Dean Of The Year: Europe’s Business School Maverick

IE Business School


Today, 75% of the school’s students are enrolled in English-delivered programs that cover every segment of the higher ed market, including a bachelor’s degree in business, a global and part-time MBA programs, doctoral programs, and master’s in finance, management, and positive leadership and strategy. There’s the partnership with Brown University, but an even more unusual collaboration with the Financial Times in executive education, a joint venture called Corporate Learning Alliances for custom programs that has shown growth of 136% this year. Some 88% of IE’s revenues, moreover, come from outside Spain, which remains the school’s largest single market but revenues are balanced throughout the world. After Spain, IE’s second major market is the U.S., followed by the rest of Europe, Latin America, and finally Asia where IE is experiencing fast growth.

The school was among the very first to enter the online education space, offering a blended MBA degree even before Iniguez became dean. But Iniguez quickly became the format’s strongest advocate. “He was really a pioneer when everyone thought it was not possible or online education was perceived as something inferior,” says Boehm. “He believed this would be something big and the technology would come around to deliver a high quality education. That was clearly a bet but he pushed it and continues to do so.”

The upshot? When he became dean, blended programs that combined face-to-face learning with online models represented less than 10% of the school’s portfolio. Today, roughly 25% of the programs have more than half of the learning delivered online, and the school’s online MBA program was ranked first by the Financial Times this year. “He committed to online learning and blended learning when the only other place doing it was the University of Phoenix,” recalls Bach. “He taught online and that sent a signal to the faculty. If the dean teaches online, you better get on board also.”


Not surprisingly, many of the changes faced opposition but with the support of IE’s founder, Iniguez was able to push them through. “Of course,” he says, matter of factly, “you need to break many resistances on the part of faculty or the people who thought the MBA was the anchor or those who don’t trust online education and consider it second rate. We had to twist many arms, both inside and outside. And many times we encountered criticism of our colleagues and at first accreditation agencies,” adds Iñiguez, who has now gotten the last laugh. This year he was named chairman of the board of directors of AACSB International, the largest business school accreditation agency, and will become the first non-U.S. dean to complete the full year as chair.

“In academia, opportunistic is a bad word. For me, it was praise. One of the demands I got from the faculty was that now was the time to create a Faculty Senate. I refused this invitation because I thought one of the advantages of our school is that we had a governance that was closer to a business than the typical academic institution. Over the years, the good thing is that we achieved the recognition, but not without the criticism.”

Asked to name his biggest mistake as dean, Iniguez concedes there have been “lots of them because since we are a very experimental business school we commit lots of errors. The nature of innovation is trial and error. Only by committing errors can you actually learn and avoid the same errors in the future. We’ve launched programs that didn’t last long. The good thing is we are very quick to change. The errors I regret are those involving other people. I learn mostly from indirect sources that someone left the organization because he or she thought they weren’t going to be promoted or they didn’t have chances. What I realize is that most of the problems in organizations have to do with misunderstandings and interpersonnel issues. They are not technical. They have to do with people. In the end, I realize that the success of a business school depends on the quality of the staff and faculty and students. The rest is less important. if you attract the best possible people, everything works.”


The school’s programs are much influenced by Iñiguez’s entrepreneurial instincts and his own beliefs about the importance of the humanities. “He is passionate about the arts, poetry, architecture, and culture,” says Bach, “and he decided that the humanities had to be a part of management education. He gave us a mandate on how to bring the humanities into MBA programs. He insisted on it, and to this day, every IE program has a humanities component.”

The core curriculum of its one-year international MBA program is radically different from that of many schools. It starts with courses on the Entrepreneurial Mindset and Entrepreneurial Venturing. There’s also a core course in digital innovation. From there, students enter a lab period, where they choose one of three labs that include a Startup Lab and a Social Impact Lab. Some 40% of the coursework for the MBA is taken in a wide variety of 150 electives with more offerings in such areas as tech entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, family business, and even franchising. Yet, there will unusual touches as well. “He will just decide to bring to campus a famous chef to speak to students about the culinary arts to see what they can learn from it,” adds Bach. The school’s international MBA program—with the latest intake numbering 411 students from 62 countries—enjoyed a 17% rise in applicants during the 2015-2016 cycle, going from 1,428 to 1,671 applications.

If anything, the MBA offering is highly pragmatic, reflective of Iñiguez’s belief that business school is a professional school preparing students for professional careers. “We need to get back to the basics of what is business and what are business people for and who are the major stakeholders in companies,” says Iñiguez. “All these things have to do with humanities, political science, law and philosophy. It’s not just projecting regressions based on a number of interviews and a sample. The perversion of making management too much of a social science has resulted in the development of papers that are banal in their results.”


Still, he believes that the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation critiques of business education in the late 1950s were justified. Those reports largely charged that schools lacked academic legitimacy and were largely trade schools. They led to sweeping changes, including the recruitment of faculty who were expected to produce scholarly research, often disconnected from management practice. Iñiguez thinks the pendulum swung too far.

“I am following a tradition from (Henry) Mintzberg to (Peter) Drucker,” he says. “I believe that management is not just a social science. We have lost our closeness to business. Business is also an art and a craft based on experience you can collect and transmit. If we don’t link business to history, literature, anthropology and the arts, we are missing a big part of it. I firmly believe that by teaching art to management students you enhance their observational skills. They may see different angles when they see business challenges. This is why I, along with the leaders at IE, are bringing back humanities into the MBA curriculum. It’s also why we explored with Brown how to bring humanities into business teachings. We need to put management between the social sciences and the humanities.”