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Meet The Team: University of Edinburgh Business School — UK

School draws on strengths in academic excellence and business innovation

By  Seb Murray

Sat Oct 31 2015

University of Edinburgh Business School is an institution with a rich academic history but one that is striving to innovative, with a unique focus on the social and environmental impact of global business.

Situated within one of Scotland’s most prestigious universities, the business school has made big-ticket changes. A cross-disciplinary approach to leadership is at the heart of the full-time MBA, and students are nurtured to become stewards of both financial and social capital.

It still draws on its roots, however, and is able to benefit from historic academic excellence in areas such as life sciences: MBA students, for example, work with university spin-out companies to commercialize their research.

The city of Edinburgh, a hub for financial technology and entrepreneurship, offers numerous advantages too. Students have venture creation courses that have featured local heroes such as Skyscanner, the travel search engine.

Opportunities for corporate immersions are common: students get the chance to work with Johnson & Johnson on a socially impactful project. The themes of social impact and responsible leadership are ones that Malcolm Kirkup, professorial director of MBA programs, has tried to embed into the business school.

The changes have brought results: applications are up by 55%, he says, and class diversity is growing — the current full-time MBA cohort of 45 come from 25 different countries, and there is a 50/50 gender split.

What qualities, skills, and previous experiences do you look for in MBA applicants?

Our MBA is changing and we have been reviewing the design of the MBA in light of the way we see the market developing and the requirements of business leaders changing. We have a particular theme around strategic leadership; business is having to face an increasing complex, uncertain, volatile environment and we feel the MBA needs to be changed to fit that.

The focus [for businesses] is still very much on financial and short term financial performance. As the problems of the world increase and become more unpredictable….. We believe business leaders should be stewards of financial and social capital.

What we’re looking for is individuals who are going to seize these opportunities. We have the usual requirements, which is absolute minimum three years’ work experience, but the more the better. Current profile average age is 31. Obviously a strong academic [is sought].

We’re also looking for what they bring to the party in terms of diversity. That’s key. 50% of what you learn is from the faculty; 50% from your peers.

How is the business school — and its students — able to draw on the city's unique business strengths, for example in fintech and life sciences?

We are hugely privileged to be able to draw on the city. We recently ran the new venture creation course and in one week had 22 speakers, such as from Skyscanner. We can draw on the entrepreneurial ecosystem quite easily. We have an entrepreneurship club that lots of businesses in Edinburgh belong to.

Does the business school benefit from University of Edinburgh's historic excellence in research, such as from the medical school?

We have a joint course with the [School of] Informatics, and we have a joint course with Edinburgh College of Art.

Business schools in the future need to do much more of that linking across faculties and colleges.

Leadership is clearly a focus for the business school; what is offered in the MBA on responsible leadership?

That’s a huge component of our strategic leadership focus: we have a core course on leadership and responsibility.

In my experience the younger generations are demanding that perspective. There is an expectation that [social and environmental] issues will be incorporated into programs. There is evidence of undergraduates and MBAs saying that they want to work in a company with a long-term future — those companies are more likely to be the ones doing the right things [socially].

Organizations like Procter & Gamble, J&J and Unilever are very attractive to our students.

Also, within the strategic leadership course we engage students in a leadership challenge: to go and make a difference to a community. They have to independently choose a community they can have an impact on, and plan and organize a project to do so, and make it happen on a particular date.

If you’re trying to develop leaders who are thinking about making a difference, then you can talk till the cows come home, but actually doing it is the best thing.

The school offers a series of career treks. What other opportunities for international experiences are there for MBAs?

The best example is a course called International Business in Context. We take them to Bogota and Medellin in Colombia. The students worked with a drinks manufacturer interested in entering the Columbian market.

We also do trips to Iceland and to Turkey. We chose Iceland very specifically for the social, environmental and financial challenges it has.