Poets&Quants sat down with Dean Franch in the lobby of the Villa Florence hotel in downtown San Francisco, where he was staying for a conference. Following are his wide-ranging thoughts on the state of business education, what the coming years will bring for ESADE, and what it’s like to watch history unfold in elections across Europe and the U.S.
You must feel the latest rankings from the Financial Times, which have shown ESADE climbing to 17th overall and sixth in Europe, very edifying.
We do not manage thinking of the rankings, we don’t make decisions based on the rankings. But of course they are there, they are unavoidable, and we pay attention to them.
We have always had a very good reputation for teaching. We have built our reputation based on being an excellent teaching school. In the late 1990s, we moved toward research, but we have moved back toward teaching and we have been very close to the recruiters, which means that all our programs are developed and designed thinking about the employability of our graduates — thinking, “What are the competencies that our recruiters need?”
And we are revising programs constantly, so it’s constant updates and redesigns aligned with the recruiters’ needs and thinking about the employability. Then, in the last few years, we have developed a strong focus on innovation and entrepreneurship — this has become one of the main areas that we have developed.
Our MBA is pretty much global. We have more or less an average of 30% students coming from Asia, 30% coming from Latin America, 25% coming from Europe and 15% coming from the U.S. Ninety-something percent in the MBA are international students; in the master of science it’s 82%. So yes, we’ve got a very high percentage of international students, and more than 100 nationalities on the campus in a given year.
Q: If I’m a student considering studying abroad for my MBA, why would I consider Barcelona — besides the beauty of the city?
The MBA students that we have are typically people who have prior international experience. We don’t get the first-time-abroad type of person; the students that we get are people who already have some international background, either as a student or working abroad, and who are willing to pursue an international career.
At the end of the day, our approach compared to INSEAD or LBS — we are smaller, we only intake three sections of 60 students each per year, 180 per year. We are aware that we have to be a minimum size, otherwise recruiters will not be attracted to come, if you are too small. But we don’t want to have large numbers. This is one differentiation point. The strong focus on entrepreneurship is another one. So it’s a personalized experience, very international, focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.
All sections are managed by a staff member. In career services, all students are assigned a mentor, who is helping the students, defining which companies they should be applying to, helping them in the transition. Faculty know the students very well and are always available.
At the end of the day, an MBA is a career-change or career-boost kind of program. Take someone who has a background in industry and is coming from India, and who wants to move to investment banking in the UK. In that process you have to develop certain competencies that you had not developed before. The individual coaching and mentoring that we provide is one of our leverage points.
Do you think that recent political developments, the sort of anti-globalization sentiment that we’ve seen playing out in international events recently, will alter the business school landscape at all? Will anti-globalization change the pipeline of where students go?
Of course, if students find they have restrictions to enter one country, that’s going to affect their decision. I personally believe that globalization as a phenomenon is unstoppable. You can try to put up protectionism barriers, but I don’t think you’re going to change this trend. This trend is too strong today to be changed.
At ESADE, we are not changing the direction of the school. We witnessed the Brexit phenomenon in Europe, and to be honest, it is not affecting us. The French election is big question mark. It’s difficult to predict, and taking the experience of the last year or year and a half, every forecast on every political election has been wrong. So …
I believe that globalization has probably fostered a sentiment of nationalism in some places. In the case of France it is polarized by the case of Marine Le Pen, but to be honest I think she’s not going to be the next French president.
Trump? This could be an issue. If I remember correctly, at the last AACSB conference, there was some research findings from GMAC about the preferences for students, and there were clear signs that some students were now not considering coming to the U.S., and that they and they were looking for other options. But of course it also depends on where you are coming from. I don’t think that the elections in the U.S. are going to change things for Western European students — in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the UK, this is not going to change at all. But it’s quite clear that students coming from some regions, they have some questions.
We have 180 students, we have enough applicants. We always try to have a balance with a mix of nationalities. But students coming from the Gulf, for instance, they do not represent a very high percentage of our student body, 2% or 3%. Can this be 5% or 6%? Could be. But we’re talking about four or five individuals up or down.