Conversation: Professor Zeger Degraeve, former Dean, Melbourne Business School
Professor Zeger Degraeve recently retired as Dean of Melbourne Business School following a highly successfully six year term. His achievements include maintaining and enhancing the international standing of the School, modernising the degree programs, expanding executive education and developing a presence in Asia.
We caught up with Zeger and he reflected on his six years in Melbourne.
What do you believe are the most significant challenges facing business schools in Australia?
I think the biggest challenge in Australia is for institutions to build a strong understanding of the competitive nature of global business education. There is absolutely no reason why this country cannot have a top 10 business school; Australia has the resources, the capability and the labour market to support it. I think one of the issues relates to the fact that very often business education focuses on increasing size and scale of what it delivers rather than a relentless pursuit of quality. This is what it takes to be a world leader.
How do business schools in Australia remain globally relevant while at the same time providing a local perspective?
Yes, this is certainly always a balance. I think it involves focusing on three key elements. Firstly, making sure that the programs being offered are globally grounded and naturally of a high quality. Secondly, ensuring that the program participants come from a diversity of countries. Then finally, ensuring that the experiential component of the program is locally focussed. That involves ensuring that the participants work on local projects with local business and hence, their learning experience is orientated toward the local market challenges and conditions. This is then complemented with global consulting experiences. For instance, at Melbourne Business School, we offer the elective “Doing Business in Asia” in conjunction with the global firm EY where we immerse student study groups in advisory projects with clients in China.
Does a business school education via degrees such as an MBA have the same value to employers as it did 20 years ago?
A very good question. I would say that absolutely the content of the business programs are still highly relevant and valued by business, but the format of delivery is being forced to change. Employers still require high calibre people who can work in teams, can lead, can set strategy, can undertake investment analysis but they require these to be taught in a much more flexible way. This is why we see such strong demand for the part time MBA and the Executive MBA. The quality of the program is also being more closely scrutinised by business and participants alike.
You have taught some of the world’s leading business people over a number of years. What changes have you observed in the student perspective since you commenced?
This has certainly changed. Some 20 years ago you did your MBA to assist with your career progression, very often in major corporates. Most of the participants were rising stars in investment banks, consulting firms and multinational organisations. They were wanting to build a career. Today, many more participants are budding entrepreneurs. They are wanting to start or build a business rather than seeing themselves building a career. Hence, we are observing an element of entrepreneurism and innovation that we have not seen previously. It is exciting!
As a global academic living and working in Melbourne for the past five years what have been the most enjoyable aspects and those which you have found the most surprising?
Melbourne is a fantastic city, situated in a fantastic country. It offers both a great lifestyle and huge opportunities. I think it is fair to say that it is still developing in terms of its global engagement and diversity of ideas, but this is something that takes time.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my six years here and I will definitely miss my (slow) Sunday morning runs from Middle Park along the water to Brighton. There are not the same opportunities to do this in London!
About Professor Zeger Degraeve
A leading global business academic, Zeger completed his PhD at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, became a Professor of Management Science at the Katholieke Universiteit in his home country of Belgium before joining London Business School. His appointments included Associate Dean of Executive MBA and Global Programs and, later, Deputy Dean of Programs while serving on the School’s executive management committee and board of governors.
Rohan A. Carr