As Michael Kitson succeeds Dr Jane Davies as Director of the Cambridge MBA programme this autumn, they discuss teamwork, the Cambridge ecosystem, and the importance to business education of understanding different cultures.
The Cambridge MBA baton passes this autumn to new MBA Programme Director Michael Kitson, University Senior Lecturer in International Macroeconomics, from Dr Jane Davies, Senior Faculty in Management Practice. Michael has been Deputy Director of the Cambridge MBA for the past few years and has long taught economics to our MBA students. Jane held the rotating Cambridge MBA Director’s role for the past four years and will now be Director of Executive Education at Cambridge Judge Business School.
We spoke to the two directors during the handover period, as they shared their insights about business education in today’s changing economic climate. Here are edited excerpts from the discussion:
Teamwork and cultural interaction are important elements in business education
Jane Davies: “The learning comes from each other, as well as the teaching and faculty. Having Management Praxis (which focuses on a person’s conduct and its impact) as one of the foundation courses on the MBA programme is enormously valuable in the changing business climate today. Students also benefit from understanding the practice of management along with the opportunity to see it through a live project such as the Cambridge Venture Project”.
Michael Kitson: “The world is still very turbulent and being resilient and flexible in the workplace is becoming more important. It’s also important to understand the contrasts and variations in different countries, sectors and cultures. Understanding cultural difference, not only in the company or organisation itself, but across the wider societal context, is a valuable skill to develop and reinforce. With up to 50 different nationalities working together in small teams across the class, this helps in fostering a different mindset from the very start of the Cambridge MBA”.
Jane Davies: “When I speak to the MBA alumni, a recurring thing they say is that one of the benefits of the Cambridge MBA programme is that they can now work with anyone, on any team, anywhere in the world. We aim to provide students with a great asset that is not just about a balance sheet, but an organisational skill that can take them through the whole of their careers”.
Jane Davies: “What I have enjoyed most about being the Cambridge MBA Director is the element of responsibility, that has been a job that I was proud to do I have enjoyed the chance to make a difference, to make changes across the MBA programme. We are constantly looking at the efficiency and effectiveness of what we do, we looked a lot at processes, from programme delivery to admissions to working with employers, what were the processes we use and how could we develop a mindset of continuous improvement? Ultimately it is your ability to have rapport with the students and to be able to work with colleagues and faculty, to be able to lead a team, that qualifies you for the role”.
The Cambridge ecosystem is a key element of the Cambridge MBA experience
Jane Davies: “On the Cambridge MBA you are earning a degree from the University of Cambridge, so we encourage our students to take the initiative and be involved in the wider University wherever they can. While the Business School has a great deal of events and activities, and it is a very intense curriculum, if you have initiative there is so much going on and so many different opportunities to take advantage of”.
Michael Kitson: “The projects within the Cambridge MBA (including a group Global Consulting Project and the Cambridge Venture Project) are very important, and not just for the experiential learning that they offer. They reflect the very essence of ‘Cambridge’ – sharing ideas, working across disciplines and collaborating. It has been said that Cambridge is ‘a safe place to do risky things’, and there is an important notion of the power of ‘weak ties’: I bump into you and you share a problem you are dealing with, and I cannot provide an immediate solution but can put you in touch with someone who knows someone who can. There is ‘something in the air’ about being in Cambridge”.
Practical learning on the Cambridge MBA
Jane Davies: “Part of doing an MBA is about taking risks and encouraging the students to try things out. Getting that balance with knowing what you know when you come in and being confident to try something new. When it comes to the practical projects don’t pick the finance element, if that is the sector you come from and are already comfortable with; take on the marketing aspect, for example, if that is a sector you wish to transition to. Encouraging students to experiment is an important part of, not only of Cambridge, but the uniqueness of the Cambridge MBA”.
Student focus and values have changed over time
Michael Kitson: “The concerns of many MBA students has certainly shifted in the last 10 to 15 years. In many ways the key focus in the past was on profitability and shareholder value. While this is still important, especially corporate performance in a turbulent world, students are now more interested in the wider context and the broader issues: about sustainability, about inequality including gender inequality, the impact of technological change and the impact of corporate governance mechanisms. All are of growing interest and concern”.
Interaction with employers and students has shaped the curriculum
Jane Davies: “We are quite responsive and flexible. We constantly talk with employers, with students of course, and with faculty. So, we consistently evolve. These last four years, for example, we have had electives in digital that have now become a core course, we now have a concentration in digital transformation, for example. The Business School has brought in new faculty that, in turn, bring in new offerings and expertise. We have adapted to the changing economy, to market demands and to the needs of both students and employers”.
The financial crisis influenced business education
Michael Kitson: “When I started at Cambridge Judge Business School, I was teaching an elective in macroeconomics taken by a few students. Then we had the financial crisis of 2008 and everything unravelled – globally speaking – and people were asking questions about financial crises, recession and austerity – and suddenly macroeconomics was of enormous interest again. You could argue that the MBA programme responded to that global crisis and a need for more questioning and studying of these global changes, as now macroeconomics is a core course on the Cambridge MBA curriculum which I have been teaching ever since”.
Michael Kitson: “I am inheriting a very good programme and a very good team, so my main aim is to be a successful custodian. Any changes will not be radical but will be responsive to both external shifts and student and employer needs, and any developments will be intellectually rigorous – in line with being part of the wider University of Cambridge”.
Jane Davies: “We have a really strong programme and it is about steering it and maintaining it and making it robust. We should be proud of what we offer – we know what we are doing and conveying that is important”.