Mel Horwitch, Former Dean, CEU Business School

  • 9 Feb 2016 11:00 AM
Mel Horwitch, Former Dean, CEU Business School
Mel Horwitch is Dean and University Professor at Central European University Business School, located in Budapest, Hungary. Previously, he was Professor of Technology Management and Chair of the Department of Technology Management, at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU (now NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering).

Professor Horwitch’s field is entrepreneurship and innovation management. He writes and consults extensively on technology strategy, particularly with reference to knowledge - intensive sectors, global innovation and worldwide innovation ecosystems.

He was also Visiting Professor at London Business School, Professor and Founding Dean of Management at Theseus Institute in Sophia Antipolis, France, the John M. Olin Distinguished Fellow at Templeton College, Oxford University, and Visiting Professor at the University of Paris - Dauphine. He also served on the faculties of the Sloan School at MIT and Harvard Business School. He received his AB from Princeton University and MBA and Doctorate from Harvard Business School, and was a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. Interview:

1. What made you decide to come to CEU Business School in Budapest?
Please understand that I have no family ties here and knew little about CEU until serving as Dean here became a possibility. The job itself seemed challenging and intriguing to me. I thought that helping nurture a world - class business school in Budapest would constitute a significant contribution for the university and the region.

2. CEU Business School is moving from Buda to Pest. What are the benefits to students?
For many years our school has been physically separated from the university’s central Nador campus. I believe this constituted a major liability for the school and the university as a whole. Of course, we developed our own culture. We attracted great students, developed compelling programs, and contributed to the larger business community and our respective academic fields. Still, we found it difficult to leverage all of CEU’s academic talent. It was hard to share courses - allowing our MBA students take other CEU courses and attracting non - business - school students to our courses.

All this will change in August 2016! By moving across the river to our redeveloped campus we will be able to teach interested students from all of CEU. We will integrate more effectively with the rest of the university.

This will be a win - win situation. Our students and other CEU students will encounter different perspectives, and all can learn from each other. This new mixture—this exciting academic mash – up - should result in positive ‘surprises’ and represent very exciting learning and professional experiences for all involved.

3. So more cross - fertilization is going to take place, and even more opportunities for students to access other courses. What else?
Well, although we love our current building, which has its own charm, we’ll be moving into a new state - of - the - art facility. We will be located prominently, adjacent to the new CEU library and auditorium - on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors overlooking a central atrium. We are looking forward to that.

Strategically, the most important factor is that there will be a great café. Our students can go down, camp out, talk, study and generally have a good time. It’s an example of what I call ‘managing by cappuccino’ - a critical and sophisticated tool of modern management.

4. “Smaller is beautiful at CEU Business School.” Please explain why, mentioning perhaps its East - West links and a strong global outlook. 

CEU Business School is quite different from any other institution with which I’ve been associated. First of all, we are an extraordinarily global school, and extremely proud of that. At our school no single nationality dominates, which is probably unique in the world. We have students from Hungary, the rest of the CEE, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, India, China, North America, the Middle East and Africa.

We are also part of an institution that has a mission –furthering open societies. Indeed, CEU’s founder, George Soros, established the Open Society Foundation, which is one of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations. In fact, it is even fair to ask why have a business school at a university committed to the Open Society? My answer is that today you cannot have an Open Society without a thriving economy. You need at least to have hope for a future where you are confident that you or at least your children can have meaningful work, can advance on merit, and even have the possibility of being an entrepreneur able to bring new ideas to fruition commercially.

At CEU Business School we aim to provide communities with the knowledge that underpins that hope. In our modern economy all managers increasingly need to be to be well trained and educated with a global outlook. Operating new small businesses in a small country often requires larger markets abroad, such as the US or Western Europe. Investment money may also come from another part of the world, such as Japan. Manufacturing products may be done in China and coding developed in Kiev or Bangalore.

In addition, innovation and entrepreneurship can spring up in surprising places - including right here in Budapest. Silicon Valley, New York City, Boston and London are by no means the only spawning grounds for world - class value creation. We are finding terrific startups and innovations everywhere. Our MBA students reflect this global innovative capability. For example, I have two RAs this year exploring the rise of so - called innovation clusters in Armenia and Morocco.

5. Your school is chartered in New York State and based in Central Europe. So is that another East - West link that you bring to students?
Yes, we have always had a dual identity. Both our university and our school are accredited in Hungary and the US. We are actually chartered in New York State. It’s funny. When registering a new program I submit the same NY State forms that I completed when I was at NYU - Poly.

6. And the relatively small size of CEU Business School represents a much more manageable, cozy community of about 200 students or so?
Yes, though the school is actually growing. When I arrived in 2011 there were about 90 graduate students at the school. We should exceed 200 by this spring. We have doubled in four years through hard work and innovative new and redesigned programs. And our students are adventurous, energetic and engaged. They are great to teach.

7. How do you see the future of CEU Business School developing in 3 - 5 years from now?
I think our school will grow a bit more, but not massively - maybe to 250 to 300 students in total. Our faculty - we have about 18 full - time faculty members now - may increase slightly to, say, 25.

I am very confident our school will continue to innovate and remain on the cutting edge of learning. In fact, we are driven to seek better ways to engage our students. We do not emphasize professorial lectures. We employ case - method teaching, simulations, and technology like iPads. All our assigned material is digital and resides generally on a modern open - source ‘course management system’ called Moodle. Much of the learning at our school is experiential and takes place outside the classroom via internships, ‘action learning’ in firms, developing new ventures in our accelerator - called the CEU InnovationsLab, and a special 3 - week NYC MBA Module. So experimentation and prototyping are watchwords at our school.

8. Recently you debated the concept of ‘Revolutionary Business Schools’ at Budapest Brain Bar. Please tell us about this idea.
Yes, the notion of ‘Revolutionary Business Schools’ is something I have developed since arriving. As Dean of CEU Business School I soon realized that you couldn't simply parachute in a pre - packaged MBA curriculum, no matter how effective it is elsewhere. Being successful in the CEE and other parts of the world often involves outlooks and skills somewhat different from what may work in, say, New York, Boston or London. But that does not mean watering down a curriculum. Quite the contrary. We are anti - trickle down. What I mean is that we respect our students wherever they come from and we respect the diverse business communities we encounter. We aim to serve all our stakeholders in the most effective ways possible. We do this by emphasizing and leveraging talent, creativity, professionalism, and local knowledge.

Continuing in this vein, there is a multifaceted opportunity now to re - conceptualize the role of business schools in the twenty - first century, especially with regard to emerging (and re - emerging) economies- frontier economies. I think that business schools are now primed for a ‘second - act.’

Please let me offer a little historical context here. In the past business schools primarily served established Fortune 500 Companies and associated financial services and consulting. Today that is not true. Students are also interested in new companies, such as Google, Apple, Uber, and Prezi. Now we have several courses that deal with entrepreneurship and new ventures.

More generally, business schools are also generally optimistic institutions. Students with different opinions, from different cultures, with different political persuasions, and from different regions can get together and work in teams toward common goals, such as starting new businesses, developing strategic plans, or designing new services for firms or social enterprises. My students, who come from all around the world, collaborate, learn and focus on getting things done. It doesn’t matter where they are from – many become friends, bond and form a lasting professional and learning community. They could be Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, American, or German. It just does not matter. They might start a company together. This is a profoundly exciting aspect of our school.

Moreover, many MBA students today are not only interested in the private sector. They’re interested in working in government and NGO’s too. So we try to apply what we have learned to those sectors as well.

Finally, business schools need to pay more attention to the arena comprising integrity, ethics, and anti - corruption. We should educate professionals who can deal with the rampant corruption that unfortunately exists. Our graduates should possess a certain internal ethical gyroscope for confronting integrity challenges. We have an integrity education project underway to study this and develop new curricula.

So now business schools can be broad agents of change in new, high - impact ways and in new parts of the globe. In this sense they are ‘revolutionary.’ This is why I like to think we are prototyping at CEU Business School the ‘Revolutionary Business School.’

9. The Economist ranking for 2015 of executive MBA programs puts your Global Executive EMBA (IMM) program in the top 20 in Europe. It is the only EMBA program so rated from CEE. What’s the secret of your success? 

We are proud to be part of IMM, our consortium Global MBA, where we have several partners including Purdue University in the US. IMM leverages terrific faculty from all partner schools. It is modular. There might be two weeks in Western Europe, a couple of weeks in Budapest and Istanbul, then in Mexico and Rio, in China, and, of course, the US. A key reason for the success of IMM is the great variety and dynamic interaction of the students, coming from all over the world. The faculty is also international. And the curriculum itself is quite au courant and relevant.

By the way, our own weekend EMBA program, which takes place in Budapest every third weekend, is also very distinguished. We call it our ‘Katalyst EMBA.’ We work in partnership with the Warsaw University of Technology in Poland and have harmonized our curricula. The Katalyst EMBA is our fastest growing program. It serves top executives, entrepreneurs, NGO leaders, and government officials, including the Hungarian Civil Service. We provide a state - of - the - art curriculum, and we offer special holistic thematic weekends. We strive to make it the very best EMBA between Vienna and Shanghai.

10. You mentioned government, could you comment on plans for a Hungarian Government - sponsored business school, which news reports claim will compete with IBS, Corvinus & CEU?
All I can say is that it is extremely important to develop management programs that serve the needs and aspirations of students today. 40 years ago people often remained at one company for life. Today MBA students, particularly the best and most ambitious students, have many more options. Many will have multiple careers. So they need an education that prepares them for this new world. We are trying to do this at CEU Business School.

We welcome likeminded institutions in our community. Hopefully all this institution - building activity will make our Budapest - based educational ecosystem more robust. So I think it is terrific that business schools in Hungary and the CEE as a whole are advancing. We can have competition and cooperation with other institutions. This will benefit Budapest. This city is becoming a robust hub of excellent management education.

11. You are equipping students with tools that are essential for the rest of their career, whichever sector they may choose?
Exactly. We have to be with them forever, such as by offering alumni programs, even after they leave school.

12. As you’re particularly interested in new technology, please tell us about CEU Business School's Breakthrough Series Digital Marketing Course, which is offered in Budapest
At our school we aim to be ‘out in the front’ - to be a pacesetter. We want to introduce to this region new ideas and new practice. For non - degree open and company - specific programs we are eliminating ‘plain vanilla’ courses. Instead, for example, we have launched what we call our ‘Breakthrough Series.’ We focus on forward - thinking topics of immediate interest and use by executives and entrepreneurs. Our first such non - degree course was Digital Marketing. It sold out. New Breakthrough courses are now scheduled, such as Digital Enterprise, Applied Data Science, and Global Entrepreneurship.

13. Can you tell us something about your leadership style?
I think that generally speaking the Dean of any business school has to possess an informed understanding of the needs of modern business and deep familiarity of the academic mechanics of a business school per se. I am fairly knowledgeable about the needs of business having consulted extensively. Just as important I have taught and developed MBA courses and conducted scholarly research on management - related subjects. Even as Dean I continue to teach. I offer an MBA course called ‘The Innovation Imperative,’ which focuses on how businesses and other kinds of organizations design and implement new or improved products and services.

I understand what faculty do and how students feel about the school. I know implicitly, based on experience, how hard it is to innovate in an academic setting. My conclusion from all this is that one has to be an example in order to obtain faculty buy - in and encourage faculty - driven ideas. Nothing can be done without faculty on board. In fact, only with the support of our faculty have we been able to design new programs and grow at CEU Business School.

14. Starting in September, CEU Business School and the CEU Department of Economics launched a new Master’s of Science in Business Analytics program. Why in cooperation with IBM, and what makes this new part - time one - year course truly ‘state - of - the - art’?
We launched our new MSc in Business Analytics last September, and now have terrific students in this program. This program centers on one of the key future directions of business, regardless of the sector. Big data and data science are increasingly critical for success. Students in this program gain a unique understanding of markets and market directions, a better sense of how to manage functions like supply chain or retail forecasting, and a comprehension of relevant new and often transformational developments in areas like healthcare, hospitality and travel, finance, and smart cities.

We at CEU Business School are proud and honored to be working both with our colleagues in the CEU Department of Economics and also with a company as renowned as IBM. We are probably the first academic institution in this region to combine our capabilities with a distinguished company to put together a program centered on applying advanced quantitative methods in management. Furthermore, we are also working with CEU colleagues at the CEU Center for Network Science and the CEU Mathematics Department. So this is an interdisciplinary endeavor leveraging the collaborative spirit and broad - based academic horsepower of CEU as a whole

15. Before you started teaching at HBS you were a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. Can you please tell us about that experience, how it shaped your views, and if you would recommend it?
Sure. I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and then went to Princeton University. After that I served in the US Peace Corps, which was established by JFK. Somehow I always knew from the time Kennedy announced the Peace Corps in 1960 that I would apply after college. Between 1964 and 1966 I spent two years in Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer. During my first year I taught at Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. In my second year I set up the community development programs for the Peace Corps in Northeast Thailand. I guess that is where my interest in management began. I also learned what it is like to live and work in a completely different culture. This experience was obviously invaluable later for working in France and now here in Hungary. I especially realized that it takes time, curiosity and patience for figuring out how to operate effectively in different social settings.

16. What is your biggest personal achievement since moving to Hungary, so far?
Probably the continued development of our school as a distinguished academic institution. CEU Business School has long been a terrific and pioneering school of management. Now we are also turning our attention to contributing more vigorously to the scholarly field of management. This also fits in with our physical move to the CEU Nador campus in central Budapest. An example of our enhanced academic activity is our faculty - authored book, ‘Free Market in its Twenties: Modern Business Decision Making in Central and Eastern Europe,’ which was published in 2014, marking our 25th anniversary. The whole full - time faculty came together with each faculty member authoring or co - authoring a chapter in this book. So not only have we grown in terms of programs and student enrollment; we have also grown intellectually.

17. If someone wrote a biography about you, what would the title be?
Good and difficult question - maybe something about helping others like ‘Nurturing Surprises - Bringing Out the Unexpected Best.’

18. What is basis for your enthusiastic 'hope'?
I think the key resource today everywhere involves human brainpower and creativity, and I just like being involved in positive activities. I started out at HBS teaching Operations Management - which deals with managing factories, inventory control, understanding costs, optimizing, etc. I soon became attracted to innovation and the creation of capabilities. So I was fortunate to join MIT for a second faculty job. This was like drinking from the well - to learn about innovation and entrepreneurship by being part of one of the world’s most important seedbeds of technology and startups.

I realized innovation is basically an up - beat field where one strives to help organizations or individuals become smarter and more productive. The focus is on improving and at times even transforming - sometimes by being different. Innovation is also complex. Building a hub of innovation requires creativity and spirited commitment on one side and managerial professionalism based on the numbers on the other side. At CEU Business School we try to teach both sides.

19. How do you view Budapest's recent acclaim as a top European start - up city?
Those of us who live and work here know very well that Budapest is a stunning city with its own character and edge. My students tell me how much they enjoy living and studying here. Simply in terms of location Budapest is perfect. We are part of Europe - in the very center in fact - and we have access to markets, talent and capabilities in the East as well as the West.

Now there is growing recognition that Budapest is an emerging entrepreneurial center. With our own renewed commitment to entrepreneurship, this is a great sign for us. I hope we can function as a powerful academic engine furthering innovation in Budapest and the region.

Of course, this is a mutually reinforcing community - building exercise. We have courses on entrepreneurship and innovation. We hold roundtables on related topics. Members of the relevant business community visit our school. Many have never stepped foot on the CEU campus before. We learn from these terrific people. We then teach and conduct research on pressing subjects, such as scaling entrepreneurship, the sharing economy, e - commerce, and so on. Students learn; knowledge is created; our various programs stay on the leading edge; and the entire community benefits.

20. Quoting from a provocative question you ask your students, “Why can't Hungary be more like Switzerland?”
Well, yes, it could in its own way. What I meant by that question is that increasingly today scale is not always essential. Medium - size and small countries can do very well. Such countries cultivate their human capital. Then the people and organizations they inhabit form nodes within world - spanning value - creating networks. Hungary has so much going for it. Budapest is full of highly educated and talented people. Doing well here often requires intelligence, education, tenacity and agility. These also constitute the ingredients to succeed globally. So, sure, I think we could be a major contributor in the twenty - first century global economy.

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