Management News

Business schools are facing an existential crisis. Their legitimacy as providers of management education and repositories of management wisdom are being challenged as never before. Worldwide, declining enrolments in MBA programmes—the traditional standard-bearer of management education—are one symptom; the increasing marginalisation of business school research and its divorce from the needs of industry is another. So far, enrolments in pre-experience programmes such as undergraduate business degrees and MSc programmes are holding up; but on the current trend, they will not do so for long. What has happened to business schools? The causes of their decline are several, some inflicted upon them but others self-induced. Part of the problem—in my view, a very big part of the problem—is that business schools have forgotten what they are for. They have neglected the very reasons why they were called into existence in the first place; and unless they can return to their roots and rediscover their core principles, they will gradually attenuate and eventually cease to exist. The first business schools were founded for a single purpose: to produce better, more professional, more efficient, and more effective managers. This would in turn boost the productive power of industry and create value for society. That is the foundation to which today’s business schools need to return. There have been things that look a bit like business schools around for a long time: the University of Oxford was teaching management techniques to clerks and lawyers in the thirteenth century, and the first Italian ‘abacus schools’ that taught bookkeeping and general management were probably founded around the same time. The East India Company in Britain founded its own in-house management training centre in 1805. The first public access school of management, the École Supérieure de Commerce, was founded in France in 1819; the Hautes Études Commerciales followed in 1881, and the Leipzig Commercial College was established in Germany in 1888. Many more schools in Europe and America followed, increasingly affiliated to universities. Harvard Business School, the first to offer training at a postgraduate level—the MBA—was established in 1908.