HEC Paris: Where The Grande École Has Gone Global

All students don fatigues at a military school for leadership

All students don fatigues at a military school for leadership


If a student is interested in finance, the MBA candidate is taken through a mini-course on finance essentials, a careers-in-finance info session, a weekend-long bootcamp, where students learn how to craft a perfect CV for the industry, how to interview and what to expect in the culture of a financial service company. There is also financial modeling sessions and specific one-on-one interview training. In other words, what MBA students typically get at any world class business school is offered at HEC Paris.

Increasingly, there is a greater emphasis on internships to help line up students with jobs. “We are dealing with a culture in which internships are undergraduate mechanisms and longer term, four to six months,” says Somers. “But I’m trying to make sure that participants have the same internship experience they would in a two-year program even though we are 16 months.” Somers says that more than 140 students in the Class of 2015 have landed internships and that 25% of those internships have been converted into full-time job offers.

Besides the core curriculum and a full menu of more than 70 electives that can lead to one of five specializations—finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, leadership and strategy—or one of the certificate programs, there’s also three key events at HEC that help to define the MBA experience. The first is a two-day leadership seminar at Saint-Cyr Military Academy in Brittany, the French equivalent of West Point. where students don fatigues, navigate an obstruction course, and engage in leadership exercises with debriefs by French military officers. Thomas Maudet, who came to HEC from the French Defense Department, had to manage a crisis center that set up a refugee camp.


Then there is the MBA Tournament, a student-run undertaking that has MBAs from all of Europe’s elite business schools competing in 23 different sporting events, from chess and foosball to soccer. The event attracts more than 1,300 MBA students. This past year, as co-president, Senn helped lead what everyone calls MBAT (pronounced M-BAT) and says she slept seven hours during the three days of the event. “It was only at HEC that I could have had this opportunity,” says Senn. “I am the youngest person in the program with the least amount of work experience. So the opportunity to run the tournament was a real growth experience for me.”

Finally, every MBA student is required to do what HEC Paris calls a fieldwork project that addresses a strategic challenge for a company. MBA candidates–either individually or in teams of up to four students–do the project over one term, working in a company or sector closely linked to the student’s professional goals. Many business schools, of course, have similar projects but HEC even leave open the possibility that a project can be completed with a full-time job, an unusual twist.

Where does HEC Paris go from here? It’s the question, admits Garrette, that keeps him awake at night. “One of the main challenges is to make HEC Paris more visible globally,” he says. “We need to let people from outside Europe, and sometimes outside France, know better about what we are and what we are doing here.”

While HEC Paris hopes to build its reputation and the size of its full-time MBA program, it wants to do so carefully. “We do not want to grow too much and to become too ‘commercial’ because that would be incompatible with our ‘exclusive’ DNA,” says Garrette, who intends to better leverage the school’s powerful alumni network which has 75 chapters around the world. “We must enhance the visibility of HEC Paris by the business community in key international ‘hotspots.’” He especially calls out London, New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Doha, Hong-Kong, and Shanghai.

Africa, he believes, is the school’s next admissions and placement target. “An obvious reason is the economic take-off of some, if not all, African countries. The second reason is that HEC Paris’ French origin creates a competitive advantage in a large cluster of African countries. The HEC brand is already known and valued, we have some prominent alumni there and the potential is huge,” believes Garrette. “But in order to attract the best students that fit our philosophy, we must find ways to become more inclusive, facilitate funding and scholarships, without compromising selectivity. In other words, we must be socially inclusive while remaining intellectually exclusive.”


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