B-Schools (Try To) Predict What 2021 Will Look Like

Brian Mitchell, dean of the full-time MBA at Emory Goizueta. Courtesy photo

It has become an annual tradition at Poets&Quants: Every December, we give the floor to the business schools we cover to offer their unvarnished expectations for the coming year.

Strangely enough, last year no one accurately predicted what 2020 would look like.

But that didn’t stop schools from jumping at the chance to prognosticate once again this year. In fact, more schools than ever eagerly accepted our offer to publish their predictions, including a higher number of European schools than ever before. Among the chief concerns their leadership expressed: that in the wake of the epic disruption of 2020, B-schools must take big steps forward in their efforts to address racism, climate, and systemic poverty.

So without further ado, here are the expectations, the anticipations, the hopes for the new year from the top graduate business education institutions in the world.


“Wise leaders build diverse teams and create inclusive environments,” says Dia Draper, assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “They lead high-performing organizations by cultivating a culture that is safe for honest dialogue, respectful debate, and transformative discussion. The early work to build such teams and cultivate inclusive cultures at companies begins here, with us at business schools.

“The human costs of the progress made on issues of racism and racial inequity in 2020 are maddening and heartbreaking. And yet as I look at the way and the volume by which Tuck students, administrators, staff and faculty have responded to these tragedies, I find inspiration. As 2021 approaches, I am energized by the momentum gained around diversity, equity and inclusion in our community at Tuck and throughout business education more generally. Reflecting on the classroom discussions that are now being had — for example, reparations for Black Americans was recently a topic during the course ‘Leadership in the Global Economy’ at Tuck — and the new programming and diverse cases that schools are adopting, I cannot help but predict meaningful growth in the year ahead. And the most encouraging part of this prediction is the broad coalition of business school leaders who are committed to change. From administrators and faculty improving and developing curriculum and orientation offerings with DEI top of mind to student groups organizing anti-racism book clubs open for the entire community — including staff and alumni — to participate in.

“As I look to 2021, I have to predict growth in our collective capacities to have difficult conversations, to address bias, to cultivate better environments of inclusion, and to make marked progress on measures of diversity and in addressing injustice. Wise, decisive leaders who better the world raise people up by taking harmful and discriminatory structures down. For 2021, I predict even more progress on this front.”


“As much as 2021 will be about rebounding from the sudden crisis of Covid-19, my prediction is the more indelible changes to MBA programs will address the smoldering crisis of racial injustice that also defined 2020,” says Brian Mitchell, associate dean for the full-time MBA program at Emory University Goizueta Business School.

“This has long been an active discussion among many students, but now I predict an important evolution in how business schools acknowledge and address systemic racism, and the roles that businesses have played and can play in that system. In the wake of this summer’s tragedies, Goizueta published our statement of values emphasizing our commitment to inclusion for every person without exception. These are more than just words. Business schools are signaling a real shift in taking accountability for the cultures we create and how the leaders we prepare think critically about humanity.

“This evolution will need to include more substantive co-curricular programming, such as the launch of Goizueta’s John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition — an effort to create innovative and actionable racial justice initiatives for corporations. And while values statements, case competitions, reading series, and other co-curricular programs are important, a critical difference in how business schools approach social injustice and inequity in the new year must be to also include new curricular offerings as deans and faculty members use their pedagogical tools to address structural challenge, reaching students who might not otherwise opt into co-curricular programs.

“At Goizueta, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is now explicitly defined as a strategic initiative under the leadership of our Senior Associate Dean Jill Perry-Smith. I expect this to lead to innovations within the curriculum that have the potential to redefine how we research and teach about the relationship between business and society. This includes leveraging research in decision making, liaising with key external audiences, and responding to justice, equity, and diversity needs by emphasizing actions that are strategic, structural, and sustainable.

“Goizueta is not alone in developing principled leaders, and I have great confidence in my prediction that we will not be alone in our actions, particularly within the curriculum, to go further in 2021 and beyond.”


Michigan Ross’ Scott DeRue. Ross photo

“The past year has been historic and unprecedented in many ways,” says Michigan Ross School of Business Dean Scott DeRue, “most notably a global pandemic that has changed how we live, how we work, how we connect, and of course, how we educate in business schools around the world. Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, we enter 2021 with hope because vaccines are starting to be deployed globally. Yet, we are months away from resuming life as we knew it prior to the pandemic, and we recognize that in some ways, life will never be the same.

“Next year, we will continue experiencing significant challenges and disruptions due to the pandemic, especially in the first half of the year while vaccines are being developed and rolled out worldwide. The impact will be felt both in business and business education.

“In business, the impact of the pandemic will continue to be very uneven. Whereas some industries are thriving, other industries are struggling and will take years to recover. There will be companies that emerge in a position of strength, and there will be companies that never rebound. The difference, in my mind, is whether leadership is forward looking and embraces this moment as an opportunity to inspire innovation, be bold and take smart risks, and build more sustainable and resilient organizations. The pandemic is not our first challenge; it will not be our last challenge, possibly even in 2021; and we need leaders who know how to ready their organizations for the unexpected and lead during uncertain times.

“The same is true in business education. The pandemic has forced every school to embrace new modalities of education, build new capabilities and technologies, and rethink traditional business models of education. In 2021, we will see some schools be bold and take major strides toward using these new capabilities to offer more accessible, flexible, and personalized models of education. For example, at Michigan Ross even before the pandemic, we were investing in new digital education technologies and more flexible MBA degree formats with no boundaries for students. We will also see schools rethink how we design the student journey to offer a more connected and engaged experience, whether it be virtual, in person, and/or hybrid. And lastly, I expect — and certainly hope — that more business schools will have the courage to take on the grand and global challenges of our generation. It is the reason we at Michigan Ross built our new +Impact Studio. We need businesses developing solutions not only to address the pandemic’s challenges, but businesses developing market-based, sustainable, and scalable solutions to issues such as climate change, social and economic inequity, and infrastructure.

“Whether we are in business or business education, we all have a responsibility to build a better world through business.”


“If we’ve learned anything from 2020,” says Stanford Graduate School of Business Dean Jonathan Levin, “it’s that it’s probably not wise to make predictions for the coming year! There are so many areas that have been disrupted and where rapid change is likely, including new ways of teaching, online education, increased focus on equity, how we prepare students to navigate the shifting expectations of business leadership, and the blurring of professional and social roles.

“However, I’d like to focus on one specific issue, which is the global role played by U.S. business schools, and the value of welcoming international students to our campuses.

“This year has been especially difficult for international students, not only because of travel and public health restrictions, but because of the restrictive and volatile nature of U.S. federal rules regarding international student visas. Stanford has repeatedly joined other universities this year in speaking out against orders from the Department of Homeland Security that would have placed additional restrictions on the ability of international students to study in the U.S.

“International students bring richness and vibrancy to our campuses, and their presence expands the perspective and learning of all students. International graduates go on to create jobs, build organizations, and innovate in every area of business — in many cases, this happens in the United States. It is my prediction, and hope, that 2021 will bring a more welcoming policy and cultural environment for international students.

“The case of China is particularly relevant because of its rapidly expanding role in innovation and the global economy. It is essential that the world’s two largest economies learn to work together, including in areas of global interest such as climate change and preparing for future pandemics. In the New Year, there is an opportunity to move in this direction, and business schools can contribute by fostering connections and promoting productive dialogue between academics, business leaders, and policy-makers. We have done this at Stanford through global study programs, exchanges, and events such as the Stanford China Economic Forum. We have recognized out of necessity the power of virtual programs and events in 2020, but we’re all looking forward to getting together in-person in 2021.”

Andrea Masini, associate dean of the MBA program at HEC Paris

In 2021, “digital will become a commodity,” says Andrea Masini, associate dean for HEC Paris’ MBA and EMBA programs.

“The pandemic has accelerated the development of digital tools and tremendously increased the level of acceptance of distance learning by both MBA candidates and executive education clients. In the post-pandemic world, even after we return to ‘normal,’ digital learning will keep playing an important role in the value proposition, becoming an order qualifier (i.e. a necessary component of the MBA value proposition, but no longer a differentiator). Consequently, schools that underinvested in their digital strategy will struggle and be left behind.”

Among the other developments Masini expects in 2021:

“The in-person experience will become even more important. At the same time, precisely because some parts of the programs will be offered remotely, the perceived value of the in-person component will increase as well. Participants will place even greater importance on the MBA experience and on the opportunities that a program offers to create bonds with their peers, develop a network and enrich their viewpoints.

“Purpose, purpose, purpose: The pandemic taught all of us a good lesson the hard way. A larger number of candidates will look for programs that focus on purposeful leadership and offer opportunities to make a positive impact on our society.

“Health care: Among other things, the Covid-19 crisis proved the importance of the healthcare system in our society, and it demonstrated the need for professionalizing the management of the sector. We predict a growing interest in MBA degrees by professionals in the healthcare sector, who need to complement their scientific and medical skills with a solid training in management. We also predict an increasing demand for MBA programs with a healthcare component.

“There will be more agility and decision-making under uncertainty. The crisis also emphasized the importance of making decisions under uncertainty and the importance of developing agile processes. More than ever, business schools will have to train MBA participants to be able to lead in uncertain worlds, when the ground is shifting under their feet. In that respect, schools that integrate AI courses or other techniques to support decision making into their curriculum will be on the rise.

“More weight will be placed on entrepreneurship and venture capital. When a little-known, husband-and-wife-run biotech start-up became the first company to develop an effective Covid-19 vaccine, the world gained a first-hand lesson in the importance of entrepreneurship in potentially solving life-threatening problems. In light of the daunting challenges we face in realms ranging from climate change to sustainability, there will be a renewed interest in venture capital and in supporting the solutions proposed by agile, forward-thinking entrepreneurs.

“I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and I wish you all the best for (let’s hope an almost Covid-free) 2021!”


INSEAD’S Katy Montgomery

“When the doors of our school opened in September 2020, the new school year looked a little different,” says Katy Montgomery, associate dean for degree programs at INSEAD. “It wasn’t just because students, faculty and staff across our campuses were wearing masks and social distancing. This year, the student body was also distinctively younger as we welcomed our first ever Master in Management class. This completes INSEAD’s educational offering while we integrated a new age group within our community. These young talents will enrich INSEAD’s community, increasing its diversity across generations and benefitting all members.

“As we enter 2021, it will be a year of renewal with fresh beginnings as the world recovers from extraordinary circumstances. As more countries and individuals gain access to vaccines and as borders gradually reopen, we expect a cautious and slow resumption of normal living, working and studying with some subtle differences. We will still be wearing masks and social distancing, as well as providing regular and free Covid-19 testing so that we can keep in-person teaching going.

“We will see a continued evolution of the teaching and learning aspects. This year has accelerated a shift in the delivery of learning through online tools where relevant, but has also highlighted to us how important in-person learning is to both our students and faculty. To reconcile these two diverging phenomena, we are looking at how we migrate vertical learning, like lectures, to online settings and offering more interactive use of campus facilities for deeper discussion to provide the crucial ‘ah ha’ moments that only happen when people are together. Crucially, this will all revolve around health and safety, which has always been paramount, but particularly pertinent as the world makes a slow recovery from Covid-19.

“INSEAD will be providing in-person teaching on in dual mode from 5 January 2021 for the MIM program and 7 January 2021 for the MBA program, following approval from the French Ministry of Education and the Singapore government.

“INSEAD has launched new MBA electives on managing the disruption of Covid-19 — Advanced Negotiations that deals with the uniqueness of high-stakes discussion over Zoom and Negotiating your Career which focuses on giving insights when you negotiate when the competition for next jobs is higher. Other current MBA electives have infused Covid-related challenges into their delivery, one example is Realising Entrepreneurial Potential taught by Professor Ivana Naumovska which matched students with entrepreneurs and SMEs from all over the world to help them work remotely, on a part-time mandate (1-2 months) to analyse or manage a Covid-related challenge for their business. We have also introduced an on-going series of Thought Leadership Webinars and INSEAD Conversations with specific and timely topics relevant for business, technology and education in this pandemic.

“We are certainly looking forward to a positive start to 2021 that hope that it will be a markedly brighter year.”


“In the area of manufacturing,” says Jaideep Prabhu, Cambridge Judge Business School professor of marketing, “2021 will be the year we will see distributed manufacturing and nearshoring take off in a big way. Even prior to the Covid pandemic, there were many signs of a withdrawal from the late- 20th century model of offshoring all manufacturing (typically to China) and then shipping products from there to markets around the world. With the rise of digital manufacturing tools such as 3D printing, the increase in labour costs in China, and concerns about the environmental and other costs of shipping, firms and economies were already pulling back manufacturing to locate it closer to customers.

“But with the pandemic and the geopolitical climate shifting against rampant globalization, we are likely to see a dramatic rise in nearshoring and local, networked (distributed) manufacturing in a number of sectors including automotive, home appliances, clothing, and computing, especially in the “spare parts” element of the supply chain and with smart, Internet of things components.

“In education, and business education in particular, 2021 will be the year in which online and blended learning programs really take off. Even prior to the COVID pandemic, it was clear that the future of business education was in continuing education delivered online: short, flexible courses on specialist topics for people too busy to take a year or more off to study full time or who already had a full-time degree and were looking to upgrade their skills in specific new areas. The reluctance of some older universities and business schools to get into these areas has now been shaken off and we will see a full flourishing of competition and cooperation between new start-ups in this space and the traditional providers. The spoils might well go to the established brands that fully embrace the potential of this new medium.”


“We will see a greater focus on broadening access to business education in 2021 and, in particular, on making world-class education available to individuals from non-traditional backgrounds,” writes François Ortalo-Magné, dean of London Business School.

“In 2020, London Business School welcomed its first Laidlaw Scholars with the support of the Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund. These women may not have seen business school as an option available to them; they are now on their way join our alumni community.

“All of us in business education agree people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives belong in positions of leadership including boardrooms. For 2021, let us all commit to grow the availability of educational opportunities like our Laidlaw Women’s Leadership Fund.”

Will Tim Cook and Apple see big changes in 2021? Oxford professor Ludovic Phalippou thinks so

Big changes are not expected in 2021 at the so-called “Magnificent 7” publicly listed companies — all tech companies, and all big employers of MBAs — though they should be, writes Ludovic Phalippou, professor of financial economics at Oxford University Saïd Business School.

All $bn

Enterprise Value



Total Current Taxes









































“These are the 7 largest publicly listed companies in the world,” Phalippou writes. “And several striking facts come out of this simple summary table:

  1. These 7 companies together are worth a total of $8.5 trillion. What is $8.5 trillion? It is what it would cost to buy every single publicly listed European company (UK included)!

  2. Their value is about 30 times EBITDA. A normal company has been valued, historically, at less than one third of that (8x).

  3. The 7 companies are in the same sector! We have not only never seen such a concentration of wealth in the corporate sector, and even less so observed all the largest companies operating in a similar sector

  4. All these companies are full-on various regulatory loopholes:

    1. $34.7bn of taxes paid – 16% of their EBIT and 0.4% of their Total Value

    2. Potentially predatory acquisitions; for sure they are huge conglomerates; and seem to have some anti-competitive strategies in place.

Oxford’s Ludovic Phalippou

“They have avoided a lot of taxes, and I do not see how they will manage to continue to operate like this in the long run. But I do not see this stopping next year. The conglomerate and massive concentration angle, however, may be corrected sooner. It would not take long for American competition authorities to go back to a point in time when they were rejecting many proposed acquisitions, and when they were breaking down large companies (remember AT&T among others?). The public would probably benefit more than it would suffer from having Facebook being a separate entity to WhatsApp and Insta. Similarly, Amazon is a retailer of sorts, but also an IT company competing with IBM for the big business of cloud computing, and it is also growing a video producing and streaming business competing against Netflix and Disney. These activities do not have a direct link, we are facing here a 1980s style conglomerate, which ended up being split up. I expect action there as early as 2021. And when that happens the issue of common ownership will be even more center-stage: you may break down a company but if the different pieces are held by the same shareholders, then did you rally break down these companies?

“Another important element is that at least two of these companies could be seen as natural monopolies: Amazon and Google. This notion means that they operate in a segment where it is most natural to have a single operator. Historically, the solution to this situation is to nationalize the natural monopoly or to have a special tax on it (e.g. by auctioning the monopoly right). I do not think we are close to such a regulatory intervention, but it should happen in the medium or long run.

“The valuation of these companies is wild, and it is difficult not to see a correction, especially if the tax and competition authorities are more active next year. As these companies have some positive organic growth that is higher than that of the average company, I would not expect their value to be divided by three as suggested by their simple valuation ratio, but anywhere between a one third decrease and a one half decrease over the next two years would be logical.”


Oxford’s Martin Schmalz

Martin Schmalz, associate professor of finance at Oxford Saïd, adds that “There’s an ever greater wedge between how data-driven (‘tech’) business models are employed in China and the West, because of a wedge we drive between technical possibilities and what regulation allows (perhaps for good reasons) — and because we’ve been behind for a decade and don’t seem to care to catch up.

“One worry is that due to imperfect regulation, we get a lot of the bad parts of tech in Europe (like U.S. tech giants violating our privacy and transferring wealth to their shareholders) while we don’t get the benefits in terms of convenience Chinese users enjoy. Another worry is that government-business cooperation on tech (think ‘backdoors’) concentrates power to an ever larger degree.”

And Michael Barrett, Cambridge professor of information systems and innovation studies, adds that the pandemic has accelerated the uptake of digital in virtually every sector, bringing to light “the level of readiness and maturity of different organizations to adapt to the future.

“In 2021,” Barrett writes, “we can expect to see more clear winners and losers as we have started to see in the retail industry. Those organizations with little investment or capability in evolving to becoming a digital enterprise will likely be banished as dinosaurs of the pre-Covid era. Those already well positioned with digital maturity will sprint faster, making make even bigger competitive strides. While customer power can be expected to energize this digital trend, it is less clear how flexible organizations will be with their employees in the emerging era.

“On the one hand, the pandemic has provided a long-enough runway for new work routines to become legitimate out of necessity – but what recalibration might we expect in sectors where digital does not easily allow for measurement and control of worker productivity?”


“Across graduate business education, we are seeing an increase in interest in our programs — which is to be expected in an unstable economy when people take the time to gain new skills and recalibrate their careers so they are ready for what the future holds,” says Elie Farhat, associate dean and chief admissions officer at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “If anything, we are sure that the future will be different from the world we lived in pre-quarantine, and the challenge for business schools will be to prepare for this new reality while also addressing immediate challenges. My prediction for 2021 is that the business schools that continue to innovate and look past the pandemic will have the most success in the new year and that Georgetown McDonough will be one of those schools. Since March, our MBA launched a deferred enrollment program, achieved strong employment results, launched new scholarships, and implemented a Certificate in Sustainable Business and a new STEM-designated management science major. Our Executive MBA rolled out a new curriculum this fall that adds more customization for students and enhances the program’s focus on the nexus of business and policy here in Washington, D.C., and around the world. And, the school launched a new M.S. in Business Analytics, with the first cohort of students starting in January.

“In 2021, schools also will deepen their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. At McDonough, we continue to build our curricular and co-curricular offerings in this area, in addition to creating a DE&I Standing Committee and a task force specifically focused on the student experience. I’m incredibly proud of our graduate admissions teams, who recruited our most diverse classes ever across all of our graduate programs this fall. This success is a testament to their commitment to building a diverse community, as well as the ways in which our leadership has created a true sense of community and support throughout the school. We have much work to do in the coming year and beyond, but guided by our Jesuit values and commitment to social justice, we hope to inspire change through our own actions and those of our students and alumni.

“When multiplied by the other leading business schools with this same mission, I hope we will make a real difference in the world.”

Haas Dean Ann Harrison. Photo by Noah Berger

UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business Dean Ann Harrison says climate change will be one of the biggest challenges of 2021, “and I predict that business schools will step up in 2021 to expand their efforts in sustainability.

“Climate change has become palpable, with catastrophic wildfires in the West and a record hurricane season in the Southeast. This year’s dramatic climate change events have shown that creating a sustainable economy is a matter of saving lives, preventing widespread food insecurity, reducing the poverty level, and retooling our economy.

“As a business school, we have a responsibility to facilitate new research in critical areas such as energy and economics — and to develop future business leaders equipped to address daunting challenges. Last September, I brought climate change expert Michele de Nevers to Haas in the newly-created role of executive director of sustainability programs. Michele is helping us create the infrastructure and tapping the resources needed to advance our sustainability goals. These goals should include training our students to lead in a sustainable and inclusive economy.

“As Michele says, ‘at the most basic level, it’s important that every Haas graduate comes away with basic literacy on sustainability, which means understanding the challenges, the opportunities, and the risks that will be needed to manage in the business world.’ To that end, we will be working with the faculty — about 20% of whom are already working on environmental, social, or governance areas that can be considered part of sustainability — to explore ways to infuse our core and elective curriculum with sustainability concepts across different disciplines.

“Other efforts in 2021 will include launching a new Certificate in Sustainable Business, and a concurrent MBA/Master’s degree in Sustainability. At Haas, we forge entrepreneurial leaders who create a more innovative, inclusive, and sustainable world.”


Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding
Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding

Fuqua Dean Bill Boulding. File photo

“My prediction,” writes Bill Boulding, dean of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, “is you will see a renewed focus on updating or overhauling curriculum throughout the business school industry in 2021. At Duke, we planned a curriculum update before the pandemic to better incorporate themes like how to bring people together with common purpose, leading technology innovation and adopting entrepreneurial mindset. As the pandemic progressed, those themes have become even more relevant and important. In addition, our professors have also been updating content to tackle issues directly in the classroom surrounding racial equity, gender parity and bias. It’s critical that we update and tweak our curriculum continually, not just at Duke, but in all business schools, to make sure we are developing leaders who meaningfully value difference and can harness it to work toward a common goal.

“In addition, I predict 2021 will be a year that we will see business solve some of world’s most pressing challenges. I have always believed in business as a transformational engine for the betterment of the world, but business has a truly unique opportunity to capitalize on this objective in coming years because of public trust.Unlike the Great Recession in 2008, the public developed a greater trust of business in 2020, versus blaming business for the downturn in the economy. In fact, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 92 percent of employees think it’s important that CEOs speak out on one or more issue.

“I am heartened by efforts that I see in business, like PwC releasing its first ever transparency report disclosing how it’s doing in diversity and inclusion efforts. I’m also encouraged by efforts like the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion network which now has more than 1,500 members promising to advance equity. Now is the time business must get beyond commitment and into true action.”


“2021 will be the year of coming together,” says M. Eric Johnson, dean of Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management. “While 2020 may have been the virtual year, Covid has only underscored the value of in-person experiences. Yes, virtual education, virtual selling, virtual collaboration, virtual concerts, and remote work were all hugely accelerated by Covid. At Vanderbilt, we prided ourselves in the residential experience, with only modest on-line offerings prior to Covid. Rapid innovation over the past 9 months led to successful hybrid courses that were well received this fall. But I observed something interesting: students who were quarantined during a period in the fall — and thus deprived of the joining the classroom — were the most dedicated in-person students afterward. The absence of in-person only made the interest in gathering greater (even if under our guidelines for distancing).

“While the quality and breadth of on-line programing will continue expanding, I also expect the desire for residential, in-person education will grow post-Covid. The human desire for face-to-face interaction is too great.

“I believe this applies in many areas of business. In November, I hosted the CFO of Delta Airlines. He noted that ‘the first time you are meeting with a customer virtually and your competitor meets face-to-face and you lose the deal … virtual selling is dead!’ Of course, virtual selling is here to stay — but like education, face-to-face relationships will be a mark of value. 2021 will be the year of astonishing interest in being together.”


Stanford’s Sarah Soule

“The start of a new year provides an excellent opportunity for reflection on the year’s past while looking to the wellspring of possibility ahead,” writes Sarah Soule, senior associate dean for academic affairs and professor of organizational behavior at Stanford GSB. “We’ve had an important year of educating and adapting amidst a pandemic, welcoming new students and, most importantly, advancing the momentum of our diversity, equity and inclusion goals.

“In 2021, Stanford GSB will continue to curate diverse, inclusive spaces where our global students, faculty and administrators feel comfortable gathering and collaborating. As stewards of leadership, we do not take lightly our role in ensuring that everyone who comes onto our campus leaves as a better version of themself, equipped with a set of skills that allows them to thwart the world’s most pressing business issues.

“While we’ve relied heavily on technology to support online learning this year, some of the most important tools we teach and leverage are empathy, understanding and consideration, which has proven to be irreplaceable when facing unprecedented times such as these. As we navigate uncertainty into 2021, I predict that we will continue leaning into these skills to have crucial conversations, accelerate goals and connect on a deeper level with our peers.

“Stanford GSB looks forward to another year of delivering world-class business education while embracing and elevating diverse ideas and perspectives at all levels. We will devote ourselves to accelerating change to solve the worlds’ greatest challenges, across the business ecosystem. Our commitment to empowering principled, motivated and empathic leaders will lead to transformation in business, and also the world.”


“Companies, like people, will struggle to behave moderately in 2021,” says Associate Dean of MBA programs and Senior Lecturer Drew Pascarella of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. “Our economy is at its best when all participants behave moderately and find an appropriate risk/reward balance. In a modern economy, moderate fiscal policy, moderate lending, moderate capital spending, moderate hiring, moderate strategic moves, etc. lead to reasonable risk/reward tradeoffs, steady growth and economic stability. The question is, as the world begins to open back up next year, and after more than a year of unprecedented disruption, will government and industrial leaders be able to return to the moderate behavior we need?

“Like individuals who have been cooped up at home for far too long, some leaders may be inclined to make high-risk/high-reward decisions in the hopes of making up for lost time or getting out of the blocks faster than their competitors. Others will simply sit on their hands, still shell-shocked from all that they’ve been through and unable to plot a reasonable path forward. Neither is good for the economy. We will be best served by those who take their time, think through their options, and make a series of rationale decisions with an appropriate risk/reward tradeoff.

“At Johnson, we are incorporating key lessons from Covid into the MBA classroom, and we continue to study past crises and recoveries so that we best prepare these future global leaders for the moderate decision-making that will empower our newest, and most complex recovery yet.”

The failure rate of AI and analytics projects continues to be sky-high. Will that change in 2021?

“AI and analytics hold tremendous promise,” writes Eric Anderson, professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and director of the Kellogg-McCormick MBAi program, “but most firms continue to struggle with delivering and scaling successful business outcomes. The failure rate of AI and analytics projects was 85% in 2017, according to Gartner, and it continues to be very high despite many advances in AI since then.

“The failure is typically not due to the science. Rather, it is the inability of businesses need to adapt. Organizations need new decision-making processes, new culture and new organizational structures. And, making these changes requires leaders with expertise in both business and technology.

“As we look at the year ahead, there will continue to be a persistent and growing market demand for technically-savvy, skilled business leaders. We will also continue to see the growth of STEM-designated programs and curriculums. To meet these business challenges, Kellogg’s new joint-MBAi degree with Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering will develop future leaders who can drive successful business outcomes through adoption of AI-driven technology and innovation. The program is designed to equip students to become leaders and innovators who have the proficiency to deploy complex technologies — and the business acumen to drive organizations forward. MBAi graduates will succeed not only within preexisting roles we know today, but within emerging roles which will be inevitably necessary for the success of businesses tomorrow. Our first class will start in the fall of 2021.”


Doreen Amorosa

“The economic fallout caused by the pandemic fundamentally changed the 2020 MBA Employment landscape in a number of ways,” writes Doreen Amorosa, associate dean of McDonough Career Services at Georgetown University.

“First, companies had to reassess demand for hiring, and the factors for this reassessment varied industry by industry. For those industries which had already achieved their MBA hiring goals in the fall, the calculus was ‘will we need all of the MBA hires that we have made, and if so, when should we onboard them?’ For those employers hiring in the ‘Just-in-time’ market in the spring, the question was ‘how much risk are we willing to take with MBA (industry or function) switchers, or should we only hire MBA enhancers?’

“Second, employers and MBA Career Centers needed to quickly pivot to recruiting completely in a virtual environment. While virtual recruiting had been utilized by most companies as part of their operating models for years, it had never been stress tested like it was in 2020.

“Third, heightened racial injustice and inequality were important catalysts for change with distinct implications for hiring. Many employers reevaluated diversity & inclusion success introspectively, and as a result committed to a stronger focus on their diversity hiring and promotion goals going forward.

“These 2020 challenges, approaches and solutions have already started to inform the MBA recruiting landscape for 2021. While employers will continue to see the value that MBA hires bring to their leadership bench, they will be more strategic about how, where and when they build their MBA talent pipelines.

“Virtual recruiting is here to stay; perhaps not at 100%, but certainly as a cost effective alternative to reach a broader audience and more diverse candidates. For instance, traditional networking events and employer presentations will be a mix of virtual and in person, and the well-known concept of ‘Core Schools’ will be expanded to include virtual ‘Core School’ relationships.

“Industries still struggling economically such as Hospitality and Transportation will continue be somewhat ‘risk averse’ about hiring MBA switchers. But, as we move away from the darkness that descended in 2020 into the light of 2021, I am cautiously optimistic that MBA hiring demand will improve across the board as the economy rebounds. This will begin to evolve in the spring, when MBA candidates about to graduate will be especially appealing for experienced hire recruiters looking to fill just-in-time roles. And the internship hiring season will be extended well into the spring, when employers will increasingly need MBA talent to support business growth next summer.

“All in all, I believe better days are ahead in 2021.”


Mike Barger

Mike Barger, executive director of digital education and Ross Online at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, offered a detailed assessment of the landscape as 2020 gives way to 2021.

“The year 2020 has certainly been pivotal for advances in digital education around the world,” Barger writes. “While the entire higher education community considers the impact of COVID-19 on its future, the pandemic has put a spotlight on learning technology and the benefits — and challenges — of new content delivery methods. Looking forward to the year ahead, here are some predictions for the future of learning technology and its path toward becoming a fully integrated component of the higher ed ecosystem.

Program Administrator Perspective

“The situation we’ve faced during this past year has compelled program administrators to assess the lasting impact of the pandemic on higher education as well as the implications of lessons learned from our experiences with fully remote teaching and hybrid instruction. Will there come a time when all students are expected to be back in the classroom? While it is unclear when this will become possible, the logical answer is yes. Does this mean remote class participation is temporary and will be slowly phased out in 2021? I don’t believe so. In the year ahead, I predict that academic institutions will determine that elements of remote participation are desirable going forward — perhaps even necessary, not only for future crisis readiness, but also because we have learned that expert-facilitated synchronous discussion can be remarkably effective even in hybrid and fully virtual classrooms. We have also learned that remote participation mechanisms have made it easier for outside experts and guests to virtually join students and faculty to share experiences and guide discussion, which has resulted in richer, more engaging learning. In the year ahead, I believe discussions will not focus on reducing digital technology in the f classroom, but rather, on how much more should be invested should be invested in it.

“At Michigan Ross, our experiences with remote instruction this past year already have program administrators testing out how digital technology can address questions related to access, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Student Perspective

“During this past year, we have seen our students be remarkably resilient as faculty have developed their own capabilities and responses to the challenges of administering virtual classes. Going forward, student expectations for improvements in course quality will increase significantly. During the year ahead, I expect student feedback on their experiences will rise in both volume and specificity, creating a remarkable co-creation opportunity where students and faculty work together to iterate, innovate, and improve the academic experience for all stakeholders.

“A second prediction for the year ahead will take place in the technologies integrated into student coursework. Over this past year, faculty and program leadership have expanded and improved the use of traditional software tools (e.g., LMS functions and features) in their offerings to students. In the year ahead, students will demand greater levels of integration of commercial communication (e.g., Slack) and social media (e.g., TikTok) tools into their coursework. Once again, this tension will create a great environment for co-creation.

“One interesting outcome of the pandemic is more faculty are interested in creating courses that are largely or completely available online. Many of these courses are being created for distribution on third party platforms such as Coursera and FutureLearn, while others are being created for delivery in a growing number of online degree programs, such as our Michigan Ross Online MBA Program. Irrespective of delivery channel, students are following these developments and are asking reasonable questions about greater freedom to access and incorporate them into their degree programs. In the year ahead, we will see the beginnings of significant changes in the way students are able to personalize their learning experiences.

Faculty Perspective

“A silver lining of the pandemic has been increased faculty awareness of and curiosity about learning technologies. Pre-COVID, few would have predicted the widespread acceptance of Zoom as a core EdTech solution for virtual, synchronous instruction. Now, it has become one of the most widely known tools in the space. Ahead, we should see several additional developments from a faculty perspective.

“The emergency teaching scenario that faculty faced last March led to the introduction of many new approaches to teaching. Over the summer and into the fall semester, faculty made tangible progress with the integration of technology into their pedagogy, but many of these solutions were limited to improving the effectiveness of virtual synchronous sessions. Next year, I predict faculty will recognize the need for an increased level of digital competence. This will lead to the discovery and integration of new tools and techniques for improving both synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences for students.

“As faculty gain confidence with improved methods of technology-enabled content delivery in the year ahead, they will also begin to imagine new ways of teaching their courses. Lectures will be translated into multimedia collections of videos and other activities to make them more interesting and impactful. Readings will be accompanied by video supplements and other activities that help bring key concepts to life. Gamification and simulation will increase as new, less expensive, easier to deploy tools are developed and faculty discover their value.

“The most radical and important change I predict in the year ahead is that faculty will truly be able to begin the process of “flipping their classrooms”. We now have a favorable set of conditions (as far as pedagogical innovation is concerned) to redesign courses in ways that leverage advances in technology and the increased general acceptance of their integration with coursework. In 2021, I believe that we will see faculty taking advantage of the opportunity to shift the delivery of foundational content and core concepts into technology-enabled, asynchronous pre-class work and then redesigning classroom experiences to allow greater levels of immersive, action-oriented, deliberate practice.

“2020 has, indeed, been a challenging year on many levels. From a learning technology perspective, however, it may become known one day and the year of the great transition. Necessity is quite often the mother of invention. As the higher education community marches into 2021, there will continue to be a surplus of necessity. I predict that there will be an equivalent amount of invention.”

Next week: Business school deans and other leaders offer their 2021 resolutions.


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