Everybody’s Business

Article Icon Article
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
By Prabhudev Konana
Photo by iStock/PeopleImages
In a global, market-driven economy where social issues impact every aspect of life, business schools are more relevant than ever.
  • Graduates in every field need to understand how to follow the market, manage employees, and demonstrate return on investment.
  • Business schools should break out of their silos to provide business training to students across the university, whether they’re studying finance or journalism.
  • Students from any discipline can gain valuable skills from business education, such as how to think critically, examine the evidence, and engage in civil debate.

Business education matters, and not just for business students. I firmly believe that what business schools teach is valuable not just for Wall Street investors and CEOs. It is necessary for social workers and scientists, healthcare professionals and engineers, poets and politicians.

For instance, individuals interested in sustainable farming must understand how to create viable financial models or their grand ideas will fizzle out. They must be able to follow the market, finance their activities, and demonstrate return on investment to lenders. Social workers must understand finance so they can address the financial well-being of the families they serve.

Irrespective of their college majors, all students will sell products, services, or ideas once they graduate. They will manage employees, lead projects, solve organizational problems, or launch new ventures. Thus, to succeed in any professional environment, individuals will need to understand efficiency, productivity, economic viability, sustainability, and the behavior of markets. A basic grasp of business concepts is even more important in a market-driven economy that features scarce resources and global competition.

In fact, I would argue that business education is essential for anyone trying to function in today’s highly partisan and intolerant environment—that business schools play a crucial role in the campus mission to educate capable, informed, and responsible citizens.

Most obviously, business schools can provide a balanced view of the benefits of capitalism while also promoting an honest, rigorous discourse about its pitfalls, challenges, and consequences. For instance, many observers criticize the ride-sharing business model as being anti-worker, and legislators without business backgrounds might try to kill such services with draconian regulations like those in California’s Assembly Bill 5. Business scholars can point out the benefits of the model and suggest ways to tweak it instead of destroying it.

But even more broadly, business schools can lead the way in showing how people with opposing views can have productive debates. Many people struggle to understand nuances in arguments, and yet it is essential for every citizen-student to learn how to listen respectfully to different perspectives while discussing their own convictions in a civil way.

Business education teaches students to examine evidence, grapple with disagreement, and determine for themselves whether information passes the test of authenticity. Therefore, business schools can model civil conversations for other disciplines. They can be the mediators for rigorous, evidence-based, and challenging conversations among people with competing viewpoints. Their example will foster intellectual curiosity and promote intellectual freedom across the whole campus.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

A business education does not just teach students the traditional business functions; it introduces them to an entrepreneurial mindset. And because business schools espouse and teach the principles of entrepreneurship, they are critical resources for academics and students in any field.

An entrepreneurial mindset, not just technological ability, has enabled U.S. companies to be successful around the globe. Starbucks dominates markets in parts of the world that consumed coffee centuries before America was founded; Pepsi is accessible in regions where potable drinking water is not; the name Xerox is synonymous with the word photocopy. The entrepreneurial mindset that these companies represent is what has drawn so many people to the United States, hoping to launch their own dreams in the “land of opportunity.”

Because all working professionals can benefit from understanding business and entrepreneurship, it is time for business schools to rethink their roles within the university and provide offerings for all students.

Entrepreneurship is also flourishing in other parts of the world. Today, in many countries in Africa and Asia, successful entrepreneurs are creating a highly interconnected global economy. In 2022, China and India were second and third respectively behind the U.S. in the launch of unicorns—startup companies valued at over 1 billion USD. According to the World Economic Forum, there are seven unicorns in Africa today, compared to none in 2015. As these countries continue to develop entrepreneurial mindsets and build infrastructures, local communities accumulate both knowledge and wealth.

Because all working professionals, no matter what their fields, can benefit from understanding business and entrepreneurship, I believe it is time for business schools to fundamentally rethink their roles within the university and provide offerings for all students.

Targeted Initiatives

That is the approach we are taking at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business in College Park. We have created a new strategic plan that follows four guiding principles:

  1. Business is everyone’s business.
  2. Intellectual curiosity supports intellectual freedom.
  3. Integrated and interdisciplinary programs benefit the whole school.
  4. It is imperative to remain future-focused.

We’re bringing business to the entire campus in several ways. We have created specialized minors with other colleges, including the schools of computer science, agriculture, public health, and journalism. We also have developed a new asynchronous financial well-being and business fundamental minor that is flexible and available to all students.

Additional courses address specific issues facing society today. For instance, because global climate change can have devastating impacts on business, we are launching a new climate risk concentration in our Master’s of Finance program to ensure that finance majors understand the relevant science. We have opened upper-level courses in business finance, marketing, and management to UMD agricultural and resource economics majors who are participating in a program with a mission to “establish a healthy food system and ensure global food and nutritional security.”

We also have developed initiatives that target healthcare, another field that benefits greatly when practitioners have business backgrounds. Doctors who understand revenue structures, operating expenses, and the cost of capital will ensure that their practices are financially viable. Hospital administrators will be able to reduce turnover if they have better tools for human capital management, and they will be able to minimize the cost of business operations if they have financial management skills. As medical professionals develop an understanding of business, they will discover ways to make healthcare more accessible to patients who might not seek treatment because they can’t afford it—or who go into bankruptcy due to healthcare debt.

Smith has introduced a professional certificate program that allows healthcare providers to leverage artificial intelligence for cost efficiency and greater patient engagement. The AI assesses patient preferences, enhances treatment precision, and improves service processes.

As medical professionals develop an understanding of business, they will discover ways to make healthcare more accessible to patients who might not seek treatment because they can’t afford it.

The school also is supporting healthcare professionals in other innovative ways. For instance, a pair of UMD science undergrads worked through Smith’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship to successfully launch an app designed to help hospital leadership reduce employee burnout and promote mental and psychological well-being. Recently, they were admitted to startup accelerator Y Combinator and raised about 1 million USD in seed funding to take their venture forward.

A Big-Picture Approach

In addition to creating initiatives tailored to specific fields, Smith is introducing broader-based foundational programs. We want our students to be critical thinkers who are not driven by political noise and the personal biases of their instructors. We strongly believe that students should hear, embrace, debate, and analyze evidence from all sides before making up their minds. Whether the topic is ESG investing, climate change, corporate social responsibility, or shareholder value, we give our students opportunities to evaluate different opinions and hear experts from all sides with openness, respect, and civility.

Our new Interdisciplinary Business Honors program engages select undergraduates from across campus to think critically about markets, equitable growth, artificial intelligence in the workplace, the creative destruction process, healthcare affordability, social justice, social and climate risks, and more.

The recently launched Smith Business Leadership Fellows program engages select first-year students in accelerated core business courses and exposes them to industry executives through discussions, lectures, and internship and networking opportunities. Fellows also participate in private meetings with industry executives to learn more about leadership and the issues leaders face in their industries.

Additional curriculum changes will focus on business history to give students an understanding of the role of capitalism, the future of work and society, and the way technological change is driving societal change. Initiatives underway include a climate finance minor and a multidisciplinary fintech minor and major.

Interdisciplinary research at Smith is also addressing broad topics with great impact, such as climate finance, responsible AI in business, inclusive growth, and information bias. By exposing business students to these concepts, we teach them that business decisions have real human consequences. This knowledge prepares them to shape the future of work.

A Critical New Role

While business schools must teach students how to run efficient and profitable businesses, we also must encourage them to pursue value for society by operating organizations that bring benefits to all. We must do more than promote entrepreneurship; we also must promote upward mobility. We must value not just growth, but equitable growth. We must connect profits with purpose.

It is an exciting time to be contemplating the role of the business school within the university and the role of business within society. Business schools tend to live in silos on their campuses. It is time to break down those silos and make sure our programs become everybody’s business.

What did you think of this content?
Thank you for your input!
Your feedback helps us create better content
Your feedback helps us create better content
Prabhudev Konana
Dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.
Sign up for AACSB's LINK email newsletter.
Our members and subscribers receive Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge in global business education.
Thank you for subscribing to AACSB LINK! We look forward to keeping you up to date on global business education.
Weekly, no spam ever, unsubscribe when you want.