Over the past 40 years, the profile for MBA students has transformed radically. Back in the 70s, adcoms sought straight arrows who could dissect a case, ace fundamentals, and translate their lessons into a plan. Fast forward to now, where the big catches are imaginative free spirits with the grit to turn ideas into solutions. Forget traditional role models like John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford. Today’s business leader template starts with Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, outliers who aren’t afraid to be different or step outside their comfort zone.
If you asked Tino Elgner for one word to describe IE Business School’s 2017 Class, he would use “unconventional.” The senior associate director of the international MBA program, Elgner calls this mindset the “common denominator” of the class, “vital” in a program known as a refuge for mavericks and originals. “IMBAs look at the world through inquisitive lenses,” he notes. “Like salmon that swim against the tide, they are characterized by their courage to paddle upstream, and to question the status-quo with both eyes focused on innovation and the desire to create an impact, knowing that the whole world is their reservoir for unconventional ideas,” he writes in a statement to Poets&Quants.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL CLASS IN AN UNORTHODOX MBA PROGRAM
Indeed, this spirit to push boundaries and embrace a wide range of perspectives drew Louise Brennan to Madrid this year. A Canadian whose passion for water sustainability was kindled by interning for the World Food Programme in Rwanda, Brennan views the program’s penchant for fostering ingenuity, critical thinking, and diversity as the perfect fit for students whose curiosity and push back are sometimes misinterpreted as defiance. “IE prides itself on being ‘an environment for unconventional thinkers daring to be different.’ I like to think that’s me! I am really excited by IE’s focus on intrapreneurship because I believe that this way of thinking will be critical to successful corporate leadership in a global environment of increasing uncertainty and complexity.”
The IE Business School isn’t your traditional business school. Founded by entrepreneurs, not academics, the school’s DNA is deeply market-centric, with a focus on identifying new educational opportunities and ensuring student satisfaction. With classes taught in English and Spanish —the third most-spoken language in business —IE boasts a truly global footprint headlined by classes that attract students from over 60 countries on average. This mix has turned IE from an also-ran program a decade ago into a juggernaut that ranks among the top five international programs across every ranking. One reason: Íñiguez de Onzoño, who announced in November that he is stepping down after 13 years of being dean to take over the IE university as a whole, has practiced what the school preaches with innovations like developing one of the world’s first online MBA programs.
At just one year long, the IE MBA frees students from burdensome opportunity costs so they can quickly return to their careers after graduation. As part of 50,000 alumni, IE students can find connections and mentors in nearly every region, industry, or leading company imaginable. Those are just a few more reasons why the school’s tagline — “An MBA out of the Ordinary” — resonates so deeply with the 2017 Class. “We have created a highly customizable one-year program that allows our IMBAs to explore their individual talents and become business leaders that are adaptable problem-solvers with a high degree of cultural intelligence,” Elgner adds. “The current IMBA class is ready to take on this challenge, and is hungry like no other to be unconventional.”
“THE SMALLEST CHIHUAHUA LOOKS LIKE CHEWBACCA TO ME”
If you asked IE Business School graduates to describe their experience, you’d find words like “diverse,” “life-changing,” “passion,” and “team” used. You’ll find similar sentiments sprinkled in how class members describe themselves. Karin Erbacher, who hails from Switzerland and studied communication at Florida Atlantic University, is an “ambitious career woman at work — adventurous traveler, enthusiastic dancer and passionate foodie at heart.” Natalie Rodgers, a native of Holland who calls herself national identity “blurry” coming from an Irish-American father and an Albanian-Macedonian mom, fits the IE mold perfectly: “I’m always eager to stand up for my beliefs and improve the status quo.” Renata de Carvalho, whose first exposure to the English language started from playing video games as a child, calls herself a “person passionate about life, eager to have a memorable collection of amazing experiences!” Watch out for Brennan, a deadly mix of left brain reason and right brain imagination. “My curiosity, enthusiasm and compassion are only bounded by a strong dose of pragmatism,” she says.
Diverse may be the perfect label for the 2017 Class. However, Elgner notes that it goes beyond “different flags” or “professional, academic, cultural and personal experiences.” Instead, the beauty of the class is that, in Elgner’s words,” “it connects people who would not meet otherwise.” These connections, he adds, produces a community linked by shared values.
One shared value is undoubtedly the importance of exploration. Erbacher, for one, has already visited 50 countries. As a 16 year-old journalist, South Africa’s Zayne Imam nearly snuck across the Iraq-Turkey border to cover the second Iraq war. Shai Sisso’s exploits turned him into an urban legend. “While I was backpacking in South America,” he notes, “I got to cook in every hostel I came across. About two months later, I began to hear stories about an Israeli cook who came all the way to South America to cook for backpackers. It took me a while to understand they were speaking about me.”
Not everyone needs to punch their passport to navigate this class. Nigeria’s Victor Muo is a case in point. “Since I was young,” he reminisces, “I have written a number of interesting plays and movie scripts, ranging from traditional African dramas to thrillers with tragic Tarantino-type endings. I remember when I was in boarding school, I used to draw a weekly comic about a superhero called Superfly. Superfly was the bomb. The storyline was so captivating that my fellow boarders used to pay me to keep drawing the comic.” Some class members even shy away from adventure. Look no further than María de Gregorio Verdejo, who calls Madrid her hometown. “I have an irrational fear of dogs,” she confesses. “The smallest Chihuahua looks like Chewbacca to me.”
CONSULTANT LEARNS HIS JOB IS ABOUT MORE THAN SPREADSHEETS AND POWERPOINTS
According to Elgner, the 2017 Class represents its most wide-ranging IE class yet. “They have won competitions related to Habitat for Humanity; they have created their own startups and assisted in founding CSR programs in their respective companies; they are volunteers, professional athletes, musicians, and PhDs; they have organized blood donation camps in India and start-up weekends in Panama; they are CFA Charter holders, and Iron Man winners.”
They also boast major league credentials. Arturo Avila took a leap of faith by leaving a senior consultant job at Ernst & Young, moving from New York City to Bolivia to join a startup as its first employee. By the time he’d left, he’d hired 100 employees. Erbacher spearheaded an effort to combine six distinctive brand products into a “unified portfolio brand,” gaining buy-in from executive management, assorted marketing teams, an advertising agency, and several functional and regional stakeholders in the process. Equally impressive, de Gregorio Verdejo led the development of a diagnostic tool to detect and stage neuroendocrine tumours. “The test has now become an integral procedure in the diagnosis of patients,” she states. “It has also led to dramatic improvements in therapy plans for a wide range of suitable patients, while also maintained the Christie Hospital at the forefront of oncology diagnosis and treatment.”
However, some class members take the greatest pride in quieter, more personal accomplishments. As a consultant, de Carvalho once took on a project that included establishing a variable compensation models for cutters in the sugar cane industry. After the cutters made their goals and received their bonuses, he learned that management consulting was far more than models and presentations. “One of them came to me one day after lunch and said that the money allowed him to finish building his house and that he was very grateful,” he shares. “In that moment, I realized that the work I had done went well beyond the spreadsheet and into someone’s life.”
DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE CLASS OF 2018 SERIES