Today's MBA graduates and future leaders need an additional set of skills, according to a distinguished panel of executives discussing "The Role of the MBA in the 21st Century," a symposium recently held at Lehigh University's College of Business and Economics.
Richard M. Durand, Herbert H. Ehlers Dean, opened the May 22 event, part of the Lehigh MBA's 50th Anniversary celebration. The panel, comprised of leaders from both the public and private sector, emphasized "soft skills" as an increasingly critical part of what any MBA graduate--and future leader--must possess. Nearly 150 students, alumni, business school deans, corporate partners, faculty and staff were in attendance.
In the wake of the Enron, Global Crossing and World Com scandals in recent years, and the high-flying speculation of the 1990's, today's MBA graduate is expected to come to the table with intellectual agility, vision, courage, integrity, and passion--skills that are defining the next generation of leaders.
David A. Wilson, president and CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, chaired the discussion and offered a challenge to business schools across the country to emphasize, nurture, teach, and evaluate these soft skills.
Beverly McQuigg-Martinetz, director of organization and leadership development for Aventis Pasteur, said that being customer focused, results driven, a team player, and an innovative thinker are additional key attributes. "To be on a succession planning list (at Aventis), it almost always is a requirement to have an MBA," she says, noting that successful MBA programs must integrate these soft skills into the curriculum.
At Lehigh, courses such as Introduction to Business at the undergraduate level and Corporate Governance and Business Risk Management at the graduate level directly address many of these issues. In addition, students at Lehigh also learn these leadership skills through an emphasis on group projects and being immersed in the college's experiential approach to learning and diverse culture.
"Leadership is remarkably difficult to define, but you know it when you see it," said Cynthia G. Yee, director of acquisition career development for the U.S. Department of Energy. "An MBA experience provides a medium for these skills to take root, but candidates share the responsibility."
David P. Benick, manager of Avail Consulting LLC and a Lehigh MBA alumnus, says high competency in accounting and finance skills are expected for any job candidate he interviews, and that the particulars of how Avail does business can be taught.
He emphasized it is those key soft skills that will separate a candidate from the pack. "The MBA graduate brings a certain confidence and relevance," he added.
Gus Gustafson, partner and vice president for Fragrance Manufacturing, Inc. and a Lehigh graduate in chemical engineering, has seen his career transform from technical to entrepreneurial. In addition to leadership skills, Gustafson emphasizes the need for cross-disciplinary education.
Through such innovative programs as the MBA and Engineering, Lehigh is strongly positioned to create these technical leaders of tomorrow. "Today's ideal candidate has a technical background and an MBA," he says. "If you have technical skills without leadership abilities, you will hit the glass ceiling. You can't hide in R&D silos anymore. For this reason, an MBA is becoming even more relevant today."