Wharton faces the same macro forces that businesses confront, while tackling strategy and execution in ways that could inform private enterprise.
By Geoffrey Garrett
I guest lectured three Management 101 classes in April and came up with three areas where lessons from Wharton might have something to say about business strategy more generally.
First, the same two forces affecting business are really important at a business school like Wharton—technology and globalization.
We are a major player in online education for several reasons. We want students all around the world to be able to get a taste of Wharton. We want to experiment in online pedagogy in ways that will help us improve tech-enabled education on campus. And if we can find great students online who otherwise wouldn’t know about Wharton and whom we wouldn’t otherwise know about, all the better.
Our student body is global. So is our faculty. And so is our curriculum. But in the 21st century, while the world will continue to come to the U.S., America will need to go to the world too. That is why we opened the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing in March and have partnerships with INSEAD. That is why we helped found business schools in India, Singapore and Thailand. It’s not enough to say we are global; we must be in the global space.
Second, big is not necessarily bad. Big can be nimble. Wharton is more a mini university than a pure-play business school. We do everything from teaching undergraduates to cutting-edge research, not to mention full-time and executive MBAs and executive education. Our academic departments include public policy, health care, statistics and legal studies, in addition to all business school staples.
Why violate the strategy mantra “focus on core competencies”? At a time when everyone is concerned about where higher education might be headed, Wharton is making (high-quality) bets in lots of domains. Under uncertainty, diversification seems a pretty smart move to us.
Finally, while strategy tends to be thought about primarily in terms of analysis and formulating ideas, execution is at least as important. What’s the value of a great idea if it is never put into practice? Not much.
That is why I spend so much of my time talking to Wharton’s myriad stakeholders—students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. The more ideas in the strategy hopper, the better. The more diverse these ideas, the better.
But consultation is crucial when it comes to execution. The more people who feel they are involved in making a decision, the more likely they are to help in its execution. Consultation generates buy-in, even if the responsibility for making a decision ultimately rests with a single person or a small leadership group.
Maybe the business school world isn’t so different from the world of business after all?
Geoffrey Garrett is dean and Reliance Professor of Management and Private Enterprise at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
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