Building sustainable business schools for future leaders podcast

Dr. Juan Carlos Sosa Varela offers his view as a dean on the current issues business schools face in incorporating topics around sustainability. He also discusses the skills future leaders must have in order to foster corporate environments with a human centre-approach.

With his long experience as an editor and researcher, he provides insights on how the responsible management field can evolve and what authors can do to overcome regional challenges to publishing their research.

Read two articles from the European Business Review special issue The Entrepreneurship Challenges in Latin America organised by Dr. Juan Carlos Sosa Varela and fellow guest editors José Ernesto Amorós, Juan Carlos Leiva and Adriana Bonomo:

Speaker profile(s)

Dr. Juan Carlos Sosa Varela is the Dean and Full Professor of International Business at the Division of Business, Tourism and Entrepreneurship at the Universidad Ana G. Méndez, Puerto Rico. Also, he is the Emerald Latin America and the Caribbean Brand Ambassador and Associate Editor of the European Business Review journal and a member of editorial boards. He has been a visiting professor in business schools in Europe and Latin America. Dr. Sosa is a prolific author with articles in internationally refereed journals, books, book chapters, and more than 100 international presentations. Since 2019, is part of the Board of the Latin American Council of Management Schools (CLADEA).

In this episode:

  • How can business schools contribute to create a sustainable future?
  • What skills must future leaders have?
  • What is the link between high-quality research and the business school’s accreditation process?
  • Are Latin America companies evolving in creating sustainable management practices?
  • What are the topics the responsible management field need more research about?
  • How can one inspire authors to publish despite regional challenges?

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Building sustainable business schools for future leaders – transcript

Daniel Ridge (DR): In this episode, I'm speaking with Dr. Juan Carlos Sosa Varela about the role that business schools play in equipping future leaders with the ability to create sustainable businesses that contribute to society and the development of the responsible management field in Latin America. Dr. Juan Carlos is the Dean and Full Professor of International Business and the division of Business, Tourism, and Entrepreneurship at the Universidad Ana G. Mendez in Puerto Rico. He is also the Emerald Latin America and the Caribbean Brand Ambassador and Associate Editor of the journal European Business Review. Dr. Juan Carlos is a prolific author with articles published in internationally refereed journals and books, with fast academic and work experience and sustainability. I began my conversation by asking Juan Carlos to speak about some of his many roles

Juan Carlos Sosa Varela (JCSV): I am the Dean and Full Professor of International Business and Marketing at the Division of Business, Tourism, and Entrepreneurship at Universidad Ana G. Mendez in Puerto Rico; and also, I am a visiting professor in business schools in Europe and also in Latin America. My research is another role, and consulting experience is in global marketing, marketing strategies, and sustainable responsibility and branding. In my role as consultant, I worked with companies such as Cemex, Pepsi, Mattel Brands, Diageo, among others. Before joining the academy, I was a publicist at Leo Burnett, marketing director and strategic marketing consultant. All of these roles, I summarize it in one way: I am an Academic committed to generating knowledge.

DR: Well, thinking about your role as a Dean for the Business, Tourism, and Entrepreneurship division at Universidad Ana G. Mendez, how do you work to build a business school that educates leaders who can work to create a sustainable management environment?

JCSV: Education is the heart of human progress. You can see this in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. And the reason is that Education enables people to build better lives and, in the case of business schools, equips businesses and society to address our world's interconnected issues and opportunities. I think that business schools derive their legitimacy from their claim to be educating the leaders of the future and helping to build the tomorrow's corporations or enterprises. Yet, today, business schools are experiencing an existential crisis that goes far beyond their quest to establish an identity between the practical relevance and the academic credibility. Beyond their need to acknowledge the part that management education has played in numerous corporate scandals and beyond their failure to build research and educational paremeters around sustainability… I think that this existential crisis revolves around the role in climate change, for example, and corporate sustainability and the triple bottom line, environmental issues, social issues and economic issues. I think that business schools must address these issues from their mission. For example, in my business school, we have three strategic pillars that are focused on, to a certain extent, on our responsibility to society. First one is learning for the future. The second one is research with impact. And the third one is engagement with stakeholders and society. And the curricula and teaching methodologies must also incorporate topics aligned with sustainability. This is where the importance of our role in developing new leaders lies.

DR: Well, what do you think that are the skills that future leaders must have?

JCSV: People tend to seek leaders who have a strong character, a clear picture for the future, communicate and talk fluently, they are also often praised by their results. However, I think that people also care about the process we use to achieve this outcome. The future leaders need to have qualities that were not required in the past. I think that some of these qualities are, for example, blend and balance. The future leader will be understanding how to blend and balance both the human nature of the business with the efficiencies of technology. Driving up purpose lead business with care, with compassion. Human centred approach will be essential. However, with the rise of automation, I think that these new things are creating a sense of priority for the human workforce, and development and sense of harmony between people and technology. Also, another skill for the future leader is forward thinking. All the process of digitalization, technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning among other workplace disruptors can all play out and unfold in many different and unexpected ways. I think that a strong leader will be someone who can use their futuristic perspective to consider multiple scenarios that may play out. Also, to be an excellent communicator or a master communicator. When you develop teams, leaders will need to draw under communication skills, verbal and nonverbal communications, active listening can help future leaders to cut through the noise and deliver the messages that matter most.

DR: Well, looking specifically at business schools, I know that accreditation is important. Is there a direct link between having access to and producing high-quality research and the accreditation process?

JCSV: Well, the answer is yes, the accreditation process is viewed as a quality assurance process, which often fits into quality improvement activities. In general, business schools pursue accreditation to increase the quality and value of offerings, and to increase their reputation among academic institutions and with the public and the society in general. Academic researchers have decried the main effects of accreditation. For example, in the case of AACSB, the fact of the AACSB accreditation in relationship with reputation, levers of change (or for change), efficiencies, and, specifically, they have a focus on research. Around the world, business management schools are being asked to justify and make visible the value they bring to society, many policymakers and the public in general want to know: beyond educating students and practitioners, how do business schools contribute to the greater good through their research? As indicated before one of our pillars is research with impact; and this is the relation. Relation of accreditation process, research, and impact on society. The impact of the research on society is a very important topic; is part of the standards. And I think that many organizations or business schools around the world are changing right now their strategies in terms of research, and how this research impacts many publics and society in general.

DR: Well, publication wise, you’ve been working at the European Business Review for many years now. What topics do you think the responsible management field needs more research about?

JCSV: The changes in technology, the industry 4.0, among related areas. I think that digital transformation and results in business model innovation is an example of topic to develop in journals related to management. This impacts some disciplines such as information systems, strategic management, innovation, accounting, finance, marketing, among others. And exists some questions about this impact of digital transformation on business models. For example, how to move firms through multiple digital transformation phases? For example, how resilient are firms against digital competition/digital change? Which organization structures enhance firms’ digital agility? How can transforming firms benefit from new organizational structures and management styles? Also, a very related topic is the digital information on environmental sustainability. And digital technologies generate improvement to society, industries, and companies. Digital technologies are also increasingly deployed in improving environmental sustainability. We know that companies are now introducing new products and platform based on digital technologies used to improve environmental sustainability; and I think that this is some topic that needs to develop and is very related to sustainable management, and also very related to the Sustainable Goals of the United Nations.

DR: Well, the European Business Review has recently published a special issue about marketing strategies in Latin American markets. What do you think of Latin American companies regarding sustainable management practices? Are they evolving and moving towards a sustainable future?

JCSV: Social responsibility experiences in Latin America are diverse with issue related to regulation and enforcement, compliance; and actually, exists an inconsistency in the implementation of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs and findings are observed in action developed by companies in the Latin American region. The emergence and spread of CSR strategies in Latin America have their origins probably in the 90s with philanthropist strategies of people and companies. However, the development of CSR in Latin America is still in the beginning stages of development. Since there are problems of conceptualization or application, implementation in the past or the recent years. I think that to obtain better results in terms of CSR in Latin America, companies need to overcome some deficiencies and limitations, such as the lack of reliable and complete data to evaluate the current CSR status of the of the company. The lack of reliable information regarding CSR practices, in which people in many of our countries trust. Also, Latin America has problems related to the integration of CSR practices in the centre of business operations. But exists some institutes and some initiatives, very interesting initiatives, in our region. For example, in Brazil, exists the Ethos Institute of Business and Social Responsibility. And this institute is a very important organization to the region because they disseminate CSR standards in Latin America and also in the Caribbean region. These strategies of social responsibility gains relevance because certain product activities in the region generate highly negative environmental impacts. Some of these issues are, for example, natural resource extraction, high energy consumptions of the multinational companies that are established in many of our countries. However, the close relationship between CSR strategies and companies’ marketing and image in Latin American countries generate doubts about why companies adopt CSR practices and their capacity to satisfactorily address issues as environmental degradation and poverty. Exists a gap in our region, the next step is to do research about entrepreneurship strategies or marketing strategies with their relation to corporate responsibility. Some countries, Colombia, for example, have very interesting initiatives. And some of the universities as, for example, Universidad del Externado or EAFIT have research topics or research lines in social responsibility. And this is not only important for Colombia, also important for the region.

DR: Well, I imagine in your various roles, as you know, as Associate Editor and within your institution, you play an important role in encouraging research among academics. So, what do you do to inspire and promote publishing in a region such as Latin America and the Caribbean, that still struggles with barriers such as language and budget and funding cuts?

JCSV: Yeah, so many challenges for many of the universities. And not only in Puerto Rico or the Caribbean, in all Latin America. Well, exists many reasons to publish but also exists much more reasons for not publishing. One of the virus is the budget and the cuts, but I think that exists some myth about the writing and publishing. For example, many people think that writing must be perfect, that you are done in a second draft. It’s a myth. That you need to be inspired to write, that the writing should proceed quickly, and that writing is very difficult. That's all myth. I think that - this is my recommendation, for example, for my professors. Because I'm an author, and I'm a dean, I am an associate editor, a professor; but I write a lot each year. Some of my recommendations, of my principles for academic writing is to establish one regular place for doing scholarly or academic writing. A table in your office, a desk in your home. Keep the writing process free of temptations. Also, establish a regular schedule to scholarly writing. For example, my day began at 4:30 a.m. And, usually, I write in the morning. I am a morning person. No matter how busy you are, you can find short periods most days. The usual, I write one hour, but each day, during seven days a week. Usually in the same hour, totally dedicated to scholarly writing. Writing time is only for writing. And many of scholars that I know, right 30 minutes or 45 minutes a day. Write while you are fresh, that’s the reason why I usually write in the morning. And, also, probably the final suggestion: plan beyond daily goals. Typically, I usually work with my co-author. I establish a schedule, stablish the stages of the manuscript in terms of the topics, of weeks, of goals, and we advance with these daily goals with my co-authors. Also, I think that when you finish your manuscript, you'll also need other strategies for getting published in preferred journals as European Business Review. You need to know and understand that many manuscript evaluators or reviewers for journals are influenced by the topic, or the relevance of the topic, the clarity of the argument of your manuscript, and how you persuade the audience with a presentation of your manuscript and your conclusion. It is very important for people that want to write and to be published in a journal to know the guidelines of the of the journals. Do not send an article of basic research in a journal that only accepts applied research, for example. To have at least one colleague that you trust to read your manuscript and critically give feedback.

DR: So, what does your daily schedule look like? You start at 4 a.m. and you're busy all day, I imagine.

JCSV: Well, for example, I finished a paper yesterday with colleagues from Peru. In the morning, I revised the introduction and the conclusion of the paper and then, I sent it to my colleagues. And, I had a meeting with them at 6 p.m. yesterday, this was the last meeting before we send it to a journal. But, usually, to write in the morning, to talk with my co-author – because I usually use co-authors in my manuscripts – in the afternoon. But I have authors or co-authors that are in, for example, Europe, and six to eight hours of difference; with them I meet in the morning. But the key is to work in the paper each day. When you focus 30 minutes in writing, probably, you wrote 70/100 words. And this is each day. And you’ll need usually in an article between 6,000 and 10,000 words. In 10 days working each day, 30 minutes, one hour, you can finish your paper. It has worked for me.

DR: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss these subjects with me.

JCSV: Yes, it was a pleasure.

DR: Thank you for listening. You can find a transcript of today's episode and notes about the guest on our website. I'd like to thank Carol Marques Moreira for help with today's episode and Alex Jungius of This is Distorted.

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Quality education for all

We believe in quality education for everyone, everywhere and by highlighting the issue and working with experts in the field, we can start to find ways we can all be part of the solution.