HEC Paris has been labeled as a “leadership school.” It is a well-earned reputation indeed. According to a January study from Times Higher Education, HEC Paris churns out more CEOs than any business school outside of Harvard and Stanford. Their MBA alumni list boasts industry titans like venture capitalist Pascal Cagni, BNP Paribas CEO Jean-Yves Fillion, and Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos. And that doesn’t count the CEOs of L’Oréal, Best Buy, and Michelin, who passed through the school as undergrads.
With that pedigree, you’d expect HEC Paris students to be dreaming of the c-suite. Instead, many are opting to become their own bosses, inspired by successful alumni founders like Alexis Grabar and Renaud Laplanche. According to Dean Peter Todd, the school produces 100 startups a year. For Yanji Wang, a Shanghai native who comes to HEC Paris from retail merchandising, this growing commitment to entrepreneurship spells access and opportunity.
“HEC Paris has a thriving entrepreneurial spirit and abundant entrepreneurial resources,” she observes. “Around 25 percent of students start their own businesses, and 400 entrepreneurial projects are supported by HEC Paris each year. Moreover, students can get exposed to all kinds of entrepreneurial resources such as creativity talks and mentoring sessions with experienced entrepreneurs.”
LOCATION INSIDE INNOVATION CLUSTER CREATES SYNERGY…AND OPPORTUNITY
You won’t find a much better location for would-be entrepreneurs than HEC Paris. The campus is nestled in the Paris-Saclay Innovation Cluster, a mega-university, research and development center, and corporate park all wrapped into one. Home to 65,000 students and 300 laboratories, the cluster features tenants like BMW, General Electric, Kraft Foods, Oracle, and Siemens. Over time, the French government hopes the cluster emerges as a tech hub, a Silicon Valley in the south of Paris.
In the meantime, the cluster’s proximity enables MBA students to partner with engineers, scientists, thought leaders, and venture capitalists to bring their game-changing ideas to market. “There is an oversupply of their projects and there is only one HEC,” asserts Andrea Masini, the school’s associate dean, in a 2017 interview. “So we get the best of the best projects.”
In a bold stroke, HEC Paris has also re-located its incubator to Station F. The world’s largest startup incubator, Station F boasts over 1,000 startups, 3,000 work stations, and 60 meeting rooms – not to mention tech labs for prototyping. How big is it? Picture the length and width of the Eiffel Tower laid down flat. This move enables the school to triple the number of startups it can house. Even more, adds Masini, it gives HEC Paris students “access to top international players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.”
AN HOUR PLANE RIDE FROM EVERY EUROPEAN HOT SPOT
This partnership enticed Jérémie Zarka to stay home in Paris to pursue his MBA. “Things are moving in France nowadays and the HEC Paris MBA is a leader in the transformation,” he explains. “The school is the most active in the Parisian startup scene, in which the brightest initiative is its partnership with Station F. I am anxiously awaiting my chance to take part in this initiative and the 16-month HEC Paris MBA is the best opportunity I have to do so.”
This is not your boss’ HEC Paris. Diverse as ever, the school has broadened its mandate, investing heavily in entrepreneurship, digital innovation, and social enterprise and sustainability. Already areas of strength for the school, Masini views them as points of distinction that appeal to students and have grown increasingly critical to the economic landscape.
“We see a market need in these three pillars and we already have competencies in them,” he emphasizes. “We’re a school for students seeking transformation with three to four years of work experience, students who want to work in truly multinational environments. Our diversity is a key difference. Students open up to a lot of different cultures. After all, in one hour you can be in Brussels, London or Milan by plane.”
AFRAID OF HEIGHTS? TRY PARAGLIDING!
You won’t find a group like HEC Paris’ Class of 2019 anywhere else either. The program runs 16 months and includes separate intakes during September and January. This fall class brings plenty of spark and skill to la Ville Lumière. At 19, Oron Amsalem was already an air traffic controller for the Israeli Air Force. Six months before graduation, Patricio Capdepon had beat out far more accomplished and candidates to land a coveted job at JP Morgan. Luis Antonio Jiménez Rivera made his time at McKinsey count, earning three promotions in six years. And Rohail Lashari, who has played guitar for over 13 years, lived the dream when he served as the Acting Creative Excellence Manager for Coca-Cola in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “I was leading the creative strategy for the biggest and most loved music asset of Pakistan, Coke Studio, an asset that I dreamt to be a part of since I was a child, pursuing music with his own rock band.”
What is the Class of 2019 like? Here’s what they had to say in their own words. Ly Nguyen, an investment banker at Credit Suisse, describes herself as a “Vietnamese girl with a Russian soul. Constantly vacillating between relentless idealism and pragmatism.” In public, Nicolás Vassallo is a lawyer and a professor, but he is really an “avid reader” who is obsessed with closing the infrastructure gap in emerging markets.” Vassallo isn’t the only incoming student looking to serve the greater good. Burundi’s Jean-Paul Ntungicimpaye, a consultant who was named after a pope, calls himself, “Proudly African with full belief in the continent’s potential and hope to be contributor in advancing it further.”
The class also maintained some fascinating side hustles in their careers. When she wasn’t a consultant, Nicole Pense was operating a hip-hop dance fitness studio. Wang served as an interpreter for F1 racer Mark Webber – when she wasn’t interviewing Nobel Prize winners in economics, that is. Nguyen carries a passion for photography – and her work was published in the travel magazine L’Officiel Voyage last year. Others maintained unique hobbies. Jiménez Rivera, for one, collects shot glasses from every country and city he visits. At the same time, one of Vassallo’s favorite activities has become a tribute to overcoming one of his fears. “I decided to start paragliding because I was afraid of heights,” he admits. “It worked, and after some potentially terrifying flights I controlled my fear and gained a hobby.”
A ROCKY ROAD TO BECOMING A GOOD MANAGER
Fear really isn’t an issue with the Class of 2019’s fall intake. They just take on impossible projects and run with them. Jiménez Rivera was the co-leader for a consulting project that improved both the access to and quality of healthcare for tens of millions of patients. Out of college, Wang developed the merchandising structure for Adidas China’s Retail Factory Outlet, which resulted in an annual 80% sell through rate and 80% yearly scale growth. You can bet that Pense is included on plenty of Christmas card lists after her data transformation efforts resulted in millions of dollars of fines being lopped off of a client’s regulatory settlement.
However, Zarka’s rite of passage came when he managed a dozen member team, who wrote 500,000 lines of code for a $300 million dollar system in the Singapore Air Traffic Control Center. For him, it wasn’t the result that afforded him the greatest satisfaction, but the process he went through to becoming a better manager.
“At first, my low-context, explicit and confrontational communication habits caused issues with some of my colleagues from other countries,” he admits, “but I learned not to overrule others and to give space for them to express themselves. Feedback from my team allowed me to adapt to each individual’s background and let each of them blossom in this difficult environment. Immersion in the Eastern cultures augmented my Western style with a subtle touch of Confucianism. I am now able to better understand and deal with others.”
Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming HEC Paris MBA students.