Kai Peters, Ashridge Business School
Responsible and sustainable business is something that every MBA graduate needs to understand, not solely those dedicated to making a positive difference. Sustainability decisions are increasingly made by businesses, with big brand-name companies, such as GE and Unilever adopting sustainable practices in order to help achieve their overarching business goals.
At the same time, we are operating in an age of near total transparency where unscrupulous behaviour can’t be swept under the carpet, and consumers are increasingly vocal about their desire for companies to demonstrate social conscience as well as pursuit of profit.
Today’s managers need to know how to respond responsibly to environmental and social issues. Organisations now need leaders who have both the aspiration and the skills to develop businesses that are sustainable in every sense of the word.
Multinational companies increasingly see sustainability as a key business challenge, rather than a hollow PR exercise. 30 years ago there wasn’t much discussion around corporate sustainability. People expected issues to be resolved through public policy interventions. Times have changed, and sustainable business practices are something every business leader needs to understand.
We need a new breed of leaders who look beyond short-term profit and their own self-interests to take businesses forward ethically and with long-term profits in mind. Their role is to define the ethical compass for their organisations and set a clear example from the top for others to follow.
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Business schools have a crucial role to play in increasing the number of leaders who understand why it’s important to do business in a new kind of way. Teaching ethics can help managers make as thoughtful decisions as possible. Educational interventions can also help managers develop a better understanding of the stumbling blocks that get in the way of ethical behaviour. My recent book, Steward Leadership, co-authored with Kurt April and Julia Kukard, explores this in greater detail.
MBA students can prepare themselves for successfully leading corporate sustainability initiatives by ensuring that they have traditional business expertise, knowledge of global issues, and a passion for sustainability issues.
Our MBA programme provides an opportunity for students to develop skills in leading change for sustainable outcomes. Participants are encouraged to reflect on these issues and articulate their personal position on how organisations and the people who lead them should relate to the wider society.
Creating professionals who understand the critical importance of responsible sustainable practice needs to be at the core of all that we do. Business schools don’t just have a role in helping leaders develop a personal blue-print to guide their ethical behaviour – they have a duty to develop responsible managers. This is not merely wishful thinking – it is essential.
About Kai Peters, Chief Executive, Ashridge Business School
Prior to joining Ashridge, Kai Peters was Dean, and previously director of MBA programmes, of the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) of Erasmus University in the Netherlands. He serves on supervisory and advisory boards for a number of organizations in the health care and social care sectors. He also serves in various capacities for educational associations including AACSB, AMBA, EFMD and GMAC.
Peters writes and lectures on cognitive sciences, leadership and strategy for government, business and academic audiences. He holds degrees from York University, Toronto and University of Quebec in Chicoutimi; (Canada) and Erasmus University (Netherlands).