The dean still has a paper version of the original mission of 60 years ago. And that mission is surprisingly contemporary, despite its dated language: ‘Cultivate participants in the art of decision-making and leading of people and organizations. An art that first and foremost needs to find its origins in a noble attitude and lifestyle.’ The oak furniture may have been replaced with circular furniture, but the content remains and is as contemporary as ever in our global and fast-changing world, says Steven De Haes. ‘We still respect the mission written by our founding fathers. It is in our DNA to train our students to become strong leaders who can make the right decisions, for organizations as well as for people. This obviously also involves personal development, an ethical attitude and critical reflection.’
How does AMS fulfil that, today and in the next 60 years?
‘Our tag line ‘Opening minds to impact the world’ sums it up nicely. Everything we do is based on three core values: a global mindset, societal awareness and critical reflection. A global mindset leads to more creativity and resourcefulness to tackle complex challenges. Societal awareness is about building organizations and models based on an integrated balance at every level: social, economic, climatic... to come to a high-impact, sustainable transformation. And finally, as a manager you also need self-criticism to be able to work in complete openness with and within teams. With high-quality, multidisciplinary teams you can rise above any paradox and realize high performance, of that we are utterly convinced.’
‘Opening minds’, is that not difficult in these polarized times?
‘We do not go for short-term solutions, but rather choose the path that is necessary for a sustainable impact in the long term. It is essential for a manager to be open to the diversity of different insights and opinions, and to work with them. That is what we focus on and what we apply ourselves. Last year we wrote down our own ambitions for the future together with our shareholders, who are all people with strong views. Still we managed to come to a generally accepted vision in our strategic workshops, because we sincerely and profoundly listened to and connected with each other. When you write such a story together and include people in it, it is best to keep your focus and realize the long-term impact you aspire to.’
What does the ‘impact’ in AMS' tag line stand for?
‘As a management school, we are at the top of science, insights and skill in the practice of business sciences, management and organization. We create knowledge through our own research, and we transfer knowledge, but it doesn't stop there. Together with our partners we mainly want to realize a real change, at a personal level with our alumni as well as in the organization where they work. This does not mean however that we have all the ready-made answers and solutions. We are well aware of the complexity of real problem definitions in society. So we are more like a coach and partner in a sustainable transformation project. Together with our participants and clients we walk the often-unknown trail of transformation to realize real change. The hunger for societal impact is ingrained in the operations of Antwerp Management School, as well as in all our programs. In the Financial Times rankings for example, our Executive MBA is ranked 4th based on the dimension of sustainability.’
AMS wants to be global, but also identifies itself as being from Antwerp. Is that not a paradox?
‘I don't think so. Thanks to its port and its rich commercial history, Antwerp is a natural ecosystem of intercontinental work. AMS is part of that international ecosystem. Walking out of our campus, you find yourself in the middle of a world-class port, a unique combination of internationally reputed creative industries, for example the fashion and diamond world, a vibrant system of entrepreneurship, start-ups and scale-ups with global impact, and a unique cluster of knowledge around healthcare and the public and social sector.’
Our world is constantly changing. How does AMS play into that?
‘From our three core values (global mindset, societal awareness and critical reflection) we see three dimensions that come together to realize sustainable change. First, you must have the courage to think outside-in, the courage to question yourself and reinvent yourself constantly. From new strategic frameworks you can then set up innovative business or organization models that have a real impact. That is the only way to gear your organization - whether private or public - to the changing times and the digitalization.’
‘In addition, you have to realize that a transformation cannot succeed if the people do not want to play along, so it is essential to develop an adaptable, people-oriented organization. And finally, you must be aware that as an organization, we can no longer solve the complex global challenges of today by ourselves, but we need to work in co-creation with the ecosystem we are a part of. Complex challenges in fields such as mobility, climate and social innovation can only be solved if we work together across the different organizations’.
AMS emerged from the three former Antwerp universities and now works in partnership with the University of Antwerp (UAntwerpen). Why?
‘Our strong relationship and strategic partnership with the University of Antwerp is crucial. Together we are a powerful international center of expertise on business and social sciences, economy, technology and innovation. For supply chain, maritime and air transport management we also rank among the world's best. We reinforce each other as separate entities, exchange professors and knowledge, and set up spin-offs and scale-ups together. So we do not only talk about building ecosystems, we also apply this ourselves based on a culture of openness, trust and transparency.’
AMS conducts research and transfers knowledge. In addition, the school is increasingly becoming a B2B partner for business. How does this work?
‘Antwerp Management School is not only a management school with programs that score excellently in international rankings, but also an expertise center with unique assets: our professors, 250 young and dynamic students graduating every year, future leaders, some 400 business people every year taking an Executive Master, even more business people following short training programs, 50 different nationalities on campus every year with 25,000 alumni spread over 87 countries, access to international partnerships with companies and top management schools, governments and knowledge institutions. We want to use a creative way to make these unique assets available to organizations so we can walk the path of sustainable transformation together. Together we can do so much more, today as well as in the next 60 years.’