Interview with the old and new Dean of the WU Executive Academy, Barbara Stöttinger
Barbara Stöttinger assumed her position as Dean of the WU Executive Academy on October 1, 2015. Before that, she was an academic director at the then relatively new business school of WU Vienna from 2007. Since then, a lot has changed at the WU Executive Academy: the air is international in the modern premises of the black cube located at Campus WU, and the transformations in the VUCADD world have long reached the curricula. On the occasion of her reappointment, Barbara Stöttinger talks about her personal highlights, how the WU Executive Academy deals with the strong international competition, and the next step in the evolution of executive education.
Ms. Stöttinger, when you were asked about your goals in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Die Presse on the occasion of your appointment as Dean four years ago, you said: there will be no revolution, but an evolution. Has the evolution commenced?
I definitely think so. There have been many changes on various levels at the WU Executive Academy in the last four years. We have developed and successfully introduced new programs with specializations making people fit for the future: Data Science, Blockchain Transforming Business, or Digital Transformation, to name just a few. We have further developed state-of-the-art contents such as our responsible-leadership concept or international residencies. We have also, following the trend of lifelong learning, created more space for open, flexible programs such as our Pioneers of the 21st Century short program for executives in the VUCADD world. A common theme of the last four years has been an increased focus on community engagement. Starting from day one, we try to keep in touch with our students to maintain a good grasp of their needs and optimally support them throughout their learning journey in our programs. Networking at the WU Executive Academy is not only personally rewarding. It also opens doors and creates opportunities at the intersection of business and academia, so you can fulfil your personal career goals. We have been fuelling this field with a lot of energy and passion in the last four years.
Looking back on the last four years as the Dean, what are you especially proud of? And what was your personal highlight?
I am proud of a lot of things, things we achieved together as a team. First and foremost, I would say that I am incredibly thankful for the last four years. On the one hand, I owe thanks to Edeltraud Hanappi-Egger, the Rector of WU, for giving me the chance to shape the WU Executive Academy. On the other hand, I am thankful for my team and the faculty who are all very invested in realizing our ideas together. Leaders might be able to develop visions by themselves, but the implementation is in fact always a team effort. None of our initiatives – be it new programs, international marketing and PR activities, or internal projects – could have been implemented without this fantastic team.
There are so many personal highlights that it is hard for me to choose. If I had to pick, I would say it is graduates approaching me at their graduation ceremony to tell me that the program they completed excelled way beyond their expectations. It really does not get better than that!
Your MBA programs increasingly include more dimensions of personal and leadership development. What is your focus at the WU Executive Academy? What are you planning for the future?
All managers and executives who attend our programs are already successful in what they do. We want to give them the opportunity to use our lifelong learning offers to reflect on who they are as a person and what skills they want to refine to be fit for achieving their next goals in our VUCADD world. One of those offers is our new Leadership Lab, that we implemented in the Professional MBA, where participants learn to use the MBA program to the fullest and make an impact on their environment at the same time (how has what you heard in the modules affected your role as a leader, how do you implement that into your leadership role?). But we also strive to strengthen our participants in their roles as pioneers, for example in our Pioneers of the 21st Century short program. This short program does not focus so much on certain skills and qualifications but on leadership qualities such as boldness, self-positioning, and entrepreneurship. We want our graduates to leave our programs as a stronger person and, especially, fit for their future.
The WU Executive Academy also supports its students and alumni through its Career Accelerator Program. What do participants think about this offer?
Further education is not only about personal transformation but also about the next step in one’s career. To this end, we offer our students and alumni a comprehensive portfolio: both offline and online. This portfolio includes our Special Workshops such as the Leadership Orchestra, the Job Hunting Webinar, a workshop on the advanced use of LinkedIn, the Entrepreneurship Café, at which we bring together start-ups, venture capitalists, and students, as well as an individual check of online profiles and CVs. We also support networking with our own social network WU EA Connect.
The WU Executive Academy also functions as an intersection between highly skilled executives and companies. How does it do that?
I consider us to be a bridge between and a hub for the academic and corporate worlds. This is where we can add real value – for both sides. As we closely involve our clients in program development, we have intimate knowledge of their pain points and challenges and also know what they need. Last week, for example, my team and I visited Porsche Holding with whom we jointly develop a custom in-house MBA program. We forwarded the input that we gained in this valuable exchange to our faculty, who will now proactively use this input to design the program.
The WU Executive Academy is becoming increasingly international. What have been the challenges so far? And what lies ahead, also with regard to international lectures and company visits abroad?
The challenges are always the same: every year on January 1, we start from scratch with regard to our revenues. We have no regular clients as nobody enrolls in the same MBA program twice. However, we do see that the marketing and PR activities we have pursued in the recent years have left an impact on the international markets. Today, our students call countries way beyond the CEE region their home. Our most recent Global EMBA class, for instance, counted over 40 participants hailing from 26 countries. This success was also made possible by the fantastic ambassadors among our students and alumni. They promote us in their networks, always creating an influx of new participants. This international diversity is also reflected in our faculty: not only top researchers at WU but also leading professors from all over the world teach in our programs. They all appreciate this kind of exchange and, of course, also the perks of being located in Vienna.
The WU Executive Academy significantly improved its result in the renowned EMBA ranking of the Financial Times by climbing up 23 ranks. What do you think is the reason for this success?
We are very happy about this result. We have definitely managed to hold our ground in the last years – despite international competition becoming significantly stiffer. I think this speaks for us and the faculty’s work but also for our alumni, who make the most of their degrees or certificates.
What is your main goal for the next four years? Where do you want the Academy to be in four years?
This might sound boring, but I think the evolution will continue. We currently have a very good portfolio when it comes to programs and contents. But we still want to improve this offer for our students and alumni, so that we can really cater to individual needs. This means that we intend to introduce even more flexibility and modularity to our curricula. We want our MBA and certificate programs to be as customizable as possible without affecting their high quality. A way to go could be a kind of potential analysis and other diagnostic tools for professional competences and modern leadership skills at the beginning of a program. This way, participants see where they are and where they may see room for improvement for themselves. We are currently testing external providers for these purposes. Artificial intelligence may also be useful here. We really want to support our students’ career development in the best ways possible. However, I am not a fan of long-term plans. We have achieved so many great things in the past four years, things we would not have dared to dream of when we started out.
What are your personal wishes for the next four years?
Personally, I want to keep meeting such interesting people from this wide variety of positions and countries and to intensify my already existing contacts. I really enjoy working with people, and education is my passion. But the biggest challenge is and remains: how do we stay relevant for potential participants and our students? If we manage to do that in the long run, we will have achieved everything to be achieved.
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