Liberal Arts: The Perfect Education for the Business World

Keeping on my theme from the last couple of weeks, let’s look at some additional evidence of post-graduation success for students who attend a liberal arts college. Clyde Tuggle, Senior Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer at Coca-Cola, recently spoke at a gathering of Washington and Lee University students. Speaking about his current job, Tuggle told the students:

“To serve an organization like Coca-Cola, you need to speak a minimum of two foreign languages,” he said, “and have international experience. You need to see yourself as a citizen of the world — think like a Moroccan and see the world from that point of view — or you are behind the curve. You need the cultural skill to walk into any space and be comfortable, to blend into the environment.”

Tuggle, with undergraduate degrees in German and economics from Hamilton College, and a master’s of divinity from Yale, told the students, “I learned communications, research and critical thinking in liberal arts and religious studies…the perfect education for the business world.”

Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas Worldwide, in his recent posting on fastcompany.com, proposes a counterargument to the notion that students must choose a career-directed educational path, for example in the STEM fields, as a “safe bet” for a future high-paying job.

“…to those students who are drawn to the liberal arts — who want to study the dead poets, expand their minds with a classical core curriculum, and major in a subject that doesn’t culminate in a professional certification: Do it.”

Benett continues, “I know a lot of liberal arts graduates. I have hired a bunch of them. And I am one myself, having studied both psychology and art history. What I have found is that people with degrees in subjects such as history and literature — and, yes, even philosophy — tend to possess many of the qualities, skill sets, and aptitudes that are in highest demand in my own industry (marketing communications) and in others that rely on creative thinking and foresight.”

Here are the areas where Benett suggests liberal arts graduates stand out:

  • Agility and Adaptability—The ability to continually reinvent yourself or risk being left behind
  • Storytelling and Persuasion—The knowledge, information and creative innovation to communicate clearly and persuasively in the globally connected ideas economy
  • Historical Consciousness—A context that helps to understand not just what is happening in the world, but what is likely to happen

Benett’s argument for the value of a liberal arts education fits in well with the idea that a liberal arts education sets a strong foundation of critical thinking ability, communication proficiency, knowledge synthesis and leadership development, all coupled with broad discipline-specific knowledge that can lead to many future careers. As Clyde Tuggle from Coca- Cola told students at the Washington and Lee event, “If you are going to lead something, you must imagine not only what it is, but what it can be in the future. Doing so requires process, rigor and discipline … it requires creativity, courage and breaking rules, but especially creativity — thinking skills…that are taught by the liberal arts.”

3 thoughts on “Liberal Arts: The Perfect Education for the Business World

  1. Pingback: Liberal Arts: Best Education for the Business World | Widener English

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Those of us in the liberal arts have to stop being so defensive about the “practicality” of what we teach and the “job-readiness” of our graduates. Most of them have been getting good jobs and enjoying successful careers for a long while, and the movement from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy has not made their skills any less desirable.

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