Meet IESE Business School’s MBA Class Of 2020

View of Barcelona from IESE campus.


“While many MBA programs gather students that are diverse in terms of origin, IESE manages to get a unique variety of different perspective on a table,” writes this giraffe-loving management consultant. “During several events, this diversity of thought has already made myself self-reflect and change.”

This fall, the big news at IESE involved the annual Economist ranking. Buoyed by high marks in faculty quality, school culture, and alumni diversity, the school surged from 17th to 6th in the world, topping mainstays like INSEAD, London Business School, MIT Sloan, and Columbia Business School.

That’s not the only big news on campus, says Pascal Michels, Head of IESE MBA Admissions. In a statement to P&Q, he touts several major developments over the first past year. The first, he notes, is the school’s €10 million investment in construction on campus, with new and revamped facilities supplying additional co-working spaces and classrooms, along with a new student lounge, to provide what he calls a more “holistic learning experience.”


The MBA Career Services has also been re-structured. Now the Career Development Center (CDC), the new structure is divided into three units to increase opportunities and better support students, alumni, and employers: Career Management and Counseling, Employer Engagement and Advising, and Events and Operations. In addition, the MBA Admissions team has added some new faces, with Michels pointing out that the 20-person team includes 14 different nationalities.

Pascal Michels

“Unlike other schools,” he notes, “the person that MBA candidates will meet in their application process have all graduated from IESE as well. This allows potential incoming students to speak with expert advisers, who know first-hand how IESE’s MBA can be beneficial to each candidate’s personal and professional goals.”

Michels is also upbeat about career opportunities for the Class of 2020, pointing to higher influx of employers at IESE’s MBA career forums and fairs – and a wider mix of firms and industries. “The finance industry continues to change,” he points out. “As the big names in finance continue to recruit our graduates heavily, FinTech companies such as N26, Revolut, and many more have started to invest in IESE talent both for internships and full-time career opportunities. In response to the increase, we have expanded the occasions where companies can meet with our top talent. IESE’s Career Forum has expanded its sectors through our Start Up Career Forum on our main campus and through IESE’s industry conferences in Energy, Impact Investing, Search Funds and Real Estate. Along with these added recruitment opportunities, IESE’s Women in Business Conference, with its exceptional roster of speakers, also provides exceptional recruitment opportunities for IESE MBAs. IESE’s Career Fairs are not just limited to our Barcelona campus but also take place in Asia and Latin America.”


Aside from potent cases and diverse populations, IESE’s location is another advantage that draws students worldwide. Michels calls Barcelona one of the world’s most beautiful cities, one that – in his words – “evokes images of sunny beaches, modernist architecture and Mediterranean cuisine. Indeed, endless fideua lunches, leisurely strolls through picturesque neighborhoods, and weekends at the beach are part of the local way of life.”

Beyond the romance, there’s a catch. IESE graduates and students alike joke that ‘You may have the best view of Barcelona from the hilltop, but you probably won’t have time to enjoy it!’ Make no mistake: IESE is not an MBA Lite experience packed with bar crawls, exotic trips, weekly confessionals, and Fridays off. In this program, the workload is heavy – think 15 cases a week. And that’s on top of team projects, club work, and networking. That’s something Michels wants candidates to know up front.

“The academic rigor and challenging workload of our MBA program at times gets overlooked as it clashes with the image of Barcelona,” he admits. “IESE’s aim is to transform the lives of our MBA students, and our philosophy is that this will happen through a mix of diversity in the classroom, academic excellence, and ultimately a lot of hard work. Each day our students discuss three case studies in their team-meetings and then in the classroom. In the afternoon, they go on to prepare the three cases for the next day. This happens every day for the entire first year.”


That’s not to say the workload amounts to two years of living like a hermit, bereft of a social life and spending late nights brushing up on Apple and Lincoln Electric. Instead, the academic heft taught graduates like Ahmed Bakr to become sharper and faster, focusing on key elements and cutting wasted motion to make the reading and analysis manageable.

“Having 80% of your classes taught using the case method means that if you are to get the most out of your time in class, you must prepare the cases,” writes the 2018 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA and IESE grad. “While time-consuming at the beginning, after the first term, you become really good at identifying the information that matters the most when analyzing a case. Cases that would have usually taken me hours to read and analyze, now take less than an hour to go through; leaving plenty of time to enjoy the extracurricular and social parts of the MBA experience.”

IESE students on an overseas trip.

Such demands also force MBAs to ruthlessly prioritize what’s truly important – an invaluable skill that often separates successful business leaders from peers who end up as case study cautionary tales. “I decided to design my MBA life based on my three goals: networking, learning, and soft skills,” writes Jieqiong Xu, another P&Q Best & Brightest from IESE’s 2018 Class. “This is how I learned prioritization and giving things up. This is how, paradoxically, I elevated my MBA life to the maximum.”


In short, IESE subscribes to this approach for a simple reason: It gets results. “Among the many reasons to attend a top rated MBA program, academic quality often gets overlooked or treated like a commodity,” Michel adds. “It is useful to be reminded every now and then that academic excellence is not a given. IESE as an institution takes the quality of teaching extremely seriously and invests a lot in training professors in how to conduct a case discussion. We believe that the hard work we ask from our students is ultimately where a lot of the transformative value of the program lies.”

The Class of 2020 will be given plenty of time to make this transformation. Unlike many European full-time MBA programs, IESE is a two-year affair, with students able to choose between a 15 or 19 month experience. In the process, students can take the time to explore their passions, take on uncomfortable roles, and truly get to know their classmates…and future network – one that expands to 12,000 MBAs and 45,000 business graduates around the world.

“I appreciated the fact that the course duration is longer than most European b-schools,” says Leila Areff. “I’ve heard a lot of MBA graduates say that their programme was like a whirlwind, I am looking forward to having ample time to cover all the course material and do a summer internship.”


Or start up a company for that matter. That’s what Julian Becker plans to do as part of IESE’s Summer Entrepreneurship Challenge, a three month program where select students can launch their own venture. “I will have the chance to work on a social business idea and already learn how to start a company from setting up its legal structure to designing its products,” he explains. “In the “safe environment” of the MBA, this program is a unique opportunity to fail and try again.”

According to Eddy Zakes, IESE’s Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, students are expressing increasing interest in the startup space. In fact, 7% of the Class of 2017 worked in businesses they launched after graduation. In response, the school has expanded its tech transfer offering, created a new venture capital fellowship program and enhanced its Summer Entrepreneurship experience. Even more, IESE will be opening a new Venture Hub in the near future according to Zakes.

“It will feature a multi-purpose co-working space for student startups that can also be used for hosting workshops, events, meetups, and special courses; a creative zone for casual meetings and a change of work environment; multiple meeting rooms with technology packages for convenient video conferencing and team sessions; and it will also centralize and improve access to the offices of the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center including FINAVES (IESE’s venture capital fund) and the IESE Business Angel Network (which earlier this year announced its 200th startup investment)…While every startup will succeed based on the skill and commitment of its founder and the merits of the project itself, the Venture Hub is meant to serve those working on a specific project with the support, mentorship, community, and encouragement to pursue their entrepreneurial ambition.”


IESE in Barcelona

It’d be hard to argue with the results. Since its founding, FINAVES has spawned 40 running businesses that employ over 2,500 people. By the same token, the Business Angels, a 150 member investor network that offers coaching and networking opportunities to IESE students, has financed over 140 businesses to the tune of €10 million. Overall, according to Crunchbase data, IESE startups have generated roughly $919 million in funding. Still, Zakes believes an entrepreneurial mindset, as much as a functioning business, is the biggest benefit of IESE’s entrepreneurship program.

“Just as we believe that you are not born a leader, but all can learn to lead, we also believe that you are not born an entrepreneur, but can learn to think and act entrepreneurially,” he asserts. “In fact, we believe that this entrepreneurial mindset is a critical success factor for every business leader, whether he or she is working in a three-person startup or a gigantic multi-national corporation.”

What’s next for the Class of 2020? Gintare Petrauskaite came to IESE to pursue a consulting career, but admits this role “couldn’t be further from who I am right now.” Her new plan is to pursue entrepreneurship…for  now. “One thing I am sure of, it is ok to be ‘wrong’ as change is the only constant in life.”

Torsten Alexander, who studied classics at Oxford, is more focused on the quality of the work and the people who surround him. “I hope to be leading a team of intellectually engaged problem-solvers in an industry that I feel truly passionate about,” he says. “Beyond that, as long as my job has a reasonable degree of autonomy, complexity, and a positive correlation between effort and reward, I’ll be happy!”

Like Petrauskaite, Laura Napoli isn’t quite sure what she wants to do either. For her, that’s really the fun part of the whole IESE experience. “I couldn’t have guessed five years ago that I’d be in Barcelona getting ready to attend IESE in the fall, and I couldn’t be happier about where I am right now. I think it’s okay to leave a little room in our plans for fate to play its hand!”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.

Student Hometown Alma Mater Previous Employer
Ali Alamein Karbala, Iraq University of Melbourne WaterNSW
Torsten Alexander London, UK Oxford University AIG
Leila Areff Johannesburg, South Africa University of Johannesburg Rand Merchant Bank
Julian Becker Koblenz, Germany Otto Beisheim School of Management Oliver Wyman
Anna Del Llano Barcelona, Spain University of Barcelona Pfizer
Deema Habboub Tampa Bay, Florida University of Florida Harklinikken
Tetsuya Hasuoka Tokyo, Japan Keio University Marubeni Corporation
Laura Napoli San Juan, Puerto Rico Georgetown University Bitly
Karina Kleissl Sāo Paulo, Brazil Maastricht University BTG Pactual
Gintare Petrauskaite Kaunas, Lithuania Copenhagen Business School Intrum Group
Dat Quoc Pham Hanoi, Vietnam Foreign Trade University (Hanoi) HATCH! Ventures
Henrique Ramin São Paulo, Brazil Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo Ethiopia Investment Limited
Eta Yu Jiangsu, China Sun yat-sen University Jia Home

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