The American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business was pleased to welcome Professor Bodo Schlegelmilch as a Distinguished Visiting Researcher in September 2017.
A globally renowned academic, Schlegelmilch is the founding Dean of the WU Executive Academy (2004–2015) and the Chair of the Institute for International Marketing Management (1997-present) at WU Vienna (Vienna University for Economics and Business). He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota in America and Sun Yat-sen University in China, as well as serving as the Vice-Chair of the Association of MBAs (AMBA).
The School of Business sat down with Schlegelmilch for an all-encompassing interview that touched on academia, his teaching methods and what the future holds for MBAs.
What made you fall in love with academia and research?
Academia as a profession gives you the opportunity to combine different interests. Normally, a university professor has to balance teaching, research and administration. The beauty of academia is that you can drive certain areas up or down depending on your life stage, interests and capabilities. So in a way, academia is extremely versatile as an industry and as a profession. From the time when I first started at the University of Edinburgh, I have never looked back. It has been a great profession and still continues to be. It is something that I can recommend to anybody who has interest in meeting people and in the transfer of knowledge.
What would you say is your favorite thing about being an academic?
It is meeting and exchanging ideas with interesting and bright people. This ranges from young undergraduates to CEOs who participate in my executive education programs. I have taught in some 30 countries around the world, which has been a great privilege. I always felt that you learn more than you give – in each country that I visited, I learned something new. This makes academia a really fascinating profession.
Do you change your teaching methods depending on the country that you are in?
No. Interestingly enough, whenever I have interviews in different countries, virtually everyone has asked me a similar question: ‘Are students different?’ In my view, you find good students and bad students everywhere. I don’t really like to distinguish between countries; I prefer to distinguish between individuals. There are so many different characters that stereotyping is unhelpful.
I do change my teaching approach based on the target group [that I am teaching], though, more taking into account the experiences that my students bring to class. I think prior business experience is the biggest difference, and not the country.
What usually stimulates you to research a specific subject?
That’s very difficult to answer, because I am somebody who is always jumping from one research topic to the next. I’m very quickly enthused about a certain question, which is not what I would recommend to junior academics, because if you focus on a narrow subject area, you’re usually more successful.
How would you define success as an academic?
In a very narrow sense, success for an academic would be to get tenure and have a permanent teaching position. These days, if you’re in a good university, this can only be achieved if you produce publications in good journals. In a narrow sense, that is success.
In a broader sense, success is very personal and will differ from one academic to the other. For me, it is the freedom to pursue a variety of interesting teaching and research opportunities around the globe.
What would you say has been the topic that you have enjoyed teaching or researching the most in your career?
My two main areas are international marketing strategy and CSR (corporate social responsibility); and I actually enjoy teaching both. They’re two rather different areas, but they can also be combined.
Marketing is something that is hardly recognizable these days from when I first started because it is driven by online channels. Customers have the opportunity to research and analyze products more than ever before. The first thing they do before buying a product is to look at the reviews written by thousands of people who have already tried it. In a way, other consumers have become a much more important information source than advertisers. From that perspective, marketing has become substantially more difficult, intricate and versatile these days.
CSR, on the other hand, has emerged as something very important over the last few years. Now, it has very much moved into the center stage of what companies do. The mantra of ‘only profits for shareholders are important’ has given way to a more holistic stakeholder perspective. Focusing on the communicational and reputational aspects of CSR in different countries brings international marketing and CSR research together. This is, by the way, characterizing the research Professor Hamed Shamma and I have been jointly pursuing.
As the Vice-Chair of AMBA, how do you envision the future being like for MBAs?
MBAs are still the core product and flagship program of most business schools. The label is very often misused, however. Quality assurance is consequently key. This is where AMBA enters the stage. We are the voice of the customer in that we make sure that AMBA-accredited MBA programs are comprehensively current and use teaching approaches tailored to post-graduate learners with some practical work experience.
The interesting challenge for the future is for MBA programs to meet the changing demands of the market. AMBA has recently revised its accreditation requirements to address changing market environments – challenges accompanying the digital transformation and delivery modes such as online teaching for instance.
We [AMBA] are uniquely positioned to recognize the rapid environmental changes and implement ahead-of-the-curve responses in business education. Our accreditation teams all over the globe are continuously talking to students, alumni, professors and employers about new developments.