Strategic alliances and joint ventures between business organizations often fail to deliver the expected results. In fact, research suggests that such alliances and joint ventures fail between thirty and seventy percent of the time.
One consistent finding in this research is that strategic alliances and joint ventures are most likely to fail when companies don’t have shared values and operating philosophies, and when their management teams are not committed to the success of the venture as a whole.
I was thinking of this research last week when I was flying back from Germany where I had been meeting with the D’Amore-McKim School’s partners in the International Partnership of Business Schools (IPBS). The IPBS is an alliance of ten business schools – two in the U.S. and one each in Mexico, Ireland, UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Together we offer dual-degree programs for our undergraduate international business majors and a Masters in International Management (MIM) program that involves students earning half of their credits at one institution and the other half at another.
This alliance has been in place since 1974 and the D’Amore-McKim School has been a member since 1994. By all measures, it has been an extraordinarily effective alliance which has served our university and students well. As I took off from Stuttgart on Saturday morning after two full days of meetings with our IPBS partners, I thought about why IPBS has so successfully bucked the odds of alliance failure for so long.
The answer is really quite simple: IPBS partners do have shared values and operating philosophies and our leadership teams are extremely committed to IPBS success (and not just our own institutions’ success). We all believe in the importance of students having the opportunity to live, study, and work in another country as part of their business education – developing the language fluency, cultural awareness, and business skills and networks necessary to develop into tomorrow’s global business leaders.
Importantly, we have translated these shared values into a standard operating philosophy which governs student experiences at each of our partner schools. For example, all students in the IPBS bachelor degree programs major in international business, intensively study a second language, spend one to three semesters studying at a partner university in that university’s native language, and complete two six-month co-op work placements – one in their home country and another in their host country.
Similarly, we have coordinated our curricula within the IPBS partner schools so that all students who spend two years at a partner university and complete all the requirements there receive a degree from the partner institution as well as from the home institution. For example, we have many proud dual-degree alumni from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University and the European School of Business at Reutlingen University. In our MIM Program, we have integrated curricula so that students can spend the first half of the program at one institution and transfer all of those credits to a partner institution where they will finish and earn their MIM degrees. For example, there are many MIM graduates of the European School of Business in Reutlingen who spent their first six months of the program in Boston at the D’Amore-McKim School.
Don’t get me wrong. The details involved in making all of this work are complex and sometimes result in intense disagreements between IPBS partners. But, in the end, it seems as if all of these issues get worked out. Our shared values and high-level operating philosophies go a long way in making this happen but the other key ingredient is the commitment that each of the IPBS institution leaders makes to doing the hard work to get the details right.
I forgot to mention earlier that I wasn’t alone on my trip to Germany. In fact, three senior D’Amore-McKim School faculty and staff leaders accompanied me. There were approximately 40 leaders in total from the 10 partner schools at this two-day meeting. We do this twice per year and the IPBS deans meet a third time at one of the global conferences for business school deans. Each day is filled with hours of meetings going over all aspects of our joint programs to ensure integration and student success. Each night is filled with celebrations and outings that build the personal ties that bind us together as one IPBS organization. This is how joint commitment to the IPBS mission is nurtured and reaffirmed each year.
Most business schools have “alliances” with scores of other business schools around the world that they proudly list on their websites. But if you dig a little deeper, you will find that most of these are alliances in name only, and many more involve nothing more than the enrollment of an occasional exchange student. At the D’Amore-McKim School we have “alliances” like this, too. They serve an important purpose in creating more opportunities for our students to study abroad and learn about different cultures and business environments. But none of these relationships delivers the value to our institution and our students that IPBS does. Such impact requires full partner alignment on values and operating philosophies and commitment to the hard work necessary to maintain and improve the alliance over time.
It is a real privilege to belong to an alliance like IPBS which demonstrates the extraordinary value that a well-functioning global alliance can deliver. The need for this type of educational offering has never been greater and our experience suggests it is worth all of the hard work necessary to deliver it.