The Georgetown McDonough School of Business Shows that Innovation is a Journey to an Ever-Changing Destination

The Georgetown McDonough School of Business Shows that  Innovation is a Journey to an Ever-Changing Destination

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Adam West
By: Adam West
Updated: October 22, 2018
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In a Nutshell: At the Georgetown McDonough School of Business, students prepare to lead global enterprises in a changing environment. For more than 22 years, Paul Almeida has helped Georgetown McDonough students prepare for that change. As Professor of Strategy and International Business, he studies innovation, knowledge management, alliances, and information collaboration across firms and countries. In his role as Dean at McDonough, he puts his ideas into practice by creating pioneering executive MBA programs and leading an Innovation Initiative to help the institution compete in the global education marketplace. As one of the world’s foremost Jesuit institutions of higher learning, Georgetown McDonough is committed to innovation and serves as a source of insight on why businesses must continuously adapt to thrive.

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business is not the same school it was when Paul Almeida joined the faculty in 1995. International competition to attract top business students has increased. And technological change has broadened teaching methods as well as student expectations from that instruction. Meanwhile, business continues to globalize.

Today’s Georgetown McDonough must prepare students for leadership in a world where changing competitive pressures and consumer expectations are upending established organizational models. Paul sees all of this as natural, and the reality of constant change, he argues, impels organizational innovation. Just as Georgetown McDonough is called to innovate as the world around it changes, so too are enterprises.

“Because change is dynamic, innovation has to be more than a one-shot deal,” Paul said. “In fact, 10 years from now we’ll look back on this conversation and laugh because so much will have happened that will seem obvious in hindsight, but that we didn’t predict.”

Photo of Georgetown McDonough School of Business Dean Paul Almeida

Paul Almeida, Dean of the Georgetown McDonough School of Business, prepares students for constant innovation.

After receiving his PhD in international business and strategy from The Wharton School, Paul came to McDonough in part because of Georgetown’s heritage as a Jesuit institution. For almost 500 years, Jesuits — the largest religious order in the Catholic church — have valued education and public service based on a global perspective, open-mindedness, and respect for diversity. Paul, who was born in India to Catholic parents, received his early education in Jesuit schools.

“Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life are from my Jesuit education,” he recalled in the State of the School Address he gave shortly after assuming the Deanship at McDonough. “I learned what it’s like to walk in other people’s shoes, to see the world through other people’s eyes.”

Paul strives to see the world as it is and embrace the responsibility of service in his role as a change agent at the leading Jesuit university in the US. “Innovation is a journey. It’s not a slogan, and it’s not that cute or easy,” he said. “It’s about attuning an organization to a state of continuous adaptation so it can continue to do the good work it was designed to do.”

A Common Rationale for Leading Organizational Change

A few years after joining the McDonough faculty, Paul moved into an administrative role, serving as Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education from 2000 to 2016, and as Deputy Dean for Executive Education and Innovation in 2016-17.

In his role as Deputy Dean, he led an Innovation Initiative at McDonough to more deeply integrate Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit values into the school, expand technology-enhanced learning, leverage the school’s location in Washington, DC, and increase organizational excellence.

Paul views external factors that have called on McDonough to innovate as having a similar influence on all large enterprises. The first is increased global competition.

“In our industry, students and faculty wouldn’t really consider European and Asian schools 20 to 25 years ago,” he said. “Now they will — especially in the business field. So there is more reason to get creative about attracting talent. In retail, of course, the challenge is to attract and retain business share.”

A second factor is technological change, which is having a multifaceted impact on learning at McDonough.

Photo of Georgetown University campus

Technology affects every aspect of students’ lives, including how they interact with a school campus and classes.

“New technology enables teaching in different, more effective, ways. Our students want us to be more flexible about the learning opportunities we provide, and technology lets us overcome the barriers of time and space and have people attend the same class physically and virtually,” Paul said. “We also look at flipping classes to boost the value of the time students spend together and with their instructors.”

Technological change requires preparing students to accept new kinds of functional responsibilities in the workforce. It also involves understanding the social impact of new devices and modes of communication.

“As our students prepare for professional life, we want them to understand the role of technology in society better. They have to understand what it’s going to do to businesses, how it’s going to affect trade, and what it means for workers,” Paul said. “If you really think about the dimensions in which technology affects education — and almost all other industries — it demands innovation.”

The Innovation Journey at Georgetown McDonough

Paul has helped manifest these ideas at McDonough in several ways. The Master of Science in Finance program, created in 2015, was the result of embracing the possibilities of new technology and changing student expectations. As a blended program with a large online component, it remains rooted in the Georgetown experience.

“We had to be careful because Georgetown is a very prestigious brand, and people expect the Georgetown feel with rich personal interaction and a sense of community,” Paul said. “But at the same time, we know that today’s students learn differently and need more flexibility.”

Students take part in synchronous sessions where they can choose to interact either in the physical classroom or online. “Our task was to develop the systems and processes to enable that, so the students could interact, play off each other, and build from each other because that’s what students really value,” Paul said.

“We can see that the jobs our students are preparing for will use technology in a multitude of ways. Tomorrow’s leaders must embrace the fact that technology will continue to change the way businesses operate and interact with customers.” —  Paul Almeida,  Dean and William R. Berkley Chair of Georgetown University McDonough School of Business

Commitment to innovation also requires a continual review of instructional content to ensure it prepares students to work effectively in the real world. Technology plays a part in that area as well. McDonough will increase its emphasis on data science, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and other technologies with business relevance.

“We can see that the jobs our students are preparing for will use technology in a multitude of ways,” Paul said. “Tomorrow’s leaders must embrace the fact that technology will continue to change the way businesses operate and interact with customers.”

The results have taken McDonough down some innovative paths. “Five years ago, I don’t think anyone thought our students needed to know how to program in Python. Now, we think it’s essential.”

A Commitment Grounded in Centuries of Jesuit Tradition

Paul’s vision for McDonough is fixed firmly on the future, and his Jesuit heritage backs him up. Writing in the Financial Times in 2017, Paul presented St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, as a model of modern management. Ignatius’ “entrepreneurial spirit and management abilities,” he wrote, “led to the creation of a vast global organization that has thrived and fulfilled its mission for nearly 500 years.”

Ignatius was committed to unleashing organizational talent in ways that presaged the modern practices of “shared governance, delegation, and employee empowerment.” And he helped create a shared mission and culture across his organization.

Paul posited that the modern version of Ignatius leads by example and stays in touch with colleagues who reside outside the C-suite. This kind of business leader not only articulates an organizational vision but can inspire others to follow and execute it.

As he emulates Ignatius, Paul seeks to link the modern McDonough to Georgetown’s Jesuit tradition. Part of that process involves looking at the organizational effectiveness of the institution.

“Committing to organizational excellence means looking for new ways to do the things we’ve been doing well for years,” he said. “And, in doing that, we look for ways to innovate that reach more accurately into our past. We’re a Jesuit Catholic school, with our mission to enhance the common good. How can we do that even better?”

The lesson for business leaders is that innovation extends organizational life. In a dynamic world where competition, technology, and consumer preferences constantly change, the sensible way to preserve the good is to build an adaptive mindset and a commitment to continuous learning into the organization.

“Organizations can’t turn on a dime. Capabilities, administrative structures, and financial structures don’t change overnight. That’s why building a culture of continuous adaptation is so important,” Paul said. “If businesses think of ‘true north’ as what the customer really needs and orient themselves to that continuously, every organization has a chance to fulfill its potential. Innovation is the only way to do that.”