Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April 25 – “The Power to Know” – And the Courage to Act

The "big" speaker today at the AACSB International conference here in Paris was Jim Goodnight, the CEO of SAS Institute, a $1.6 billion global software company that is headquartered in North Carolina. Its products allow its customers to gather and analyze information technology-based transaction data of all sorts. Every time a business executes a process such as buying, hiring, selling, or making, some SAS activity-based management software can model, analyze and graph these data to improve management decision making. SAS sells web analytics, risk management, customer relationship management, warranty analysis and many other types of business solutions software to 96 of the Fortune 100 companies and to major universities, too. SAS employs mathematicians, IT professionals, actuaries and consultants.

I was expecting to hear about the importance of teaching business students data-driven decision making and teaching such skills as data mining. I was not disappointed and I was impressed by the ways that SAS products assist in pouring through massive amounts of data in drug discovery and marketing research, for example.

But Goodnight spoke about this as the necessary basics of business, not the end point. He described other levels of understanding such as integration of data across spheres of knowledge seeking insights, using insight to predict, and even more importantly to innovate. But there is an even higher and more important level, according to Goodnight, and that is to combine knowing (the SAS tagline is "The Power to Know") with the courage – yes, courage -- to act on that knowledge.

Goodnight, who was Ernst & Young’s 2005 “Entrepreneur of the Year” in the technology category, argued for education that combines science and experience in the world. "All science and no art is dangerous," he said. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut's book, “Player Piano,” where the world was efficient but without soul. Goodnight believes that we must teach our students imagination and conviction and the courage to act on that conviction. I am actually feeling pretty good because the UC Davis Graduate School of Management is already doing this. We offer rigorous technical training and multiple opportunities for engaging students in the community and the world. Our students have many opportunities to develop their humanity as well as to practice their skills.

Goodnight took questions and he really lit up when speaking of how he did this personally. In 1996, he and his wife co-founded a high-tech private day school, called the Cary Academy, in the belief that current education practices for elementary and high school students are rooted in the industrial era. Students drop out because they are bored, he said citing statistics. They go home and play online games with kids around the world, are stimulated and interactive, and then we put them in teacher centered classroom, and give them pencils. The Cary Academy has more computers than students.

April 24 – Meeting Challenges: B-Schools Get Creative

Here in Paris, this international business school dean’s conference is organized around all-member events such as speeches by important persons, tracks focused on key issues and lots of networking time. Business school deans understand the power of networking and AACSB has included lots of valuable time for coffee and chatting.

I've met a lot of people this way and realize the diversity of situations that business schools around the world find themselves.

I am amazed at the creativity of some of them. One woman, dean at an urban school in Detroit that educates working professionals, many from underprivileged minorities and less than affluent backgrounds, has struggled to find money to internationalize the curriculum something we all believe critical to our students' educations. Her students cannot take time off to do international study trips, much less go abroad for a semester. There is no money for scholarships. So she has created an "international" trip in Detroit by lining up local companies and subsidiaries that are globally connected. By "traveling" locally the students get a very real dose of what it means to be part of an international supply chain, the impact of currency fluctuations on profits and the other challenges facing global corporations.

I also met the dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City who is actively trying to position his school as the innovation-entrepreneurship center of the region. He has hired three eminent professors from top schools to create programs that link the regional economy to the university. How could he afford such high-priced talent? The business community of Kansas City has donated $42 million over the past three years to make this happen. I am stunned by the largesse of a Midwestern city that I do not associate with innovation and entrepreneurship.

The woman in Detroit is making do with literally nothing, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City dean is investing millions in his region's future. I am inspired by both of them.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

April 23: Business School Deans' Summit in Paris

More than 1,400 deans, directors and other business school leaders from around the world congregated at the Palais des Congress (Convention Palace) in Paris to consider the challenges facing global management and the role of management education. At this AACSB International summit, about half of us are from North America, a quarter from Europe, and smatterings from Asia, Africa and elsewhere. It is truly an international grouping.

It actually feels something like a diplomatic gathering and maybe in some ways that is exactly what it is. There was much discussion about the role that civil society, and business in particular, must play to stabilize global relations. There was a sense among the people I spoke with that internationalizing our curricula and creating exchange opportunities is a moral as well as economic and educational good given the state of political affairs.

The first speaker was to have been French Prime Minister Dominique Villepin but he is having political difficulties following protests against his proposed loosened labor policies for the young which resulted in massive protests last month. Instead, we heard the Education Minister, a former banker and long- term political official. He spoke eloquently about the role of education in society and discussed attempts to integrate less privileged youth into France's elite education system. It was a polished speech.

During the Q&A an elegant woman stood up to ask a question. She was the president of L'Oreal Luxury Brands (Lancome, Ralph Lauren perfume, Diesel, etc) and our luncheon speaker. My understanding of French is not perfect, and she spoke to him in their native tongue, but her pique was unmistakable. She wanted to know where the women were in French business and government Why just talk about minorities? There was some interesting public apology and sputtering from him -- remember this was a large international crowd. I don't know enough about French politics to understand the exchange but it must have been an embarrassing moment. He ended up paraphrasing French literary giant Andre Malraux, "From a distance, women seem to be the best of humanity because they do not cause wars." It seemed a strange rejoinder but it must lose something in the translation linguistically and culturally.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Springtime & Shopping Spirit in Paris

Yesterday was a travel day. I left Hotel Su Gologone and as usual I left anticipating my return next year. I so enjoy the students, the region, and the warm spirit of the Sardinians. The hotel is really more like a large household and I always feel included. There was much good “good-byeing” all around.

The trip to Paris was uneventful, and my once-lost green bag clearly has had enough independent travel. We arrived at our hotel as planned.

My mother, who now lives in Pennsylvania, was born in Paris. She was hanging out of the Hotel Montfleuri window as I pulled up, looking every bit the parisienne grandmother. She will visit family while I go to my business school meetings.

Saturday was a fantastic spring day - perfect temperature, leaves just emerging, and flowers bursting forth. It seemed that all of Paris was off shopping, filling their bags with baguettes and tulips. The French shopping spirit was reported yesterday in the Financial Times of London. Apparently the Germans are madly squirreling away money with the contraction of their welfare state, but the French continue to consume happily, at least those with jobs.

The line in the Monoprix, a combination food and department store, attested to the continuing consumption. It was hard not to notice differences from U.S. stores. Cans of Coke are 8 ounces. Milk does not come in gallon containers but rather in liters. Packages of bisquits, cereal and rice are half the size we consider "normal". The variety is good but not overwhelming. There are two or three brands of goods offered, not half a dozen.

There was no Mexican food aisle as at home, but Asian and Middle Eastern foods were available. Indeed, Paris has visibly changed complexion. Twenty-five years ago Paris had few people of color. Maybe a few Moroccans were about, and someone from Cameroon, but Paris had few people in the streets whose grandparents had not been born in France. That is decidedly not the case now.

The pedestrian scene is very multicultural today, especially among the young. I saw a woman in a black burkha so enveloping that one wondered how she could watch her step. I saw what I assume was another Muslim woman wearing a tightly fitted t-shirt and slacks but modestly wearing a scarf to cover her head. A young man wore saffron robes.

The French citizenship that used to come with colonization has produced a generation of native-born children whose parents are émigrés from beyond Europe. The service personnel at the hotel, the young man who checked me through at the Monoprix, the people working at the Metro are the new French.

Like our Hispanic population in California, they are only being absorbed with some difficulty. We have not had - lately - the sort of violent protest that France saw last year where thousands protested their exclusion from economic and civil life. I think US labor policy which makes employment less stable but creates a dynamic labor market has a much better chance of integrating the next generation. And right now our unemployment rate is about half that of France.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Teaching & Cheerleading Sardinian Students

The students in the International Masters Program in Organization Science signed up for a nine-month intense program. In the U.S., candidates apply months before, are accepted, and months later start the program.

The admission process at AILUN was about the same length as a European parliamentary election: there is an announcement. There is an application and interview. School starts two weeks later. This is a reminder that while Americans are efficient at some things, other efficiencies elude us. We consider every possibility, analyze every choice because we have so much to choose from. I am not sure that this plethora of possibilities adds much and may just make us anxious and confused.

I am the first teacher on the first day. The students are attentive. Except for three of them, one of whom was a high school exchange student at Benicia High School 15 years ago, their English is limited. We go slowly taking opportunities to interpret.

They are taking this course of study because they want to raise themselves above the typical unemployed university graduate - unemployment is high in Italy, especially among the young. They want to improve their English. They want to stay in Sardinia if they can, near their families, but Sardinia is a really, really tight market. They have paid 2,000 Euros tuition, unheard of in a society with free higher education. They are motivated.

I am charmed by the students as I always am in Sardinia. They are very bright and know a great deal about history and culture and I have slanted my lectures to build on their knowledge of European political and economic history. We talk about the move from traditional economic organization during feudalism to the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism in Europe. We discuss the remnants of traditionalism in Italian business and politics where family and regional ties continue to exert a powerful influence. We discuss the Agnelli family and Fiat, corruption at Parmalat, and Sardinians' proud individualism and difficulty in collaborating with each other.

The students work well together and present group reports on the lectures. I point out that maybe some Sardinians can cooperate even if their parents and politicians cannot.
They want a chance to build a thriving local economy but history and culture stand in their way. I am a cheerleader and I tell them that together they can make a difference.

More to come . . .

Easter in Sardinia

It is always interesting to go to a new place. Even before one arrives, there is the anticipation and the exploration in the travel section of the bookstore, on the web, and teasing out useful bits from those who have already been. But I think I prefer rediscovery. When I checked in to the Hotel Su Gologone I was interested to see if it was as I remembered. Did the little store still carry the same local artisan goods, or was a new craft being showcased? Did the local herd of sheep graze nearby? Was the proprietor and her husband still gently and firmly in charge of the staff? The answer was "yes" and the hostelry was as welcoming as the other times I had stayed when teaching in nearby Nuoro.

There was a pleasant surprise, however (in addition to riotous pots of azalea). I was greeted as "Profesoressa Biggart" by the new night clerk, a young woman I had taught in a class two years earlier. She surprised me by recollecting a discussion of frame analysis, a theory about the construction of experience especially useful to those in industries such as tourism where the client is paying for an experience. I also became reacquainted with Bastianina who runs a tourist stand next to the nearby spring-fed gorge. She is a bright young mother who works every day in tourist season from April to October, then centers her life on her family of two boys and husband in the off season. The last time we met she gave me a self-addressed postcard to mail at Christmas from California, which I did. Today we spoke about the Sardinian language which is closer to Latin than is modern Italian. She shared some words with me and I understood why American high school Latin teachers vacation in Sardinia. I had met a couple of them in Nuoro on another visit. While we were talking a dapper Sardinian man joined us. It was hard to believe that he is 94 years old as he looked 20 years younger. There have been an unusual number of long-lived Sardinians from Barbagia and geneticists have done studies looking for the secret to their longevity. He looked as though he had many years left.

The hotel is a very special place, not just because of is charm, but because of the economic role it plays in the region. Sardinia historically has been socially organized into clans and regions and while there is great loyalty internal to groups there is fierce competition between them. When one clan becomes too successful there is an attempt to knock them down. Kidnapping and ransom has been the way of maintaining social and economic equilibrium in the past I wondered how the hugely successful Hotel Su Gologone has thrived in this environment. The founder had a perfect strategy: everything in the hotel from food to furnishings, and everyone on staff is local. The success of the hotel is everyone's success. The hotel celebrates local food, wine, art and culture. Every room is different but filled with traditional fabrics, rugs and ceramics. The result is a hotel that appeals to foreigners looking for an authentic experience, and to locals who find regional specialties in the restaurant.

Today was Easter and the dining room was filled with affluent Sardinian families children were welcome and colored eggs and small toys were at each place.

April 15, 2006: SFO to Sardinia

I am off on a three-week journey that attests to the globalization of business education. We are well aware that the products we may buy in Wal-Mart come from around the world, but many are less aware of the impact that globalization has had on higher education.

Our students, our faculty, our research topics and our collaborators can and do come from nearly anywhere. A group of UC Davis Graduate School of Management students just returned from a study tour of Argentina and Brazil. Our student services staff routinely recruits MBA students in Latin America and in China and India, and this month I am contributing to the global exchange of ideas and opportunities in management education.

My first stop is Sardinia where I will teach in the Organization Science masters program at AILUN, an acronym for an institute supported by the local chamber of commerce and the government. This is actually a common way to fund business education in Italy.

I've taught in this program before and have found it enormously rewarding. Sardinia is an island province, like Sicily, off the coast of Italy. The southern part of Sardinia is developed and has some industry, and the far northern coast is a Mecca for wealthy Europeans. The yacht harbors actually get traffic jams in the summer. I teach in Nuoro, an inland town that is tucked into a hillside in the mountainous north. The region feels a bit as though the world has passed it by. The local industries are rooted in agriculture - small scale farming, vineyards of an acre or two, olives, and small herds of sheep and goats. Indeed, the program I am teaching in is designed to develop management skills among the next generation in aspiration of greater economic development in Sardinia. The obvious - to me anyway - path to development is increased tourism in the interior. Beach tourism in the north is controlled by major international hotel chains and the benefits do not trickle down very far to the local populace. I see real opportunity for wine tourism, trekking (there are the Barbagian mountains, the Supramonte) bicycle tours, cooking schools (the local cuisine is rustic and delicious) but there is little confidence among young Sardinians to develop these businesses.

This is a traditional society and the entrepreneurship I see in many of our UC Davis MBA students cannot be taken for granted here. Perhaps that is my primary role - to encourage them to see what is around them as valuable economically, and to realize that they can be part of an ownership and managerial class.

I am writing this from the Red Carpet Club in Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris. I have already had something of an adventure getting this far. My flight from SFO was to take me from California to Washington D.C to Paris en-route to Sardinia, but we had an aborted takeoff when an engine failed. I was sent via a new plane to Chicago but my bag is in Frankfurt.

Onward . . .

The Journey

Advancing the global exchange of ideas and opportunities in management education, I'm off to Europe and the Middle East on a 21-day trek during which I will teaching organizational behavior in Sardinia for a week and attending an international dean’s conference in Paris held by AACSB International (the primary association of business schools worldwide).

And that’s before . . . The highlight of the adventure: three days in Iran in early May to visit Sharif University of Technology in Tehran.

The UC Davis GSM was fortunate this year to receive a gift that will support six visiting international students to study at the School for one quarter. I will be traveling to Iran with Dr. Reza Abbaszadeh, who is the benefactor of the program and CEO of Premier Access Insurance Company in Sacramento (he also attended UC Davis as an undergraduate). In Tehran, we will meet with business students and to get to know the faculty and administrators at Sharif.