HEC Paris: Where The Grande École Has Gone Global


MBA students who take one of the six certificates—digital innovation for business, energy and finance, innovation management in aviation and aerospace, leadership, luxury, and social business—also rub shoulders with students in the last year of the school’s Master of Management Grande Ecole program as well as students enrolled in other one-year master’s programs.

In addition to having the opportunity to take a class with the co-author of a book that resonated with her, the certificate program sealed the deal. “HEC was an obvious and easy choice because I wanted to stick to luxury,” she says. “Being in the heart of the luxury market was important to me.”

The bet has paid off. Her field project is with L’Oreal and as the outgoing president of the school’s luxury club, Yang organized numerous dinners with prominent alumni at such companies as Louis Vuitton, L’Oreal, Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent, and Givenchy (which she wears).


Whether one pursues a certificate or not, the MBA experience here is different on several levels. “I was totally shocked how different it is,” says Promiti Prosun, 26, a Canadian whose parents are from Bangladesh. Prosun did her bachelor’s degree in marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto and didn’t want to repeat her undergraduate experience.. “Coming from a cosmopolitan culture in Toronto I thought it would be a breeze to transition here,” she says. “But in North America, you have the expectation that people adapt and blend in. Here, there really is no one culture because it is so diverse. You have to be flexible. It goes to the way you speak and to how you act.

Like most MBA programs, the work at HEC Paris is challenging. “If you cruise here, you get left behind,” says Jameel Zakkout, who did his undergrad at Université du Québec à Montréal and who graduates this year with his MBA. “It’s a humbling and challenging experience. I never have had to work so hard for an A.”

Some students express surprise at how the global diversity of the program tends to overwhelm the school’s french roots. “You are not really in France in this building,” says Zakkout, who speaks French, English and Arabic fluently. Adds Yang: “It’s been a little bit of a struggle to immerse myself in the French language. Within the MBA building, it’s all English.” Yang is fluent in French and expects to land a job in luxury retailing in France when she graduates. She says she would have liked to take some electives in French but the entire MBA program is in English. Otherwise, the complaints are few and far between. Students say the bus schedule to Paris is horrible, the food on Sundays is not up to French standards, and they wish it was easier to get in tune with the French culture outside the school. “It’s hard to integrate in a foreign country,” says Senn. “France is very difficult.”


Little has been left untouched by the transformation, from the way candidates are admitted, to where they study and work, to how they land jobs. Admissions has been revamped so that applicants get a decision within five weeks of submitting their applications. In fact, candidates are told within three working days if their applications will move forward or if they will be cut. It’s a novel admissions process because the decisions are made by an eight-person jury that consists of Associate Dean Garrette, the academic director, a representative of the alumni and the faculty, and the directors of career management and admissions.

There’s also the director of the Direction des Admissions et Concours, an independent body in charge of organizing and ensuring the quality and the integrity of the selection process for French business schools The president of the jury is a professor or dean from a different university who functions as a representative of the French ministry of higher education. To get the decision time down to just five weeks, Admissions Director Philippe Oster had to increase the size of the jury and ask it to meet monthly.

When the jury meets, the deputy director in charge of development and the manager of the admissions Office are also present with their teams: they present the applications and answer questions but do not participate in the decision process. The president of the jury has the final word.


The school receives about 1,200 applications annually, and applications are up 11% so far this year. Oster says he is especially looking for candidates with international exposure, leadership potential, career progression, and generally three plus years of professional experience. “The GMAT is only one of 17 criteria,” says Oster, who notes that the average for the latest entering class is 685. About half of the applicants go through two admission interviews done by a group of 400 alumni, and the yield—the percentage of admits who enroll—is between 60% and 70%. Do the math and it comes to an acceptance rate of about 25%.

The MBA students study in a new and massive building with ten classrooms and six lecture theaters and 25 breakout rooms opened in June of 2012. Modern and sparse, Building S features gray concrete walls, wire grid ceilings that expose the building’s wiring and air conditioning ducts, and rooms that are often lit by metal shop lights. The design is not without its critics, given the industrial feel of the interior, but it is a first class facility.

There is a formal career management center curriculum which brings students through a process of self-assessment, industry boot camps, and one-on-one coaching to assist in job searches. Somers divides the students up into two categories: Explorers and Hunters. About 80% of the students are not sure what they want to do,” he says. “They have a plan A and a plan B. A hunter is someone who knows he wants to be an investment banker or a consultant and is coming here to do that.”

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