Executive education learns to change with the times

Leadership & Strategy
Top executives have to be constant learners to keep pace with a rapidly changing business environment, so schools like INSEAD and Duke CE are changing too

Imagine if you started writing a book about business strategy five years ago how much you would need to redraft for today’s commercial climate. Once you’ve finished those amendments, chances are you would have to create a whole new chapter to accommodate the latest trends. 

No wonder, then, that executive education is also evolving at the speed of business, as it attempts to keep pace with a world in flux, while also delivering bespoke learning journeys.

With this constant need to reassess and reinvent the corporate curriculum, executive education is booming. In 2023, that market is valued at US$46 billion globally, but set to rise to US$134 billion in the next decade, according to Future Market Insights.

Other reports and predictions concur, with most anticipating double-digit CAGR growth for executive education for the foreseeable future.

That is great news for leading business schools like Duke Corporate Education (CE) and INSEAD.

The former was named the global leader in custom executive education according to the 2023 Financial Times Executive Education Rankings, while the latter came second. Both have schools in Singapore and deliver global programmes.

So the billion-dollar question is, how do they stay relevant in fast-changing business times?

“Corporate education has undergone significant transformation driven by technological advancements and shifting workforce needs over the past decade,” Vishal Patel, President of Global Markets at Duke Corporate Education tells Business Chief.

“Post-pandemic, we’re adjusting to a hybrid and digital-first world where competition is fierce and new modes of disruptive learning methods are on the rise. In my view, corporate education needs to evolve to be more agile, tech-driven, personalised, and holistic. The pandemic has certainly acted as a catalyst, accelerating the adoption of these changes.”

That view is echoed by Sameer Hasija, Dean of Executive Education at INSEAD. He says executive education is no longer a one-off intervention, but a continuous and life-long process to ensure that skills are maintained, refined, enhanced and renewed in line with evolving challenges.

“As business schools, we have to respond to this longer-term association by providing deeper and longer offerings: programmes and certifications that map to their learning journey as it evolves. And that requires a new level of commitment and partnerships with learners,” says Hasija.

The Asia perspective

It is not just the nature of business that is changing, but the geography of business. More than ever, global leaders need to have a global mindset, and there has been a seismic shift towards Asia. Right now, three of the world’s five biggest economies are in Asia, according to the International Monetary Fund – with China, Japan, and India being joined by the US and Germany.

“The facts speak for themselves: the West is no longer the unique centre of economic growth and business activity in the world,” says Hasija. “This is no longer debatable; it’s simply a fact. 

“The world is poised to flatten out as parts of Asia start catching up and assuming a dynamic role in fueling global and societal progress. For that reason there’s a real imperative to understand the unique opportunities and challenges that exist in this part of the world; the dynamics at play here that will foster sustainable growth and development.

“No matter where they do business, I believe it is very important for executives of the future to be fully exposed to Asia as they develop their global mindset.”

Of course, Asian executives can also lead by example, showing the rest of the world how to cope with key concerns around disruption and displacement. Disruption in the form of digital transformation, the pandemic, and social justice concerns have led to destablisation and displacement, both within and across regions, believes Patel.

“Asian territories have a unique opportunity to take the lead in addressing the challenges of displacement and disruption,” he says. “Unlike the US, where there is sometimes resistance towards progressive measures such as ESG reporting, Asian businesses, particularly those with a strong sense of community and a long-term generational outlook, can embrace the need for change and are looking to harness bespoke executive education programmes to drive meaningful transformation.” 

Patel adds that increasingly leaders are thinking longer term – seeking to understand how automation and strategic planning can be leveraged to create a lasting legacy beyond short-term gains. 

“In countries like India, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam, where many large conglomerates are family-owned, the inherent foresight and multi-generational perspective provide a competitive advantage,” he says. “By taking the lead in these conversations and implementing forward-thinking strategies, Asian businesses can position themselves as pioneers in navigating the complexities of displacement and drive sustainable growth in the face of disruption.”

The need for bespoke business learning

Not all executives are alike, and so having a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to education is finally becoming a thing of the past. The appetite for executive education remains strong, and is clearly growing, but companies are demanding more tailored solutions that address their specific needs.

“At INSEAD, we stay close to change by maintaining an active connection to the market and to reality,” says Hasija. “We do this with organisations by co-designing training with them, working cheek by jowl to pinpoint needs, figure out solutions and determine the design of the programmes we offer. 

“For individuals, again we leverage our work with corporations to understand emerging market needs and we translate those needs into impactful learning experiences.”

Patel adds that expecting any single leader to possess expertise across every domain impacting leadership is unrealistic. Therefore, bespoke programmes mold more complete leaders, but it is important for them to constantly evolve to stay relevant.

“Turbulent times demand agile and adaptive leadership,” says Patel. “By focusing on personalised developments, organisations can adapt quickly, make informed decisions, and seize opportunities amidst volatility. 

“Such tailored programmes equip leaders with the necessary skills and perspectives to navigate complexities, make well-informed choices, and foster trust within their organisations. This customised approach enhances agility, resilience, and innovation, ultimately positioning the organisation ahead of competitors and ensuring long-term success in an ever-changing business environment.”

Nowhere is that change more evident than in technology. The 2023 World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report forecasted the leading drivers of business transformation over the next five years will be digital access and technology adoption. As well as incorporating the latest thinking into their courses, schools like INSEAD and Duke CE can also utilise technologies like Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Extended Reality to deliver experiential learning. 

“The trend of ‘learn by doing’ will shape our industry and at Duke CE, we are actively exploring how to incorporate simulations and gamification to provide our learners with opportunities to practice decision-making or problem-solving,” says Patel. “The potential of these technologies to revolutionise corporate learning, employee training, and leadership education is truly exciting.”

However, Patel is less enthusiastic about Artificial Intelligence and the role it may play. He admits that AI enhances efficiency, but questions whether it also improves effectiveness and promotes creativity – a concept that relies on context, which AI struggles to grasp.

As well as the relentless march of technology, the other hot topic being embedded into executive education is sustainability. INSEAD already offers two dedicated programmes on sustainability, and it is also integrated into almost all of their programmes – for good reason.

“Every business in the world needs to realise that to stay relevant, sustainability has to be front and centre,” says Hasija. “Sustainability is not a box to be ticked, it is fundamental to the future.

“As providers of executive education we also have a duty to have these conversations and not to kick the problem down the road for future generations.”

Duke CE also has an ESG Leadership Academy and ESG Board programme to equip leaders with the key knowledge, skills and mindsets required to survive and thrive. 

Patel says sustainability has risen up the corporate agenda despite having previously been seen as a ‘softer’ discipline. 

“It’s clear that broader adoption of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards will be a primary focus for businesses of the future,” he says. “We expect to see ESG permeate everything from corporate workforce strategy to diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and continue to play a key role in reshaping the business landscape.”
With that landscape constantly shifting, it is the executive education.

Sameer Hasija
Vishal Patel
Duke Corporate Education
INSEAD
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