Indian students are smart, adapt to different cultures: Scott Beardsley

Darden School of Business's dean talks about the importance of reskilling and how executive education is a life-long learning process and not a one-time degree course

Published: Jul 12, 2018

g_107403_bg_scottbeardsley14-sgross_280x210.jpg Scott Beardsley, Dean, Darden School of Business

Scott Beardsley, Dean, Darden School of Business was recently in India to meet alumni and potential candidates for his business school. Forbes India caught up with him over a cup of coffee on a rainy morning in Mumbai, to talk about the evolution and future of executive education, the importance of reskilling, and India for Darden School of Business and the Indian manager. Edited excerpts: 


Q. How have you seen executive education programs evolve with the advent of new technologies, and ever-changing business environments?

The only thing that never changes in business is change. Technology isn't new. It has been disrupting the world for quite a while. For example, when I first came to India to work in the 1990s, to now, mobile telephony has brought about a big change in the country.

According to me, executive education is more of life-long learning than a one-time graduation course. It has the connotation of a senior person going back once to reskill themselves. But today, the need to retool yourself is becoming the norm. Life-long learning has to be hybrid, some in person, some imparted via technology.

Darden and many other business schools now have technology-delivered programs on portals like Coursera; short courses that alumni can come back to. There are different degree formats, like our one-year Master of Science and Business Analytics degree, and the MBA and a Master of Science and Data Science dual-degree program, which is quite popular. Most of our content is delivered online today at a distance, which makes it easier for the working professional to participate.

Q. There's constant talk about employees needing to reskill but many heads of companies refuse to change or think they don’t need to change with the times…

Investing in yourself and your capabilities in the best investment you can ever make. I may be biased because I'm in education but I have always believed in life-long learning. It can be through a formal degree program but most people also get a lot of learning on the job. Attracting, developing and retaining your talent is the best competitive advantage that you can have for your company. It may be very difficult to find a company that says developing talent is not important.

As people are promoted, they need to build their skills. Some businesses evolve more than others but the basic idea that you need to learn and develop your skills is self-evident to me. As the top of the company or owner, it’s your prerogative if you don’t want to improve yourself. But most people don't get to the top unless they have a drive to keep improving.

Q. There are a lot of senior employees and managers that resist change and don't want to get onto the change bandwagon to evolve. Employees have managers to push them, but who motivates a manager to reskill or evolve?
Every individual is partially responsible for their own learning and development. If you're looking to promote people, it's important to consider which managers show motivation to improve themselves and ask for support and feedback. If a manager is a top performer but has no desire to change or reskill, it should be taken into account by the senior leadership. Likewise, when young employees want to do a course to stretch themselves into a new area, it should be taken as a sign of strength and not weakness.

It's very difficult to compete if you're not improving yourselves and your people. The best companies make their people take some accountability for their own development and also encourage development.

Q. How do you see the future of executive education world over?
I see the need for business education, executive education and reskilling going up and not down. The need of the hour is just-in-time certification learning programs at all levels in the organisations for people to retool themselves before assuming a new role. It will be Executive Education 2.0. Institutions like universities, consulting firms, head hunters, and startups may all come together to deliver this.

Q. What are the absolute necessary skills for a manager in today's world?
Today, with technology, a lot of managerial tasks are becoming commoditised by computers. The ability to make an Excel spreadsheet is not a differentiating factor anymore, it's as good as saying do you speak a language. But machines are not high on emotional intelligence and organisations are made up of people. So EQ, critical thinking, people leadership and the ability to communicate and operate in different cultures are very important skills today. Collaboration skills, and the ability to think across interdisciplinary functions is another necessary skill for a manager today. Thanks to technology, you don’t need to be an expert in coding but it’s necessary to be aware and literate about the technology. The more you can help your people get the best out of themselves, the more you're successful as a leader.

Q. How important is India for your school?

India is very important for Darden and the University of Virginia because it is an important part of the world economy and a large percentage of the global population. Every year, we have a lot of Indian students at Darden. We had about 40 Indian passport holders out of 650 in last year’s batch, and there are even more Indian origin students. We actively recruit here every year. It's a great source of talent so I like coming here.

Q. What do you think of the Indian manager?
It's difficult to generalise 1.4 billion people. Indians students tend to be very smart, and are able to deal with different cultures. Compared to people from other countries, English language skills of Indians are strong. A lot of my previous Indian McKingsey colleagues and Indian students at Darden are able to operate in different geographies. At Darden, Indians have a successful two years and get a job in the US or other countries and do extremely well. India is an impressive country from a talent point of view. They are extremely hardworking; this stands out.

Q. Have you seen the number of Indians applying or coming to Darden dwindle due to stringent US visa norms?
All International students get visas to study in the US. I’m not aware of any student who was denied a visa to study in the US. At a time when you think the world is becoming more inward looking, at Darden, our students have never been more global. Newspapers may spell doom but the ground realities are different. Our international students who want jobs in the US are getting them too. Business will always remain extremely global.

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