In a recent column for TIME Magazine, Rana Foroohar made the interesting observation that the recent biography of Steve Jobs should be required reading for all MBA students. Among her persuasive arguments, two salient points bear mentioning:
First, in spite of, rather than because of, his autocratic tendencies, Jobs was a man of vision and execution.
Second, for Jobs, it was all about the product, not the money. He had this wacky idea that if you built a great product, people would actually buy it, with profits being a happy result.
It is this second point that may prove noteworthy to business education students. Jobs never felt the need to justify his actions to Wall Street. He was not obsessed with return on investment or maximizing shareholder profit. These were the end results, not the guiding principles, of his management style. Research, development, and, most of all, innovation, influenced his thinking during times of boom and bust. This type of philosophy is why, over the last 30 years, there has been such a tremendous growth in the telecommunications and computer fields as opposed to – oh, say – the energy field, where we still rely on the same primary source in 2012 that we used in 1912.
This philosophy is also in stark contrast to the corporate culture that has influenced American commerce since the early 1980s. The dean of the Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, is quoted in Ms. Foroohar’s article as saying “We’ve largely tapped out efficiency gains in corporate America”. In other words, we’ve gone about as far as we can go with growing the bottom line through cutting costs. You reach a point where all the fat is gone and all you are cutting is bone. Throwing bodies out the door, while expedient, is not a long term strategy for success. Ms. Foroohar also points out that US corporations are currently sitting on 2 trillion dollars worth of cash and doing nothing with it. I think it safe to say that, in terms of business activity, we have reached the stage of inertia.
And yet, there is hope! According to this same TIME article, Harvard Business School, perhaps influenced by the success of people like Jobs, is now moving its curriculum away from an emphasis on financial engineering and placing more importance on innovation. God knows, we have had enough creative bookkeeping over the last several years. Creativity in the marketplace is long overdue.
In subsequent blogs, I will reference specific data and research that shows how AACSB has been in the forefront of championing innovation in the business world and in business education. Not only have we tracked the growth of business programs emphasizing innovation, but, in 2010, AACSB also issued its task force report, “Business Schools on an Innovation Mission”. In addition, during a recent survey of effective practices in our member schools, there were 162 specific references to innovation, so, like Harvard, plenty of schools are getting on board the Steve Jobs legacy.