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.

Ken Makovsky
President, Makovsky & Company
Trustee, Institute for Public Relations

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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8 thoughts on “Ken Makovsky: What Today’s CEOs Can Do For Tomorrow’s Leaders

  1. Further to Ken Makovsky?s statement, ?Every CEO today must recognize that profit-making is dependent upon the ability to forge strong connections and build trust with every stakeholder,? the front page of Friday?s Career section of the Globe and Mail had an interesting article, detailing a new book by Steve Harrison, ?The Manager?s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Build Great Companies.? (Harrison is currently chair of Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based Lee Hecht Harrison, the employee outplacement arm of Adecco Human Capital Solutions, a division of Adecco SA in Glattbrugg, Switzerland.)

    I don?t know how long this article will be available at this URL (many G&M;articles only stay open/online for a week), so if you are interested in reading it, I suggest you access it soon.

    ?It?s just the decent thing to do?

    Acts of decency, big and small, are the way to build an ethical corporate culture, new book advises

    It was a Monday morning and Steve Harrison was feeling important in his first managerial job with an automotive systems manufacturer.So he decided to let a salesperson with whom he had an appointment wait in the reception area while he finished opening his mail.

  2. Ken,

    A great piece and one that is a timely for our profession and for our educational institutions. I’m a very rare breed in Canada where we only have one university-based public relations degree program (Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax Nova Scotia). I teach three public relations courses in our MBA program: corporate reputation management; crisis management and communications; and Strategic public relations management. As you know, I’m also responsible for our new Master of Communications Management degree program (in partnership with Syracuse University). We have a Dean that understands and values the contribtution of public relations to organizations (former president of Charles Schwab Canada).


    DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

    Hamilton Ontario Canada

  3. Frank Ovaitt has posted Ken’s piece on too, and the debate is just beginning to begin. If interested, check it out. Here follows my brief comment:

    Although I believe that the overall quality of business schools has significantly decreased over these last years and that the awareness of this decline is spreading across top management, thus stimulating the growth of internally driven corporate education efforts… this is only one more reason to fully agree with Ken’s proposal.

    If CCOs of major organisations were fully aware of, and capable of convincing (in the sense of cum vincere… i.e. winning together) their CEOs, that stakeholder relationship management is the skill which is least covered and most needed in both business school and corporate education curricula, their own role, as well as the transition process of our profession, would be greatly stimulated.

    A very good point you make Ken: the IPR is one of those few bodies which appear to have a reasonably good hearing amongst CCOs. But these CCOs must also be convinced that the professional body of knowledge is sufficiently advanced in the desired direction to warrant the substance of the argument: i.e. how does one develop stakeholder relationship management competencies? Various posts in this blog have been addressing this very issue from various perspectives, countries and cultural backgrounds. Continuons le debat

  4. And this just as we’re doing ‘08 budgets! Ken – thanks for a timely post on an urgent topic. It’s fascinating to me that we want an MBA to know the details of direct marketing, but not the fundamentals of effective strategic communication. We demand advanced statistics, but not advanced listening skills. We are in peril of forgetting that organizations are comprised of people, and conversations, discussions, reading and writing are how humans—among no other creatures—function effectively.

    Sean from Goodyear

  5. Dear Ken: I taught a course in Strategic Corporate Communication for 2nd year MBA and EMBA students at Tsinghua School of Economics & Management, nevertheless it’s not a required course for the programs. For the EMBA group, I was supposed to teach “Business English”, a degree required course in a 4-day time frame, which appeared to me as a mission impposible. My decision was to substitute it with Strategic Corporate Comm. content.  And this turned out to be well received. As B-school professors, we really don’t need to wait for school curricullum to keep pace with the business world needs; we can pretty much gauge or educate our students’ needs, and seize opportunities to service them.

  6. Dear Ken: 100% on the same page. With the web 2.0 environment, more and more, CEOs need to be trained how to communicate with stakeholders, not only in good times, but also in bad times. MBA students need to be trained how to “influencing,” not “informing” through strategic communication. So far, organization has been operated like classical orchestra, meaning the conductor(CEO) leads, and members follow based on music notes(policy, systems), but, moving forward, I believe organizations will run more like “Jazz Band” esp. with the influence of web 2.0, meaning, “improvisation” skill will be more important. CEOs will get continuous communication challenges, and they need to know how to respond quickly, but, correctly, based on strategic communication principles. I strongly support your initiative.

    Hoh Kim

    Founder & Head Coach

    THE LAB h, Seoul Korea

  7. Ken– Good piece.  Stan Ulchaker and I taught a course in Reputation Management for MBA students at Kent State and unanimous reaction was that it should be a required part of the MBA curriculum.  I’m now working with Tony D’Angelo and several others to find a way to encourage Business Schools to integrate management-level communications into their programs.  At some point, it would be useful to pull together top business school reps to discuss just what can be done and how to do it.  Keep up your efforts and let me know if I can help.  Best, Dave

  8. Ken:  Well said.  It’s a continuing frustration that top-tier business schools don’t recognize the value of strategic communication.  A few professors in those schools do, but they don’t have the influence needed to change the curriculum, even slightly.  Deans must be convinced that recruiters, donors, advisory councils, trustees, and the AACSB care about this before anything will happen.  Somehow, those deans have convinced themselves that “communication” is trade-school content that is beneath the dignity and purpose of a top-tier business school.  That attitude must change.

    Jim O’Rourke

    Fanning Center for Business Communication

    Mendoza College of Business

    University of Notre Dame

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