It's business, but not as usual

Most promising MBA shows how entrepreneurs can serve the greater good

The Association of MBAs’ Gala Dinner, which took place on 19 October, is always a momentous date in the business school calendar. Not only did the event, which is supported by The Independent, provide a chance for institutions to come together, it also named this year’s most promising student while launching two new awards for innovation and entrepreneurial ventures.

This year’s winner, Alex Dalley, is the 14th recipient of the MBA Student of the Year award, which attracts entrants from business schools worldwide. The title aims to recognise “exceptional achievement in MBA students and the combination of an excellent academic record, an active community spirit, ambassadorial power and the use of the MBA to benefit the greater good”, explains Tina Vifor, marketing manager at the Association of MBAs.

Previous winners believe it has a value beyond bolstering their CV. “AMBA is leading the way in encouraging innovative notions of value creation – ways in which business and business skills can address society’s economic, social and environmental challenges, beyond a narrow preoccupation with the bottom line. I find that very inspiring,” says Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, the 2009 winner who went on to found the successful Women’s Worldwide Web platform.

The four finalists for this year’s award have extremely diverse portfolios, highlighting the wide-ranging appeal of the competition and the diversity of those studying for the MBA qualification worldwide.

Dalley attended the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. He is seeking to create business opportunities by sourcing sustainably and ethically produced food from small farmers in developing economies and connecting those communities with global companies.He believes these farmers can help address consumer demand in Europe and North America.

Allen Manser is president of his MBA class at Saïd Business School and previously worked in West Africa for the Clinton Foundation. While at the school, he acted as portfolio manager for its venture fund, and is an associate fellow of the Skoll Centre.

Before taking up her MBA at Hult International Business School, Julie Brown’s career began in the White House. A senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, she took on the Hult Global Case Challenge during her studies, directing volunteers bringing water to underdeveloped regions.

Dr Thomas Maddox, from Judge Business School, specialises in the delicate balance between business and the environment. He has a special interest in Indonesia’s Sumatran tiger and has previously focused on developing innovative conservation finance to help preserve the species.

On the panel of industry judges deciding between the finalists were: Lord Michael Hastings of Scarisbrick, CBE, global head of citizenship and diversity at KPMG; Chris Russell, chair of the Association of MBAs; and Gerry Gaffney, the MBA account manager at The Independent.

The two new awards introduced this year recognise very different aspects of the MBA, and were judged by a panel from the academic and commercial spheres.

The Entrepreneurial Venture award recognises students and alumni in recently founded businesses. They pitched their companies to a panel of entrepreneurs on the day of the Gala Dinner. The winners were Wolfgang Kalthoff and Jörg Wiemer of Germany’s Mannheim Business School.

The Innovation Award is aimed at business schools, and hopes to see them “promote their innovative and inspiring practices,” says Vifor. The finalists included the Lisbon MBA programme, and initiatives or courses from Insead and Nyenrode business schools. The winner was Waikato Management School’s MBA programme.

Many MBA students of the year have gone on to achieve great success in their fields, and organisers hope the same will be true for Dalley and the winners of the new categories. Nefesh-Clarke believes the awards play an vitalrole in promoting MBA education, and the creative ways it can drive innovation.