Bain & Co. Helps to Overhaul HEC Paris

Associate Dean Bernard Garrette brought in Bain to help HEC-Paris rethink its School of Management

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.”

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