Business programmes – The new landscape

I’m preparing to speak at the Graduate Management Admission Council or GMAC Asia Pacific Conference in November and thought I’d preview one of the topics here to get your reaction and input.

The title of the session is Positioning Your Programmes in a Complex World and one of the themes is competition. My point here is that it’s growing, and increasingly coming from places you might not suspect. For example, if you were a top-ranked (or aspiring) UK-based business school, you would certainly consider your competition to be London Business School and University of Cambridge – as well as Stanford or MIT Sloan in the US, INSEAD in France and Singapore, IESE in Spain, and CEIBS in China, or any of the other highly ranked business schools in the Financial Times Rankings.

But what about the world beyond the usual suspects? What about some of the organisational types below? Might they, too, be competitors – either now or in the future – for what business schools currently offer? For example:

Traditional training firms: They know how to deliver in-person and online content to various management levels within an organisation, and some of them already work with universities that will give academic credit for their training programmes. Besides the many training firms across the globe that specialise in leadership training, many firms that started out in IT, sales and other types of training, have since expanded into management and leadership training. Examples here include the Center for Creative Leadership, NIS Sparta, GBS Corporate Training, Hemsley Fraser and Dale Carnegie.

New online training firms/content providers: Some of these providers offer some online courses (including MOOCs) for free to the open market, certified learning for a fee, and professional development courses to large and small businesses; some offer a variety of courses available for a subscription. Examples here include Lynda, Udemy for Business and Udacity for Business.

Executive recruiters: These firms know quite a bit about leadership and many of them have begun to offer both open programmes and custom client engagements across the globe. Examples here include Korn Ferry and Heidrick & Struggles.

Strategy consulting firms: They’re known for developing people and can hire non-business graduates and give them enough training within a few months to make them competitive with your MBAs. Most of the big firms, and many of the smaller ones, have been competitors for executive education clients for over a decade. Some of them, like McKinsey (through McKinsey Academy), have since started offering these services to clients.

Publishers: Publishers have vast quantities of content, including books, articles, background notes and cases. All they need is a technology to deliver the content widely and people to facilitate the process – and several of them are already offering courses and programmes for workforce and leadership development. Examples here include Pearson, Cengage and Harvard Business Publishing.

Continuing education units: These focus more on practical application than research and offer programming aimed at working adults. With the need for continual skill upgrading, some of these schools are growing very rapidly. Examples here include Harvard University Division of Continuing Education (disclaimer: I teach here) and Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies.

Corporate universities: These already hire some of your faculty for special programmes. They also have a large employee audience and desire to retain and develop these people. Also, some corporate universities now train other companies’ employees. Examples here include The Disney Institute, Motorola University, The Nestlé Academy and Infosys.

For-profits: They have large marketing budgets, already know how to scale delivery and are gaining on assessment. They’re also into professional education. Examples here include the University of Phoenix.

Free (or relatively inexpensive) stuff: If all some people want is the knowledge or skills, perhaps they don’t need to spend two years with you. Examples here include edX, Coursera and MindTools.

What other potential competitors should be on this list? What’s the likelihood they’ll become fully-fledged competitors to traditional business schools? Which ones do you think are the biggest threat to business schools? If you’d like to be part of the discussion, please email me at the address below and I’d be happy to send you the final presentation.

Margaret Andrews is an academic leader, instructor and consultant. Her academic leadership positions have included vice-provost at Hult International Business School, where she managed a global academic team across five campuses in four countries; associate dean of management programs at Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education or DCE; and executive director of the MBA Program at the MIT Sloan School of Management, USA. She teaches a variety of leadership and strategy courses at Harvard DCE, and is also managing director of Mind and Hand Associates, a boutique consulting firm serving a global higher education clientele. You can reach her at