Building tomorrow's leaders: UBC Sauder puts responsible leadership at centre of business school

Student Community
Posted 2019-08-01

As appeared in The Globe and Mail

Robert Helsley, dean of UBC Sauder School of Business, wholeheartedly believes that the business community can impart positive change on society. This belief is so strong, it was the foundation for the development of the business school’s new five-year strategic plan that kicked off last year, when Helsley was re-appointed as dean for another term.

The plan sees responsible leadership as a strong undercurrent in every aspect of the business school’s teachings both inside and outside the classroom, from programs like Sauder Social Entrepreneurship (SSE) Kenya, which sees undergrad and graduate students travel to Nairobi, Kenya to deliver business education courses to aspiring entrepreneurs; to offering courses on sustainability, ethics and philanthropy at all levels in the school; to the creation of the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics. UBC Sauder has centered its identity on the concept of responsible leadership with a goal of building a more just, sustainable and responsible world for all.

"I think there is a growing realization that organizations, both private and public, can contribute to positive social change, and part of that comes from necessity," says Dean Helsley. "If you look at the big problems facing all of us today, like climate change, environmental protection and inequality… it doesn’t feel to me like governments are going to be able to solve these problems on their own."

Indeed, business leaders are increasingly finding themselves in positions of elevated responsibility as both shareholders and consumers alike demand transparency, ethical behaviour and sustainability from companies. "Teaching responsible leadership practices at the business education level is the most practical and fundamental way to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for these demands," adds the dean.

And the business community is applauding UBC Sauder’s direction.

Business leaders, like Warren Spitz, CEO and Founder of UCS Forest Group and Chair of the UBC Sauder Faculty Advisory Board (FAB), agree with the need for lessons in responsible leadership to be ingrained in today’s business education. He and the other members of the FAB are helping to drive this change in the school’s strategic direction.

For Spitz, business schools and the business community should be mirror images of each other, instilling the behaviour each of them wants and expects to see in the other.

"A business school should be a reflection of the business community and society," says Mr. Spitz, "and if we don’t teach and act with a certain level of responsibility, commitment to values and ethics, then we certainly can’t expect our students to go out into the world and demonstrate that type of behaviour." At UBC Sauder, it’s about developing leaders who know how to make informed ethical decisions and consider how the actions of a person or company can impact society, the environment and even future generations. To this end, ethics and responsible leadership are carefully woven into the curriculum—from case studies, to panel discussions by community leaders—to ensure students soak up the tangible, real-world applications of these concepts.

"Everything from managerial accounting, to government and business, to business communications, integrate a sense of ethics into our curriculum," says Neekita Bhatia, bachelor of commerce student at UBC Sauder. "They not only teach you these skills and how to make business decisions, but they also encourage you to take into consideration the bigger picture."

Students are taught that today’s leadership encompasses not just the tools of innovation and strategic thinking, but goes further to consider values such as rigour, respect and responsibility—themes that are fundamental to the school’s mission.

"We’ve articulated a set of values that we think are useful not just as a framework and as a guide for students as they attend university, but also for their activities later on in life," says Dean Helsley, who adds that it’s about creating a transformative student experience.

"When we think of the future of work, it’s clear that many of the jobs that will be important don’t even exist yet," says Dean Helsley.

"So, giving people the skills so they can think creatively and critically and prepare themselves for what’s ahead is part of what we are trying to do. What I hope is that our students come out of the program with an appreciation and an understanding of the importance of social responsibility."

UBC Sauder graduates are already sought after as heavy-weights in business, but what this new strategy imparts is the ability to go from leaders to change-makers.