While the global recession can be blamed on many factors and individuals, Peggy Cunningham ’92 thinks there is one player in the catastrophe that has been largely overlooked: business schools.

“Something that hasn’t been in the discussion—in newspapers, business magazines or whatever—is the liability of business schools in thinking about the products we have created,” said Cunningham in a 2009 interview with The Globe and Mail. Business schools must examine their curriculum and core concepts carefully as they train the next generation of business leaders.

Peggy Cunningham '92
Cunningham ’92

That is precisely what Cunningham is doing at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada), where she was recently appointed dean of the faculty of management (this title is equivalent to Dean Strawser’s position at Mays). She believes a greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility is a needed shift in MBA education.

There has been too great a focus on individualism in business education, says Cunningham. “Many people say greed is good. That has promoted a lot of wellbeing, but I don’t think those models are sustainable any longer,” she says. “If what it takes to make one person rich is to make two-thirds of the rest of the world poor, I don’t think that’s a sustainable model. It’s a big wakeup call. When we look at issues of sustainability, we have to look at not only our own sustainability but that of our society.”

Cunningham joined Dalhousie in March 2009 as director of the School of Business Administration and associate dean (research). In April of this year she was promoted to dean, making her the first woman to hold the role in the school’s 35-year history.

Regarded as one of North America’s leading professors of corporate social responsibility and marketing, she is widely published and has received numerous accolades for her teaching prowess.

Cunningham graduated with a BA from Queen’s University, an MBA (marketing) from Calgary and a PhD (marketing) from Mays. Prior to her position at Dalhousie, she spent 19 years at Queen’s, where she served as director of the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility and founded the accelerated MBA program.

Her ideas about education aren’t limited by geography: she has worked in the U.K., Germany, China, and the U.S. She recalls an interaction with an Australian colleague who works for a large bank. “She was doing work on responsible leadership with a group of us who are senior people in business schools. She looked us in the eye and said: “You have graduated a generation of monsters.’ It brought home that business schools have to take a very hard look at themselves to see the kind of people we are graduating and take our responsibility very much to heart in terms of the models we use to graduate these people.” Now more than ever, training leaders that understand the value of ethics is central to the future of business.