Advising on career in management schools – A limited international comparison in the covid-era

About the author: Sonia Ferencikova is Professor of International Management and Vice-Rector for Research and Development at the School of Management, Bratislava, Slovakia. You can contact her at sona.ferencikova@euba.sk

Three management professors from three different parts of the world depressed by lack of social contacts, international conferences, workshops, travels and by abundance of online teaching have developed a new habit – they meet on zoom for an hour every first Monday of the month. They discuss the classical professors´ issues: recent development in political and economic life worldwide and in their countries, students´ enrollment, exchanges and factors which influence it, new ways of teaching, books and articles they work on, careers changes they face, shares and other securities they bought and sold and many similar topics. They are friends for more than 20 years (they met when teaching as visiting professors at one of the best business schools in the USA at the end of 90´s), all of them are 60+,  they also know each other’s family and children and frequently mention them, at least at the end of their monthly discussions.

The composition of this sometimes mini-brainstorming group is international and relatively diverse: one person from the USA (we can call him US Professor – he just turned 64 years), one from Germany (we name him as DE Professor – he will be 67 soon) and the last one from Slovakia (she is the youngest, 60, and we call her SK Professor here). No doubt, they have enough academic experience to talk about educating students, and also enough practical experience from living in these diverse parts of the world with dissimilar economic, political, social history and power. And they like to share, discuss, and quarrel – of course with a lot of evidence from each side. To agree on any topic is very rare for this special consortium.

Their last meeting on April 5, Easter Monday (public holiday in both, Germany and Slovakia), was first shortly devoted to different Easter habits in these three countries, and then amid the pandemic the topic naturally switched to vaccination against Covid-19.  It could be easily understood – the discussants are not the youngest ones and belong to the endangered age group. Surprisingly this was not the only thing they agreed on last Monday – except for that all three were shocked by mismanagement of vaccination in their own countries. Of course, each country made many mistakes in managing pandemic locally, starting with curfews, lockdowns, mandatory masks, testing, limits to gatherings, travels, closed schools, churches, restaurants, sport facilities and so like. They could understand this partially as a “learning by doing” issue because no one had any experience before; however, the mismanagement of vaccination – which is the field where already the best practices exist (it has started around Christmas 2020), this is something different, and completely crucial. According to them, the mismanagement of vaccination in their home countries (in all of them!) is a capital sin.

The US Professor showed to the staring zoom colleagues a small piece of paper confirming that he got his first shot of PfizerBionTech vaccine during the Easter weekend, by coincidence exactly on the day of his 64th birthday. He complained about the way the institutions announce and invite people for vaccination and about the fact that he got the invitation only two days before the actual vaccination. He was vaccinated by a medical doctor in a special newly-established large-scale vaccination center. He is supposed to get the second shot in 4 weeks and relies completely on the responsible institution to take care of the text message with the invitation and exact time. (However, he is a little bit confused about his friend and colleague, Canadian, who called him recently – he got the first PfizerBionTech shot on April 1 in Ottawa and is supposed to get the second one in 4 months…)

The DE Professor almost collapsed. He in his age and with his diagnosis (he underwent an oncological surgery in summer) is not yet eligible for vaccination in Germany – according to him, Germany is very slow, follows strictly the age criterion (currently 70+), does not vaccinate during the weekends and only medical doctors can do the vaccination (their number of course is very limited – Germany does not allow nurses to do the vaccination and noone knows why). According to him, the organization of vaccination in Germany is terrible – no special vaccination centers, lack of vaccines, no special attention to those who suffered diseases and are in danger due to their diagnosis (he even proactively called the all-German phone number busy for hours trying to get on the vaccination list as an oncological patient and was refused by an administrative staff member with the reason that he does not have “active” disease). There are three special “ironies” in his case: he lives close to Mainz where BionTech created this vaccine, he bought the shares of this company and financed it in this way, and his youngest daughter, 20-year exchange student in the USA got her first vaccine shot of PfizerBionTech in Ohio one day before our zoom meeting.

SK Professor added her story: according to her, her country is the leader in mismanagement of vaccination. Her country started properly: with the division of population prioritizing high age groups and special professions. Priority was given to 80+ (a little bit later to 70+) and to so-called “critical infrastructure” that were the doctors, nurses, senior houses personnel, maybe police, army, firefighters, BUT then no one knew and defined WHO is critical infrastructure. And she continues: “You can imagine how many young people got the vaccinations as “critical infrastructure” personnel because the medical staff responsible for vaccination did not have time and energy to check on every registered person in this group. We counted on ethical behavior, but of course, many younger people behaved unethically, registered and got the vaccine. This was PfizerBionTech time in the country. Later many AstraZeneca shots were imported, however based on the recommendations of the EU authorities, they were not recommended for people older than 55. So, we jumped from 80+ and 70 + to 55- (with missing interval 55 – 70) and started to vaccinate teachers with AstraZeneca with the argument that we want to open schools soon. Later shop-assistants were added to the teachers as another part of “critical infrastructure” because they were working and selling food… In the meantime we ran out of PfizerBionTech and had too many AstraZenecas – we increased the age limit for AstraZeneca to 70 … It sounds relatively good, however we needed to register in a central registration system to be eligible to get the vaccine. The central registration system of the Ministry of Health has been opening new possibilities for vaccinations in the hospitals of the whole country with no rules (based probably on the deliveries of vaccines in different parts of the country or some secret software administration rules). Software was unreliable and people needed to hunt the vaccination slots days and nights – young generation who was trying to register their computer-illiterate grandparents started to call it “roulette for the lives of grandparents”. Sometimes a married couple of pensioners succeeded to register: first one in one vaccination center, the second one in another 200 km apart…simply based on the availability of free spots.” (SK professor travelled 130 km to get her first AstraZeneca shot. If and when she will get the second one, is unknown at this moment). As the result of this chaos, first the Minister of Health stepped down, then under public pressure the whole government resigned.  Afterwards the communities created large-scale vaccination centers open 24/7 with a lot of nurses who are allowed to vaccinate in this country, everything is ready, but vaccines are not available because the former government was not able to quantify and order the right numbers of the vaccines needed…

Having heard all the stories, the three professors concluded on the following: there were many mistakes done in obtaining the vaccines in Europe by the representatives and politicians of the European Union who were trying to negotiate low prices and caused delays in negotiations and deliveries – that is why Europe is lagging in vaccination behind the USA (but also Great Britain or Israel). The price of the pandemic is so high that the price of the vaccines in the meantime proved as insignificant. On the national levels, too many mistakes were done by the local governments and health ministries who were not able to create clear policies, rules and simple software systems for registration for vaccination and simple, transparent rules for the medical staff (the role of specialist doctors, generalist doctors and nurses).

The general conclusion of all three professors was that the politicians are very poor managers, not able to manage a crisis situation and foresee the consequences of their decisions. Then they started to think how many bright and talented former students they have in politics (they all taught for decades in their countries). The answer was: zero. And afterwards they started to think about career advises they gave in the past to their bright students: they advised them to stay in academia and become researchers, to start academic career, to become consultants, to create their own start-ups, to get the job with multinationals and climb the career ladders there… None of our three professors ever advised ANYONE (not only to talented ones) in their business or management class, to try and start a political career.

And now we all harvest the results: we are led by non-competent regional and country leaders, and we are partially responsible for that. Covid-19 pandemic has opened new perspectives on political careers that should be not allowed without proper management education.

Dear reader, if the story of your country is different from the stories of our professors, be grateful. Maybe you did a better job in educating new generations of leaders and we will be happy if you share your experience with us.

SK Professor, April 6, 2021 – the 14th month of Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

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