What It’s Like To Get An MBA At HEC Paris

Few people would challenge the view that Paris is one of the most beautiful and most enchanting cities in the world. It is the capital of France, of art, and of fashion. And it is also home to one of the world’s best business schools and one of Europe’s most compelling MBA experiences: HEC Paris.

In this Poets&Quants video, Associate Dean Andrea Masini and current MBA students at École des Hautes Études Commerciales vividly capture what it’s like to get an MBA at the school which has a rich legacy of academic excellence and a reputation for turning out more CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies than any other university in Europe. It is also known as a place with remarkable global diversity, with 93% of the MBA students hailing from outside France. In an interview with Poets&Quants founder John A. Byrne, Masini provides details on a new MBA curriculum with a focus on digital innovation and sustainability. Poets&Quants also interviews three students: Cody Overstreet, Natalia Jesus, and Hana R. Wilson.

At a time when full-time MBA applications to U.S. business schools have fallen for five consecutive years, interest in HEC Paris’s MBA is at record levels in what is the 50th anniversary of the school’s MBA program.

An edited transcript of the video follows:

MBA Student Hana R. Wilson: I had always wanted to do an MBA, even in the US. And being in France. I heard a lot about HEC.

MBA Student Natalia Jesus: Whenever you talk about France and ferries, your HECs, they’re like, the name is super strong. The alumni base is very, very, very big.

MBA Student Cody Overstreet: HEC Paris is a lot like a little model United Nations. It really is a melting pot of people that come together from all over the world.

John A. Byrne: Hi, this is John A. Byrne with Poets&Quants. I’m on the campus of HEC Paris in France. With me today is Andrea Masini, the Associate Dean of MBA programs at HEC. Bonjour.

Andrea Masini: Bonjour.

Byrne: Tell us a little bit about HEC. This school has a rich history. This year you are celebrating the 50th anniversary of your MBA program.

HEC Paris Associate Dean Andrea Masini

HEC Paris Associate Dean Andrea Masini

Masini: We enjoy a long history of academic excellence and training business leaders. We have graduated more CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies than any other university in Europe. We’re really proud of that heritage.

Byrne: That’s a great track record.

Masini: It is.

Byrne: And applications for your MBA program are up 40% to 50%. How come?

Masini: Well, first of all, it is one of the MBA programs with the best return on investment in the world. Graduates on average manage to double their salaries when they leave the program, but also because we try to keep our tuition fees relatively low as much as we can. And we have generous support from the HEC Foundation that provides us with scholarships. Second, participants come here to look for career transformation, and the outcome is impressive. We had in the last graduating class, 73% of our graduates changing industries, 72% changing function, and 61% changing location.

Byrne: That can’t be easy, can it?

Masini: It is not easy, but it is possible if you have the right support from the school and the right connections. And we are very proud of having those results, of course.

Overstreet: Essentially we have about 50 different countries that are represented through our program, so you’re able to leverage that diversity no matter where you want to go. HEC has unparalleled access to markets, not only in Europe but also in the Middle East and Central Africa.

Jesus: I thought about it and I said, “Okay, maybe it’s time to reassess my career.” And I wanted a school that had many international students and is culturally driven.

HEC Paris Professor: The cases we are discussing today are representative of systematic patterns, of which there are striking memorable examples, but we can actually learn something from them because there is a theory that we will in fact start to elaborate together today.

Byrne: So when I think about the strengths of the school in terms of industries, clearly technology is one. Another clearly is luxury retailing, luxury goods. You go into companies and you speak to their senior leadership so that students gain a real taste of what it’s like to work in those industries.

Masini: We have a fairly spread out placement record in consulting, in finance and technology and in services. And, of course, being in France students also have the opportunity to learn a bit of French, which in the luxury industry helps a lot.

Byrne: Indeed, you’re just outside Paris, one of the great cities in the world.

Masini: I would say that our students come here because they want to have a global experience with a French flavor. They want to have exposure to global companies, but they want to take advantage of a country with great traditions. And being an Italian, of course, I appreciate that combination.

Wilson: Paris is I think one of the most beautiful places on Earth and a place where creative people gather.

Jesus: I felt that I had to live in France or Paris once in my life. And people back home feel proud of me for doing it.

Overstreet: It is a center for not only culture but also for business and for law. It has a large financial sector comparable to London, to New York City, and to some of the other major capitals in the world.

Byrne: Now you’ve had a recent review of the MBA curriculum. And out of that review came an emphasis on two new specialties, digital innovation and sustainability. Why those two?

Masini: Clearly today digital is changing the way in which businesses operate. At the same time, you are going to be confronted by global challenges, including climate change, overpopulation, digital divides, and education gaps. We want our students to be fully aware of those challenges and to develop the skills to address them.

Overstreet: I think HEC excels in experiential learning. It’s not just knowledge. When you come, they’re not asking you to open and just read a book. They’re asking you to go out and get involved in doing. They’re pushing you to find internships. They’re pushing you to understand where you want to see society go. And as business leaders, hopefully, we’ll be the people in the future that will make those decisions.

Byrne: Andrea, I understand that a high percentage of your students literally find job opportunities through other students.

Masini: We have one of the largest alumni networks in the world with 60,000 members. Suppose you work in the oil industry and you want to move to the U.K. and work in the consulting sector. By talking to one of our alums in a consulting firm in the U.K., you’re going to get the tips that you need to succeed in your interview and get that job.

Jesus: You don’t make it to the top on your own. You make it by making connections and not only business connections, but personal connections.

Wilson: I think my biggest takeaway has been learning to work with people who are different from me and not just in working styles but how they think politically, what they’re used to, how they like run a project, how they communicate.

Byrne: Because of the incredible diversity of the student body, there’s this sense that when you come here, you’re also getting an MBA in diplomacy.

Masini: We are one, if not the, most international MBA program in the world with 93% of our students coming from outside France, more than 50 nationalities for our classes less than 300 students and close to 35% women in the program. And in a group of six or seven students, you might have up to five, six, even seven nationalities. Students love that, appreciate that, and I think it’s one of the few places in the world where you can get it.

Overstreet: Diplomacy is key, and I think the HEC teaches you that from beginning to end, you have to learn how to talk to people from different cultures and religions and backgrounds who have different work experiences and different ideas about how capitalism should be run, how a company should be run, how you contribute to a company and to an organization.

Wilson: I’m a member of the LGBTQ club, an ally club here at HEC, and felt comfortable on campus. I felt that I would learn a lot here from the people at the school and the people running the school.

Byrne: What do students say is the biggest surprise when they’ve come from outside France to HEC Paris?

Masini: I think it is this amazing atmosphere. This is a very close-knit community. The amount of diversity they find in the cohort.

Overstreet: I don’t think HEC is just an MBA. I think HEC is a degree in international relations. Sure, it’s an MBA. But it’s also a degree in diversity and inclusion. You get this exposure to people that you will never meet anywhere else.

Masini: Students come here, they spend 60 months with exceptional individuals, colleagues and friends developing a sense of humanity and understanding that to do well, you also have to do good. And they end up at the end of the MBA, a better person.

Byrne: Andrea, thank you so much for being with us today. Merci beaucoup.

Masini: Well, thank you, merci, John, for crossing the Atlantic.


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