Bain & Co. Helps to Overhaul HEC Paris

This fall, the HEC School of Management will do what many business schools periodically do: introduce a newly revamped MBA curriculum. What makes this revamp especially noteworthy is that it was hatched in consultation with Bain & Co., one of the world’s most voracious recruiters of MBAs.

This is not the first time a prominent business school has sought help from a prominent consulting firm. In its recent strategic review, for example, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School got consulting assistance from Booz & Co., Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte Consulting.

Bain’s pro-bono consulting partnership with HEC, however, was a much deeper engagement, directly involving the director general of Bain France, another top partner and an experienced consultant. The consulting firm worked on everything from strategy to curriculum redesign. A detailed benchmarking of competitors took two months alone. And the firm helped to conduct a series of workshops on strategy, operations, and the macro design of the new curriculum.


The ultimate goal: To help sharpen the school’s positioning, strengthen its MBA program, and ultimately assist HEC in becoming one of the top three business schools in Europe and one of the top ten worldwide.

Among a broad range of conclusions, Bain suggested that HEC be positioned as an elite, personalized MBA program in Europe that offers students more access to faculty, tutoring and mentoring—all at a great value for the money in what is being billed as the Silicon Valley of France. HEC wants to be known among employers as a supplier of MBAs who graduate with rigorous training in the core fundamentals of business, ready to roll up their sleeves and go to work. Bain also believes the school should admit more consultants and bankers to its MBA program to better satisfy market demand.

“I think we can have very different positioning,” says Bernard Garrette, associate dean of HEC Paris, who runs the school’s MBA program and who had brought in the consulting company to do the study. “The 16-month duration of our program is a strength because we have the time to offer a specialization. Bain told us to better leverage specializations and position our MBA program as the best of both worlds-an MBA program long enough to help someone switch careers and specialize, yet short enough to cost less and take less time than a two-year program.”

Garrette, who had worked earlier in his career for McKinsey & Co., enlisted Bain’s help after McKinsey turned down a request for pro bono assistance. As Garrette recalls it, “McKinsey was doing a lot of stuff for us already so they told me. ‘Okay, we are not going to staff one more team for free to help you. We are sorry but you should look for another. I called Bain and they immediately said, ‘Yes, great, we’ll do it.’ And then, of course, my colleagues at McKinsey learned about it and called and said, ‘Perhaps we can staff a team for you.’ It was too late.”


On a picture postcard campus in a small hill town in the Paris suburbs, HEC has long been one of the most prestigious business schools in France, first offering an MBA degree in 1969. Its graduates occupy the top ranks of many of France’s largest and most admired multinationals. In fact, 12 of the 40 most highly valued companies in France are now led by CEOs who are HEC alumni. Its location in Paris attracts top students from around the world, including U.S. candidates who typically make up between 15% and 20% of each MBA class.

But the school, with an acceptance rate of 14% and a graduating class of less than 250 MBAs, has tended to fall in the shadow behind INSEAD, London Business School, and IMD. Currently, PoetsandQuants ranks HEC eighth among non-U.S. schools behind INSEAD, London, IE Business School, IMD, IESE, ESADE and Cambridge. The Financial Times currently ranks the school 18th in the world and sixth in Europe.

“They want to be securely anchored in the top three in Europe and recognized in a way that is sustainable,” says Bertrand Pointeau, one of the Bain partners who worked on the study. “It is within reach, but they are not quite there yet. There seems to be room for a first group of MBA programs in Europe but that first group is not very big in fact–maybe four to five at most. And then there is a range of smaller MBA programs that will scramble and struggle somehow.”


That’s a similar assessment to school officials. “The gap between the first and second tier schools is increasing a lot,”  says Garrette. “Schools in the middle are dropping. The market is getting much more organized and mature in Europe. It’s not really a global market. Our applicants mainly overlap with London and INSEAD, not much with the U.S. or Asia. Rankings are important because what counts is the position we have in Europe.”

  • Age

    How old are these articles, it’s high time that P&Q mentioned the dates the articles were written.

  • clipper1

    I dont think anyone doubts that in terms of education you have huge learning advantages at a place like INSEAD or LBS in areas such as international exposure, amazing classmates, international professors.
    But given that bschools are a business venture (both sides see it that way as the schools keep hiking up tuition like crazy) things like recruiting, scholarships, loans, networking, etc are important and the European schools still have a lot to do–i hope they keep working hard on this!.
    LBS and INSEAD are just not up to speed in scholarships, loans, recruiting. They have few connections to the US market but top US schools are all over Europe. Moreover, I know of last round applicants to LBS who were told that there would be no loans by HSBC. I have heard numerous complaints about career services at LBS. As a Columbia alum who did an exchange at LBS I saw a big difference regarding recruiting, even though I loved the academic experience at LBS. This was several years back and I hope things are changing, but this LBS loan issue worried me as my friend could not attend. 

    Having said that, I think that schools like Columbia which have eliminated loans for international students are heading to the gutter under the leadership of Dean Hubbard who seems not to care about key issues that originally made Columbia great. Lots of excuses on his part. Moreover, schools like Wharton which play around with loans for internationals by only giving 80% of the cost will never compete with HBS and Stanford which are extremely generous to internationals by providing not only loans but grants.

  • bschool_guy

    J. Byrne – can’t understand why you are so partial to the US schools…  Berkeley “kills” INSEAD??  Give me a break!
    “The truth is, that the top U.S. business schools have massive what might be called “hidden advantages” that are not measured by any of the rankings that tend to lead outsiders to believe that INSEAD or London might be equal to a Northwestern, Chicago or Berkeley. The endowments, scholarship funds, full time professors, infrastructure student support, career management staff, alumni support and alumni network strength are among these hidden assets that don’t get measured. Yet, this is where the top U.S. business schools kill the top overseas competition.”

  • Anonymous


    As one of the exchange students at HEC, I completely agree that the school has more cultural diversity than any American business school. Still, your post is insulting when you imply that the American students didn’t want to meet other nationalities, and that they only hung out with other Americans. That’s simply not the case. The exchange students did mostly hang out as a group, but this is largely because they all lived in Paris, not Jouy en Josas. Additionally, there weren’t many social clubs at HEC where exchange students were able to meet HEC students outside of class, and Piano Bar was not really an option for people that had to catch the RER. In the classroom, it was difficult to join with non-exchange students in groups, since many of the HEC students quickly formed groups with their friends. Finally, you underestimate the diversity of the exchange class. Only about 20% were American – the rest were from all over the world, and we were close regardless of nationality. I did meet many great people at HEC, so it’s disappointing that an HEC alum would feel the need to demean Americans in order to promote his own school.

    Also, please don’t group “latins” together as if they are homogenous. It’s bizarre that you talk about number of nationalities at HEC, while using the word “latins” as if they are a single culture.

  • limo


    those “hidden treasures” not only make US Schools better, they are actually made the US itself on what is it about today. Alumni network isn’t european thing and that affect heavily the MBA programs there and even universities. US still far away ahead of others in all levels and by all measures. Only INSEAD has made some exception yet still behind Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, and I would say even behind Chicago and Tuck..

  • Ravik

    – I graduated from the HEC MBA. Lot of students from the top American schools came on exchange to HEC (see the list of exchange program on HEC website). While most of them are working in “US” based jobs for American companies, most of my classmates and I are working in jobs of global or regional influence, taking us across continents.

    – Most US schools will have majority Americans and Indians/Chinese and rest latins, Average HEC class has more than 50 nationalities. This helped us understand the cultural differences and cultivate diversity. I saw the US MBA exchange grads, even on exchange, hanging among themselves. Success of this factor cannot be measured but wait till you work in a global corporation and interface across the world.

    At HEC, I had a choice of exchange with a top US school or internship in corporate strategy at a US$ 30 Bn organization. Even though I was accepted for exchange at top school in the US, I chucked it and concentrated on the job. Perhaps, the best decision of that year and only due to flexibility of the HEC MBA. My colleagues who went on exchange gave a mixed feedback. In this recession struck market, internship was a way better move than packing my bags to see US get downgraded. So the HEC MBA does have flexibility even though it is short.

    – US schools may churn out lot of the research but when one is in the course the last thing one thinks about is going through that research and pondering on it. There are so many important tools to be learned that one never gets chance to go through this “new” research. Understanding business and getting that 6th sense was my first priority than going through the research about new methods that may or may not work. Today at work, I am applyng directly what I learned in the class during the MBA.

    In the end, decide on your MBA based on what you want from the course. My experience at HEC was amazing!!

  • Elisabeth


    thanks for your swift reply. Incidentally, the most promising HEC undergraduates prefer to hone their finishing touches in MBA education at top US BSchools. I made this observation when I visited US BSchools and talked to European students. Ditto for Brits and Oxbridge. This is a reliable indicator of your theory that “top U.S. business schools kill the top overseas competition”. I have tremendous respect for proprietary research and most leading management concepts are still generated at US PhD programmes with many overseas students contributing to vibrant research. Just see Indian professors and their contribution.

  • hmmmm,

    I appreciate the irony and here and I had to admit you made me laugh out loud. Truth is, however, that the consulting industry is probably the biggest and most reliable single recruiter of top MBA students. And it’s also true that even though there are a fair number of career switchers who go to business school, that tends to be less so in Europe where the programs are shorter and don’t allow for internships to assist a career switch. So what goes in is pretty much what goes out. So Bain’s conclusion is obvious, yet important, for a school like HEC. You still have me laughing, though.

  • Elisabeth,

    You raise some very good points in your questions which actually are much more generic than merely applicable to HEC Paris. The truth is, that the top U.S. business schools have massive what might be called “hidden advantages” that are not measured by any of the rankings that tend to lead outsiders to believe that INSEAD or London might be equal to a Northwestern, Chicago or Berkeley. The endowments, scholarship funds, full time professors, infrastructure student support, career management staff, alumni support and alumni network strength are among these hidden assets that don’t get measured. Yet, this is where the top U.S. business schools kill the top overseas competition.

  • hmmm

    So a consulting firm recommended that a business school admit more consultants. Sounds about right. Good job, Bain.

  • Amir

    Good call for profiling a less well known MBA program. Interesting to know that HEC’s students come mostly from industry background and less from traditional finance/consulting work. I have noticed that HEC has changed its intake from mostly French students to a more international student body from US, India and China.

    Time will tell how HEC will position itself as mid tier (?)European business school. HEC isn’t quite top 3 and competes in an increasingly crowded middle market. An acceptance rate of 14% is surprisingly low. HEC does a good job in offering double degree programs with other leading partner universities to strengthen its international and cross discipline character.

  • Elisabeth


    Thanks for the informative HEC article, it gives a good overview of a solid regional MBA programme that gets less coverage. What is your view of recruitment (mostly large French firms) and endowment? It looks that HEC grants fewer scholarships to students than US peers. I am also puzzled that HEC is more geared towards its traditional specialist MSc degrees and PhD research commitment is somewhat secondary compared to top US or European business schools. Finally what do you think of HEC’s overreliance on more adjunct profs from private sector to deliver some specialist classes?