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INVENTING "THE DAY AFTER"

How business schools can help retool the economy for a post-pandemic world

Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou
By Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou

Dean and professor of finance, McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management

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Business leaders are at the forefront of the war against Covid-19, fighting to keep their businesses viable until they receive a green light to open their doors once again. Many have neither the time nor the bandwidth to plan for the “day after”—when they will finally be able to serve their customers without risking the spread of infectious disease. Surviving today must take precedent over building a business model for tomorrow.

In an environment of uncertainty, business schools have a unique opportunity to fill in the gaps and help businesses evolve to meet the demands of a post-pandemic world. In particular, they should focus on serving three industries that have experienced severe disruption in the medium and long term.

Tourism

The tourism industry has sustained serious losses with no end to the bleeding in sight. The UN World Tourism Organization estimates that global international tourist arrivals could decline between 20% and 30% in 2020.

How can business schools help?

In addition to offering a graduate degree in hospitality management, the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University has developed a collection of webinars, research articles, and other resources geared toward helping hotel managers implement best practices during the crisis. If business schools aim to help the tourism industry regain strength, they must continue to leverage their resources to educate businesses and prepare students for the challenge of rebuilding the industry.

Transit

The mass transportation industry also provides business schools with a clear opportunity to add value. In a time when even the most ardent travelers are homebound, many transportation companies are on life support. Air Canada, British Airways, and Lufthansa have resorted to mass layoffs, and major US airlines are not far behind.

Fortunately, institutions of higher education possess a wealth of research capacity. These days, every leading business school employs researchers with extensive expertise in the field of Big Data and business analytics.

In a rapidly evolving situation where accurate data is needed to drive major policy decisions, that expertise can serve a larger purpose. At C2Smart, New York University’s transportation research center, a team of researchers has developed interactive dashboards that provide real-time updates on mobility patterns and travel trends. Researchers within business schools should follow their lead to illuminate long-term solutions for automotive, aviation, and aerospace leaders in a season of mounting pressure.

Retail

Like the tourism and mass transportation industries, the retail industry also faces an uphill battle. The Retail Industry Leaders Association highlights the continuing strain on supply chains and retailers, especially those with brick-and-mortar locations that have either closed or been forced to limit the number of people who walk through their doors.

While lifting restrictions in some states have some retailers gearing up to reopen, most will follow a cautious, multi-phase approach to resuming operations. California governor Gavin Newsom recently announced that the state’s retailers may resume operations, but only with a curbside pickup model. Even under the most optimistic of scenarios, a full return to business as usual is still months away.

Once the gears of the economy begin turning once again, business schools are in a prime position to reduce the friction. At McGill University’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management, we are in the process of opening a retail innovation lab that provides cutting-edge data to offer insights in areas like customer experience, sustainable supply chains, and health and wellness. Related to the lab, an upcoming series of student competitions is designed to generate actionable ideas to assist the retail sector recover as effectively and quickly as possible.

The capacity to contribute

From researching solutions to equipping business leaders in struggling industries, business schools should never underestimate their capacity to contribute. On campuses around the world, they serve as laboratories of innovation where diverse perspectives combine to produce well-informed solutions.

Far from the ivory tower, their researchers partner with local businesses to offer insights into their business models. Their students enter the workforce armed with specialized skills to bring to the table. Their incubators produce entrepreneurs who are leveraging their talents to help other businesses adapt to the pandemic, from facilitating online deliveries to reconfiguring supply chains.

The concept of the modern business school originated in the early 19th century with the creation of École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris in 1819. Founder Jean-Baptiste Say, who first coined the word “entrepreneur,” inspired the school’s first students to work toward a more efficient, prosperous society. Two centuries later, it’s time for business schools to rise to the challenge and help the business community invent the “day after” Covid-19.

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