A Student Initiative Leads to Path-Bending New Course at Berkeley-Haas
By Yonathan Shiran, MBA ’14
Yonathan helped to develop, and then enrolled in, a new CRB course on global mega-trends for MBAs; here, he writes about the experience of building the course and the great need for it in management education.
Most business courses take the perspective of optimizing shareholder value over all else. The Financial Times recently called this approach – optimizing for shareholder value alone – “the world’s dumbest idea.” By teaching it, business schools indirectly neglect other stakeholders of critical value: community, employees, society as a whole, and customers to name a few. In a recent convening of the Center for Responsible Business’s Alumni Advisory Board, sustainable business leaders reported that innovative companies are ready to offer sustainability solutions and are therefore eager to hire MBAs who understand global challenges holistically.
In response to this great need and opportunity, Berkeley-Haas launched a brand new course this past spring called “Business Solutions for Global Mega-Trends.” It challenged the premise that shareholder value is more important than value generation that addresses broader stakeholders. It also analyzed global mega-trends that, despite their massive, disruptive effects across all industries and functions, are not often discussed inside the traditional MBA classroom.
Work on this course began over one year ago, when a group of determined Berkeley-Haas students questioned the status quo and asked the school why topics of such significant business and moral importance were not more present in the core curriculum. The school responded to the challenge and allowed a group of eight committed students to join faculty in developing a brand-new course. The course officially launched in March of this year, filling to capacity instantly with 50 MBA students.
The highlighted mega-trends in the course were: climate change, energy and fuels management, privacy challenges, water scarcity, food security, and changing demographics. Through this “big picture” course, students explored ways that businesses should mitigate, adapt to, and eventually even profit from these global challenges and trends.
Topics discussed included: How can we fulfill increasing energy demand in an affordable and responsible manner? How will we feed and provide water to a planet with 9 billion people? How can governments and businesses around the world collaborate to avoid the dangerous consequences of climate change? What are the social, political, and economical effects of income inequality?
The course’s approach was unique in many ways. To summarize:
- First, we started with the understanding that long-term business success can only be achieved by fulfilling the interests of all stakeholders.
- Then, we acknowledged that this is a “VUCA” (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, and thus prepared students to think in a long-term and dynamic fashion. For instance, students were taught Scenario Planning, a tool that helps businesses deal with such volatility and uncertainty by preparing for multiple scenarios that could occur, not just one.
- Third, we intentionally targeted all MBAs (as opposed to just the sustainability-oriented ones), as this fulfills the CRB’s mission of achieving real and broad impact.
A student in the class, Evan Wiener, MBA ’14 notes: “This class is important for all MBAs because it gets to the heart of what Haas is preparing its students to do: become the future leaders of business. Regardless of the industry or function, true business leaders must have the necessary skills to address, mitigate and resolve these complex social and environmental issues that impact our everyday lives.”
Students have worked with faculty to ensure this course is offered again in 2015 and beyond. On graduation day, I recently reflected back upon the vision for the course: to become part of Haas’ core MBA curriculum, and attract thought leaders in each trend such as Michael Pollan (food), Robert Reiche (income inequality) and Steven Chu (energy).