ISU faculty address how to re-tool business education to prevent another collapse

AMES, Iowa -- On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, an effort to both prevent the failures that rocked the economy last year and protect the public from having to bail out institutions for bad business decisions. The legislation must still be approved by the Senate before it can be signed into law.

The faculty and staff of Iowa State University's College of Business also are discussing how best to prepare future generations to prevent another meltdown. They have ideas on the most pressing needs for business education in 2010 and beyond.

Talk of new government regulations amplifies the need to promote greater governmental awareness in the business classroom, according to Brian Mennecke, an ISU associate professor of management information systems.

"The government views things in a static, short-term way that often conflicts with a long-term business approach," Mennecke said. "But when the government has had interventions in various markets, business typically responds. So it is important for business people to learn how to work within the constraints of ever-increasing government regulation."

Encouraging students to be more entrepreneurial

Markets have fluctuated wildly amid the current economic uncertainty, and Mennecke says business students need to learn how to become more entrepreneurial in response to market changes.

"Students, in the past, have typically gone on to work for corporate entities," he said. "But what's happened in the last year is tremendous downsizing and many firms, quite frankly, will probably maintain that lean focus. Some within the corporate environment predict less constricted corporate employment and more contracted-type of employment where they'd function more like free agents. That requires students to constantly have skills relevant to the market, and to think creatively and innovatively as entrepreneurs to solve problems."

In the wake of the economic crisis, Mark Peterson, director of graduate career services in the College of Business, sees supply chain management skills becoming even more valuable to business graduates.

"One of the biggest things for the future is companies' drives to optimize their supply chains," Peterson said. "Companies tell me there's no end in sight, so MBAs with a supply chain focus are going to be in huge demand. And we're in a really good place for that."

Supply chain issues focus on both economic and environmental sustainability. Peterson says in the MBA class entering in 2010, there will be a much greater focus on sustainability generally, with the possibility that the college's MBA in sustainable agriculture may one day evolve into the kind of credential that qualifies its holder to serve as a corporate "CGO," or chief green officer.

Emphasizing business sustainability

Sustainability is very much at the forefront as the College of Business prepares to meet the needs of the business community over the next 25 years.

"How do we incorporate sustainable business practices and social responsibility more formally across our curriculum?" asks Associate Dean Kay Palan. "How do we work with parts of the world that are not as developed as we are? There's a whole range of things there we need to be doing more about."

Addressing those issues in the curriculum, Palan acknowledges, can be difficult given the pace of change and the continual emergence of new challenges. Increasingly, she emphasizes the college's responsibility lies not so much in preparing students to tackle specific business challenges, but in more rigorously cultivating a broader "environmental awareness" with regard to economics, regulation and technology, as well as environmental concerns.

Associate Dean Mike Crum places responsibility for remediating the global economic and environmental crises squarely on the shoulders of the business community.

"People, the planet, and profits: they can work together," Crum said, "and business is the most efficient mechanism for achieving this.

"We want our students, as they get into leadership positions, to promote these values and practices," Crum continued. "We've always had a focus on social responsibility, but we've never made that explicit as the thread through our curriculum. So, after the most recent set of scandals, we decided to be more out front with it. We feel that will resonate with the kind of student we want to attract."

ISU's College of Business is celebrating its 25th anniversary this academic year.