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.


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