A letter from Incoming UNICON Board Chair Peter Hirst

A letter from Incoming UNICON Board Chair Peter Hirst

What’s so special about university-based executive education?

Dear UNICON colleagues,

It is my privilege to be serving as your incoming UNICON Chair, and I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize several key events and initiatives that we are particularly excited about in the coming year.

On behalf of MIT Sloan School of Management, we were delighted to host UNICON colleagues here in July for our annual workshop Hacking Executive Education. The team development conference hosted by the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business at the end of November is always an excellent opportunity to meet and share experiences with peers from around the world. Looking further into the future, we have an exciting directors’ conference planned for spring of 2019 at the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO.

As the industry’s primary organization focused on executive education, UNICON has much to be proud of. I see my Chair role as that of a facilitator of our ongoing success. Together, we have created an amazingly supportive and successful organization that benefits all its members, our industry, and our clients around the world. Our joint efforts have already been moving in all the right directions to address the challenges and opportunities the organization faces and we need to keep building on the great work that our board of directors and member institutions have been doing thus far. To name a few: expanding the range of our benchmarking activities and exciting new research; amplifying the sharing and learning opportunities for members that UNICON provides to us all; and maximizing our new website and the associated database to improve communications among all our members.

It’s important to note that as an organization, we have in our membership many or most of the leading university-based executive education schools from around the world. Our membership is highly diverse, ranging from smaller regionally focused schools to large international ones, long-established institutions and new ones growing their executive education programs.

Nevertheless, there are some ongoing and new challenges that an organization like ours faces. One of those is: how can we help our current members to understand and address their own challenges, as our industry continues to change and evolve, and see new opportunities but also new threats? And there is also an imperative for us as an organization to be thoughtful about what might be the implications of some of those changes for the future membership and the role of our organization. For example, there are parts of the world where executive education is still a relatively new field. There is lots of potential for growth, but what does that mean for UNICON today and in the future?

With MIT Sloan Executive Education being one of the founders and highly active members of the consortium, I am often asked: aren’t you guys all competitors? And the answer is yes, it’s true. Sometimes more, sometimes less, we find ourselves competing in the sense of having prospective clients or learners in common, but actually, our shared belief is that there is much more to be gained by growing the pie than by growing our share of the pie.

Competition is good. It helps drive the industry, it helps drive innovation, it helps drive performance. And it helps to grow the industry, which faces challenges from outside academia, as for-profit organizations and consulting firms and all sorts of training providers are making forays into the executive education space.

So, back to my original question: what is so special about university-based executive education, anyway? What is different and valuable about what we do as opposed to those other providers? We could speculate on the importance of scientific integrity that imbues university-based research, or our role as a conduit for business people and managers to get access to the expertise and knowledge available in our institutions, or the relationships that form between academics and practitioners as a result of our work. Whatever the answer may be, it is becoming increasingly important for those of us in the industry to be able to articulate and embody our own individual answers to these fundamental questions.

For UNICON to continue its vital role in the growth of our industry, we need to be consolidating on existing initiatives and focusing on several emerging issues. Partnering with other organizations that are in adjacent or related fields. Continuing to expand our communications capabilities for members to engage with each other and learn from each other in increasingly digital ways, as well as the traditional in-person ways. Continuing to ensure that we are encouraging and engaging with the development of our industry globally and if there are new university-based executive education programs that are growing, that we can embrace them and support them and help make sure that our industry thrives.

I feel honored by the trust you have placed in me to serve in this important role for our organization, and I am excited to be helping continue to build on UNICON’s legacy, ongoing impact and above all value to you, our cherished Members, colleagues and friends!

Peter Hirst, MBE
UNICON Board Chair, 2018-19
Associate Dean, Executive Education, MIT Sloan School of Management

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