Sustainable Business MBAs: A Closer Look

Sustainability is a shift in ideas, actions, and expectations. Marylhurst’s online MBA in Sustainable Business program positions graduates to make a dramatic impact at their company and their greater communities.

Alain Gracianette is the Chair of Marylhurst University’s MBA Department. With a wealth of academic and business experience, Alain has a unique insight into the qualities and attributes tomorrow’s sustainable business leader will possess. Organic Guide spoke with Alain about Marylhurst University’s MBA in Sustainable Business, the challenges facing the organic sector, and the sort of business a budding green entrepreneur with limited finances might consider in order to make a difference.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

A: I’m currently Chair of Marylhurst University’s MBA Department. I have been teaching in the business environment for almost 20 years and in a formal academic setting, here at Marylhurst University, for 10 years. I’ve taught multiple courses like Business Planning and Analysis, Strategic Marketing, International Marketing, Global Strategy, Cross-Cultural Differences in Organizational Behavior and Strategic Planning. Throughout 2008 and 2009, the Marylhurst Business Department developed an MBA in Sustainable Business. The program was launched in summer of 2009. It is taught both online and on-campus and has now a national enrollment of 250 students.

I’m currently pursuing a Doctorate in Management at George Fox University. I completed my coursework and comprehensive essays and am now working on the final phase of my doctoral dissertation. I am conducting an exploratory qualitative inquiry researching the culture shock and cultural adjustment of American business expatriates working in China. I received my MBA from Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. I am a graduate of l’Ecole Commerciale de la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris (E.C.C.I.P), a business school located in Paris, France. I earned a Certificate in Fashion Design and Merchandising from UCLA and a Certificate in Small Business International Trade Management from the Oregon World Trade Center and Portland Community College.

I have over 25 years of sales, merchandising, marketing management and consulting experience in the printing, sporting goods, distribution, software, telecommunications, microbiology and clinical research industries, from start-ups to global companies.

I have served as Sales Manager for NCR Corporation both in France and the U.S., Director of Direct Marketing, Director of International Marketing and Director of Swim & Team Merchandising for Hind, Inc., Direct Marketing Manager for PML Microbiologicals, Inc., Director of Sales and Marketing for Instrument Sales and Service, Inc., Director of Marketing for Interactive Northwest, Inc., and Vice President of Marketing for Alcius Corporation, a Clinical Development Organization providing Clinical Trial Monitoring, Auditing and Market Research consulting services to the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology industries.

On a personal note, I’ve been happily married for 26 years and am blessed with two wonderful sons. I enjoy teaching, reading, organic gardening, cooking, traveling, sports (soccer and rugby), history, strategy, marketing, international business and global affairs, and I have traveled to 19 countries for both business and pleasure.

image via Shutterstock

Q: What skills, attributes, and personal qualities will leaders across the sustainability, green, and organic sectors possess in the future?

A: We believe that leaders across the sustainability, green, and organic sectors must possess a whole array of fundamental inter and intrapersonal skills. These attributes are twofold. First, essential leadership attributes such as critical thinking and decision-making abilities, creativity, communication, strong integrity, ethics and moral values, courage, high-energy, empathy for and ability to work with others. However, leading in the field of sustainability, requires additional dimensions that all traditional leaders do not necessarily possess. Such skills include global and open mindedness, perseverance, the ability to break established paradigms and consider long-term perspectives, as well as systems thinking and the ability to consider local and global perspectives. We also perceive emotional intelligence, respect for others and the ability to embrace and foster diversity as necessary attributes.

Q: The Marylhurst MBA in Sustainable Business seems like a great way for budding green entrepreneurs to connect and develop long-term relationships with like-minded peers. What emphasis does the program place on collaboration and teamwork?

A: Developing strong team-playing skills among MBA students constitutes a vital component of our curriculum. We constantly remind students of the importance of collaborative skills in a rapidly-changing, increasingly complex, technical and knowledge-centric world. Leonardo Da Vinci, a genius, could perhaps know or do it all; none of us can! We must work with others to get the job done. The inherent complexity of the knowledge economy calls for increased specialization. In turn, increased specialization requires collaborations among parties.

Q: The organic industry has grown to become an important part of the food industry. What marketing challenges do you foresee as a consequence of this success?

A: We think that a primary challenge for the organic segment of the food industry will be to maintain its momentum by breaking established paradigms. For example, we, parents, must teach our children the benefits of eating organic eggs or poultry as opposed to industrial production output. We French have a great saying; we say that “one is better off giving money to the butcher than the doctor”. What we mean is that eating properly by taking the time to buy organic meat or products will bring health benefits as pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones do sooner or later affect one’s health. Sustaining consumer information and awareness thus constitutes an important marketing challenge for the organic industry.

Q: What role do you see innovation playing as the organic sector continues to evolve?

A: That’s a challenging question. On one hand, the term “organic” implies returning to our sources and to Mother Earth; growing our tomatoes with sun, water and love as grand-ma and grand-pa used to do when we were kids. However, effectively off-setting the technological and economic preponderance of agro-industrial powers is going to require tremendous creativity and innovation from the organic industry.

Q: If you were starting a green business today and you had no more than $50,000 in start-up capital, what would it be? Why?

A: I think that if I were to “start a green business today and had no more than $50,000 in start-up capital” I would attempt to start the organic equivalent of Facebook by linking all of the good-hearted and organically-minded citizens of the world into a global community. Look at what Google and Facebook have done in recent weeks in Tunisia, Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Awareness and information have empowered millions of citizens, and most particularly youth, to challenge and get rid of dictators. A similar revolution has to occur to break total dependence upon the dictatorship of agro-industrial food production.

Q: Can you tell us about three green business leaders that inspire you? What did they achieve? What obstacles or challenges did they overcome?

A: I have always had utmost respect for Yvon Chouinard and the strong moral and environmental values upon which he built Patagonia. To me, Yvon personifies many of the leadership attributes previously cited. Today, Patagonia could be financially larger than the company currently is. Yet, Yvon Chouinard and his leadership team have purposely decided to stay true to the company’s founding values, and Patagonia remains committed to doing the right thing by balancing social, environmental and financial imperatives.

Ditlev Engel, President and CEO of Vestas also inspires me greatly. The “Will to Win” strategy that he created for the organization as soon as taking up his leadership responsibilities exemplifies the numerous qualities that we associate with leadership in the field of sustainability: creativity, clarity of vision, long-term perspective, global and open mindedness, etc. It also took courage and perseverance to convince the world that wind power is a source of energy on par with oil and gas.

I also have great admiration for Gifford Pinchot III who, with his wife Libba Pinchot and Sherman Severin (one of my predecessors here at Marylhurst), founded the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI), an educational platform allowing graduate business students to effectively conciliate strong social justice convictions, environmental sustainability values and business education. As an organic dairy farmer, blacksmith, author, CEO, consultant, neurophysiologist and, perhaps most importantly, visionary educator, Gifford also represents the epitome of the “Renaissance Man”.

Q: The Marylhurst MBA embraces technology and flexible learning options. Why is this important?

A: Since 1974, Marylhurst University’s primary emphasis has been adult education. Andragogy teaches us that to be effective, adult education must consider the social reality of adult learners. This social reality is increasingly complex. To remain current in their work people must constantly learn, unlearn and relearn. Technology empowers all of us by giving us instantaneous access to needed information. It also allows us to learn at our own pace; whether at five o’clock in the morning before going to work or to the gym, or ten o’clock at night when kids are in bed.

Technology fuels online education, which allows us to quickly reach students who would otherwise have never heard of Marylhurst and our new MBA in Sustainable Business. Technology also allows us to bring our educational mission globally. For example, one of our Finance graduates is an international bond trader who lives in Panama. Ultimately, technology empowers learners by giving them options.

Q: Can you give us an idea of where students from the program might end up in the future?

A: We like to believe that one of our students will end up in the White House and will ensure that America leads the world in discovering and implementing organic and sustainable practices. Ultimately, we are in the business of educating critical thinkers, team players, decisive ethical leaders, social advocates and change agents. We also foster strong project management skills. Hence, any organization in search of such skills and attributes should consider our graduates. In addition to strong leadership skills, they also have great hearts and minds; the cardinal virtues of sustainability-minded leaders.

This article originally appeared in Organic Guide and was republished on EarthTechling with permission from Marylhurst University.  To find out more about Alain and Marylhurst University’s MBA in Sustainable Business, please visit the Marylhurst University website.