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Since its founding six years ago, the Presidio Graduate School has been at the forefront of sustainability business education. Through its MBA and Executive Education programs, Presidio balances a traditional business school curriculum with an emphasis on sustainable business topics and values. That emphasis has made Presidio the fastest-growing sustainability-focused graduate school, with a 25 percent average annual growth in enrollment. Executive Editor Joel Makower recently talked with Seyed Amiry to learn how the school is changing along with the times, including tough economic times.

Joel Makower: Seyed, let's start off by talking about what does it mean to be a business school at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, when we think about all that's going on from a financial, environmental, and social perspective?

Seyed Amiry: I think two words perhaps come to mind. One is, "Oh my God." Well, maybe that's more than one word, but many challenges, unprecedented activities that were really not anticipated by many of the experts. And then I would say the flip side of that theme immediately is an opportunity, and that's essentially what's driving Presidio because we certainly see and recognize the challenges that the business world is now facing and their unprecedented nature. And at the same time, we also recognize that the business world is now looking for solutions, and so that's what we're seeing as one of our primary value propositions, both in terms of the model that we have created in delivering and creating the kind of competencies in our graduates. But also then providing a new perspective and new framework and a new lens with which they will approach the new challenges in the business world.

JM: So how has that changed in the last few years, because Presidio was created to fill a void in business school education, I presume.

SA: Yeah.

JM: And that void was that there was -- people coming out of business schools with MBAs did not have the tools to address the social and environment challenges and, of course, aligned with the financial ones. So how has what's happened in the last year or so changed what you need to be doing?

SA: So, basically what happened was that when the school started six years ago, to a large extent it was still viewed as a, if you will, an idealistic or idea-driven or ideology-driven type of a program and school. Within the higher education arena we heard the terms of being, "Well, it's a fringe school," and so forth, or a niche school.

But what's happened within the last few years, and again the kind of challenges that the business world has faced and continues to face and is becoming more aware of -- the kind of risk factors that are now facing them -- they have in a way recognized that what we were talking about before is not really an ideology but rather a very practical and pragmatic way of doing business. And so to that extent, from an external standpoint, the school and its program is now being viewed much more pragmatically and much more seriously in terms of where the solutions are going to be coming out of. That has certainly impacted the demographics of our students.

Our earlier cohorts, the students who entered the program earlier, were much more focused on, again, the environmental aspects of the challenges that we were facing. The current crop of students who are joining our program, I would say, are more, if you will, business-minded and more traditional in nature in terms of they have their career aspirations within medium to large-size organizations, and they really see themselves not necessarily as activists but as business leaders who are going to be providing these new solutions and frameworks in the 21st century.

And so therefore, our programs have really evolved along with that shift; so there's a much higher focus on application of solutions rather than diagnosing old problems. Although that's still a part of it, but there's a much higher emphasis on systems thinking and business case and creating the kind of solutions that can really be applied immediately in the business world. And so that's how our program has evolved.