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Professor Christos Tsinopoulos

Newly appointed in his role as Associate Dean for External Engagement at Durham University Business School, Professor Christos Tsinopoulos is responsible for leading and implementing the School’s outreach and executive-education strategy. Please note: this article was first published in The Economist.

With the school being one of the UK's longest established business schools and recognised globally as a top international and triple-accredited institution, some might think Tsinopoulos has an easy job of compelling participants and corporates to join the School’s executive education programmes. However, the world has experienced an unprecedented level of change in the past few years, which has made it tricky for some organisations to return to the status quo of operations–let alone consider embarking on developing new skills and practices.

Yet it is for precisely this reason that Tsinopoulos argues that lifelong learning and committing to the continuous development of skills and abilities is so vital.

By creating innovative, challenging and flexible executive-education programmes, and leveraging the best elements of both face-to-face and virtual learning, Tsinopoulos believes Durham will not just educate but inspire lifelong learners to do better–not just professionally but to the world around them.

We spoke with Tsinopoulos about educating executives in a post-pandemic world, the importance of ensuring access to education for all, and how Durham University Business School is leveraging all the tools in its arsenal to meet the demands of the future.

What is Durham University Business School Executive Education’s general approach to leadership development?

We aim to work with our partners to develop and enthuse leaders and entrepreneurs who create, share and use knowledge to deliver equitable and sustainable futures around the world.

We have developed three distinct, yet flexible streams of programmes that have been tailored to address our clients’ needs. All are built on our world-class research and management education, and are delivered through a mixture of face-to-face, virtual and hybrid formats.

The first stream benefits from the government’s senior leadership apprenticeship scheme. This is appropriate for individuals who are moving into senior leadership roles. The second, and more substantial stream, focuses on the development of partnerships with our clients. Here we develop customised programmes to tackle specific management development needs. Finally, we offer a stream of open programmes, which are available to any senior-level professional who wishes to expand their knowledge and perspectives in a specific area. The structure of these is inspired by our MBA suite of offerings, so participants can choose to build a portfolio of executive-education modules, leading them on to securing accredited academic and professional qualifications.

What are three key leadership skills executives need to be successful in business?

The foundational leadership skills of showing empathy, fostering open communication, and building a culture of trust have not gone away. However, we have seen a rapid shift in the need to manifest these in hybrid environments. So, the three emerging leadership skills are:

  • ability to swiftly manage change in hybrid environments
  • capability to communicate and lead in a constantly changing digital world
  • ability to make swift, data-driven decisions which take into account a changing business environment.

Durham’s flexible and tailored approach to executive education supports businesses of all sizes and across all sectors to develop the leadership skills needed to take them forward in this ever-changing working world.

As companies assess the future of work, how is lifelong learning increasingly important?

Before the pandemic, the future of work was frequently imagined as a far-off environment where individuals would have built the skills to enable them to work in a digital world, it was a distant aspiration. However, the pandemic has significantly accelerated this transformation as companies have had to adapt swiftly to remain operational. Not only has it boosted investment in technologies allowing seamless distant working, but more crucially, it has also made people challenge their long-held assumptions about what are the best ways to work.

We are at the beginning of a new era where flexibility, leadership in a virtual world, and the ability to acquire new skills will be the key differentiators for businesses and individuals. Those who are open to change, to grow and pursue new ideas, and who invest the time and enthusiasm in educating themselves (and their teams) to build such skills, will find themselves at a significant advantage. As digital technologies grow ever smarter, we too must stay ahead of the curve and develop our own capabilities.

Vitally important in this digitally-savvy, increasingly hybrid world is the ability of individuals to stay connected to their teams, build authentic connections in virtual settings and for a progressive, supportive culture to extend beyond the physical walls of the workplace. This is why the modular format of executive education at Durham University Business School works so well–it encourages and enables participants to explore a range of skillsets, consider new areas of professional development and build both their personal and practical skills.

Is online delivery here to stay?

Yes. However, the exact way in which online will be combined with face-to-face delivery is likely to be not known for a while. At Durham University Business School, we were fortunate in that one of our flagship professional programmes, the MBA, was offered online long before the pandemic. Our online MBA has been well-recognised for its quality and effectiveness. This meant our technology, approaches to teaching, and willingness to experiment were significantly ahead of our competition. Even so, we learned a lot during the last two years. We had to make sure all our executive programmes were offered at the quality expected. We also found that our learners’ expectations of online experience advanced significantly.

This meant we had to rethink a lot of what we do and how we do it. We introduced many more opportunities for learners to engage with each other, forums to share ideas and best practice and more interactive study materials. Fundamentally though, learners, employers and educators can now see how they can make more efficient use of their time by learning online. And how to better tailor learning for in-person and online delivery, taking the best bits from both to enhance the study experience overall. Our own hybrid executive-education model reflects exactly this. We, therefore, expect this trend to continue.

What particular industries should be looking to executive education today?

The leadership skills needed to lead in this new world are not confined to one sector. However, we have noticed an increase in demand from the more “traditional” sectors, e.g., construction, automotive and aviation. They are all looking to transform the ways in which they work and to upskill the management capabilities of their staff. Although it would be difficult to single out one sector, as digital becomes more a part of everyday working life, some of these traditional sectors may have some more catching up to do. Because of this, we are positioning our learning accordingly, so we can provide the opportunity and support that industries will need.

How is executive education at Durham University Business School supporting more women and minorities on their leadership journey?

Our business school more generally, and our executive-education provision more specifically, has put issues of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the forefront of how we operate. We have been recognised by the Athena Swan Charter and are fully committed to its principles. This approach has resulted in significant changes in many structures and policies. We have been continuously and substantially adapting our curriculum to proactively support women’s and minorities’ leadership journey. Our exact approach depends on the client, the course and the participants. For instance, our leadership modules deal directly with issues of equality in the workplace. Similarly, our academic research, which feeds into the material we teach, is at the forefront of EDI thinking. This is a complex multifaceted issue. However, we strongly believe that our systematic approach and engagement puts us ahead of our competition.

What makes Executive Education at Durham so distinct?

Durham is a top international, triple-accredited, full-service business school. Founded in 1965, we are one of the UK's longest established business schools and are proud to be integral to Durham University. Durham is a globally outstanding centre of teaching and research excellence, a community of extraordinary people, and we are located in the unique and historic setting of Durham City. We are surrounded by English heritage, stunning architecture and plenty of open space to disconnect from the stresses of typical working life, take a breath and reflect on our own progression.

We develop tailored programmes that make use of the latest management knowledge, often generated by research of our own academics. Therefore, our executive-education learners acquire leading-edge knowledge relevant to their own needs, experience an outstanding learning environment, and earn a recognised, career-advancing qualification.

There are many executive-education providers in the market–both via business schools and other, external industry providers. What I believe gives a business school the advantage here is their role in challenging, analysing and deconstructing long-held practices on how we should do business and make it their mission to identify flaws, find solutions and stop business thinking from stalling. Our academics and expert faculties provide the new ideas and creative thinking required to develop truly innovative, progressive programmes which explore the latest management knowledge and give our clients the edge in dealing with the modern challenges of their industries. Our Executive Education department consults with businesses to design both open and customised programmes that address their business needs. This means we are developing programmes that directly address the subject areas and skill sets that businesses require when they require them.

The capacity to build up a portfolio of modules gives our individual executive-education learners the chance to tailor their learning making it relevant to their own needs, build a diverse and knowledgeable network of fellow lifelong learners and experience an outstanding learning environment through this.


This piece was first published in The Economist