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Avoiding the End of History

14/03/2014 10:01 GMT | Updated 13/05/2014 10:59 BST

If you've never partied at night on the top floor of the Gherkin - even in the company of a business school - you've missed a treat. If that sounds deeply nerdy, I can only say that the huge black glass dome, twinkling lights and surrounding skyscrapers gives the whole thing a dramatic comic book feel that, in my humble opinion, knocks the socks off the London Eye. But it's not cheap to hire and, as host Sir Tom Hunter pointed out, nor is the Executive MBA programme that was launched last night by the alliance of Switzerland's IMD and China's Cheung Kong graduate business schools.

There were several things about the party that struck me as pretty awe-inspiring, beyond the architecture. The first was Sir Tom or, more particularly what he said. One of only a couple of Scottish billionaires, Hunter is also a graduate himself of CKGSB's CEO programme. In spite of his astonishing success, he concluded that entrepreneurship and adult education were entirely compatible and distanced himself from the pop culture of equating business acumen with the archetypal tycoon who drops out of school at 15 to work the market stall. On the contrary, Sir Tom's view was that entrepreneurship in today's economy is just too complex for the have-a-go approach. It would be fascinating to have a similar conversation with the programme's patron, Li Ka-Shing, Asia's richest man who was forced to labour as a child in a plastics factory when his father died in 1943.

Not to be outdone by Hunter's mere billions, Professor Xiang Bing, dean of CKGSB, then pointed out that his CEO alumni currently manage a combined turn-over of more than a $1 Trillion, the equivalent of the World's sixth largest economy! He went on to describe the all-encompassing scope of the new MBA that added humanities, environmentalism and social studies to the conventional wisdom of accountancy. In Bing's view, an integrated, holistic approach to business is not only now necessary but the only way to avoid "the end of history". If that sounds overly-dramatic, it's strangely resonant with a talk I recently attended, given by Swedish "futuroligist" Magnus Lindkvist. Lindkvist claims that the mental concept of a future state was effectively invented in the late 1780s when human life-expectancy began to improve in a meaningful way. Up until that point it was all much of the same. From wildly different backgrounds, two leading thinkers, a Swede and a Chinaman, have concluded that history is not a matter of human entitlement.

What strikes you about these kinds of folk is the sheer order-of-magnitude of their thinking. They're contemplating billions, trillions and centuries whilst you and I struggle with groceries and utility bills. Thankfully, for the less cerebral amongst us, there were further speeches last night that joined the dots in a less terrifying way. A businessman in Beijing, it was pointed out, would need a strong grasp of European commerce, even if he only intended to trade in his home town. The linkage of international supply chains and other factors was now too extensive to take an insular approach. The West, meanwhile, has long since concluded that ignoring Asian economies, and that of China in particular, is industrial suicide.

So good luck to CKGSB and Lausanne's International Institute for Management Development with their new venture. It promises to be a fantastic programme for those students with deep enough pockets or generous benefactors. The likelihood is that the rest of us will soon be working for them.

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