The Old-School MBA Is Ready for Disruption. Here's How I'd Do It.

​Yoshito Hori, president of GLOBIS University, managing partner of GLOBIS Capital Partners, shares his views from an entrepreneur's perspective.​

One word we hear a lot of these days is “disrupt.”

Netflix is disrupting old-style TV. Tesla is disrupting the auto industry. Uber is disrupting the taxi business.

Ironically, one business that hasn’t yet experienced much disruption is business education itself. The old model, consisting of written case studies, class discussion, and the study of fundamental management skills like marketing and accounting remains firmly entrenched.

But this MBA model actually dates back to 1908 when Harvard Business School was founded. Surely the skill set leaders need now is not the same as it was back then? A business model unchanged for over a century MUST be “ripe for disruption”!

I certainly think it is.

Over the last two decades, digital technology and the Internet have revolutionized business, and the pace of change is only getting faster. This new business environment demands a new kind of leader; and these new leaders need an updated education that equips them with the relevant skills for the 21st century.

Okay, so what should an MBA tailored for the age of digital disruption look like?

This is a question I’ve pondered a lot. As a venture capitalist, I spend a great deal of time evaluating and investing in disruptive new businesses and their leaders. As the head of a business school, I also want to provide our students with the most practical, up-to-date training possible.

That’s why I’ve created an imaginary “Disruptors’ MBA.” The curriculum is built around the six core course areas listed below.

1. Technology-enabled business models

The most successful new companies grow to massive scale based on a technology platform. They often have few employees and no hard assets. Airbnb is a hotel company with no hotels; Uber is a taxi company with no taxis. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should focus on those companies that have achieved market dominance by boldly leveraging digital technology.

2. Coding, Algorithms and System Architecture

The traditional MBA aims to produce well-rounded executives with a respectable grasp of key disciplines like finance, marketing, strategy, and so on. In a world that revolves around the Internet, not having a similar grasp of programming and algorithms is downright dangerous. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should equip leaders to manage and direct IT specialists based on a sound understanding of system architecture.

3. Social Media Communications

When I did my MBA, we studied old-school communications skills such as letter writing and presenting. Our training was about addressing a small “insider” audience. Social media has blown that exclusive model to smithereens. CEOs are widely mistrusted. But corporate executives now have a potential online audience of millions of everyday people. How the CEO communicates with the public generates the word-of-mouth that shapes the company’s image and wins trust. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should prepare leaders to communicate through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in an informal, authentic and timely manner, both in good times and in bad.

4. Robotics

Robotics is expanding off the factory floor and into our everyday lives. iRobot’s ROOMBA robot vacuum cleaner and a recently opened Nagasaki hotel — the Hen-na Hotel (“Weird Hotel”), featuring a robot receptionist, luggage porter and cloakroom attendants — exemplify this trend. I expect robots to start playing an expanding role in health care/elderly care next. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should equip leaders to use robots as a key component of the organization by incorporating them into the workforces they lead.

5. AI (Artificial Intelligence)

In the 1990s, a wave of offshoring swept through the developed world, driving manufacturing jobs to lower-wage countries overseas. That trend then repeated in the 2000s, but with white-collar jobs moving to places like India and the Philippines. The next such wave will involve the shifting of certain white-collar jobs from humans to AI. At the business school I run, for instance, AI already handles a large proportion of the application process, something that is both efficient and helps eliminate human bias. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should equip leaders to utilize AI in their business models and value chains in order to create competitive advantage.

6. Cybersecurity

The massive December 2014 cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment brought the cybersecurity issue well and truly into the spotlight. There were any number of reasons why cybersecurity wasn’t getting the attention it deserved until then — CEOs aren’t too keen on admitting to being hacked; and plenty of them may not be computer-literate enough to grasp the size of the danger! Sony changed all that. The new “Disruptors’ MBA” should sensitize students to this existential threat. Modern corporate leaders must start from the default position that someone somewhere is working to steal their IP and sensitive personal data and take the necessary preemptive steps to protect it.

There are plenty of other areas that the new “Disruptors’ MBA” will also need to cover: These range from the internet of things, augmented/virtual reality and design (user experience, user interface) through to regenerative medicine, DNA editing and clean energy.

But the new “Disruptors’ MBA” won’t just have a new curriculum; it will have a new delivery mechanism too. I define that mechanism by what it does NOT have.

No textbooks: Who needs textbooks, when there’s so much information available on the internet anyway? From TED talks to World Economic Forum panel discussions, high-quality materials abound in cyberspace.

No written cases: Who needs written case studies, when faculty can go one better, interviewing actual company CEOs and streaming the video to their students in real time?

No classrooms: When learning all takes place online, physical classrooms are an anachronism. Cyberspace is the new classroom.

Well, what do you think of the new imaginary “Disruptors’ MBA”?

Do you think it will produce leaders equipped with the right skills for the challenges/opportunities of our new all-digital world?

I hope so.

Because before I go, I have a confession to make…

Our business school is going to begin to launch just such an MBA in April 2016. We’re calling it the “Technovate MBA,” because it combines “technology” and “innovation.”

THE ALL-NEW IMAGINARY “DISRUPTORS’ MBA” IS REAL AFTER ALL.

So… let the disruption begin and the skills gap be closed!

Author

Mr. Yoshito Hori established GLOBIS Management School in 1992 and GLOBIS Capital Partners in 1996. In 2003, GLOBIS started its original MBA program which, in 2006, received accreditation from the Japanese Ministry of Education and gained “university” status. GLOBIS started a part-time MBA program in English in 2009 and a full-time MBA program in English in 2012.

A Harvard MBA graduate and former Sumitomo Corporation employee, Mr. Hori founded the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Japan Chapter in 1995 and became the first board member from Asia in charge of Asia Pacific region in 1996. He also served on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s New Asian Leaders Executive Committee and Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership, as well as the Harvard Business School Alumni Board from 2005 to 2008. Currently, Mr. Hori is a board member of the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and serves as co-chair of WEF’s Global Growth Companies.

In 2008, he launched the G1 Summit – a Japanese version of the WEF’s annual Davos forum. This led to the foundation of G1 Summit Institute in 2013, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

Just days after a huge earthquake struck northeast Japan in March 2011, Mr. Hori launched Project KIBOW to support the rebuilding of the disaster-affected areas. The following year Project KIBOW was incorporated as the KIBOW Foundation, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

An avid enthusiast of the Japanese game Go since age 40, Mr. Hori has been Director of the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association) since June 2013.

Since October 2013, Mr. Hori has hosted a weekly TV program in Japan called Nippon Mirai Kaigi (Japan Future Conference). He has authored several books including Visionary Leaders who Create and Innovate Societies, Six Dimensions of Life, and My Personal Mission Statement.

Mr. Hori received his BS in Engineering from Kyoto University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an avid swimmer and enjoys spending time with his family, especially his five sons.

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