Eric Cornuel on Reconciling Management, Technology, Development and Societies

We here publish the keynote speech which Prof. Eric Cornuel delivered on 13 May 2022 at the graduation ceremony for the International Executive MBA programme co-organized by BMI Executive Institute and UCLouvain. Eric Cornuel is the President of EFMD, a promotor of management development and global accreditation body for business schools and their programmes, which he has been leading for two decades. EFMD has played a major role in supporting the growth of both BMI and UCLouvain as world-class management educators. Beyond the institutional ties, over the years Prof. Cornuel has also assisted BMI and its partner schools in other important transversal projects. EFMD has played a major role in supporting the growth of BMI Executive Institute as well as numerous new business schools’ projects initiated in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

E. Cornuel is a graduate of IEP Paris, an MBA from HEC Paris, and a PhD from Paris Dauphine University. He has been teaching management strategy in numerous international institutions. Beyond the institutional ties, over the years Prof. Cornuel has also assisted BMI and Louvain School of Management on key international issues.

We have entered the fourth industrial revolution. There is no doubt at all about that. It is evolving faster and more deeply than any of the previous industrial revolutions and has a scope that is truly global. At its heart is digitalization – a major driving and disruptive force for societies.

Twenty years ago, less than one percent of the world’s population had access to the Internet. Today, more than 4 billion people are connected, observers and participants of what is happening online.

These developments have increased our sense of wellbeing and efficiency in many ways. Consider how you make contactless payments, buy goods and services online, book a taxi and interact with friends digitally. We are also making progress in medicine, as for example with the cyclotron and the promising new proton therapy to treat cancers.

But amid such advances, change is also disrupting labour markets. First through automation. Today the number one job among men in the United States is that of truck driver. There are 3 million people thus employed. What will happen when self-driving trucks made by Daimler and others are fully operational in approximately a decade?

The outlook is the same for administrative assistants and other types of work. A study done at Oxford University showed that 47% of jobs are at risk in the U.S., and it is pretty much the same everywhere. Most companies and educational institutions are not ready to deal with this. Most politicians, meanwhile, do not even understand it and like ostriches are burying their head in the sand!  

You have no doubt seen that Amazon has opened its first supermarket with no staff in Seattle, and that Carrefour has fired 2400 people as part of a shift towards e-commerce. In industry, the situation does not look any better. Carl Bass, the CEO of Autodesk, says “the factory of the future will have two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to prevent the man from touching the equipment”.  

Nor should we underestimate other major risks. We all know the big technology companies invade our privacy and make mistakes that jeopardize it. See the Cambridge Analytica affair, for instance. Big data is killing confidentiality and respect for private life. Thus, we certainly need digital safety belts, and the European GDPR is a good start, but we need to go further than that.

Moreover, technology and digitalization have generated unprecedented levels of stress, which the World Health Organization has called the epidemic of the 21st century. Stress at work is now clearly identified as a major cause of heart attack, hypertension, obesity, and other health threats. And it does not only affect “digital immigrants”, but also and even more it affects millennials. According to the American Psychological Association, digital natives, people who were born in a world with the Internet, have the highest levels of stress of any generation.  

The middle class is growing in Asia, and in China in particular. That is a very good thing, but we should not forget that wages in OECD countries have not really increased in real terms in the past 30 years. Financial capitalism has deeply increased inequalities and today the world’s eight richest people have the same wealth as the poorest 50% – so, more than 3.6 billion people! And for the first time since the early 1960s, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined for two years in a row.

I am convinced that our societies are facing a deep crisis of legitimacy. You will remember how Max Weber explained that our system of legal authority is based on a set of accepted rules applied and controlled by a public administration under the guidance of politicians elected on these bases. In today’s world, we observe more and more disconnection between societies and the political world.

Trust is at a low point, as demonstrated by many surveys such as the Edelman Trust Barometer. Even more telling, the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 was “post-truth”. And looking at the dictatorships that exist, but also at phenomena in the democratic world like Mr Trump or Mr Farage, we can understand that Weber’s vision is being challenged today more and more.

Concurrently, we can see a revival of Karl Marx’s ideas. So, was he right? As I mentioned, wages have been pretty much frozen over the most recent decades in favour of capital returns, which for their part have increased more and more through speculation, mergers and acquisitions and companies buying their own shares. All of this continues until the bubble bursts, bringing societies to their knees and obliging them to clean up after the mistakes of unrefined financial institutions. Like in 2008.

The risk we are facing here is crystal clear: that of ending up with angry, stressed and disenchanted citizens forming the precariat, or precarious proletariat, so well described by Guy Standing. Marx said the end of capitalism would come from finance, and I tell you this is a risk we must not underestimate!

Looking at the academic world, I think we can say that business schools live in their times. Through accreditation, we have witnessed business schools’ growth in effectiveness in terms of high-tech classrooms, internationalization, personal development, corporate links, integration of impact, just to mention a few areas. But we have to recognize that business schools are designed more for production and execution, and not enough for innovation and experimentation.

Thus, we have many challenges before us. The first is to push our reflections to mirror the evolution of societies and implement a paradigm shift. This is a slow process. In fact, it started already years ago. But, as Thomas Khun observed, when you question the normal science, it takes time.

EFMD is trying to speed up this process by insisting on ethics, responsibility and sustainability as one of the main criteria for accreditation. And we do see many deep and genuine efforts being made by business schools to contribute to more harmonious societal development.

With our BSIS tool, the Business School Impact System, we have assessed many positive achievements: more societal development, more growth, less exclusion, more assistance to disadvantaged groups.

However –and it is here that a paradigm shift is very much needed– we must reorient research towards more socially responsible outputs.  As the Responsible Research in Business and Management group says, research should be oriented towards society, stakeholder involvement and impact on stakeholders, valuing both fundamental and applied research and cross-disciplinary contributions.

So, to end and to recap:

First of all, we need “more engaged” professors, as Andrew Pettigrew calls them. An academic can assume very different roles and there is no first-class or second-class faculty. Applied research, academic, innovation in teaching, engagement with society and communities, mentoring students and decision-makers… all of this is valid and legitimate.

Secondly, we must recognize that research is too disconnected from business practice. We are spending a lot of time writing papers with unclear value for practice and even for knowledge. Sadly, the main motivation is to be published in A journals, not to contribute to better management of organizations or societies.  We must keep always in mind that along with our obvious scientific mission we have a societal one as well.

Facing the intellectual vacuum put forth by many politicians and companies, we must be catalysts, whistleblowers, and change agents to help reconcile management, technology, development and societies.  

Let us try more than ever, and now with a much broader scope thanks to technology, to influence attitudes and behaviours at work to encourage an inclusive and compassionate culture. And through teaching and research cooperation, let us foster greater understanding between civil society, politics and the corporate world. I am convinced we have a crucial role to play. If we do not do it, who will?

Engaged professors

“Research without scholarly quality will satisfy no one and will certainly disable our capacity to meet the double hurdle of scholarly quality and relevance. A more contextualist and dynamic view of knowing needs to be supported by a re-engagement of management researchers with social scientists and users, a re-engagement between European management researchers and their colleagues in the USA and a period of experimentation and learning with all the potential partners out there waiting to engage with us” (Pettigrew, 2001).

Cornuel, E. (2022). A new role for business schools at the forefront of change. Global Focus: The EFMD Business Magazine, 16(1), 4–7.

Pettigrew, A. M. (2001). Management Research After Modernism. British Journal of Management, 12, S61.

Van De Ven, A. H. (2011). Building a European Community of Engaged Scholars. European Management Review, 8(4), 189–195.

Business School Impact System

Business School Impact System (BSIS), launched in 2012 by EFMD Global and FNEGE, is designed to determine the extent of a school’s impact upon its local environment – the city or region in which it is located. BSIS measures the impact of business schools along 6 dimensions: financial, educational, business development (new business creation and services to established companies), intellectual, regional ecosystem, and societal (explicit policies in the area of sustainable development). There are currently 59 schools across 19 countries that have received the BSIS label.

Kalika, M. and Shenton, G. (2021), “Measuring business impact: the lessons from the business schools”, Corporate Governance, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 268-278.

Kalika, M., Shenton, G., & Dubois, P.-L. (2016). What happens if a business school disappears? The intellectual foundations of BSIS. Journal of Management Development, 35(7), 878–888.

Shenton, G., & Kalika, M. (2017). The impact of BSIS. Global Focus: The EFMD Business Magazine, 11(1), 44–47.

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