Set high on the sixth floor of Ross Business School, on August 18th a group of fifteen Erb alumni, External Advisory Board members, and staffers collected for the Ann Arbor Alumni Roadshow. Overlooking the sun-washed city below, the gathering fell on one of those days towards the end of the season that makes you realize just how much we’ll all be missing summer soon.
The Ann Arbor Roadshow was the sixth and final gathering in a series of alumni engagement events conducted by the Erb Institute across the country, as we work to continue developing our upcoming five-year plan. Led by Erb Managing Director Terry Nelidov and Erb Faculty Director Andy Hoffman, the discussion was stimulated by three questions: What are the current sustainability trends in business? How can management educators respond in addressing sustainability? What should be Erb’s unique contribution within management education?
The conversation began with the prompt that there must be a focus on seeing topics of sustainability as opportunities rather than problems. This distinction can make all the difference in promoting the necessary adjustment within corporate sustainability strategy from being reactive to becoming proactive, which opens the door to thriving in business. That is, after all, one of the Erb Institute’s core motivations.
Another point raised was the difficulty in actually achieving that credo heard countless times while Erbers are in Ann Arbor, “How can students be set up by graduation to be ‘The Leaders and Best’?” To be leaders on the cutting edge of thought and strategy would leave Erbers incomplete if not also complemented by skill development rooted in best practices of others. In other words, how do we lead while also cultivating the humility to continually learn from others’ successes and our own mistakes?
Some of the other big takeaways from the guiding questions were as follows:
- Business Sustainability Trends – Resources being focused on tracking and reporting metrics more than on improvement; Resiliency and adaptation to mitigate risk due to climate change; Making the business case with new sustainability models with increased market demand and smart growth opportunities.
- Management Education Response – Focusing on both “soft” (e.g. leadership, empathetic decision-making) and “hard” (e.g. big data management & analysis, stakeholder engagement, natural capital accounting) skills with a cross-functional systems thinking approach.
- Erb’s Unique Contribution – Using community as resources in the forms of mentoring, coaching, and entire alumni network; Action-based learning offering practical experiences for contextualizing application; A global perspective with many opportunities for local engagement with sustainability issues in southeast Michigan.
While this was the final Alumni Roadshow event in this series, Terry and the entire Erb staff strongly encourage alumni to take an active role during the comment period when our draft strategic plan is released towards the end of fall semester. That additional input will be invaluable coming from the people who have helped build the program to what it is today.
A very sincere thank you goes out to all participants in the Ann Arbor Roadshow: Lauren Bigelow (EAB), Jenny Casler (Erb ‘11), Colm Fay (Erb ‘12), Lee Gorman (EAB), Deb Heed (Erb ‘13), Leonore Hijazi (Erb ‘10), Loch McCabe (EAB), Laura Palombi (Erb ‘11), Mark Ritz (EAB), and Terri Schroeder (Erb ‘08). One more thanks again to all those who shared in the summer Roadshows in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle, and Chicago.
Matthew Gaciock is an M.S. Candidate (’16) at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He is working with the Erb team on communications projects for the upcoming fall semester.