Preparing Global Business Leaders for a Changing Economy

Mauro F. Guillén, Anthony L. Davis Director of the Lauder Institute, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

As the fourth industrial revolution, the rise of emerging markets, and political upheavals grab the headlines, one wonders how to prepare for the global economy of the future. I personally find it difficult these days to keep up with the news let alone think about how I should change my day-to-day approach to my job or the way I think strategically about the future. The fact is that uncertainty is here with us to stay. It has become the new normal.

Uncertainty and massive technological, economic and political change require adaptive flexibility. The only possible to change is change itself. Thus, companies, governments, and individuals need to adopt a new mindset and to become more agile. This is precisely why at the Lauder Institute we revised the curriculum so that the focus is on change and on the skills needed to be successful in dealing with change.

Individuals rarely work in isolation. Organizations are becoming more horizontal and more fluid as they seek to remain competitive. Meanwhile, intercultural dynamics permeate the global economy in the sense that more and more business is transacted across borders and companies themselves continue to incorporate people from different backgrounds. This is why we emphasize interpersonal and intercultural skills as part of the education and training that every global business leader should possess. We accomplish this in the classroom, through leadership experiences in different parts of the world, and through intensive workshops.

Companies and entire countries are now confronting new issues with global repercussions, especially concerning the impact of technology and the race for natural resources. The quest for sustainability shapes all current debates about the liberating potential of technology and the need to preserve resources for future generations. In our new curriculum, we expose future global business leaders to the impact of technology on competition and the workplace. We also focus the attention on resource constraints and how technology, behavioral change, and better management can make it easier for the world to cope with pollution, warming, and scarcity.

There are more people in the world nowadays with access to a mobile phone than people with access to a toilet. This factoid brings the attention to the reality of uneven development, and the need for businesses, governments, and nonprofits to address those imbalances before they become a burden on the economy and the society. Social impact initiatives are a part of our approach to this rapidly changing world, as is entrepreneurship. We offer students the financial resources needed to focus on their startups during the summer, and we help them develop a network of useful contacts.

Our focus on intercultural, international, and global perspectives on business is essential to overcoming the challenges of technological, economic and political change. Technology is not a neutral force that changes the landscape in a homogeneous way. Quite on the contrary, it interacts in complex ways with local institutions, cultures and ways of doing things. The impact of automation, for instance, is being felt in very different ways depending on the country.

Economic change is also driven by culture, politics, and institutions. As businesses scramble to adapt, we notice that they use resources and explore opportunities that are very specific to their location in the world. The fact that changes are global in scope does not mean they are global in their consequences or global in the way in which they generate challenges and opportunities.

Understanding politics has become even more important than in the past if one is to be an effective business leader. Growing unpredictability challenges our way of thinking about business problems. It requires foresight and flexibility of mind. Our program offers in-classroom and experiential ways to learn more about how exactly politics affects business, and how the relationship is changing.

The value of an international business education has never been greater. There are many moving parts in the global economy, far more than in the recent past. Analyzing the interconnections among economic, political, cultural and business components is of cardinal importance. No future business leader will be successful without a thorough understanding of that complex web of relationships.