Why business students can benefit from the arts

Roland Siegers, Executive Director at CEMS, discusses why business students benefit from a well-rounded education including both the arts and sciences

In the global marketplace, business students are increasingly demanding learning experiences that give them a window on the world. They want to understand global developments and find inspiration to come up with the next big thing.

The most successful future leaders will display high cultural intelligence as they operate globally, able to move through the initial stages of small talk and fast forward to connecting at a deeper level. 

This means that business students need to understand human nature more than ever before. In our world, defined by digital transformation, the human factor takes on even greater importance – this is the remaining competitive edge we retain over the ever more intelligent machines. 

That’s why the liberal arts and business education must go hand in hand. The future undoubtedly will bring unforeseen challenges, and business schools must prepare future leaders using all resources available to them, including the liberal arts.

By encouraging the study of psychology, history, sociology, culture and art, at the same as traditional ‘business subjects,’ business schools can help students to enhance their toolboxes with: 

Understanding of human nature

Leaders need to do more than crunch numbers. Businesspeople often feel drawn to subjects that force the studious to follow certain processes, like maths. Those subjects take centre stage in the corporate world, but they will be rendered meaningless without the human touch, which can be developed by studying both broader social sciences topics and more focussed business subjects together.


At the heart of disruption is creativity. Sometimes, executives need to think outside the proverbial box. They can develop that mindset through the study and practice of literature, music, art and science.

Long term vision

Of course, data should inform decisions. But leaders also need to grasp context when creating new business models for a global economy, where everything and everyone is interconnected. That is precisely why business students need the liberal arts – without which they cannot have a complete long-term vision of how human nature will react to transformational processes. This is a necessity for any business executive.

Leaders need to grasp context when creating new business models for a global economy, where everything and everyone is interconnected.

Knowledge of multiple languages

Learning foreign languages is important. Research by CEMS amongst multinationals found that whilst a very high level English was expected for senior management positions in international businesses, for key positions multilingualism with fluency and negotiation skills in several languages is generally highly rated. 

Way beyond the immediate broadening of direct communication partners,students unearth a culture and a different way of thinking when learning another language. They notice subtle differences in the meaning of a word from one language to another. Of course, ultimately, they increase their own communication skills, ideally in multiple languages.

Presence and communication skills

The most successful managers and leaders are highly effective communicators who are skilled at influencing and have a positive impact and presence – the dramatic arts in particular can teach these things better than anything else. 

Through the efforts of our CEMS business school partners across the world – such as the LSE and AaltoUniversity School of Business– we are able to offer opportunities such as days at RADA, and an exclusive elective called ‘Meet the Stage’, to help students develop the broad range of skills they need to thrive as business leaders.

The ability to create a brand

Art has had direct relevance to the work of business leaders, especially in recent years. Integrating design and business programmes has been a popular trend for the last decade. Aesthetics is increasingly important to creating brands and products.

Critical thinking

Studying the liberal arts is perhaps more important than ever in helping businesspeople make better sense of situations that are not well-defined. The arts help students hone critical thinking and analytical skills, which come in handy when dealing with ambiguity.

Ability to grapple ethical dilemmas

Subjects like literature and philosophy provide examples and frameworks for determining the fine line of distinction between what is legal and what is legitimate, and help in weighing the pros and cons of any given situation.

Competitive edge

Through embracing the arts, students differentiate themselves in the ever-competitive job hunt. Indeed, those who look down on the arts in favour of a solely quantitative education risk losing their edge. 

CEMS is a global network of 31 academic members (leading business schools), 73 corporate partners (multinational companies) and 7 social partners (NGOs), dedicated to educating and preparing future generations of international business leaders, through the top ranked CEMS Master’s in International Management.

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