A Personal Perspective From the Business Education Alliance: Irineu G.N. Gianesi
Irineu G.N. Gianesi, dean of academic affairs at Insper in Brazil, discusses his background in academia and how AACSB's Business Education Alliance has impacted his school and its potential to impact b-schools globally.
For the last few months, AACSB has been reaching out to members of the Business Education Alliance to get a better feel for how our network is influencing the development of business education throughout the world.
In this interview, Irineu G.N. Gianesi, dean of academic affairs at Insper - Instituto de Ensino e Pesquisa in Brazil, reminisces about his career, his role as chair of AACSB’s Latin America and Caribbean Advisory Council, and the impact AACSB’s Business Education Alliance has had on his school and the potential it has for schools around the world.
When was the first time you learned about AACSB?
It’s been so long that it’s hard to remember. There was a point in my career when I left the University of São Paulo, where I was a member of the faculty in the School of Industrial Engineering, and I moved to Insper, first as a faculty member and then in an administrative role. And it happened in 1999. That’s when I first browsed AACSB’s website to try to learn a little bit about accreditation.
At that point, accreditation was a driver. But actually, the main driver was the opportunity to learn more internationally. When I came to Insper, the founder had this vision of creating one of the best schools in Latin America, and we knew that if we wanted to pursue this vision, we had to look beyond the borders of Brazil because the benchmark here would not lead to us to be great.
So my first initiative was to make connections with other schools in other parts of the world. At that time, I was one of the directors at Insper. I had already tried to learn a little bit about accreditation, but I was not very enthusiastic, because when I read the AACSB standards, we were far from meeting them, so I closed the file and said, “It’s not for now.”
But at one of the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) events I attended in 2001, I had the chance to meet John Fernandes, who was the president of AACSB at that time, and he was visiting the EMBAC conference. There, I had a chance to chat with John Fernandes and learn a little bit more about AACSB. At that point we had started the process of becoming a member of the Business Education Alliance, and the intent was not accreditation but to build a network with people in the United States and Europe to learn more and use benchmarks because we were in the process of creating a new school with great ambition but almost no knowledge of how to manage the faculty, programs, and so forth. So we were eager to learn—and to learn from more experienced schools and deans and other people.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of schools in the same place Insper was in 2001. How did the AACSB network impact the development of your working plan?
This question is funny because of the analogy. At the beginning we were a bunch of very enthusiastic people starting a new school with almost no knowledge, or very little knowledge, in terms of the academic processes. So, your question is like asking a child about their first contact with a human being. Because you’re an empty pot, everything was new knowledge.
What was really interesting was to see how open the people of the AACSB community were. In Brazil, the tradition is much more about competition rather than collaboration. And maybe because we were not competitors to anyone at that point in time, everybody I met was very open - from schools that I had never heard of and schools that I would admire. People were friendly and open, they were willing to share ideas, templates, whatever. It was a very rich period because I, from that point, started to open a new channel from Insper to the outside world. I was responsible for bringing new information, so it was great for my career, and for Insper it was paramount because it took us to another level.
It became even more important when we decided to enter the accreditation process because of all the mentorship and communication. It was really, really great.
What would be your advice for a school that aspires to be better and is pondering pursuing accreditation or a membership with AACSB?
In Brazil, we have about 2,500 schools offering business programs and not all of them are really concerned about internationalization or about looking internationally to learn and so forth. So my first question to them would be: Do you care? Because if you don’t, you will not get much benefit from the process or the connection.
But if you care, if you are really willing to improve and look beyond your local environment in terms of getting inspired by new ideas or thinking about new programs or new ways to manage faculty, research, learning, and support, even beyond accreditation, the importance of the contact and the connection with the people from the “outside” world can’t be expressed in words.
Because, you see, with this huge number of schools, the main concern of the Ministry of Education in Brazil is not to identify the best schools or to stimulate them to be better. Their concern is to get those schools who do not deliver, or deliver very poor education, out of the system. So, you can’t do strictly local benchmarking and expect to get ideas on how to improve; you have to look outside.
Do you think institutions in Latin America need to think more globally? Do you think Latin American schools are less prone to think internationally unless they have a way to connect?
I think different school have different challenges and are in different stages. Because if you look, in general, you have thousands of schools and a lot of them have the opportunity to learn more if they had this global vision.
At the same time, you have a few schools in each country that have reached a stage of development and they compare to the best schools in the world. And I think the new challenge is in how to grow stronger connections in the region.
We are particularly envisioning ways to enhance our connections with other schools in Latin America in different ways. And the first idea is to start with student exchange, but that is not the way in Latin America because most of the students who are interested in pursuing an international experience are looking to the United States or Europe; they don’t want to spend a semester moving from Chile to Peru, or from Brazil to Argentina. They want to go the northern hemisphere.
So we must think about novel ways to enhance this connection. And now with my position on the Latin America and Caribbean Advisory Council (LACAC), I have the opportunity to share these ideas with my peers, and I think the time has come to put some of these ideas to work.
Could the Business Educational Alliance be a vehicle to move those ideas forward?
I think AACSB has played a role in becoming a catalyst in joining people together. I think the LACAC is a great forum for this exchange. And apart from contributing to the strategic planning of the association, we also have the opportunity to meet more frequently; but overall I think it is already doing something that is very important.
Why did you choose to become an educator?
It just happened. It was not a career that I chose, it was a career that found me. There was a point in my early career that I thought that being a consultant would be nice. But when I was doing my master’s at that time and there was an opportunity to join the faculty at the School of Industrial Engineering at the University of São Paulo, a friend told me, “Well, we have this opportunity to join, why don’t you apply and give it a try?” And I said, to be a professor, no.
And he said that it was just a matter of putting some documents together and giving a class. I didn’t see myself as a professor, but decided to try it. Why not? Then I taught that long class and the feedback was good and they wanted to hire me.
Then when I started to teach, I really discovered myself.
I am 57 now and still teach, and I can’t see myself out of the classroom, despite all the stuff that involves being in an administrative role; teaching is still a top priority. It costs me part of my nights, part of my weekends, but it’s become a part of me and my family understands that.
Is there a thought leader or visionary you admire?
A lot of people have this image or this character whom they look to as an idol. I don’t know why, but I don’t. I learned to admire some people, because I’ve had the opportunity to lead with them, and among them is the founder of Insper, Claudio Haddad.
He was the president of an investment bank, and when he left the bank he decided not to go along with the rest of the team but instead to come back to academia and to build a legacy. And I’m part of this legacy. I admire his ability to put together a group of very passionate people who would work overnight because they shared the same vision and wanted to build something that their children can be proud of even after they have passed away.
If you could have dinner with anybody in the world, who would that be?
It may seem funny, but I would have dinner with my family because, for years, it has been so difficult to have everybody available. I’m not saying that we don’t meet and we don’t have dinner, but living in São Paulo, everyone is so busy and one of my desires is to have a dinner when everyone is available, and I mean really available. When I have this, that’s my definition of happiness.
Irineu G.N. Gianesi is dean of academic affairs at Insper - Instituto de Ensino e Pesquisa in Brazil and chair of AACSB’s Latin America and Caribbean Advisory Council.