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Can Germany Overcome Barriers to Business School Greatness?

Frankfurt School campus. http://www.frankfurt-school.de

Frankfurt School campus. Courtesy photo

Udo Steffens, president of Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, says the time may soon arrive when a German business school is mentioned in the same breath with the top B-schools of Europe, London Business School, HEC Paris, INSEAD of France, and IE Business School of Spain. What will change the dynamic that has long seen the Germans bringing up the rear in the rankings? Two things, says Steffens: A slow but inexorable cultural shift favoring business school independence from public universities; and Brexit.

Frankfurt School President Udo Steffens

Frankfurt School President Udo Steffens

Brexit, whereby the UK voted in June to leave the European Union, won’t have an immediate effect on the fortunes of continental B-schools, Steffens says. But in four or five years’ time, he says, the UK’s self-imposed divorce from the resources of the Continent will make schools like Frankfurt “quite an inspiring place.”

“Frankfurt School is a fast-growing and internationally attractive institution, so I think it’s a good place to be,” Steffens says. “And I think also as far as placement and job prospects are concerned MBA students do think about that if they invest a decent amount of money, they think all about placement and career development.

“As far as internationally and globalization is concerned, there is certainly a psychological momentum in (Brexit), that international students may perhaps less consider (the UK) and reconsider the continental European offerings … even if the London area was against (leaving the EU). There is a kind of metaphoric aspect in it — why should I, as an international student, go to a country which is leaving an international community?”

OVERCOMING HEADWINDS TO RISE IN THE RANKINGS

Germany has historically been home to business schools that fall lower on the rankings ladder than schools in the UK, France, Switzerland, and Spain. The top-ranked German school in 2015, according to the Financial Times, was Berlin-based European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), which registered at No. 16. Mannheim Business School (No. 18), HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management (No.  33), and WHU Beisheim (No. 37) are the only others in the top 50. Frankfurt, which only began offering a full-time MBA in 2014, is ranked No. 60.

In the Poets&Quants 2015 international rankings of non-U.S. schools, Mannheim is top German school at No. 18, with ESMT at No. 19. Frankfurt didn’t make the 70-school cut.

But that doesn’t provide the whole picture. Two years before, in 2013, ESMT was ranked 28th by FT, and Mannheim was 23rd. Neither Frankfurt nor EBS Business School (No. 51), in Wiesbaden, were even in the FT top 85 for Europe. Steffens says that and other signs indicate progress toward the goal of getting Germany some business school cred.

“No one yet in Germany that is internationally seen as being top, top school,” says Steffens, who nonetheless called Germany’s rankings rout “certainly a surprising situation.” “There is a vacuum and our strategy is to fill that vacuum, and there are a few other schools running to that position, but we think that out of Frankfurt we have a fair chance to achieve that in the next five to six, seven, eight years, depending a little bit on funding.”

AT FRANKFURT, RESEARCH ON PAR WITH MBAS

Frankfurt School, with 57 faculty (including those for its bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs) and roughly the same number of full-time MBA students (46) as Executive MBA students (47), prides itself on its research credentials. But Steffens says its MBA program does not suffer from its focus on research. In fact the balance between the two, he says is what gives Frankfurt an edge over the competition.

“We are heavily investing in the capacity and also the size of our research, so we are trying to get in the next four to five years a faculty of 80,” he says. “(But) we do not only look for research-research, but here and there we also try to recruit professors of so-called management practice, which have a long experience in the corporate world and may bring that to the classroom yet obviously they would not meet the research requirements — so we have established that different kind of professor.

“We have two levers where we can influence our strategic position,” he says. “One is the MBA — how is your MBA positioned? And the other one is certainly research output, and the research quality of your faculty. So you have two fields of strategic maneuvering, one is the MBA market and the other is the research market. In our interpretation of the competitive landscape, we are well-placed in both markets.”