New management board education to strengthen SMEs

This fall Aarhus University offers a new management education that is tailored for SMEs. The work of the board of directors in SMEs differs greatly from the board work required in public limited liability companies (PLCs), and it therefore requires special training. Aarhus University’s management programme, which takes place over the course of 10 days, is the first of its kind and has been developed in close collaboration with the SMEs themselves.

Principal organiser of the programme, Professor Mette Neville from Aarhus University, emphasises the crucial role of the board of directors in SMEs to be strategic advisers and critics to the owner-manager.  They need to be properly equipped to perform this task.

“The board must be able to strengthen management competencies, partly by supporting the owner-manager in his role as director and partly by bringing new expertise and skill sets to the company that it was lacking before. It is precisely this ability to infuse the company with new management expertise that should be required of board members in an SME,” explains Mette Neville.

Moreover, she emphasises the fact that there are various issues, such as generational change and the risk of conflicts within the group of owners, which makes the work of the board of directors in an SME very different from board work in public limited liability companies.

The management programme will ensure qualified board members
The education prepares the participants for the general board work that they are expected to perform, focusing on duties and responsibilities, strategy, risk management, innovation, division of labour between board and management, etc. But apart from this, the teaching also keeps a strong focus on the special role assigned specifically to board members in SMEs; for instance, through close collaboration with the SME segment and their boards, who will take part in developing the core modules of the programme.

During the course, participants will be asked to write a paper, and at the end of the course there will be an exam, which all participants must pass in order to earn credit for the course.  In this way, the management programme offered by Aarhus University is different from others of its kind.

“The purpose is to make sure that the participants obtain the necessary competencies that will enable them to live up to the demands that are made on professional board members today. If you pass the postgraduate exam, then you will have documentation that you meet the standards. This is of course in the interest of both the participants as well as the companies that seek competent board members,” says Mette Neville.

Another step on the road to growth and development
Mette Neville has been “raised” in a family business and has experience from her work on several boards. For many years, she has researched growth potential and the nature of boards within SMEs. Last year she launched the so-called Knowledge Forum for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (Vidensforum for Små og Mellemstore Virksomheder) together with PwC and Nykredit. As part of this project, the three actors design three-year development and learning courses for SMEs. The experiences gained from this collaboration form the basis of the management programme.

According to Ricci Carlson and partner Brian Christiansen from PwC’s Board Forum, the new programme is yet another positive step on the road towards strengthening the SME segment.

“We are very pleased that Aarhus University is now offering a tailor-made management education aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises. We cooperate with Aarhus University and Nykredit through the ‘Knowledge Forum’ to generate growth and development within the SME segment, and we look forward to expanding the collaboration to also include an actual management degree programme, which requires participants to pass a final exam.”

Strengthening the company’s strategic focus
A line of research reveals one very difficult and widespread problem in many SMEs, which is maintaining a balance between ensuring the owner-managers’ overview of the company and the operation while continuing to strengthen the company’s growth potential. And this is where the board should be able to step up to the plate and give support to the owner-manager, explains Mette Neville.

“Many SMEs are plenty busy keeping the operation going, and often they do not have the time or the energy to manage the strategic work as well. The board members should be able to help the owner-managers cope with this; but in order to do so, the board members themselves must be properly prepared for the task, so that they may become an active resource for the SME. In SMEs there will often be a need to base management processes, e.g. strategy processes, in the board room and to have a closer interaction with management. This differs from what takes place in public limited liability companies.”

For more information on the management education

Further information

  • Professor Mette Neville
    Department of Law, Aarhus University
    Tel.: 8716 4917


Facts about the management education for SMEs at Aarhus University

  • Focus: The programme is the first of its kind, focusing specifically on SMEs.
  • Start: classes commence in late 2013.
  • Duration: 10 days
  • Size of class: Maximum 25 participants per class
  • Teachers: All classes have a group of course leaders who will be present on all course days.
  • Course content: The content of the management courses and degree programme proceeds from the participants’ own concrete challenges, combined with contemporary theories of management. The participants will acquire concrete tools that will enable each person to bring the acquired knowledge into play in his/her own board work, so that he/she may adjust and apply the work in answer to the company’s current challenges. Through assignments, papers, workshops, etc. the participants will get to “learn by doing.”
  • Final exam/paper: Over the course of the 10 classes, participants must write a paper in which theory and practice are linked and applied. At the end of the course, there will be a final exam, which must be passed in order to earn credit for the course. The purpose is to make sure that the participants obtain the necessary competencies that will enable them to live up to the demands that are made on professional board members today.
  • Other programmes: In collaboration with PwC, Aarhus University is also offering a Strategic Management Programme, which focuses specifically on the strategic role of the board, including the role of strategic advisor and critic, crisis management and communication as well as the demand for innovation.
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