IESE: Where Small Global Classes & Case Studies Are A Beautiful Thing

Franz Heukamp, dean of IESE Business School in Spain

IESE Business School Dean Franz Heukamp has been awfully busy since taking over the top leadership job in September of 2016. The former associate dean for MBA programs at IESE, Heukamp is leading the school through a major expansion. IESE is in the midst of putting up a new 52 million Euro facility in Madrid, launching the school’s first master in management program as well as its fifth Executive MBA program in Munich, Germany.

Dean Heukamp on the hunt to hire 25 new faculty members for the larger Madrid campus, and he’s also about to launch a trio of online executive education courses. In his first year as dean, Heukamp had more than 200 face-to-face meetings with alumni and corporate stakeholders and has raised 35 million Euros for the new building in Madrid.

For a school that was the first to launch a two-year MBA program in Europe, and one based on the case method in the tradition of Harvard Business School but with smaller, more intimate classes and a heavy focus on purpose and meaning, it’s an aggressive agenda. But he knows the school well, having made IESE his professional home for the past 17 years.


After graduating from MIT with his Ph.D., the German-born Heukamp joined IESE in 2002 as a faculty member in managerial decision sciences. Founded in 1958 in Barcelona, where its main campus is located, IESE in 1963 formed an alliance with Harvard Business School and a year later in 1964, launched the first two-year MBA program in Europe. When the school named him secretary general in 2009, a post he held until 2012, it was a clear signal that he would someday succeed Jordi Canals, who in his 15 years as dean put the University of Navarra’s IESE on the map (see An Interview With IESE Dean Jordi Canals). Before Heukamp’s rise to the deanship, he led IESE’s MBA programs for four years, helping to launch the Executive MBA in São Paulo.

Asked if he likes being dean, Heukamp has an answer that is not necessary enthusiastic. “Well,” he says, “it’s a very challenging job, and I think it will stay challenging all the time. This I can sort of sense.”

He very much doubts that he will be in the job as long as his predecessor, Jordi Canals, who was IESE dean for 15 years. And though IESE has fared extremely well in the Financial Times rankings (its full-time MBA program was ranked 12th in the world and third best in Europe this year, while its custom executive education offerings are ranked first in the world, he doesn’t sound all that fond of the lists.


“The people who do rankings suggest more or less that everything is comparable,” he says. “I tell them, ‘look, it’s like saying everybody understands an Italian restaurant and a French restaurant. They are both restaurants, but you expect very different things from them. Yes, food, but very different things…I am not saying that we are victims or anything like that, but what I do think is that there is a problem.

“If you talk to candidates who come walking through your door, you realize that they read rankings in a way that can mislead them, and that has to do with the difference between Italian, Japanese, or French cuisine. How can you compare, for example, a one-year to a two-year MBA school? The two-year program is clearly doing very different things for you. I’m not saying one is better than the other, it’s simply different, but depending on what you want to do with the MBA, it may be a very bad idea to go to one or the other depending on goals.”

In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants Founder John A. Byrne on IESE’s highly attractive Barcelona campus, Heukamp explains why the school is in growth mode, what sets it apart from other top European business schools, what he thinks about the overall decline in full-time MBA applications and what IESE plans to do in online education.


John A. Byrne: You have a lot going on right now: Putting up a new building in Madrid, launching a new executive MBA program in Germany, and creating your first masters in management in Madrid. How do you balance the pace of change with the institution’s culture?

Franz Heukamp: This school has a DNA, a history, and you need to respect that. The art is to reinterpret some of the things in a new context. 2019 is different from earlier years. Context is different, society is different, what people want in programs is somewhat different. But it still matches with the DNA of what the school is all about.

The launch of the executive MBA in Munich we had already decided while Jordi was still there. So that was already in the making and the exact timing was sort of open. Certainly, the expansion in Madrid is a project that goes back a long way. We actually bought the land that we’re building on in 2011.

And we have had conversations on the master in management between Jory and myself. I have reviewed the project whether we should or should not do a masters in management and different models in the past. That is new in the sense there was not a project formulated specifically for it.

Byrne: It was a surprise to me because I had just assumed you had a masters in management given the popularity of that degree in Europe.

Heukamp: When our MBA started in 1964, it was similar to what we would call today a master in management. It was longer, two years, but if you look at the people doing the program then, they were doing it pretty much right after undergraduate with very little professional experience. So it’s similar to what the function of master of management today is, as in right as you go out of undergraduate or with very little professional experience.

Byrne: And that has obviously changed over time.

Heukamp: Yes, so the full-term MBA in our case attracts people who are 28 to 29 on average with five to six years of working experience. The master of management, I think for Europe, has become relevant now because of where the MBA has gone.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.