May 2019 Message From UNICON Chair Peter Hirst

May 2019 Message From UNICON Chair Peter Hirst

Building a Global Network of Collaboration and Trust

First of all, I would like to say a heartfelt thank-you to the organizers of the UNICON 2019 Directors Conference hosted by Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO.

We were treated to a whole range of thoughtful content and ideas at the conference while enjoying very impressive hospitality and a variety of extraordinary cultural experiences.

It was wonderful to see so many of you there! More than seventy people attended, despite the fact that Moscow may not be the easiest place to travel to from many of our members’ home universities. That so many of you made the effort is a vivid illustration of UNICON as an increasingly global community.

The theme of the conference—“In Search of Identity for Creating the Future”—made me reflect on how UNICON’s identity as an organization has evolved. By definition, executive education serves as a bridge between the worlds of business and academia. Both have much to learn from and offer to each other. Historically, business schools have dominated the field of executive education. Yet, these days, we face increasing competition from purely commercial, non-academic players. What makes us, in academia, a better choice for our clients? How do we position ourselves for success in a much noisier marketplace? What is so special about university-based executive education?

Questions such as these are ubiquitous at all UNICON meetings. In one context or another, we talk about the state of our industry and the future of executive education and the important role of university-based executive education. To be sure, these questions are complex and there are as many answers to them as there are UNICON members. However, there is one overarching idea that we all share, which is that we all are motivated by making a meaningful impact in the world and having a purpose. That’s one vital difference.

One of the ideas consistently reinforced at such meetings is that in order to maintain our relevance and impact in the world, we need to find more opportunities to be collaborative with each other. Although our member schools compete with one another in many ways, there is growing need for us to collaborate as peers. This collaboration can help us deliver what our customers and clients need in a way that is consistent with the values of the university-based programs vs. strictly commercial entities.

As I argued in my opening remarks at the conference, UNICON has become a platform that has built a network of trust that enables sharing and mutual support as well as the non-trivial task of creating collaborations between schools. These relationships are not without their challenges for all sorts of reasons, but the level of trust and understanding and friendship that gets developed in settings like this is highly valuable. And that also serves as a reminder to us all that—notwithstanding the many experiments that we are doing in online and digital learning—there still is power in getting together in person, as human beings.

On the first day of the conference, when the prominent Moscow businessman, investment banker, philanthropist, and a co-founder of the Moscow School of Management at Skolkovo, Ruben Vardanyan, welcomed us to the school, he made a very powerful speech about initiatives that he’s been organizing in high school education. The programs he supports are bringing different people from around the world together in a way that is not just about tolerance for each other but helping people really understand and embrace different cultures and diversity globally. That kind of mindset was felt throughout this UNICON conference.

Overall, I think that the conference organizers at the Moscow School of Management were able to create an experience that was deeply inspirational for those of us who attended, in terms of thinking innovatively and thinking about innovation and how important that is for business and society. And it was done in the way that really fostered the strong relationships among the schools, as well as sharing ideas and insights.

And on that note, I look forward to seeing many of you at the UNICON Annual UNICON Workshop, Unlocking the ROI of Executive Education, at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, July 16-17. And if you can’t join us there, then we hope to see you at the 2019 Team Development Conference at the Silicon Valley Conference Center at Santa Clara University, November 20-22.


Peter Hirst, UNICON Board Chair 2018-2019


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