Intensive module sharpens student decision-making and helps them understand the complexity of ethical challenges facing business leaders
A focus on long-term value creation and ethical business practice has been integral to INSEAD’s mission for decades. In the wake of the global financial crisis, this mission is more important than ever, as public trust in business has waned and questions about the proper role of the market continue being debated.
INSEAD believes that it is important for its students—the world’s future business leaders—to engage actively in these debates about business and society so that they can develop their own understanding on this vital topic. This belief has spurred curriculum innovations and research throughout the school.
Across all disciplines, and all programmes, the school’s faculty are committed to advancing responsible leadership that strengthens organisations and society. To cite only one example, see the related story on Professor Emeritus Henri-Claude de Bettignies, a champion of ethical practice and the founder of AVIRA, a pioneering approach to executive education that promotes “visionary” leadership through reflection and robust intellectual engagement.
Likewise, in the 10-month MBA programme, INSEAD students are challenged to think deeply about issues at the intersection of business, government and society. One aspect of this educational experience includes an intensive, daylong module during P2. The module, “Perspectives on Responsibility in Business,” brings students face to face with a variety of leadership issues that demand expert strategic insight as well as a robust ethical framework.
“Perspectives” takes place on INSEAD’s Europe and Asia Campuses and provides students with a vigorous and eclectic portfolio of case studies, lectures, and collaborative learning that reinforces and expands on topics they have encountered elsewhere in their INSEAD coursework, such as “Introduction to Business Ethics” in P1. Top faculty across academic areas—from Finance and Organisational Behaviour to Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Technology & Operations Management—share their insights and engage students on ethical issues that pose major leadership challenges. Students, who are assigned to special groups for the day, sharpen their decision-making ability while gaining a richer understanding of the connections between business and society.
The students choose two sessions from among several options depending on the campus. Examples of the content available include:
- Neil Bearden on “A (Somewhat) Statistical View of Ethical Judgement”
- Gilles Hilary and Benjamin Segal on “Why are People Unethical?”
- Kevin Kaiser on “Managing Ethically and Delivering Shareholder Value”
- Gianpiero Petriglieri on “Can Nomadic Professionals be Responsible Leaders?”
- Filipe Santos on “Social Entrepreneurship and Social Mission Businesses”
- Craig Smith on “Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability”
- Ludo Van der Heyden on “Fair Process”
- Theo Vermaelen on “Ethics and Finance”
The module is designed to provide students with a dynamic additional opportunity to learn, one that complements their regular coursework and offers time for reflection. A key goal is to bolster understanding of ethical leadership and the challenges confronting global executives who strive for sustainable value creation. INSEAD faculty offer diverse, sometimes unexpected, strategic tools to achieve this objective.
“Typically ethics courses are about values,” says Finance Professor Theo Vermaelen, an expert on corporate finance and investment who also participates in the module. “My course proposes a new, more analytic way of thinking about ethics: respecting implicit contracts between various stakeholders.” Meanwhile, his INSEAD colleague Filipe Santos, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, challenges module participants to explore the essence of social entrepreneurship. “I draw upon economic, strategic and behavioural theories to discuss a coherent approach to business that is focused on value creation instead of value capture,” says Santos, who is also Academic Director of the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Initiative. For Neil Bearden, Associate Professor of Decision Sciences, the exploration of business ethics is founded on a data-driven model that highlights the wide variation of acceptable behaviour, helping students gain a better understanding of this variance to avoid ethics mistakes.
For many students, the Module has reaffirmed the values that attracted them to INSEAD in the first place.
“The Module offered a day of inspiration and reflection, and it brought to life INSEAD’s vision of ‘business as a force for good,’” says Afonso Rebelo de Sousa MBA ’14J, adding that the day’s topics and discussion “reinforced the multidisciplinary nature of the world we are facing.”
Shruthi Komandur, MBA ’14J, says the Module has provided additional insights that complement those she’s gained in courses such as “Perspectives on Business Ethics” with Professor Craig Smith. “He urged us to have the courage to follow our moral compass and stand strong in our values, since this is what drives us forward as thought leaders,” says Komandur. Through the Module and her courses, Shruthi says she has rethought many of her perspectives related to corporate social responsibility. “After two months at INSEAD, I have started to believe in the model of ‘shared value-creation’” that business can provide society.”
“Each year, INSEAD graduates 1,000 new MBAs whose talents influence organisations around the world,” says Dean Ilian Mihov. “We are committed to preparing these students to meet increasingly complex market challenges, as well as the expectations of diverse stakeholders whose demands shape how business creates long-term value for society.”
“Perspectives on Responsibility in Business” began in 2012 and is part of a broader INSEAD effort to provide knowledge that makes business stronger, more resilient and better able to make a positive impact for the world.
Among the school’s other significant initiatives in this regard has been its partnership with other leading business schools and corporations to create the European Academy for Business in Society (EABIS). Launched in 2002, EABIS is today the leading association of practitioners and academics dedicated to promoting study of the relationship between business and society. As such, its mission involves promoting sustainable business practices through partnerships, learning and research. INSEAD also has led a multiyear scholarly project on corporate social responsibility. This effort, the Response Project, was funded by the European Commission and examined social demands on business and the implications of these demands on strategy and practice.
Many other research projects and initiatives related to business and society, such as Sustainability Executive Roundtables, form the basis for the mission of INSEAD’s Social Innovation Centre. See related story in this issue.