Debating the future of executive education, chief executives said they were looking for programs that could address contemporary issues such as climate change and encourage the creation of high-performance cultures and individuals. Fletcher Building chief executive Jonathan Ling said his business operated in 30 countries and he needed programs that were relevant and applicable to a global workforce.
Fletcher used several education providers in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, but the challenge was to co-ordinate those to come up with international standards and competencies for executive management and leadership.
"One of the key questions as companies internationalise is how [executive education providers] address the needs of customers on a more international basis when most of those are very regional or very local," Mr Ling said.
But there might be no such thing as a global business leader or universal executive education model, said Melbourne Business School (MBS) foundation professor of management, diversity and change, Amanda Sinclair.
Bosses would be better off fostering good management at the regional and local level.
"There is very mixed evidence as to whether there is such a thing as a global leader, and yet executive education is very much based on the assumption that what we need to be doing is equipping people to stride across the global stage," she said.
South-East Water general manager of corporate strategy, Kate Vinot, said it was important executive education programs incorporated new and emerging risks, notably climate change.
"Climate change injects an incredible level of uncertainty compared with the sorts of uncertainty executives had to deal with in the past," Ms Vinot said. "It will become increasingly important because our challenges are so much more complex."
Not only should executives be attuned to the risks posed by climate change, they should be looking for business opportunities in a world focused on sustainability, she said.
"We know a famous car company which seized an opportunity in changing its engine design, so that it could run on electricity and fuel. That's the sort of thinking we want."
Mr Ling, who spoke at the International University Consortium for Executive Education conference at MBS last week, said his two key expectations were for executives to learn how to manage people and make money.
Business schools needed to strike a balance between the theoretical and pragmatic, and to practise what they preached. "The universities themselves aren't particularly well-managed from the people or money-making point of view in a lot of cases," he said.
"So how do these people then impart the sorts of skills into executives that we need?
"It starts off with having teachers and program leaders who really understand the principles of what they're talking about, and not just from a theoretical point of view, but can actually do it."
Professor Sinclair said the best executive education maintained a balance of educational and corporate values.
Programs were most effective when they gave students the freedom to look beyond the bottom line, and it would be wrong for educational providers to capitulate too completely to employer agendas.
"If you give people the space to have that kind of educational experience, they are more connected to reality, they are more focused and they are less tossed around on the waves of pressure," she said.
Fairfax Business Media
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