Making the Most of Your Business Advisory Council
Posted February 06, 2019 by Patricia M. Flynn
- Trustee Professor of Economics & Management, and Former Dean, McCallum Graduate School of Business - Bentley University
A Business Advisory Council (BAC) can be one of the business school’s most valuable assets. It can provide numerous services and resources, including advocacy for the school; input on recruitment trends; feedback on academic programs; sources of student internships, mentors, and jobs; event speakers; and financial contributions to support scholarships, buildings, and programs.
Members will be assessing your institution—and by association, your graduates—based on their experiences serving on the BAC. If not managed effectively, a BAC can become the bane of a dean’s existence, hurting rather than helping the school’s reputation in the business community, and wasting valuable time and resources.
Not all BACs are alike, as their objectives and composition should be tailored to the particular institution and should change as the business school evolves. However, certain general “rules” apply to the development and effective management of BACs for a business school. Here are my 10 “rules”:
1. BAC member responsibilities and expectations should be in writing.
Actively engaging BAC members is vital to having a successful council. The BAC purpose and objectives should be stated in a written document, as should expectations of members regarding, for instance, attendance at meetings, committee service, annual dues if required, term limits, and responsibilities between meetings. This document should be discussed with prospective members before they join the BAC.
2. Alumni should comprise less than 50 percent of the BAC members.
BACs should be composed of a mix of alums and non-alums, but alums should not dominate the group. Business schools have various alumni committees, but the BAC should not be viewed as such. A BAC consisting predominantly of alums will often deter non-alums from joining the group, thus depriving the BAC of many individuals who are current or future recruiters, donors, and ambassadors for your school.
3. Membership terms, that are renewable, should be required.
Term limits should be required. They usually range from two to five years. These should be renewable, at least once or twice. Term limits provide a tool for eliminating inactive or ineffective members; they also allow graceful exit of members. Moreover, term limits help in the recruitment of new BAC members, who may be reluctant to take on a long-term commitment. Ideally, term limits are the responsibility of BAC members, via an executive or nominating committee of the BAC, rather than the dean.
4. Regular attendance at BAC meetings should not be a requirement for term renewal.
Scheduling meetings well in advance, with input from BAC members, will promote good attendance at the meetings. Term renewal, however, should not be dependent on regular attendance at BAC meetings. Some of your best BAC members may have very full schedules and travel commitments and therefore may not be able to attend each of the two or three BAC meetings held each year. These individuals, however, may provide your institution with key connections to individuals and organizations that will hire your graduates, provide internships, and more. They may also be important ambassadors and/or valuable financial donors to your school. You should encourage these individuals to re-enlist on your BAC.
5. No substitutes are allowed to attend BAC meetings.
While BAC members are important, busy people, they should not be allowed to send someone to a BAC meeting in their place. If some members send a substitute, then others wonder why they, too, shouldn’t send a replacement from time to time. Minutes are taken for all BAC meetings, so those absent can read about what they missed. Moreover, no-shows are a good excuse for the dean to contact that member to get his or her input on key topics that were addressed in their absence.
6. Networking time is essential.
The focus of the BAC is getting input from, and providing information to, your BAC members. In addition, members enjoy and appreciate conversing with other business leaders and professionals on the council. This is a benefit of being a BAC member. BAC meetings should include time for members to have such conversations, even if the meeting is just a few hours long. Providing breakfast at least a half hour before a morning meeting begins, or a reception with food and drink following a late afternoon meeting, encourages these interactions.
7. Starting on time is critical, as is ending on time.
One would think this is obvious; however, it is not. While businesspeople often think academics are not as time-conscious as themselves, respect for BAC member time is a must. BAC meetings should begin at the time stated on the schedule distributed prior to the meeting and end at the time (if not earlier!) that was previously provided to members.
8. BAC members should do most of the talking at BAC meetings.
The BAC should be designed to get information, feedback, and insights from the BAC members. That is why they agree to join the advisory group. Yes, you also want to tell members about all the great things going on at your institution; however, most of this information can, and should, be provided via email prior to the meeting. At each BAC meeting, the dean should provide an update on the highlights of business school activities, as well as identification of areas in which their input is sought. Presentations by faculty, students, the president of the institution, as well as others, can also be very valuable. In all cases, these speakers should be given a time limit (often 10-15 minutes) for their presentation. The BAC chair or the dean should request an overview of the presentation, including any slides to be used, beforehand to ensure the content is relevant and consistent with the time frame provided.
9. BAC members, or their colleagues, should be engaged with your institution between meetings.
Most BACs meet just two or three times a year. Effective BACs revolve around ongoing relationships established with BAC members and their institutions. These relationships may involve internships, mentoring, mock interviews, and consulting team projects, to name a few. Ideally, members complete a partnership opportunities form that identifies various options available between meetings, and that allows BAC members to identify individuals in their own organizations who should be contacted to further discuss these activities.
10. A dysfunctional or inactive BAC must be fixed.
A dysfunctional or inactive BAC can hurt your institution. Not only are members on that BAC likely to think poorly of the school and/or its leadership, but they may comment on the dysfunction with other colleagues and business leaders. If you are a dean who inherited a dysfunctional or inactive BAC, you should have a one-on-one conversation with each of the members. If you have created the problem, you should meet selectively with members to get their input on best ways to bring the BAC back to life. The net result may be replacing the former BAC with mostly new members and a new name for the group. Alternatively, the existing BAC, with its current members, may be reinvigorated with new goals, committees, and some additional members.
Many more BAC topics, details, and examples from business schools worldwide are presented at AACSB’s annual Advisory Council Seminar, which I look forward to facilitating this year.
Patricia M. Flynn is Trustee Professor of Economics and Management, and former dean of the McCallum Graduate School of Business, at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts.