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ESADE Dean: ‘Globalization Is Unstoppable’

ESADE’s MBA is truly global, says Dean Josep Franch, with more than 90% of students hailing from outside Spain. Courtesy photo

La Rambla is an iconic boulevard in Barcelona, Spain, a popular tree-lined esplanade best known for its street merchants and its towering monument to Christopher Columbus. Conceptually, The Rambla bears some similarities to its namesake — chiefly, the potential to draw visitors from faraway lands.

The “Rambla of Innovation,” as it’s known, is a multi-pronged approach to overhauling business education at Barcelona’s ESADE, a learning ecosystem in the ESADECREAPOLIS building on the business school’s Sant Cugat campus in Barcelona. And what an ecosystem it is — and promises to be: Inside the ESADECREAPOLIS, currently, are a pair of facilities, the EGarage and EWorks, the former an idea incubator and the latter an idea launcher for students in ESADE’s MBA, MSc, and BBA programs. In the next year and a half, moreover, the two incubation stations will be joined by three more: Design Factory, where students and faculty will devise responses and solutions to new challenges; Decision Lab, where faculty and researchers will conduct experiments on consumer behavior; and Fab Lab, a concept borrowed from MIT that will give students space to create new products, build prototypes, and conduct pre-launch tests.

Design Factory, Decision Lab, and Fab Lab are slated to open in September 2018. Taken all together, Dean Josep Franch enthuses to Poets&Quants, the Rambla of Innovation at ESADE will combine entrepreneurship and innovation in such a way as to put the school in the ranks of the top global destinations for the best B-school student talent — and continue ESADE’s ascent of the European and global B-school rankings.

“The idea is that a student can participate in the activities of the EGarage, perhaps design a product as an entrepreneur,” Franch says. “They can even make a prototype of the product, work on the product, test it. In the Rambla, they can go all the way to market with it.”

BECOMING A CENTER FOR THE NURTURING OF INNOVATION

Josep Franch took over as dean of ESADE in September 2014.

Franch gets noticeably excited when he talks about the Rambla, and it’s no wonder why: It represents a major shift for ESADE from a primarily classroom-and-lecture-based business school to a center for the nurturing of innovation, a place that harness the digital revolution and pioneers a path using new learning models. Managed by the ESADE Entrepreneurship Institute and intended to be the startup hub of all startup hubs, it is already a gathering place for some 2,000 business students at all levels, about 335 of whom are pursuing an MBA.

Degree-seekers of all stripes will have access to the Rambla’s amenities, Franch says, including those pursuing ESADE’s five Master of Science business degrees — and its sixth, a Master of Business Analytics, that launches in the fall of 2017.

“(The Rambla is) a business incubator, it is a business accelerator, it is a place for cutting-edge research and experiments. It is a reinvention of the learning model,” Franch says.

PROGRESS ON ALL FRONTS

Since he took over as dean in September 2014, Franch has seen more than a great deal of change on the ESADE campus. He’s also seen that change rewarded. The school has inched upward in the Financial Times ranking, from 23rd overall in 2016 to 17th this year (and 16 spots total in the last five years), and now ranks sixth among all European B-schools, third in Europe for salary increase (average base salary: $90,000), and second in the world for career progress.

The average GMAT score of ESADE’s MBA students has risen, too, from 660 last year to 670 now. And its placement rate has increased, from 83% within three months of graduation for the Class of 2015 to 86% for last year’s grads.

Meanwhile, ESADE’s diversity — always a major part of the B-school’s profile — has, improbably, also grown. And this is where Franch, who before becoming dean was the director of ESADE’s department of marketing management, really gets animated. Its female ranks have grown slowly but steadily, from 28% of MBA seekers a couple cohorts ago to 31% in the Class of 2017. Talking of the international makeup of the MBA student body, Franch points out that more than 100 different languages can be heard on the Sant Cugat campus. International students make up an incredible 90% — “or more,” Franch insists — of MBA seekers at the school. And the breakdown is remarkably even across continents: In the 180-member ESADE Class of 2018, 30% come from Asia, 30% from Latin America, 25% from Europe and 15% from the U.S., Franch says.

IN PRAISE OF — AND FEALTY TO — DIVERSITY

Diversity is vital to ESADE. But it is even more vital to business education, Franch says.

At the end of the day we are training people for working in a business world which is increasingly becoming global —with some barriers, lately, obviously,” he says. “It’s part of the global experience to be working in teams where you’ve got people from very diverse backgrounds, that’s part of the learning experience. This is not affecting the quote-unquote ‘competence’ — our MBA has a strong international flavor in terms of competence, so it’s not focused on a particular region. But it’s the way you work in groups, the way you interact, the type of cases that you do which are coming from different parts of the world — these things provide this international experience to the students.”

About those “barriers.” It’s impossible, talking with a European business school dean, not to broach two subjects: Brexit, and Trump. Add to that one more: the looming French election, which gets underway April 23. Franch is uncertain that either will have a major effect on ESADE — but he’s not ruling it out, either. And he feels if anything, the school’s ongoing transformation will make it an option for MBA seekers who steer clear of the UK or U.S. for political reasons.

“We witnessed the Brexit phenomenon in Europe, and to be honest it is not affecting us,” Franch says. “The French election is big question mark, difficult to predict, and taking the experience of the last year or year and a half, every forecast on every political election has been wrong. So …

“Trump? This could be an issue. If I remember correctly, at the last AACSB conference, there was some research findings from GMAC about the preferences for students and there was a clear sign that one, students were now not considering coming to the U.S., and they were looking for other options. But of course it also depends on  where you are coming from. I don’t think that the elections in the U.S. are going to change things for Western European students, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the UK, this is not going to change at all. But it’s quite clear that students coming from some regions, they have some questions.”