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Overcoming Business Challenges With the Help of Higher Education

A panel of professionals in the higher education field discuss how executive education programs can positively influence business growth.


Mark W.S. Chun, Ph.D.

Academic Director of Executive Education, Pepperdine Graziadio Business School

What are some of the biggest challenges that business leaders face today? What areas of business seem to be lacking due to underdeveloped leadership?

While understanding and utilizing technology is essential in managing a lucrative business, it isn’t enough. Successful, forward-thinking leaders must leverage and celebrate the distinctive ethical values in their employees including their creativity, synthesis, collaboration, judgment and diversity of thought. Next, they must constantly evolve as intelligent leaders to encompass analytical reasoning, digital know-how, heightened mindfulness and interpersonal skills. And last, they should promote new combinations of humanity and machine to pioneer innovative business ideas, models and solutions.

How do your executive education programs help leaders overcome these challenges and continue to grow their businesses?

Our programs emphasize the application of industry-specific, leadership strategies to overcome real-world business challenges currently facing today’s market. Our students experience transformational, values-centered learning through small, collaborative classes and personalized mentorship, allowing them to reach their greatest potential as entrepreneurial-driven, “best for the world” leaders.

What are the three most important skills that business people and students will emerge with after participating in one of these programs?

Participants of our degree and non-degree programs not only sharpen their business approach, but emerge as strong, entrepreneurial-based leaders with ethical decision making, critical thinking skills, and a global perspective.


Dr. Nancy R. Mansfield

Director of WomenLead and Professor of Legal Studies, Georgia State University

What are some of the biggest challenges that business leaders face today? What areas of business seem to be lacking due to underdeveloped leadership?

Many of the challenges leaders face today are familiar – understanding the threats and opportunities presented by evolving technology, designing and executing on a strategy that wins the war for talent, and anticipating the impact of moves by traditional and unconventional competitors around the globe have and will continue to require the lion’s share of a leader’s time and energy.  Over the past year, however, global political circumstances have begun to add complexity to leadership.  Threats of trade wars and concomitant tariffs, as well as shifting geopolitical alliances, create significant uncertainty in an area that had been, for most of the globe, fairly predictable.  To be successful, future leaders – at virtually all levels of the organization – will need to have even greater awareness and even savvy when it comes to understanding how politics is becoming a much less predictable component of the business environment. 

At the same time, leaders are increasingly finding their businesses visibly enmeshed in social issues.  More than ever, stakeholders are aware of and potentially troubled by, for example, the personal behavior of executives (e.g., Travis Kalanick, Bill O’Reilly) or the misdeeds attributed to a dysfunctional organizational culture (e.g., United Airlines, Wells Fargo).  The opportunities for a leader or their business to take reputational hits has increased dramatically with the rise of social media.  

It isn’t clear today that our efforts to prepare business leaders has sufficiently addressed these new sources of complexity and uncertainty.  At Robinson, we believe this broadening set of daunting leadership challenges is better addressed through a more diverse set of lenses.  For that reason, we have committed to an effort to prepare the women in our programs for leadership responsibility. 

As it stands, despite earning 60 percent of collegiate degrees conferred today and comprising a majority of the workforce, women remain severely underrepresented in leadership positions in corporate, STEM, and government settings.  Furthermore, it is quite possible some of these issues could have been avoided or ameliorated had women been more highly represented in leadership roles within organizations.

Georgia State University’s WomenLead Program seeks to close the pervasive gender equity gap by empowering young women to aim for leadership roles. Unlike other leadership programs around the country directed toward women, Georgia State’s program is targeted to undergraduates, to give these students the idea and the confidence to strive for leadership roles prior to them launching into their careers.  Often times leadership programs for women are targeted to MBA students, or to mid-career professionals – those who may have already made decisions that may have made it harder or perhaps impossible for them to continue to seek a leadership role in the future. 

A fundamental premise of WomenLead is to engage students early, before they begin their careers, to seed the ideas and the strategies that will be necessary to strive for roles of influence at some point in one’s career. WomenLead offers educational programming and professional signature experiences for Georgia State’s students and fosters outreach to the Atlanta business, government, and nonprofit communities. Based in the Robinson College of Business, WomenLead serves the entire Georgia State community. Now more than ever, companies are recognizing the importance of hiring women candidates who will be strong future leaders. They are sponsoring women’s leadership programs and initiatives in far greater numbers. The Robinson College of Business is participating in this national movement by creating a pipeline of talent for business, STEM and government sectors. By doing so we are doing the right thing for the school, for our students, and for the future of business.

How does your program help to create leaders, who will ultimately overcome challenges and continue to grow their businesses?

We feel strongly that successful leaders will need to have had two sorts of experiences during their academic program.  First, future leaders will need to have developed an elevated capability for recognizing and diagnosing the impacts that political, economic, social and technological forces might present as threat or opportunity to their business.  Second, future leaders will need to have repeatedly practiced the application of abstract theories and models on data and problems that are as multifaceted and ambiguous as those to which they will expected to attend as leaders so that they can gain confidence in both their technical skills and in their emotional skills before graduating. 

Launched in 2015, WomenLead provides high-achieving undergraduate students (3.3 GPA or better) with opportunities in and out of the classroom that encourage them to strive for top leadership roles across business, science, nonprofit, and government sectors. Students who take the course come from four of Georgia State’s colleges, representing 39 majors. Beginning in their sophomore year and following them through graduation and beyond, WomenLead is one of a few undergraduate women’s leadership programs at a major research university. Students can choose between three distinct for-credit courses across different areas: WomenLead in Science, WomenLead in Policy and Politics, and WomenLead in Business.

The core curriculum focusses on students building confidence in themselves, building confidence in their work, and building confidence in community. We achieve these goals in a consistent manner across all three courses while also allowing focus on the different subject areas across the university.  The WomenLead courses, taught by tenured professors in legal studies, marketing, biology and political science, emphasize opportunities for a high-degree of collaboration among faculty and students and offer students signature leadership development experiences through an on-site corporate visit, a power networking event, exposure to invited speakers, and interviews with community leaders.  The course culminates in a final leadership poster presentation event where students present their personal takeaways from the course and strategies for development for the future.  This assignment and the WomenLead course require reflection, self-examination, intuition and intellect, inspiration and courage. Alumni of the course then become members of WomenLead, and are encouraged to remain active in the program and with the next cohorts of students until they graduate.

What are the three most important skills that business people and students will emerge with after participating in one of these programs?

WomenLead’s goal is to unlock the full potential of our highly talented  and diverse student body and to place each member on a trajectory for lifelong success.  The program exposes students to pathways to leadership positions and incorporates a curriculum focused on three pillars: confidence in self, confidence in the professional world of work and confidence in the community and making a positive impact.  Research shows that success correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence and the good news is that with work, confidence – “the stuff that turns thoughts into action” — can be acquired. 

For our students (of whom over 60 percent are first generation college students), building confidence is compelling and the most important skill in shaping their ability to chart their course at the university and beyond, to aspire to leadership roles and to attain those roles.  Students’ growth of confidence stimulates action on many fronts and, in turn, bolsters their belief in their ability to succeed. So confidence accumulates—through hard work, through success, and even through failure.

Our students often say “One of the best things I’ve gained from and love about WomenLead is confidence in myself as a person, student, and women in the world of business.”  Armed with confidence, they generate their own leadership voice, gain the skills to inspire and motivate others and to solve problems in the workplace – all important skills for business.

What do you think the future of continued education looks like?

As a leadership team of the college, we start from the proposition that we live in a unique moment in time – one of immense possibilities. We find this underlying premise useful for the decisions we make about how to best to position the college to be a resource for business in the coming age as it reminds us to not only consider solutions to our current pressures that iterate on the status quo, but to also consider solutions and structures for a future that may discretely depart from the past. 

We contend one overarching shortfall for business education is the current disconnect between the labor market that many business educators want to prepare people for and the actual needs of today’s labor market and the yet-to-be-imagined jobs of the future. Specifically, vastly more powerful information and communication technologies are dramatically reducing the number of people that businesses must employ to engage in the mechanically-intellectual work of managing processes, accounting for transactions, controlling distribution systems, or any number of other jobs for which business schools have traditionally prepared our students to enter. Instead, an increasing number of machines and devices will make sure that organizations stay on task. Thus, the work that remains to be done by future employees will focus less on management or administration, and more on entrepreneurial value creation with an innovation mindset. Thus, one aspect of the future of education will be to ensure our graduates are more adaptive, more agile, and highly comfortable with digital technologies that will be necessary to create value and run the organizations of the future. 

A second aspect of the future of education will be the on-demand nature of education and the ability and need to tailor instructional methodology to individual learning outcomes. Students of the future will be digital natives, comfortable with technology, needing to learn in formats best suited for the task at hand. No longer will class be dominated by lecture. Instead courses will be designed and delivered using a combination of delivery modes, with each modality carefully chosen and tailored to the specific learning outcome the instructor desires their students to master.  Course design will become an art and a science, no longer the domain of an individual instructor. Instead, course design and delivery will become a team sport with the players to include the faculty member, the instructional designer, the graphic designer, the videographer, the online student success coach, and many others. 

There is a bright future for business schools focused on understanding how individuals interact and work together to best contribute to the development of new ideas and the deployment of approaches that are essential for progress and success. Schools that take on grand societal challenges using students and faculty leveraging new technologies are excited places to be. The journey from ‘business administration’ to ‘value creation’ is just getting underway, and it is a very exciting one for the schools that choose to fully embrace it.


Bill Pearce

Assistant Dean for Instruction, University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

What are some of the biggest challenges that business leaders face today? What areas of business seem to be lacking due to underdeveloped leadership?

Learning agility is critical for all leaders. How do I get the skills I need when the pace of the game is changing faster than ever? At Berkeley Haas, one of our defining leadership principles is “students always”. We are a community designed for curiosity and lifelong pursuit of personal and intellectual growth. Business is not a place for those who feel they have learned all they need to learn.

How do your executive education programs help leaders overcome these challenges and continue to grow their businesses?

The goal of the Berkeley MBA Program is to develop leaders who are both firmly grounded in the fundamentals of business and armed with a real set of innovative leader capabilities. Based on a set of specific skills valued by employers, the program’s rigorous curriculum is designed to teach essential management skills, while providing additional practical knowledge and experience that will enable them to thrive in a collaborative business environment. This helps develop leaders who work effectively with, and through, others.

The Berkeley MBA is anchored in the fundamentals of general management, including the latest theories and best practices in business. Berkeley Haas graduates learn to lead and manage an enterprise as a whole. The rigorous curriculum teaches requisite qualitative, quantitative, analytical, strategic and problem-solving skills. Our graduates not only gain knowledge about best business practices, but also learn about the fundamental principles behind them — the “how” and the “why.”

What are the three most important skills that business people andstudents will emerge with after participating in one of these programs?

  1. Leadership: Leadership is a connective theme that runs through the entire Berkeley MBA, in both the required (core) and elective portions of the curriculum. The process starts with the careful selection of Berkeley MBA students, who have already demonstrated leadership and exemplify the school’s Defining Leadership Principles.
  2. Problem solving: As soon as students arrive on campus they begin to learn the skills required to define opportunities. For example, we developed a course called Problem Finding, Problem Solving that teaches several modes of thinking — such as design thinking — in order to find, frame and solve difficult problems. Making students aware of new ways to critically evaluate problems is key to being able to answer the wickedly difficult problems that our society faces.
  3. Emotional Intelligence: The Berkeley MBA Program is highly selective, and its graduates are sought after because they demonstrate not only a mastery of powerful quantitative and management tools, but also a solid understanding of best practices for the changing technological, global, and human dimensions of business. “Confidence without attitude” is another of our defining leadership principles. We teach our students to make decisions based on evidence and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arrogance, thereby leading through trust and collaboration.
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