Where the Future of Business Is Coming From

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I have just come home from a short visit to Ann Arbor to speak at an event sponsored by the Net Impact group at the Ross School of Business. They had asked me to speak at the dinner kicking off their Forum 2009: Next practices to address future challenges. In their own words, “Net Impact is a global network of leaders who are changing the world through business.” I also had some time to spend in a small group with some of the students. Many are in a very special program (Erb Institute) that couples an MBA with a MS from the School of Natural Resources and Environment. My keynote took place over a rather raucous dinner reflecting the tremendous energy radiating from this group.

My experience at Net Impact was a welcome relief from the usual. In just the few days spent with these students, my mood shifted from the cynical or skeptical stance reflected in most of my posts to a feeling almost of exuberance. I have long viewed business as a critical player in the quest for sustainability, but mostly doubt that this institution would ever learn the necessary new rules. It may take a while, but once these graduates take hold, that seems possible. I had the same sense a week ago while teaching at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

I should not be surprised at what I saw. The Erb program is the result of several decades of building the joint program at Michigan. The faculty resources are both broad and deep. But the real resource I saw was the students. They reminded me of the students that I was privileged to work with during my time at MIT. It is very encouraging that sustainability is becoming a legitimate subject in business schools. It has not always been that way.

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