Ready for the next stage

Why a new brand?

“Two socio-economic crises in a row have made companies, business schools and individuals think about what it is they do and why. Effectiveness, ROI and reputation are more important than ever. We have to step up our game to remain relevant. The economic context has encouraged us to focus our strategy and to be even closer to our clients than we’ve been before.” Dean Philippe Haspeslagh and General Director Patrick De Greve reflect on today’s challenges and explain how the rebranding fits in.

Companies want a strategy partner

Philippe HaspeslaghPhilippe Haspeslagh: “The challenges faced by business schools mirror those faced by the business world. Any investment has to pay off, especially in the current economic climate. As far as executive education is concerned, companies are demanding greater integration of learning with the development and implementation of their business strategy.” Patrick nods: “This also makes more sense from an educational point of view. The 70-20-10 rule of learning says that you learn 70% on the job, 20% through coaching or mentoring and 10% in a formal learning environment. Companies are increasingly asking business schools to address not only the 10%, but the remaining 90% as well. They’re looking for partners in strategy execution and leadership development.”

This has consequences: purchasing power shifts from HR to the business, and action learning steadily grows in importance. Patrick: “Why work on fictitious business cases when you could learn just as much, if not more, examining real-life issues such as a change project or setting up a new venture? Our boot camps are a great example of how people learn while tackling real strategic problems.”

Individuals want employability

As the needs of the business have changed, so too have those of the individual. Patrick again: “People are increasingly realising that they must ensure they’re employable throughout their entire career. Never before have we attracted so many participants aged 55 and over who come to brush up on their knowledge and skills. Also, the traditional hierarchical career path is being replaced by one of serial specialisation and people are taking their careers into their own hands. This means new requirements for our open programmes, such as financing schemes and timing of the courses.”

Is it different for degree students? Philippe believes that in today’s global market with rankings readily available on the internet, reputation is a key factor: “Most degree students make a once-in-a-lifetime decision. Their choice depends on the programme features, how international the faculty and students are, traineeship and employment opportunities, expected graduate starting salary or companies recruiting at the school. Here, we have to avoid the commodity trap and differentiate ourselves to compete with the larger top schools in Europe: be equally international yet offer personal attention, be business-relevant yet with a focus on sustainability, and above all stimulate entrepreneurship.”

Advances in technology and need for scale

Patrick De GreveOther challenges result from advances in technology, as Patrick explains: “E-learning has come of age. There are countless good e-courses available and since 2001, online universities and business schools have flourished.” He is quick to add: “Having said that, we don’t aspire to become an online business school. Our lab is the company, and the programmes we offer – combining hard and soft skills – do require some form of personal interaction. So we increasingly opt for blended learning programmes, combining e-learning and classroom teaching or action learning. Smart integration of technology – that’s the challenge! Videos, made by our students and ourselves, have also found their way into our programmes. We’ve partnered with specialists to develop business simulations and serious games. A prime example is the Belgacom leadership game that seamlessly integrates with daily work. The development costs of these tools are significant, but their impact is huge.”

Besides technology, Philippe sees another reason why operating costs have increased: “Over the years, the number of academic disciplines has mushroomed. Each discipline has several sub-disciplines. As a business school, you therefore need critical mass and sufficient scale to be cost-effective.”

Looking for ambidexterity

“Talking about costs, allow me to be a little controversial,” he adds, smiling. “Some 93% of our funding comes from companies, students, executive participants and alumni. This keeps us on our toes. The remaining 7% is funded by the Flemish Community. But while we’re treated like universities as far as our academic programmes are concerned, we can’t benefit from the same research funding. And that could weaken our research capacity, our reputation and our ability to attract and retain top talent.”

Indeed, there’s not only the demand side of the market to reckon with. Attracting and retaining talented faculty and staff remains a key concern. Philippe again: “We need ambidextrous talented individuals who know how to combine inspired teaching with high-impact business-relevant research. We invest in our faculty by helping them develop and grow to become authorities in their field and eventually they take on entrepreneurial responsibility, for example as partners in the School.

“Most business issues require a multidisciplinary approach. And this is where we’re at an advantage, having established a track record in cross-disciplinary research. Our faculty members take a genuine interest in one another’s areas of expertise. They speak the same language.”

That’s how we deal with it

Patrick: “Running a business school is like running a business in a highly competitive and fragmented market. We compete not only with other business schools, but also with other education providers such as consultants, coaches or trainers. We’re operating in a diverse ecosystem in which we have to carve out our own niche and form partnerships. Successful business schools are no longer brokers of professors and programmes. They are learning consultants or architects.”

How does the School deal with these challenges? Philippe: “There’s no reason why we should change our strategy. But we’ll sharpen up our positioning and continue to professionalise the way we operate. We’ve scrutinised our organisation and processes from programme design and sales through to programme delivery and follow-up. One result of this is that we’ve reshaped our go-to-market approach to leverage our expertise in specific sectors, such as financial services, retail and consumer goods, health care and energy. For our historic Flemish market, we’re offering new programmes in family business and management buy-ins. And we’ve modified our degree programmes to meet the requirements of companies and students even more closely, with greater emphasis on personal development, action learning and elective courses.”

Crossing borders

Internationalisation has never been off the agenda. Philippe: “It has many aspects: international faculty and staff bringing diversity into our programmes, collaboration with companies worldwide and international research agendas. Or establishing competency clusters to gather talented researchers from all over the world to work on business-relevant issues with international impact.”

Patrick: “We’re currently in the second tier of European business schools. I’d say we’re one of those national champions, with a strong established regional presence, who are building an international reputation. With our company-specific programmes and research, we’re already active in nearly 40 countries worldwide, which is quite impressive. The rankings have helped accelerate the internationalisation of our degree programmes, but they have little impact on our open programmes. Other regional champions face the same challenge. That’s why we’ll be exploring collaboration opportunities in areas where we have unique expertise, to bring together our respective talent pools and participants.”

New kid on the block

So how does the rebranding fit in? “Reputation and international visibility are paramount,” says Philippe. “We were told we’ve been too modest so far.” His colleague agrees: “The current rankings don’t yet reflect our potential. Especially for company-specific and open programmes, it’s still a case of the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As I said, we’re currently tier two, but our ambition is to become tier one. As a new kid on the block, we’ll have to create stopping power!”

In the 60 years of the School’s history, the biggest change to its structure and programmes dates back to 1998. This structure has served for well over a decade. Turnover has grown from 2 to more than 30 million euros. What’s next? Philippe: “We’re at a crossroads. We don’t pursue growth for growth’s sake; we seek to answer the increasingly complex and exacting demands of our clients. The refocusing of our strategy and the restructuring of our organisation were initiated back in 2008. Rebranding is the final phase of that strategic process and the start of a whole new chapter.”

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