Mergers in the Sustainable MBA Scene

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Presidio Graduate School (PGS) and Pinchot University, two schools whose alumni share a friendly rivalry of the sort most common to organizations with few differences, have long been considered the leaders in the field of Sustainable MBA programs. They were two of the original “sustainable through-and-through” programs — embedding sustainability into every course and tract — as opposed to just tacking it on as an elective like many traditional schools.

Pinchot holds the claim of being the the first school to offer an MBA in Sustainable Business in 2002, and Presidio holds claim to being the New York Times’s chosen school to go to if you want to change the world. TriplePundit has strong ties to the PGS community — our founder Nick Aster was an esteemed member of the second cohort of students; I was right behind him in the seventh cohort. However, many students from both schools have contributed to TriplePundit over the years.

Those early days were full of what I like to call typical startup culture: a ton of energy and enthusiasm, amazing learning opportunities and a fair amount of disorganization and unrest. Early grads fondly remember experimental education practices like required participation in flowing dragon swords, wherein two participants enter a circle of their peers and, cosplaying with black wooden dowel – cum -“swords,” dance together while maintaining eye contact. The goal of the engagement is to keep your swords in contact without ever looking at them. Each dance is unique. The discomfort was the learning, I think. These strange practices are a favorite topic of conversation whenever grads get together for a cocktail. While we joke, they certainly taught us all resilience and the ability to seek one’s own path amid uncertain circumstances. These tools are tremendously valuable in today’s workforce where the only constant is change, and I’m truly grateful for my Presidio education.

Most of the experimental stuff has fallen by the wayside while traditional courses in micro and macro economics, marketing, operations, and strategic management have strengthened and refined. As the years have gone on, the schools have formalized in the best possible way — cementing curricula, implementing formal internship programs and business plan competitions which put students to work as sustainability practitioners.

And now they are merging.

The schools shared the news in a joint press release, stating:

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the future of sustainability. Over the past several months, the board and staff of PGS has worked closely with Pinchot’s faculty and staff to carefully analyze the risks and benefits to both organizations. After considerable due diligence, a unanimous decision was made in favor of moving ahead. With our aligned missions and visions for the future, it is truly a win-win for members of both communities, both organizations and for the world.”

The release points to the schools’ similar missions as a key reason for the merger. This was echoed by Saskia Feast, PGS board member and alum, when we spoke by phone. “Acquisitions are most successful when you’re bringing together organizations with similar values and mission,” she explained.

The merger has been in the works for several months. Many small schools lack deep endowments and struggle to grow programs, attract the strongest students who can manage a difficult curriculum, and keep finances in order. Pinchot was rumored to be in financial trouble and an acquisition was an elegant solution to protect the degrees of alumni and keep current students on track.

A key benefit of the merger for Presidio is the ability to access Pinchot’s “metro” program, where students study in-person (as opposed to the hybrid online/offline program at PGS). International students are unable to receive visas to attend the hybrid program. The ability to bring in international students (and their tuition dollars) offers a huge benefit — a massive increase in the pool of potential students and a broader network of individuals working to use business as a force for good around the world.

Despite these many practical reasons for joining forces, PGS was focused on the potential to more effectively meet its and Pinchot’s cores missions.

“Our hope is that this merger will strengthen the offering and broaden our network.” Feast explained. “I work in Environmental Finance and I see the need for Sustainable MBA grads every day. If you want to be in the field you need a Sustainable MBA. This merger presents a strong signal to potential students that this is the place to go.”

The merger is effective immediately and will impact students attending classes this fall. The plan is to consolidate all administrative functions in Presidio’s San Francisco office, reducing expenses. Contracts are currently being extended to Pinchot faculty and the curricula at both organizations will stay the same for the time being, since they are already similar.

As Feast puts it, the best thing about the merger is: “Resilience. It gives us strength in numbers. Placing value on diversity has long been a hallmark of both organizations. These schools and their alumni come from different backgrounds but are united by vision of business as a force for good. It’s good to have more of us.”

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and a degree in Sociology from Pitzer College. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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