A Business School for the Day After
With one in two world inhabitants “confinés,” as Dean Guillaume Bigot puts it, we have an incredible opportunity to reflect on where we are. Taking over at the IPAG Business School Paris-Nice groups in July 2008, I think of Bigot as a “rebel dean.” Formed as a journalist, Bigot, and by association IPAG, uses the incredible tactic of remaining small in size. Not to promote exclusivity, but rather to focus on the quality of the programs and work that they are already conducting. Founded by Jacques Rueff, executive advisor to President Charles de Gaulle, the deeply rooted origins permit the school to branch into other world spaces with the understanding that they are french.
In looking at the evolution of Paris, Bigot returned to the intense changes in globalization and the promotion of the “anglo-saxon business model,” following the collapse of the USSR during the Regan era. As he points to the interesting yet positive nature of the world’s usage of business tools, formalized business processes, and the adaptation of the English language in business ventures, he recognizes the convenience for the anglo-saxons. Being made in the image of their world view, anglo-saxons are able to “maximize their assets and qualities” in this field built by and for them. However, Bigot importantly points out that despite the efforts made by the international community, specifically business schools in France, to become more “anglo-saxon,” these people will never do it well enough because they, themselves, will never be anglo-saxon. Warning us to pay attention as to how we can adapt ourselves to these standards, the rebel dean has decided to encourage his students to do things differently.
Looking to teach their students to be focused in their learning rather than to promote multiculturalism in their education, IPAG seeks to challenge their students to get to know the market they are working in. This being a way for students to learn to master their studies, and then to master their market research in the future. If one is looking to do business in Russia, IPAG advises that student to learn Russian, meaning becoming proficient in the language as well as the geography, the demography, the opportunities and, most importantly, the limitations to communities in that area.
Having exemplified the power of this focus, soon after beginning as Dean of IPAG Paris-Nice, Bigot capitalized on the geographic location by drawing an international population to the school, specifically doing so in the form of conferences, which are held three times a year and seek to examine the topics of finance, economy of energy and ecology, and scientific business studies. Despite the school’s small size, these conferences helped IPAG gain world recognition. By targeting the quality of their program, IPAG grew locationally, rather than in student size. Strategically opening a campus in Kunming, IPAG has truly demonstrated the power in finding and following a new path.
Looking at the ‘Day After’ in France, we are warned that “if we do not pay attention, not only could the day after look just like the day before, but it could be even worse.” Many nations, including France and the United States, have seen how dependent their supply chain rests on China as “l’usine du monde,” the world’s factory. We can also see other troubling trends; for example, many middle class wages are not increasing in a direct relationship with the wealth being created globally. Additionally, we must be wary of the large, global enterprises that are much more capable of surviving the doomsday, than typical MSMEs. Bigot alerts us to pay close attention because “if we do not do something to support and help small businesses, the businesses that are capable of reinventing the economy and the day after will, and that day after will be even worse.”
We are guided to prepare for the unexpected. As in the first hour of a battle, the entire plan has already fallen apart, we must stop thinking that the future will look like the past or, frankly, that it will resemble anything we know. This proves difficult for humanity as everything we have created to predict future trends is created from information about the past. Bigot describes how fiance is nothing more than a calculus of the past. Therefore, in this moment we must focus on long lasting skills that will remain relevant throughout the uncertainty of the future. For this reason specifically, Bigot believes that Hubs, which will work to give students tools to modify their behavior. In order to offer students the life experiences in which they might learn about themselves, their own limits, and how they interact with others, Bigot has created programs in which his students are tested. In an extreme example, IPAG sends their students to the Alps for seven days. This is not an experience meant for interviews, but rather so that the students understand that if they want to survive, they need to join together, a humbling reminder of the importance of the collective.
Bigot understands and, therefore, hopes to portray the importance of moving from a consumer to a producer mentality. Consumers work off of their instincts, however producers are trained to think and make informed decisions. Bigot recalls how Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, the last emperor of the Pax Romana, made only one to two decisions everyday. This art of thoroughly thinking through a decision, an argument, or a concept seems to be completely lost in this day and age.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic may have given us the perfect opportunity to recover this lost art. We, as individuals, can also pay attention to controlling our own Day Afters. Through this experience of confinement, we have significantly changed the way in which we related to both time and space. Before the coronavirus, we were “oppressed by the agenda,” always rushed with no time to spare. During this moment of confinement, maybe we have too much time, however it is this moment that will teach us to classify, organize, and create time to think. Then later, we might seek to find a balance between the extremes of time seen in pre- and current confinement. In regards to space, before confinement, the world was our “playground.” Now, it may feel extremely frustrating to be stuck, making this the moment to recognize that although today we might not have enough space, our world playground from before may have been too much space. This global hault has led to a reliance on local supply chains. Hopefully this glocal (global and local) mindset can remain firmly ingrained in our understanding of our importance in the recovery and stability of our local and global environments. In closing, Bigot leaves us with these final words:
“You will certainly not be able to be successful if you think that success is individual. As
individuals can succeed if you understand that success is brought by others, that means that their success will also be brought by you. As an individual you have to pursue your own interest, but take into account the other, without the other you are and have nothing.”
Guillaume Bigot, thank you for your critical thinking and provocative questions, may we leave this discussion imprinted with your creative and founding manner of reasoning.