It’s the question that begs to be asked: What’s wrong with IPADE? From visiting Latin America’s premier business school, based in the heart of Mexico City, the answer seems to be: not much. Unquestionably, the school has a lot going for it: A world-class faculty. Regional hegemony in graduate business education. A state-of-the-art teaching facility and a satellite campus in Monterrey. And partnerships with dozens of elite schools around the globe, including Northwestern Kellogg, Dartmouth Tuck, Emory Goizueta, USC Marshall, and London Business School. IPADE’s main campus is housed in a charming 17th-century hacienda ornamented with covered walkways and ample green spaces, a mixture of Old World comforts and gleaming modern amenities — an island of calm in a teeming city of millions.
Yet for two straight years now IPADE has been left off The Financial Times’ Global MBA Ranking, after peaking at No. 80 in 2016. Why? The standout problem among a few troubling factors seems to be the difficulty IPADE has in bringing students from Europe and the United States to study business in Mexico. As Claudia Amezcua Peña Alfaro, director of MBA admissions at the school, says, much of the prospective global B-school talent pool still abides a deeply held prejudice against studying in “developing” countries.
It comes down to this: Few outside Latin America are interested in graduate business education in Mexico. And that, dear reader, is what’s the matter with IPADE.
“Our quality of education is as high as any school, but a lot of people, what we have seen when we travel internationally, they say, ‘Mexico? A Third World country? I would rather go to Spain, Australia, Canada,'” Amezcua tells Poets&Quants. “So it’s not as attractive to stay here for two years.”
IPADE: A LATIN-AMERICAN STALWART, AND A VICTIM OF STEREOTYPES
The Instituto Panamericano de Alta Dirección de Empresa, or PanAmerican Institute for High Business Management, was founded in 1967 by a group of elite Mexican businessmen; its MBA program dates to three years later. But it wasn’t until four years ago, in 2015, that IPADE’s MBA began to transition to an English-speaking program, a phased-in effort that was completed in 2017. (The school’s executive MBA remains a Spanish-language program.)
Because it was for so long a program taught in Spanish, IPADE’s MBA continues to draw talent mostly from Latin American markets. More than three-quarters of IPADE’s students come from Mexico. The remaining 24% are mostly drawn from elsewhere in Latin America, Amezcua says, where “they see Mexico better than their own countries, and they say ‘Yeah, I want to go to Mexico,’ and it’s close to the U.S. and they see a lot of advantages of coming here. We’re a bigger economy than them. Peru, Colombia — a lot of people from those countries come every year and that’s good.
“But if we want to increase our numbers from Europe and the U.S., we have to work a little harder.” IPADE wants that 24% — already the most international students the school has ever enrolled — to grow to 30% and to draw from other shores. Already the number of countries represented in the MBA studentry has grown from six to 15 in four short years. Expanding to even more means outreach, marketing — and most difficult of all, a slow and frustrating process of legitimization for Mexico itself. Mexico may be the second-largest economy in Latin America and home to more than 50 million economically active people, but it is still a weak cousin to its northern neighbor and, as Amezcua says, widely considered a “Third World country.”
To illustrate this point, Amezcua recounts a story of a Chinese student who had committed to the MBA program; she had even paid her tuition. Yet at the last minute she withdrew, saying her parents would not let her go because she was an only child and they feared for her safety in a crime-ridden Mexico City. They were particularly concerned, Amezcua says, about violence from drug cartels.
‘ONCE THEY ARE HERE, THEY FALL IN LOVE’
Just a few years ago, IPADE seemed like a safe bet to be the “next big thing” on the graduate business education landscape. Amid its transition to English-language instruction, the school’s profile increased: In 2016 IPADE made its first appearance in the FT rankings, at No. 80 out of 100, landing fourth in FT‘s Career Progress metric. A year later, however, the school slipped to No. 97, then disappeared from the ranking entirely.
Por que? Not because of any slippage in the quality of education. IPADE students number around 150 between the school’s main campuses, the handsome 17th-century Hacienda de San Antonio Clavería in Mexico City and the more modern facility in Monterrey. They study three cases per day, 15 per week, for a total of more than 900 in their two years in the program. That’s equal to about five years of management experience. They participate in up to five academic study trips annually, traveling to China or Southeast Asia or the Middle East, cramming 10-12 company visits into a condensed itinerary. And theirs is the only elite business school in the world to have a mandatory exchange program, counting as their partners such B-school luminaries as Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, London Business School, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and IESE in Spain. IPADE students travel to some of the most prestigious case competitions in the world; the school also brings the world to Mexico City every year for the annual week-long Doing Business in Mexico seminar, which welcomes hundreds of international participants from more than a dozen top global schools.
Want to talk about curriculum? What could be more exciting than studying trade issues in the country Donald Trump wants to wall off?
IPADE, accredited by GMAC, AMBA, and AACSB, has five main research centers, 11 academic departments, and 65 full-time professors whose CVs describe elite academic backgrounds on par with any faculty. IPADE’s instructors are particularly drawn from Spain and the UK but also earned their degrees from Columbia Business School, MIT, Georgetown McDonough, Michigan Ross, and many other leading U.S. schools.
And yet … “We were in Europe on the MBA Tour,” Claudia recalls. “And some candidate said, ‘IPADE? Where is IPADE? Mexico? Mexico? A Third World country giving an MBA? Are you crazy?’ Just turned around. So we have a lot of that perception. Or, you know, in the news, what you hear about Mexico is insecurity, people that kill each other. You know, ‘Narcos.’ Drug dealers.”
The opposite effect occurs when students actually visit, Amezcua says: “Once they are here, they fall in love. They love Mexico. They fall in love with Mexico.”