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MBA Careers: How Responsible Management Is Changing The Rules Of The Game

B-school professor says employers now expect MBAs to know about CSR and sustainability

Thu Nov 24 2016

After global financial crisis in 2008, business school-trained execs were put in the spotlight and the activities of business schools brought into question. Back then, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), ethics and sustainability were topics hard to find, even in some of the top-ranked MBA programs.

Now, things have changed. Today, responsible management is becoming a hot topic at business school and of increasing importance to MBA students and employers alike.

Copenhagen Business School is at the forefront of this trend. Its CSR center was one of the first in the world. The Copenhagen MBA ranked fourth - above INSEAD - in this year’s Corporate Knights Better World Rankings, based on the integration of sustainability into the MBA syllabus.

Responsible management is the central theme of the Copenhagen MBA, weaved throughout the overall curriculum. And Copenhagen MBA grads gain the knowledge and the network necessary for success in one of the world’s leading sustainable cities.

Andreas Rasche is professor of business in society at Copenhagen Business School. He says employers now expect MBA grads to know about CSR and sustainability.

What is responsible management?

Responsible management is more than just charity. It’s the deliberate management of a corporation’s impact on society. It’s about designing your business processes and activities in a way that meet certain social and environmental minimum standards.

There are some hard components to it. For instance: responsible investing, responsible supply chain management, social and environmental accounting.

Firms don’t just need to prepare financial reports. In a lot of countries, they’re legally required to report social and environmental information. And they have to build up accounting systems to do so.

Why is it the central theme of the Copenhagen MBA?

It’s about what employers want and what students want.

There’s been a shift in recent years and corporations now want MBA graduates to know about CSR and sustainability. At the same time, students don’t just want to go through a program that tells them how to maximize profit at any expense. They want an education with a purpose.

Why? It probably has a lot to do with the financial crisis, the proliferation of scandals and irresponsible behavior we’ve seen throughout the last twenty years. Students simply do not want to work for a company that’s associated with such behavior.

So nowadays we see a deeper integration of responsible management issues across academic disciplines. A few years ago, most of the courses were just electives. But if you just have electives, you preach to the converted. Responsible management needs to be a core part of the MBA curriculum.

Why is Copenhagen an attractive location for careers in CSR?

The infrastructure is very good. Most of the big firms in Denmark - Carlsberg, Maersk, Novo Nordisk - invest heavily in CSR. And there are lot of job opportunities within these firms.

The Scandinavian working culture - with flat hierarchies and an excellent work-life balance - is certainly a part of it. In most countries, you work in big companies until 7:00pm. In Denmark, most people leave at 4:00pm to pick up their kids from kindergarten.

And there’s equality between men and women. Increasingly, we see more women in top management positions.

Is CSR profitable for business?

It’s difficult. The business case for CSR - that you do financially well by doing good - is highly context dependent.

I think some companies do make good money with it, but there are also scenarios where being ethical and socially responsible does not pay. In Denmark, we see that companies are willing to stick to their agenda in spite of this. That’s quite unique.

A lot of this has to do with the shareholding structures of some of the big companies here. The majority of shares are owned by family foundations so they’re not as subject to shareholder pressure as others.