Are B-Schools Teaching All the Cs?

Yesterday I was standing in line at a local post office, mailing a package and picking up some stamps. Behind me, a young college student was impressing his girlfriend with talk about how his business professor was creating teams and imbuing each team with virtual cash — some $10 million per team — to create a startup business. The young man was talking (just amplified enough for all to hear) about how rich he was going to become one day because of his professor’s guidance.

“One person will be the CEO, another the COO, another the CFO,” he proclaimed. He listed a few more “C’s”. Hearing all the “C’s,” I was waiting to hear the “C” word we all are accustomed to hearing: CIO, CTO.

Those letters never came. I listened as he described creating a strategic direction for this classroom experiment, charting a course in the New Economy. How his corporation would compete against the world’s elite. How they would redefine business processes.

I could not stop myself, I am sorry to say. I turned around, complimented him on his ambition and asked, “What about the CIO? Who will chart strategic direction when it comes to information technology and the uses of technology to drive those business process changes?

He was dumbfounded. “The professor will act as the Board of Directors,” he muttered.

“A board does not set IT strategic policy in motion,” I reminded him. “And if you intend to compete against global giants, you’d better have a top-flight CIO who can enable that ambitious set of business process changes. Didn’t your professor cover that?”

Apparently not, for the young man could not address information technology, could not carry a conversation about it, and, recognizing this, I excused myself from his conversation and allowed him to preserve his ego.

It all got me to thinking: Are US universities teaching business using IT as the enabler? Are today’s young, wet-behind-the-ears CEOs-in-training even capable of holding a conversation regarding the digitization of business processes? Sure, I am betting a Wharton, a Stanford or a Harvard grad can do it. That makes three. What about the others?

I maintain that any professor who does not understand the essential role information technology plays in the corporate sector enough to know the CIO sits at the boardroom level, not in the basement, cannot imbue his/her students with the insight necessary to be successful business leaders in the 21st Century.

Companies and corporations just starting up in today’s New Economy can benefit greatly from this simple truth. For example, startup companies have the advantage of engineering their systems and business processes to be hyper-efficient and digital from the get-go. They do not have to relearn everything all over again, as all of today’s successful companies have had to do. Even e-giants such as eBay. Google and Amazon have had various problems and growing pains and, as a result, have had to adjust to new ways of doing things.

One of my all-time favorite (audio) books is the tome, How Digital Is Your Business? It’s an oldie but a goodie, and it should be required reading for all business majors and government types. It is on my Classics shelf, next to Good to Great.

One thing’s for sure: America doesn’t need any more Old School business grads.

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