IPADE Business School’s guiding principles during COVID-19 and towards the “next normal” by Gabriela Alvarado and Juan Romero.
The coronavirus outbreak reached Mexico on 27 February 2020. By 12 March, one day after the outbreak was labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), sixteen COVID-19 cases had been reported among the 128 million inhabitants in the country. Being sensitive to such a worldwide impact, the following morning, IPADE Business School decided to temporarily suspend face-to-face activities in all its national and international academic programmes to safeguard the health and integrity of every member of its community. This precautionary measure was implemented even before the Mexican Ministry of Education decided to suspend all educational activities in the country.
First stage: Immediate actions in the face of the COVID-19 crisis
IPADE’s first actions to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 virus encompassed two major categories: interaction with participants and alumni, and internal management and governance. Actions centred on the interaction with participants and alumni and their learning experience included:
- A dedicated channel of communication: After the WHO had declared COVID-19 a pandemic, IPADE created a microsite to inform participants and alumni of its permanent and temporary campuses in Mexico and Central America about coronavirus-related topics and their impact on the school’s operations. The microsite was structured by programme to facilitate access to relevant information and was constantly updated.
- Cancel all international academic trips.
- Setting up virtual classrooms and “Zoom rooms”: IPADE uses the case method as its main teaching methodology, and its offering focuses on executive education and MBA programs. The challenge was to swiftly install the appropriate infrastructure to replicate the learning experience based on the case method through distance education methodologies with a high-quality transmission. A multi-disciplinary team composed of Operations, IT, and Innovation and Learning staff worked hard to transform IPADE’s teaching facilities in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey into virtual classrooms that met the challenge. Within less than a week, all degree programmes of its main campuses resumed sessions via digital platforms using the case method. Shortly afterwards, virtual classrooms were replaced by so-called “Zoom rooms” to expand capacity and be prepared to serve other national and international programmes.
- Faculty training and creation of an online learning community: Over three days, the Innovation and Learning team trained IPADE’s academic staff in the use of the virtual classrooms and subsequently on the Zoom rooms via online training sessions. In addition, a blog was created so that faculty members could share recommendations and best practices with each other based on their recent experience using the case method in virtual sessions, and thus accelerate the learning curve of IPADE’s academic community regarding this mode of delivery.
- Value-added initiatives: To help participants, alumni, and the business community at large go through such challenging times, IPADE launched ‘Management Alert’, a microsite with content on topics such as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global economy, its implications for businesses, decision making in uncertain times, business resilience, corporate social responsibility in times of crisis, how to manage virtual teams, etc. The microsite comprised articles, research reports, infographics, and webinars, among others. Likewise, we developed and launched in record time a programme focused on helping executives manage the existing situation and their recovery efforts.
Besides adopting a home office work model for all IPADE staff, main actions regarding internal management and governance focused on the following aspects:
- Developing a strategic plan: Ten strategic initiatives were defined and classified into four major groups concerning the school’s current operations, promotion of the programmes, value-added proposals, and scenario planning.
- Continuous analysis and execution: After IPADE suspended all face-to-face academic and administrative activities, the school’s Executive Committee met every other day over the following six weeks to evaluate the prevailing situation, review initiatives and measures adopted, and speed up decision making.
- Restructuring and follow-up: To focus the organisation’s assets to safeguard the viability of the institution in the new context, seven task-force groups were created with direct input from the Dean: conjunctural programs, commercial drive, alumni activation, financial viability, solidarity with collaborators and society, relationships with global firms, and new normality.
As in other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the ongoing recession, forced us to rapidly adjust our operations and offering. Innovation and resilience became our mantra. Besides moving to remote learning overnight, we significantly increased the usage of digital communications to promote and sell our programmes and introduced automated admission processes and online interviews.
We also became more agile in designing and launching new programmes, redesigning existing ones, and scaling our digital initiatives much faster than originally planned.
Are these just temporary changes, or will they have a lasting impact on how we deliver our value proposition, run our institution, and handle our digital transformation in the future? We are certain that some changes in our offering and operations will remain after the pandemic and lead us to a different business model.
Second stage: Towards the “next normal”
Based on our experience over the last 16 months, we anticipate the long-lasting changes in our educational offering will encompass at least two key dimensions: delivery and content.
- New modes of delivery: As lockdowns drove executives who had previously been reluctant to enrol in an online course to try out distance education, some changed their attitudes towards it. Still, we saw different reactions from MBA students depending on whether they started the programme in-person or online. While the former group was more reluctant to adopt online delivery, the latter had higher tolerance levels to the drawbacks of this delivery mode. We assume this phenomenon had to do with the comparison the first group was able to make, whereas the second did not have any benchmark. In executive education programmes, most participants did not like the idea of moving from a face-to-face to an online mode or, in the case of new candidates, many did not have the urge to start a programme in an online format, which led to smaller groups for a while. Yet, this is not the reality for all candidates. We have identified new, very attractive segments who found online delivery adequate to their needs (e.g., business people living in smaller cities with restrictions in mobility).
Due to IPADE’s presence and operation in several cities of the country, we developed different operating models depending on the local conditions and restrictions. Our Guadalajara campus managed to go back to an almost full face-to-face operation just a few months after the outbreak reached Mexico, although participants who were unable to attend in-person sessions were offered the alternative to do so online. Later, our Monterrey campus resumed face-to-face sessions, starting with executive education programmes, following a similar scheme to Guadalajara. Until June 2021, our main campus in Mexico City remained closed, driving us to look for creative ways, operating in hotels and restaurants, that allowed us to continue offering in-person executive education programs with the same flexibility as the other campuses. This experience forced us to innovate, leading to the development of new fully online and blended programmes, enriching our portfolio. We still believe that executive education will be largely face-to-face once the coronavirus pandemic is over but acknowledge that we will have to maintain a certain offering in blended or even fully online modes.
- New content: We will need to adapt our curriculum to address changes in the way organisations work. Nowadays, companies and executives are eager to learn about topics that were not necessarily at the top of their list before the pandemic: how to speed up digital transformation, information security, automation and remote workforce management, virtual collaboration, realigning supply chains, leadership and management under uncertainty, etc. Our business programmes must also emphasise the development of increasingly valued sets of skills and competencies such as problem-solving and digital capabilities, along with new skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility, to meet with companies’ talent needs in the new reality.
Regarding our operation, as explained before, IPADE is a case method-based business school, and our groups used to number 60 or more participants in pre-COVID times. New social distancing and hygiene standards and regulations will require certain adjustments to how we operate to make participants feel confident and safe while in the classroom. These new standards will also have an impact on the way we work and manage the institution, including assessing the right mix of online and offline work.
Moving to distance learning within only a few days made us realise the value of including how to master case teaching in virtual environments in our faculty training programmes. Overall, moving from a 100% face-to-face teaching model to a predominantly online one has been hard, with some differences between faculty profiles. While younger faculty members managed to handle the transition rather smoothly, some of the more senior ones struggled a little. Although we created an online forum in which faculty could share successful remote-teaching practices using the case method, this and other initiatives were more organic and natural than the result of a systematic effort at the institutional level. From now on, we must work on developing technology-enhanced learning capabilities on a permanent basis.
Our business model in the future
Looking ahead, we identify changes in our business model in the following dimensions:
- New market and customer segments. The development of capabilities associated with online teaching has opened new possibilities to serve new geographies and new profiles, and even focus part of our offering on more massive segments.
- New value proposition. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink and better understand the different profiles of our candidates and participants so we can develop more precise and distinctive value propositions for each of them, modifying and increasing our programme portfolio not only in terms of content but in format too.
- New key actions. We have completely changed the way and process we used to follow to develop new programmes. Using agile methodologies, we have managed to make changes faster than ever in how we operate and in the portfolio we offer.
- New channels. We have increased the level at which we take advantage of the possibilities offered by our Learning Management System (LMS). Also, we have significantly changed the way we reach our audiences, both in terms of our alumni as well as our candidates.
- New key resources. All these changes have forced our faculty to become more flexible, to develop new materials in new formats, and to make the most of the possibilities of our LMS and other technological platforms.
- New key partners. Some of the new developments and projects have helped us establish stronger relations with strategic partners (e.g., Emeritus).
While this is how we see the future at IPADE, we realise this may not be the same for all schools in the region due to at least three factors: (1) the level of adoption of digital technologies before the pandemic, (2) the ability to fund technology-related investments during the pandemic, and (3) the level of internet use in their corresponding markets.
Before COVID-19, the pace of adoption of digital technologies in most Latin American business schools was lagging, and only a few were technologically equipped to move to online learning overnight and to provide high-quality distance education. And then, as many candidates had to delay investing in their education due to a decrease in their income – in Mexico, 80% of people have experienced such a decrease (Deloitte, 2021) – leading to declines in enrolment, this made it more difficult for some schools to have the funding to make the necessary investments to develop the required technological capabilities to support online or blended offerings.
And while many schools turned to digital tools (e.g., Zoom or Webex) and leveraged their regular operations through the adoption of LMS, the level at which their audiences embraced hybrid or online offerings has been contingent on how widespread Internet use is within their countries. While the countries in the Southern Cone, along with Costa Rica, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, have the higher percentages of people using the Internet in the region – ranging from 67% to 82% –, percentages in countries like Bolivia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua are well below the world average of 51% (CIA, 2021). Hence, the development and adoption of innovative teaching and learning methodologies to deliver relevant management education is, to a certain degree, country-specific.
Management education has significantly changed in a very short time. Virtual methodologies are here to stay, not necessarily to substitute face-to-face instruction but to complement it, in a world that itself has hastily and substantially changed. While all these changes have been challenging, they have also provided a great opportunity for business schools to innovate and reinvent themselves. Individuals, firms, industries, and countries alike have all been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We strongly believe that organisations that have responded and adapted to this crisis will emerge strengthened, and well-suited to build a better future. At IPADE, we have decided to face this challenging time and prepare for the “next normal” with a clear focus on our founding purpose, total commitment, unity, flexibility, and a deep sense of hope.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (2021). The World Factbook. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/field/internet-users. Accessed on July 11, 2021.
Deloitte. (2021). Mexico: An exports-based recovery. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/economy/americas/mexico-economicoutlook.html. Accessed on July 11, 2021.
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