Advancing the revolution: Cross-Enterprise Leadership at Ivey

In May, the Ivey School of Business will welcome the first group of students into its new and revolutionary Cross-Enterprise Leadership TM MBA program. The narrowly defined, discipline-specific classes of yesterday are gone. Instead, our MBA students will dissect, resolve and ultimately act upon business problems and opportunities that span multiple disciplines. They will assess and anticipate the impact of their decisions across divisions, markets, borders and partners. And they will learn to think, act and lead in a business world increasingly marked by complexity and uncertainty.

This approach is radically different from traditional business education. And as Mary Crossan and Fernando Olivera so eloquently explain elsewhere in this edition of the Journal, it’s an approach that’s absolutely fundamental to the future success of business leaders.

In today’s business world, and indeed tomorrow’s, many of the variables — such as regulation, technology, competition and trade — are constantly in flux. What’s more, these issues are often inter-related, creating a dynamic web of opportunities and threats. It is impossible to precisely predict – yet alone, control — the form, magnitude or timing of these forces. Leaders must remain open to surprises and anomalies. They need the ability to anticipate potential changes, to see emerging patterns and to fully sense a situation in all its complexity. Most of all, they need to act swiftly and lead decisively in building agile enterprises — enterprises that can adapt quickly to new competitive opportunities while leveraging their existing strengths to stimulate learning, innovation and growth.

This is precisely the scope and extent of the Cross-Enterprise Leadership transformation now under way at Ivey. We are not only redesigning our programs, but we have embarked on a comprehensive redesign of Ivey’s research, organization and management to place Cross-Enterprise Leadership at the centre of all that we do and achieve. To educate the business leaders of tomorrow and to give business the research insights it needs, we believe that Ivey must become as agile, innovative and future-oriented as the best companies of today and tomorrow. Our ultimate goal is to dramatically advance the practice of business management and leadership.

We began our transformation by taking a critical look at what we do best and how we can do better. By consulting widely with executives, consultants and top recruiters, we found out that companies will always rely on managers and executives with strong functional expertise in areas such as finance, marketing or operations. But, businesses today need more — much more. They need leaders who thrive in a complex environment and can make decisions quickly and effectively in today’s ever-changing, inter-related business ecosystem. In other words, although the knowledge and expertise of the disciplines are still required, business leaders also need to remove the disciplinary blinders to see the whole picture, to understand how it came together and to decide how their enterprises can take advantage of its many opportunities.

To offer business the new knowledge and skills that it needs, Ivey has also taken off its disciplinary blinders to ensure that our teaching and research reconfigure the functional mindset. This reconfiguration won’t be easy or instantaneous, since much of Ivey’s success in the past was based on the functional expertise of its faculty and researchers. But we won’t allow that valuable expertise to get in the way of our pursuit of innovation. By leading with issues and adopting Cross-Enterprise Leadership as the cornerstone of our strategy, our aim is ensure that our functional expertise serves the issues — and not the other way around.

That aim has proven sure and true with the redesign of our flagship MBA program. This one-year intensive program will prepare Ivey graduates to look beyond walls, organizational charts and silos to approach business issues from a perspective that spans the entire enterprise. Instead of offering courses defined solely by management disciplines, the re-designed MBA program now consists of four modules that build on one another to provide an integrative experience. In the first module, our students will gain a thorough understanding of the role of business in society and their role as business leaders. They will also learn to leverage their individual strengths in making and communicating decisions effectively.

In the second module, they will delve into an organization’s key structures and processes and learn how to execute strategy and build new value. Then, in the third module, they will explore the global environment and the macro socio-economic trends affecting business today. And in the fourth module, they will examine Cross-Enterprise Leadership in an entrepreneurial context as well as in larger organizations, while exploring specific sectors and applying their learning through the Ivey Cross-Enterprise Project. Over the coming months, Ivey’s undergraduate and executive management programs will also be revamped to focus on the development and refinement of Cross-Enterprise Leadership acumen.

The redesign of our programs builds on Ivey’s strengths in action-oriented management education, and research focused on emerging or growing business needs. For example, our renowned case study method, which concentrates on current business issues, will continue to play a central role in the curriculum. New cross-enterprise cases, developed specifically for the Ivey program, will help students build frameworks for cross-enterprise thinking, action, and leadership. Through these case studies, students will examine cross-enterprise issues such as growth, innovation and development, globalization, productivity and the leveraging of human capital.

As part of our Cross-Enterprise Leadership strategy, four new research centres were also created last autumn. Two of the centres already have strong foundations, including Advisory Councils. For example, the Engaging Emerging Markets Research Centre, led by Professor Paul Beamish, will continue to build on Ivey’s strength in international business research, particularly in emerging markets such as China.

The Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Centre, under the stewardship of Professor Eric Morse, will focus on entrepreneurship and innovation with a special focus on the issues facing rapid-growth firms. The other two centres are new to Ivey. The Building Sustainable Value Research Centre, which is being spearheaded by Professor Tima Bansal, will investigate issues that build organizational value by meeting both private corporate interests and public social interests simultaneously. This new centre underscores the reality that economic and social issues are increasingly interconnected. Consequently, they often result in competing stakeholder positions that require innovative organizational strategies, tools and actions. This Centre will develop new business models and offer public policy recommendations to create new organizational and societal value across the enterprise.

The Leading Cross-Enterprise Research Centre, under Professor Mary Crossan, will leverage Ivey’s well-established research expertise in leadership and organizational learning and knowledge management (OLKM). However, it will also focus on the processes of leading cross-enterprise, looking at the relationship between the outside environment and the enterprise as a whole, as well as the interactions that occur within the enterprise, across its departments or functions. In both cases, the Centre will emphasize the import and impact of decisive action and value creation in dealing with the dynamic ambiguity facing today’s business enterprises.

Clearly, each of these new research centres will augment Ivey’s traditional research strengths, while opening up tremendous possibilities for new and ground-breaking research. Meanwhile, on the teaching front, we are also breaking down the functional silos and working in teams to develop and deliver our new programs. That’s because we believe that to deliver effective Cross-Enterprise Leadership education, we must embrace its fundamental principles.

As a result, our professors and researchers, just like the students in our programs, are now learning to work together in a cross-enterprise fashion. They are coming to grips with ambiguity and complexity everyday, integrating their formidable knowledge of business disciplines, and applying their new perspectives to the formulation of exciting new ways of thinking about, understanding and doing business.

Like any great strategy, Ivey’s Cross-Enterprise Leadership approach responds to a critical need in the market. It builds on our important strengths. And it will have profound implications for the teaching, research and practice of business leadership worldwide. But, most important, Cross-Enterprise Leadership will enable Ivey to better serve business and society and to play a leadership role in transforming management practice. Ivey’s mission is to develop business leaders who think globally, act strategically and contribute to the societies within which they operate. That mission has not changed.