The Official Blog of the Graduate Management Admission Council

GMAC’s 50th Annual Conference Goes Virtual

Posted by Rebecca Loades
As Director, Master's Programs, Rebecca is responsible for developing and delivering the Council's strategy for business master’s programs around the world. She has a keen interest in promoting greater understanding and appreciation for this segment of graduate management education among schools, candidates, and stakeholders.

Posted on Jul 1, 2020 11:30:00 AM

What an event! The 50th Annual Conference may have moved online but that did not stop 583 business school professionals, exhibitors, and GMAC staff from taking part in 6,784 learning opportunities. And with the event available online for a year, we expect to see that number increase as registered attendees can review the recordings of all 34 education sessions the global advisory committee helped craft (note: networking and social sessions were not recorded).


Sabrina White, vice president for School and Industry Engagement, extended a warm welcome and encouraged us all to “learn from each other, lean on each other, and support each other”. For GMAC, the past year has been a time of firsts:  moving our assessments online, moving in-person recruitment events online, and offering our first virtual conference. You will have your firsts too. However, while we are all learning new skills and trying new things, what doesn’t change it that we are navigating this ‘not-normal’ together. These themes were echoed and developed further by Alex Triantis, dean of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and conference sponsor. Learning and collaborative mindsets will secure the role of, and opportunities for, business schools in these uncertain times.

A cautionary note was sounded by Sangeet Chowfla, CEO of GMAC, when he used the words of Marshall Goldsmith to gently remind us that “what got us here won’t get us there.” Business schools have been the beneficiaries of globalization. That as companies and markets have grown, demand was created for skilled managers, which in turn created demand for graduate management education. However, in the span of the last year, US graduate management education (GME) has experienced some seismic shifts: Europe has caught up to become a sought-after study destination, more scores are sent to programs outside the US than domestically, more exams were taken by Chinese than American citizens. And let’s not forget the pandemic which has impacted the context in which all schools operate.

Four deans joined Sangeet to reflect on the impact of the current crisis on their own leadership, their schools, faculty and staff—Alex Triantis (Johns Hopkins, Carey), Sri Zaheer (Minnesota, Carlson), Martin Boehm (IE Business School), and Enase Okenedo (Lagos Business School). All agreed that while modern economies are interconnected, individual nation states are likely to recover in different ways depending on the course of the virus and the balance of industry. That said, crisis creates opportunity and the conversation soon turned to the potential this presents for GME.

Richer online learning experiences are being created as schools are pushed to embrace digitization and learners to go online. Boehm shared IE’s concept of liquid learning—multi-platform, fluid, learning models that enable engaging and interactive learning experiences. Technology also enables greater personalization for the benefit of both students and faculty. For example, AI tools can personalize the learning journey, provide feedback for faculty to improve their teaching ability while the act of learning gives students skills that will reap returns over their career.

However, it’s not just about technology but also about relationships and collaboration. The need for schools to work together has arguably never been so important as students risk losing international education opportunities. On the other end of the geographic scale, the current crisis gives schools the impetus to strengthen local relationships and work more closely with their communities. The panel concluded with a brief discussion about ensuring that b-schools don’t feed the growing divide between the haves and have-nots but offered no clear answers on how schools can bring in the disadvantaged.

Over the following two days, 34 unique education sessions and 23 networking opportunities enabled attendees to learn from, and share experiences with, each other through video, chat, and polls. Moving sessions online presented new challenges to our presenters but they fully embraced the changed format, and the level of engagement and interaction surpassed expectations.  Sessions that stimulated a lot of debate and contribution (so the chat should be reviewed as well as the recording) included:

We recommend getting the most from your conference registration and going back to the event to benefit from being able to watch sessions you were unable to attend when live. Note that the many networking sessions on offer were not recorded; nor were the reception activities which means that many of you will have missed a hidden gem: Tim Hall, comedy magician, mentalist, and entertainer. He adapted to Zoom with aplomb! 

As the conference drew to a close, Lisa Sun, founder and CEO of Gravitas, delivered an inspirational session on pivoting with purpose. In the face of the current pandemic, she channelled her mother’s advice to “act selflessly, do something, and do the best she can” and pivoted her fashion company to create and distribute PPE to frontline workers. Lisa encourages us all to identify, and draw strength from, our superpowers, the things we are the best at. When you believe in yourself and tap into what you’re best at, you can make the world a better place. And should you ever doubt yourself, think back to what your younger self would tell you to do; tap into your inner child and be invincible!

Mark your calendars for the 2021 GMAC Annual Conference, June 23-25, San Diego, California.

Topics: Recruitment & Marketing, GMAC Events

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