Closed European Business Schools Q&A

Are you considering studying at a European business school? Why are business schools in the UK, France and Germany distinctive? These and other questions are now being answered by the Financial Times’ panel of experts:

- Jean-Michel Blanquer, dean of Essec Business School in France
- Jörg Rocholl, dean of the European School of Management and Technology in Germany
- Francisco Veloso, dean of Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics in Portugal
- Abhinav Charan, MBA student at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK
- Della Bradshaw, FT Business Education Editor

Moderated by Charlotte Clarke

Charlotte: Welcome everyone. Here is the first question:

A growing percentage of MBA candidates do an MBA to reinvent themselves (rather than ‘get rich and famous fast’), but once at the MBA, support for personal doubts, life questions and one-to-one coaching services seem to be rather scarce. Given that moving to another country (sometimes with your entire family) is a huge life investment for most, what are business schools doing to actually help people reinvent themselves instead of putting the big life questions on the shelf for after the MBA and its demanding curriculum of activities? ~ Pino Bethencourt Gallagher

Abhinav: Reinvention is an expansive term and an MBA is not necessarily a magic pill to get rich and famous fast. Very often, an MBA is what you make of it. You have to realise that an MBA is a collection of people (professors, students, staff, and alumni) and ideas. In fact my personal experience has been tailored around reinvention rather than the typical trappings associated with an MBA.

One of the most valued features of any MBA is the cohort. The cohort is perhaps the greatest resource to tackle life questions and so forth. Of course, this assumes that you choose a programme which treasures collaboration. Much of your time outside lecture halls is spent with classmates who collectively represent a vast range of experience. If your MBA class has 150 students with an average of seven years work experience, you have access to a body which has over 1,000 years of professional experience. Now the onus lies upon you to harness this resource to tackle several questions. The beauty is that people are willing to listen and possibly provide advice.

The entire first term (approx. three months) of my MBA has been permeated with expert sessions, some of which are seemingly transactional (CV, cover letter, communication, interview preparation etc.). However, these experts are often willing to discuss things beyond the usual if you choose to prioritise them.

Being at Cambridge, I have access to my college’s pastoral support system. Therefore, I have been assigned a tutor just to tackle issues outside the business school. This person is concerned with your welfare and progress throughout your course. Depending on how you nurture this relationship, you can address ‘life questions’ and perhaps reinvent. At Cambridge, this system has worked for over 800 years.

My class is nearly 95 per cent international. Therefore, most of us (including myself) have moved from another continent let alone country. This includes people who are married and have young children. Are they stretched and challenged? Certainly yes! But there is an organised support system for partners. In fact, partners have much more time to engage in the social and cultural fabric of the business school and the university.

To sum it all up, if you already have a plan for life – your experience will be smooth. If you’re still soul searching, there is an infrastructure to reinvent oneself. Also, one needs to be motivated to walk that extra mile for such reinvention.

Jean-Michel: Knowing how to question yourself and your environment is a key skill that has be developed in an MBA. This is the approach that we take at Essec. Students spend one day a week participating in coaching activities and meeting professionals to grow personally and professionally. We’re lucky to be able to afford our students small classes and working groups.

Francisco: What business schools can do is have career advice and perspectives present from the start, at the time of admission. Sometimes there is the notion that placement and life after the MBA starts in the second semester or second year of the programme (depending on the length of the MBA). But this is not the case. It is important for an incoming student to have a good diagnosis of where s/he stands the moment they are starting the MBA, so that competence gaps that exist in relation to a particular career/placement objective can be identified, and a development plan put in place to try to reduce or eliminate these gaps.

These gaps can be addressed through the coursework, but they can be also be addressed with an internship, or the development of sales or communication skills. This early diagnosis also helps to identify when the objectives of a student are not realistic.

Jörg: One-to-one coaching is an important element at ESMT. Moreover, questions of personal and leadership development are at the core of our programme. I could give more examples, e.g. our Kofi Annan stipend and fellowship programme.

My eye was caught by a programme at Audencia Nantes School of Management (MBA in Responsible Management). Bearing in mind I’m hoping to utilise an MBA to help move corporate culture for profit accumulation away from a somewhat psychopathic nature to a more responsible activity; my question is as follows: Will an MBA provide me with the scope to effect change within corporate culture or will it just re-enforce the “good little corporate solider” in me, that all education seems to be about these days? I was also wondering if there is a demand for such minded MBA graduates? I’d rather not go back to a job where I get a bonus on the back of making my staff work more hours for less remuneration ~ John W Galbraith

Jean-Michel: Today more than ever, we need to give meaning to business and to our professional life. Indeed, businesses have become increasingly aware of a need to give meaning to their activity and be aware of their social and environmental responsibilities.

This is why we created the Council on Business and Society, regrouping six business schools from around the world and putting the questions of business and its role within society at the heart of our teaching and research.

For example, in our Executive MBA with Mannheim Business School, students work jointly on a project regarding social and environmental issues.

Abhinav: It is not the easiest task to change the inherent culture of an organisation. However, you can choose to work in a firm where your values are more aligned with the firm’s.

At Cambridge, we have courses such as ‘Management Practice’ and ‘Philosophy in Business’, where the effort is to develop thoughtful leaders and not corporate warriors. The MBA has provided me with a platform to ask difficult questions and make mistakes in a relatively safe environment. I am convinced that such training will enable me to look beyond a profit and loss statement tunnel vision.

Della: John, thank you for your comments. It is certainly my perception from talking to business schools and students that a growing number of MBA students agree with you, as do many of the top brass in large organisations, who want to change the culture in their companies. The problem is, MBA recruiting staff from many top companies are still selecting recruits on the criteria they used a decade ago, when shareholder value was king. But things are changing, if slowly.

There are several business school programmes that focus specifically on the topics of responsible management, but most business degrees will focus on these issues to a greater or lesser degree.

Francisco: Fortunately, social responsibility and ethics have gained much more importance in the business world over the last few years. Growing attention exists from all stakeholders, from investors to managers and entrepreneurs and the broader public. This means that students who are bringing these concerns to the core of their education choices are also increasingly valued by the market place.

In the context of management education, including many MBA programmes, there are opportunities for students to pursue and develop their competencies and perspectives in these ares. These can be the entire focus of the programme, but they can also be embedded in the core courses, or available through a set of electives.

My perspective is that initiatives, profit-oriented or not, are best learned in a broader context. As a result, I would favour a mainstream MBA in which you can find a set of initiatives that allow a student to deepen their understanding of the topics, rather than a specialised programme of likeminded people.

There is value in seeing these topics through the eyes of others. In the Lisbon MBA programme, we have tried to incorporate these issues in the coursework and activities. For example, our entrepreneurship class has groups who are considering traditional start-up projects together with those focused on social entrepreneurship initiatives.

Jörg: Questions of sustainability play an increasingly important role for business school as this is a clear expectation of students as well as society. Check programmes to see this trend, including of course our programme.

I’m a consultant in the analysis sector. Although I am recognised well within the blue chip companies and paid well, I feel I am cornering myself into this industry. I’m 31 and have carefully saved up about £35k to invest in an MBA, to put me back on the right track… I am however also planning to migrate to Canada and I would like to know your view on this – will I be better equipped arriving in Vancouver with a London MBA (i.e. Judge or Cass) or would I be better off at UBC-Sauder? I don’t have plans to study in the US, but please include such context if you have to. I would also like to know your opinion on the relevance of a European MBA in the Far East these days, specifically Singapore ~ Rifaz Razeek

Della In the long-term, the value of an MBA relates to the quality of the institution that granted the degree. In the short term, though, you have to find a job on graduation and I think all business schools are better at placing students in a local company rather than one that is overseas. If you want to work in Canada on graduation, therefore, you might want to consider studying there.

In Asia there are relatively few strong local MBA programmes, and European schools have built a name for themselves teaching there – Insead in Singapore is the most prominent example. So I think European degrees are looked on favourably throughout Asia.

Jean-Michel: With a European business school located in Asia, you get a localised approach coupled with a European perspective, and a unique view on relations between these two continents.

In an evermore-globalised world, it’s increasingly important to have a good grasp of different cultural environments, and Singapore is the perfect location to be immersed in a new culture and gain exposure to the various facets of Asian cultures.

This is why Essec has been present in Singapore for some eight years, and is currently constructing a new campus in the city centre which is set for inauguration in early 2015. We think that it is important for our students to have an Asiatic approach to economy and society.

Francisco: I’m not sure I am the best person to contribute to this question. Still, in general, I believe that the MBA is recognised everywhere in the world, from Canada to the Far East.

The quality of the training and experience will of course matter, and they depend on where the student completes the MBA. But, while the geography of the MBA matters, the variation on many other dimensions is probably more significant that the home of the programme.

Jörg: European MBAs have gained enormous momentum, as can be seen from recent rankings. Thus it is worthwhile checking programmes carefully to see where your personal needs and interests find their best fit.

Abhinav: As a Cambridge Judge MBA student, I can begin by sharing that a good number of my classmates are from Canada. On the academic front, you will be challenged. You will learn skills to apply various business tools, both quantitative and qualitative, to slice and dice various business problems.

On the cohort front, you will have an opportunity to meet with 141 students from 44 countries. The depth and variety of experience is simply splendid. By the time you complete the MBA, you will have worked on at least two real world projects (one venture and one global), and established connections with the business school, your college and the University of Cambridge.

Since an MBA is a one-time investment, choose a programme that you can proudly display on your CV for the rest of your life. Your decision to step out of Canada will also reflect your enterprise and internationality. This will help you position a better argument for a better job, income etc.

Schools such as Cambridge enjoy great branding in the Far East. Many of my classmates from Japan are sponsored by their government to earn their MBA at Judge. The school has good connections with banks/companies in Singapore and beyond.

Why should I choose to go to Europe for a Masters in Management given that almost all the countries require excellent language capabilities both in English and their respective native language? It is impractical to assume that a person with knowledge of just English will master the language to perfection in two years; rather, it’s a continuous process that happens over time, but very few companies are willing to take the chance since a manager will be expected to face the client more often. On top of that, apart from Germany, none of the economies are doing well enough to allow us to expect that a job search visa of six months will be enough to find a job. Please could you advice me on why we should not go to the US but take a bet on Europe? ~ Sanjana Mridul

Jörg: We are in Germany, and the German economy is desperately looking for highly qualified individuals. Language skills are an advantage, but they are not a condition sine qua non. We will offer language classes in any case.

Della Well, if you want to study on a Masters in Management degree, you will find very little choice in the US, although several top schools such as Kellogg and Michigan Ross are beginning to move into this market.

You are right on the job front however, but the advantage of business schools in European countries is that they have always been more adept than their US counterparts in placing students in other countries. The Portuguese schools, for example, have strong ties with Brazil, for example, and the Spanish schools with South America. So where do you want to work when you graduate?

Jean-Michel: Business schools should be multicultural institutions (which is not the same as being global) and be open to linguistic diversity. Multiculturalism offers a great opportunity to gain exposure to a new language and culture and build relationships with locals. This always looks good (on a CV and in life in general) and is a factor of differentiation and a sign of open-mindedness. It also fosters creativity.

It doesn’t matter if you only speak English at first, what is important is your ability to familiarise yourself with another language during your stay. We welcome students from multiple linguistic backgrounds. And if you register to complete your Masters in Management, you have a great opportunity to study French, although you are not required to be fluent at graduation.

Francisco: In most good European MiM programmes, there is the clear expectation of English proficiency, but not the respective home language. That is certainly the case with the International MiM that we offer at Católica-Lisbon. What you have is the opportunity to get acquainted with, or to further develop, your language ability in the local language, which can provide additional advantages in the marketplace.

In Lisbon, in our MiM, you can live only speaking English, but you have the opportunity and the right environment to develop Portuguese language skills, which are useful in Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, and many other Portuguese speaking countries around the world. And the student can do this while acquiring an European recognised degree with value everywhere in the world.

Moreover, our programme, like many others in Europe has links that allow placement well beyond the local environment. So, if a Norwegian, Canadian or Chinese student is interested in pursuing a career that involves trading with Brazil, he or she may study with us, gain a European degree, study in English, learn Portuguese during the period here and then head down to São Paulo for a job interview, or apply to a German firm that is developing a major infrastructure project in Angola, for example.

Abhinav: Having studied both in the US and the UK, I can share my thoughts on the topic.

Most European MBA/Masters programmes are shorter i.e. one-year, as opposed to the regular two-year US MBA. Therefore, you save time. Also, you save money because your living expenses and tuition fees are almost slashed to half.

Second, Europe is more international. The economy has its cyclical and sinusoidal movements. Your degree is a long-term asset. The classroom by default will have a higher degree of internationality and cultural exchange. Hard to quantify, but I consider them an integral part of my learning experience. To add more cheer, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United Kingdom expanded 0.80 per cent in the third quarter of 2013 over the previous quarter.

More importantly, choose an institution on its merits as opposed to purely geographic considerations. Both the US and Europe present a lot of variety in learning quality, style and prospects.

I have an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University and am interested in moving into investment banking (technology sector) or even trading. Would you recommend I pursue an MBA or Masters of Science in Finance? Why? Eventually, I can envision having my own internet start-up. In this case, would your recommendation still hold? ~ Jean-Remy Lannelongue

Jörg: Both options have their merit for your career plans. More details would be needed to give better advice.

Francisco: The tradeoff is specialised vs. broader training and the opportunities they bring. If an engineering student with no training in business completes a specialised MSc in finance, he or she will probably be valued in the market when it comes to jobs that require and expect a deep technical training and good understanding of finance.

But the trade-off is that the student will more likely be confined to these more technical job opportunities upon graduation because of the lack of complementary skills in other areas of business, such as marketing, strategy or operations.

Certainly, if the long-term outlook is to start a firm, the student will be adding more valuable skills if completing a broader training rather than doing a finance MSc. A manager of a start-up will be doing many things on a day to day basis, including finance, but certainly not pricing complex options!

Della If you are absolutely sure you want to move back into the finance sector, then the specialised masters degree is the one for you. But if you are wavering, then an MBA would obviously cover more bases. It might also give you insights into careers that you had never thought of before!

Abhinav: Begin with the end in mind – contact the recruitment team at your target investment banks and ask them what they feel about an MS in Finance for the specific roles that you are targeting. Most associate programmes are reserved for MBAs. That should answer your first question.

An internet start-up idea would usually benefit from an entrepreneurship network and knowledge. In my opinion, an MBA gives you the platform to learn both finance and entrepreneurship in good measure. Furthermore, you could benefit from a more diverse classroom given the variety of interests and backgrounds. You can always customise your MBA with a finance concentration and select courses which deal with investment banking, trading and so on.

Simultaneously, look for programmes that provide you with the wherewithal to start your company. For example, at Cambridge you could gain access to the various entrepreneurial groups such as The Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, and take part in Silicon Valley Comes to the UK. Don’t forget that you have the added benefit of leveraging the Carnegie Mellon network in the US for both banking and internet start-ups!

I believe you should also speak to people at your target schools and companies to get a sense of which programme will serve you better – both in the short-term and the longer term.

Jean-Michel: Generally speaking, an MBA is a general management programme covering a variety of fields, and designed for people with several years of professional experience. A Masters of Science in Finance is very specialised and does not require professional experience. Between those two extremes, there are a variety of options so when you’re looking at MBA programmes, you need to look at the fine print.

There is a lot of value in companies for profiles that combine management and engineering expertise, especially in the financial sector. With this in mind, we’ve forged a strong partnership with engineering school Ecole Centrale.

That said, if your goal is to launch an internet start-up, I would recommend you take the Masters of Science in Management so that you can your develop your start-up idea while completing your studies.

I have been working as a digital design engineer and I have a GMAT score of 770. I plan to start my MBA in 2015 and use it to move into a management role in a technical company. But I have a real passion for sports, so I want to do a general MBA to keep options on that front open as well. I am a little confused as to which MBA programme would be suitable for me. Please could you let me know which colleges out of the top 30 would be suitable for my profile and needs? ~ Vishesh Mehra, India

Jean-Michel: You have an excellent profile and all options are open to you. Now you need to look at the specificity and flexibility of each MBA programme and decide based on your future plans.

Francisco: There are many other factors to be considered in the choice that make it hard to provide specific advice.

Jörg: I would abstain from giving a general answer to this question, but would like to provide some aspects of the ESMT MBA programme. The management of technology plays an important role in our programme, e.g. we offer tracks with this specialisation, we offer field seminars to Silicon Valley etc, and we work very closely with technologically oriented companies which have a specific interest in your type of profile.

Abhinav: Most top MBA programmes would be a good fit for you. But you could do some introspection to further fine-tune your career goals. Where would you like to work in terms of geography? Do you prefer a bigger class size or a smaller one? Do you want to attend a standalone business school or a university-affiliated business school? Do you want to do a one-year programme or otherwise? These should help you narrow down your choices. Also, consider the school culture since this plays a major role in the kind of people you will meet there.

Since technology seems to be a key component of your profile, target schools in geographies that have a technology focus (e.g. Silicon Valley).
Speaking about sports, are you passionate about a particular sport? If it is cricket or football, the US may not serve you best. But if it’s a wider interest, you could always look across America, Asia and Europe. All the best!

Della First, congratulations on the GMAT. Fantastic score! Most business schools would welcome you with open arms, so you can afford to be choosy.

We have written a number of articles at the FT on getting into business school, but general advice is….. First, consider where you want to live and work on graduation. Second, talk to the schools on your shortlist about which companies recruit there. And third, ask the schools where they think they could place someone with your experience.

You also need to consider the cost – is a one-year or a two-year degree within you budget? And is an internship important to you?

Whatever you decide, good luck!

How important are the different accreditations when its comes to determining the value and quality of a specific programme, as well as its future value with respect to job applications? ~ Friedrich Holotiuk

Francisco: Accreditations require the school to perform to high standards on very many areas, from faculty qualification, to internationalisation of students and faculty, processes to assess student learning and improvement, research output, or societal links, among others. Therefore, they play an important role, informing the applicant about the quality of the organisation.

Each accreditation has its own characteristics, but most good schools (including Católica-Lisbon) have what is called the Triple Crown, which includes Amba, Equis and AACSB accreditations. A student who starts by considering a school that has these three should immediately expect to find a very well organised school, an excellent learning environment, as well as a diverse set of opportunities for placement and outreach. Then, the student can pick a school based on other criteria that he or she finds important.

For example, it can be the strength of a particular area that the student is interested in (say innovation and entrepreneurship, as is our school); or the possibility to learn a new language that may be relevant for future business (at Católica-Lisbon, that would be the Portuguese).

Jean-Michel: Accreditations – like Equis or AACSB – are quality control processes based on international standards and carried out by external bodies. They measure and evaluate the coherence between teaching objectives, means and effectiveness, including job placement. Therefore, they are a good indication and guarantee of employability.

Jörg: Accreditations play a major role, as they assure students that the programme has been thoroughly assessed. With more and more universities receiving the accreditation though, other aspects should be considered as well.

Della Different markets value different accreditations. In the US, business schools effectively only recognise the AACSB accreditation, even though the European Equis standard is arguably more difficult to achieve. In Asia, both Equis and AACSB are valued and in Europe the trend is to go for as many accreditations as possible – schools boast of being triple accredited, for example (AACSB, Amba, Equis).

The accreditations are important because they give a recognised quality stamp. AACSB or Equis accreditation is also required for schools to participate in the FT business school rankings.