase accessibility of that care. You cannot begin to address any of those questions about health without using business as a part of that solution. The same thing around our energy future, as we debate alternative sources of energy, you need a business perspective that informs the cons of a trade off that you’ll have to make as you think about various alternatives. You will have to use business to think though the environmental implications of those energy trade off as well as broader environmental implications of various business decisions that are made to drive economic growth and development. One example is the amazons, which really represents the lungs of the world, we have to think about what it’s the sustainable development in the amazons, make sure we protect natural resources that are important for the entire world, at the same time making sure that those resources are appropriately fueling economic development within a region.

So those are examples of why I think business could be a powerful force for good in the world. And that’s why some people might think about it as idealism.

Would you say these ideas you believe in, are also embedded in Fuqua’s spirit?

Absolutely. That is very much a part of our culture, part of our core values, that all of us should be thinking about how can we make a difference in the lives of others.

I think it’s interesting to see that our graduates don’t have any sense of entitlement and instead of pursuing their self interest rather what they are trying to do it’s using their capabilities to make a difference in their organizations, communities, to improve life. I think because of that they have been very successful in organizations where the goal is to use the organization to increase quality of life, whether that’s on Apple, or at Johnson & Johnson, or in the financial services community. All those different kinds of companies have an opportunity, and therefore an obligation, to use those efforts to improve life. That is very much part of the Fuqua culture.

As for today, what are the most important challenges that a global B-School such as Fuqua must face?

I think the biggest challenge for the business school is that no one has to come to a business school as a requirement to work in business. You don’t have to have a business degree in order to enter the business domain. Therefore, we have to create value in what we do. We have to add value to the people who come to Fuqua. We need to add value to their organizations around the world.

So, the key challenge is that we need to be responsive to the changes in the world in a way that allows our graduates to go out and create value, drive innovation, drive economic development and make a difference in the lives of others. In the world that we live in, there are some very powerful forces that I think can make the life of a business leader more complicated. I think it’s why people have been critical of business leaders, it’s because the world of business leaders operates in a much more complex way, due to three megatrends that define the environment.

The first megatrend that has been around for many years is globalization. The difference is that even though people know that we are moving into a more and more globalized world, in terms of the economy, the view was, not many years ago, that we would all converge into the same kind of economic paradigm in terms of how global business was conducted. What we know now is that the world is not that. There are differences that are persistent around the world in terms of the institutional forms, that affect the way business is conducted, and we also know that there are persistent differences in terms of the ways that people relate to each other, the cultures that exist around the world. Those are differences that relate to civilizations that have been years and years in the making. So we have to prepare people to look for the commonalities in that world, to find out how we can connect the global economy more effectively, but if we are not aware of the differences, if we are not embedded in those economies in significant ways, we will run into troubles and we will lose the opportunity to connect successfully.

The second major trend is interdependence. This is related to globalization. One example again is the amazons. Whatever happens there affects everybody around the world. There are many other examples, the real estate bubble in the USA, that led to a global financial crisis. The tsunami in Japan changed the availability of goods coming out of there, it changed our views around nuclear power, considering the risks that we may be exposed. When you have unrest in the Middle East, it changes the prices of oil and gas around the world. There is extraordinary interdependence. What is interesting about this, it’s that when people talk about interdependence, they say “oh, that’s nice”, but what interdependence really means is a loss of control. When you reframe interdependence as loss of control, then you realize that people don’t actually like loss of control. They fight it. This is the second area where I think is giving business leaders a lot of difficulty, which is the way of people responds to interdependence is to fight more for their narrow interests than before, so you have people who are becoming more antagonistic, more polarizing and extreme in their views. They are fighting to regain control over their lives. We need business leaders who understand not just the negative consequences of interdependence but positive consequences of interdependence. It’s to say: my life can be better because you are going to change my life if I take what you do which is better than what I do. So, you search of the upside of interdependence. We need business leaders who understand the degree to which their companies, even their lives, are going to be influenced by actions from a wide variety of stakeholders and they need to be aware of that landscape in a way that they can take advantage of that interdependence through the third megatrend which is disruption. My view is that we live in times that are far more disruptive than any time in our history. The disruption is because of globalization and the ability for people from anywhere around the world to change the life of people from anywhere else around the world… And because of technology. Those forces working together have led to incredible disruption. We have seen examples of really negative disruption, like in the financial services. But we also see the opportunity for really positive disruption in terms of tackling basic challenges around eradicating poverty, improving education and access to quality education, improving the access and quality of healthcare, improving our energy options, improving our environmental present and future sustainable development. There is incredible opportunity for positive disruption and we want to be the business school that prepares business leaders in a way that they are ready to engage in a very global world, where you do have differences, but you can find common grounds across the diverse economies and people, so they can find the upside of interdependence, and can create and collaborate in effective ways, to really drive positive innovation and positive disruption in a global economy.

And what are the challenges for you as Dean?

For me, I think the top priority is to make sure we have a shared sense of ambition around this notion that more than any time in our history there is an opportunity to work through business to make a difference in the world. And because that opportunity, we have an obligation to fulfill that opportunity and to produce the insight and prepare the leaders that the world need. That’s the top priority that sense of purpose and ambition to be better than any other business schools at responding to what’s needed in the world in order to make a positive difference.

From there, you have to make sure that you have the appropriate experience and knowledge in your faculty to provide the students, along our corporate partners and government partners and so on.

Fuqua has alliances and programs running outside the USA, in sites in China, India, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom… What are the benefits and challenges from extending the school’s work abroad?

The benefits from extending our global activities are very simple in concept. It basically says that the more we are embedded in other economies, the more capability we can create in terms of understanding the landscape in those parts of the world. So we can build two things upon that understanding, first, we would be able to connect to other parts of the world in terms of being embedded in their local economies that together constitute the global economy, and then we would be able to share those insights with our students, industry leaders, helping them understand the global landscape.

We certainly still believe that you can be a great global business school by staying in one location, because there are these persistent and interesting differences around the world and we need to understand them and therefore use them to prepare our students.

The challenge of doing that, is almost like the challenge that companies have as they work into be global organization. When you are operating in different parts of the world, you find that the setup of education might be different, different standards, different ways to think the approach to education, so you must work really hard to find the common ground in terms of educating the leaders that the world need. That is a funny and exciting thing to do, but it’s also a very hard work.

For a global school, diversity among students tends to be a crucial factor, to increase cultural awareness, to learn about different ways to make business around the world, etc. What would you say are the most relevant values or assets that Latin American students are bringing to Fuqua?

In fact, diversity is a critical foundation to any educational experience. That diversity for us is crucial. Fuqua and its team are known by a culture with a view that diversity is incredibly important because if you look at where value and innovation comes from today, more than at any time on our history, comes from collaboration and co creation. The reason why diversity matters is that different perspectives help to drive that innovation and value. You have to be in an environment that values diversity and values the notion of collaboration and co creation otherwise you just have a series of individual who don’t connect and don’t come together.

So I think the contribution from the Latin American community is very valuable. They represent a part of the world which is incredibly important both because it’s currently relevant to the rest of the world in terms of the economy but it’s also important to our future. They help us create those cultural bridges that lead us to the understanding of institutional differences. They add a huge amount of value to the students’ experience.

Latin American students show immense pride about their countries, therefore one of the things I love is they are willing to share with other students their experiences which may be different. So they are great at helping build those cultural bridges.

Are there any significant initiatives in Fuqua that refer specifically to the Latin American region? Is Fuqua related to other Latin American Business Schools, or potential corporate employers?

One thing that we very much want to, it’s to see continued representation from Latin America in our student body. We are seeing a growing number of students from Latin America. I think most of the applications are coming from Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, followed lately by Argentina. We have been pushing hard to increase the diversity of our student body.

What we have been doing, and I find it exciting, is that we started a new program within our MBA program, called the Equal Client Consulting Practical. Here the idea we have is to put our students on the ground in key economies around the world. We have not figured out how to have a consistent presence in Latin America, we have been running a lot of projects over the years in LA but Client consulting practice is a way to create a footprint in LA in addition to some other countries around the world, but we are particularly focused on Brazil. So this year we are working on four different projects located in Sao Paulo, along with multinational corporations such as GE, Monsanto, with a local hospital Sírio-Libanês, and also with a non-governmental organization, the Woman Care Global.

That brings me back to my point. We are preparing leaders who work for traditional companies that drive value innovations, and economic development, create jobs… some people may focus on non traditional ways of social impact. In addition to be in Sao Paulo, we very much like to be active in northern brazil, in the Amazon region. We have to figure out ways to do that, because we have so many business students who are interested in issues around sustainability, economic development and alternative energy sources. We want to come as guests, we want to be there to learn, we have been working to find the right partners who can invite us into that region so we can work on problems with people that really would value to have us engaged as opposed to we having interest in going to some place and act like we know what to do. We want to learn and give back as much as we possibly can.


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