Think about all the issues that face CEOs at major companies: everything from ethics, safety and diversity in the workplace to environmental sustainability and regulatory compliance … all on a global scale. Failure to successfully manage such issues can cost a company its profitability or even its ability to survive.
The challenge is compounded by the fact that the world can change in a minute. With the advent of the internet any single person on a mission among any of a CEO’s constituencies – customers, employees, shareholders, vendors, analysts, reporters, etc. – can bring down a company with the click of a mouse.
So one would think that CEOs of tomorrow would address such challenges in special educational programs in today’s graduate business school curricula. Yet just two years ago, Ron Alsop reported in The Wall Street Journal that it was the rare business school that provided MBA graduates with a solid grounding in corporate reputation issues and management. And recently I took a look at the curricula of the top five U.S. business schools (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan and Northwestern’s Kellogg, according to U.S. News & World Report), and not one teaches strategic communications – unless I missed it because it’s camouflaged in a marketing course.
In an era when democracy is being reinvented via the internet…at a time when every company exists only because of public consent and two- and three-way conversations are multiplying faster than you can say “blogosphere,” how can potential CEOs and other senior executives hope to be on top of their game without formal training in the strategic management of corporate reputation? Would MBA candidates not take basic courses in finance, accounting, marketing and human resources?
The public relations profession has certainly taken note of this educational void. Nevertheless, various efforts by the Public Relations Society of America to move business schools in the right direction have not yielded much in the way of tangible results.
And so I pose a challenge to our industry’s leadership, and particularly the heads of corporate communications in our nation’s leading companies: let us join together to motivate your CEOs to encourage action in the major schools of business. Businesses pour millions into business schools; if the CEO of a Fortune 500 company (such as Credit Suisse, Novartis, Thomson, General Motors or Exxon Mobil, for instance – all major philanthropic sponsors of Harvard B-school) should call Dean Jay Light and make a cogent argument for a course designed to train our future leaders in strategic communications management, Dr. Light will surely listen. So will all the others in like situations.
But this will not happen unless we, as professional communicators, stimulate and push such action. Every CEO today must recognize that profit-making is dependent upon the ability to forge strong connections and build trust with every stakeholder. I have every expectation that they will share our interest in educating the generations that follow us.
President, Makovsky & Company
Trustee, Institute for Public Relations