Business schools experiment with mentoring.

Medium shot by Professor Daniel Beyunza.  There are buildings in the background
‘Academic rigor’: Professor Daniel Bewnza, Bays Business School, commissioned by the Financial Services Culture Board to conduct an ‘ethnographic study’ © Charlie Beebe/FT

Most business school professors make their living delivering training programs to students and executives on campus. But Daniel Beunza, a professor of social studies in finance at Bayes Business School in London, takes his knowledge beyond the classroom through consulting practice that applies academic knowledge in the business world.

Bays Consulting, founded by the school, is a consultancy that provides bespoke solutions to corporations, including those on the City of London’s doorstep. It is one of several academic consulting practices that bring business schools into direct competition with traditional firms such as Boston Consulting Group.

Professor Beunza’s work includes advising the Financial Services Culture Board (FSCB), a member body established after the financial crisis, to prevent ethical lapses. He has taught executives at several FSCB member financial institutions how to conduct on-the-ground culture analysis or “ecology” research.

This has shown various problems in their approach to cultural reform. For example, mandating compliance training videos simply turned them into a “tick box” exercise, leading to disparate views. The customers are now looking to investigate other problems. “You can’t control a good culture, but discipline can help raise the standards of banks,” said Prof. Beunza.

His ideas stemmed from his research into the social interactions of derivatives traders – a research competency that the FSCB found crucial in hiring him. Kate Combs, head of awareness at the FSCB, said: “Strength in the way we collect and use data has been incredibly important to us. “That’s why academics are naturally our first point of call.”

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Many other business schools have developed consulting practices, although this is a good move. Germany’s Frankfurt School of Finance and Management has conducted international consulting since the early 1990s. Durham University Business School in North-East England also provides academic expertise through consultancy.

Some academics hope these services will enhance the uptake of academic concepts in business practice. Research is often criticized for failing to penetrate beyond academic journals into the corporate sector, but consulting professors can help bridge the gap between theory and practice.

“We don’t sit in an ivory tower,” emphasizes Santi Furnari, Associate Dean of Executive Education at Bayes (formerly Cass), University City London. The line between consulting services and executive education, creating customized and open-enrollment training courses for corporate clients, is increasingly blurred.

The question is, how much does one eat the other? “There must be one face [presented] For the client internally, however, it could create some turf wars, according to Frankfurt School President Nils Stiglitz. But he adds that the consulting business can supplement executive education with sales pitches.

The rise of academic consulting comes as business schools face intense competition from consulting firms such as Korn Ferry and McKinsey & Company, which are entering the executive education market at a time of high demand for non-degree programs for senior managers.

Some business schools are now taking consultants at their own game. Fiona Czerniauska, chief executive of consultancy sector analyst Source, says academics can bring specialist expertise to the industry. “Consulting is very competitive. You can compete on scale or on niche. What’s not helpful is setting up a business school consulting firm that’s a generalist,” she says.

Some academic leaders see more room for collaboration than competition with consulting firms. According to Patrick de Greve, executive director of Vlerich Business School in Belgium, consultants are important strategic partners, often stepping in to fund research projects and teach programs that need industry expertise. He argued that providing consulting services jeopardized these business relationships. “We don’t want to bite the hand that eats us.

Still, despite economic pressures and some cutbacks at consulting firms, the idea of ​​getting into consulting is attractive at a time when demand is high, the source said. From digital transformation to sustainability strategies, there are ample opportunities to sell advice to clients. However, for some schools, this is more than just a business opportunity; It is also a way to fulfill their social mission.

Scholars at the Frankfurt School have been working to improve access to financial services in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the past decade, FPM, the Financial Inclusion Fund, has been advising how to support institutions targeting small and medium-sized companies and low-income populations in the Central African country.

“What we have done is to help reduce poverty and improve living conditions,” said FFM Managing Director Jean-Claude Titica. The Frankfurt School has trained 3,500 managers for the fund in providing microfinance and banking services to small and medium-sized enterprises. The school also helped FPM design digital products to extend access to financial services, including mobile banking, to these institutions.

Although the real-world impact is clear, schools say some professors still see consulting as a distraction from their core teaching and research activities, underscoring a recruiting challenge that can limit schools’ offerings.

“All my academic colleagues are completely gone,” says Joanna Berry, external engagement fellow at Durham Business School. “So it’s hard to make a case for spending time on consulting. It’s high in cost and effort, but it’s important.”

“The aim is to deploy the intellectual capital we generate in a way that benefits society,” she added. “We can generate all the theories we like, but if we don’t make a difference in the real world, that research is wasted.”

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