The next generation of PhD’s – Benedictine University’s College of Business

CVDL ClasssroomIf we are to have a transformative impact on business and society, it is crucial that we not just change the way students and graduates are taught, but also how the next generation of academics are trained. At business schools around the world, new innovative PhD programmes are being created with the aim to do just that. One such programme is at Benedictine University’s College of Business in the US. I recently had the chance to speak with Marie Di Virgilio, the administrative director at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University, about this programme.

 1.     Briefly describe Benedictine University College of Business’ approach to responsible leadership/sustainability.

69% of Americans believe there is a leadership crisis in the US. Encouragingly, 80% of Americans believe the nation’s problems can be solved with effective leadership (National Leadership Index)—we agree. Benedictine believes we can help make America’s future leaders more effective. We are committed to developing our students’ capabilities to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society at large and to work for an inclusive and sustainable global economy. The College of Business has solidified the Principles for Responsible Management education at all academic levels. These efforts have resulted in focused undergraduate courses, a re-designed graduate level certificate in sustainability, a unique global research center in values-driven leadership, executive roundtables on sustainable high performance leadership and several research initiatives.

2.     What was the thinking behind your PhD programme?

Business is the most powerful institution on the planet. Leadership decisions made in the workplace shape the lives of individuals, economies and the world more than any other institution. The idea for our programme came from the recognition that by offering a unique combination of research, theory, practice and action-based learning, we could equip business leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to lead strategically and have a transformative impact on business and society. As scholar-practitioners, our graduates are uniquely positioned to generate new knowledge that is useful to both practice and to academia—knowledge that can help people and organisations become more effective and advance the state of the art of the field.

3.     How does your progamme aim to do that?

Benedictine University’s Ph.D./D.B.A. programme (cvdl doctoral-programme) is designed for visionary executives who want to leverage social, ethical and environmental performance to drive innovation and profitable growth. The programme draws from evidence-based research, tested academic theory and proven practitioner experience to integrate the fields of strategic leadership, organisational change and corporate sustainability and responsibility.

Eighteen custom designed doctoral programme courses were created for the launch of the Center for Values Driven Leadership programme, including Leadership and Corporate Social Responsibility, Leading Corporate Sustainability and Moral and Ethical Foundations of Leadership. Students select from two tracks: a research-focused Ph.D. that concludes with a scholarly dissertation based on original research, or a practice-oriented D.B.A. degree that concludes with an applied dissertation based on the design and implementation of a major change initiative.

The programme is cohort-based, designed to be completed in three years and tailored to meet the exacting standards and busy schedules of senior leaders. To accommodate those who commute from around the nation and globe, classes are held once a month on weekends and during an annual eight-day intensive.

4.     What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

While exhilarating, our biggest challenges lie in the pace of growth. We launched our first cohort in April 2011, our second cohort in 2013, and we are recruiting now for our third cohort which starts in 2015.  We are also developing a variety of research initiatives focused on the exemplary practices of sustainable and socially-responsible companies and leaders. Our current focus, the Return on Values project, is a 3-year partnership with the Small Giants Community to explore the relationship between culture, values and business success in small to mid-size companies. As I said, challenging and exhilarating!

5.     What are the next steps for the programme?

A lot of energy will go into recruiting for our third cohort. We typically get over 500 inquiries resulting in 50-100 applicants. The most promising applicants are invited to campus for an interview. Of these, approximately 25 are accepted into the programme. Applications for cohort 3 will be accepted between April 1, 2014 – November 1, 2014. Classes begin April 2015. Anyone interested can contact Deb Hellmuth at for more information or to request an application packet.


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