Meet IESE Business School’s MBA Class Of 2021

Photomontage of headshots of the IESE Business School Class of 2021

“You don’t have to study in business school.”

You still hear that cliché sometimes. It is an echo from another generation, when some treated business school as a two-year vacation. ‘Employers don’t care about grades,’ those MBA students would say. ‘We are here to network over parties and trips.’ Whatever they had left, they channeled into class.

That mindset won’t cut it at IESE Business School in Barcelona. The “Iberian Ivy,” the program traces its roots to the 1960s, when it partnered with Harvard Business School to launch a two-year MBA program. In the process, IESE adopted its mentor’s rigorous academic load and case study methodology. However, IESE added a twist. A fourth of HBS’ size – with a 4:1 student-to-faculty ratio – IESE lavishes personal attention on its students. If feedback is gift, the IESE experience is Christmas, though students may not appreciate the benefits immediately.


“IESE is probably the business school with the highest amount of workload (at least in the first year),” write Mariana Kaplan, a 2019 P&Q MBA To Watch. “We have three classes every day in the first three terms (no Fridays off), which means preparing three cases for the following day. In the second term, we start having team projects, which makes life even crazier. However, the schedule becomes more chilled in the second year, which allowed me to travel all around Europe on my weekends in the fourth term. IESE is for those who work hard, but also play hard!”

That is a theme among alumni, who ranked the school #2 in the world for academic excellence in a 2019 Bloomberg Businessweek survey. Connie Megarejo, a 2020 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA, notes that preparation is key since participation accounts for a “significant portion” of a class grade. However, she echoes Kaplan’s sentiments that the programming eases up after MBAs enter their second year.

“In the words of the academic director: “The first year is ours [IESE], the second year is yours [student],” Magarejo jokes.


It is a methodology that works. According to Forbes, IESE grads can expect their pay to jump by $71,600 within five years of graduation. IESE MBAs experienced a 119% pay increase within three years of graduation based on the latest Financial Times data. In fact, 94% of the Class of 2019 landed jobs within three months of graduation – with 73% of those students changing industries. Among employers, the school’s popularity doesn’t just rest on its graduates’ ability to shoulder heavy loads or master case thinking. It also comes from learning to work with a diverse class set.

IESE Business School building

IESE Business School in Barcelona. File photo

In the IESE Business School Class of 2021, 85% of the class hails from outside Spain – with student bodies organized so one nationality may only account for 15% of a class mix. As a result, IESE grads are heavily exposed to how business works in other countries, says Louis Williams, a 2019 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. These differing international perspectives – a clash of practices and principles – was exactly what Amazon’s Alix Chausson sought when she enrolled at IESE last year.

“The IESE candidates I have met so far are all incredibly culturally diverse and hold a fascinating array of experiences,” she writes. “Within the two days I spent at the campus for my interview and Assessment day, I met candidates from Germany, Austria, Japan, Portugal, Peru, China, Spain, and the United Kingdom, all holding vastly different positions across a range of industries. I was struck by the genuine desire from every single candidate to get to know one another: for me, this exemplifies true cultural intelligence, a character trait that I constantly seek to cultivate and one that I was definitely looking for in my future classmates.”


Chausson herself personifies IESE’s mix of distinction and diversity. In 2017, she earned the Women@Amazon UK Award – a designation, in her words, for someone “who has shown a commitment to go above and beyond to deliver results, displaying strong bias for action and innovation.” She is joined in the class by Nana Gobadze. Before business school, she headed up the food industry investment banking division of JSC TBC Bank, the largest private bank in the Caucasus region.

“One of the most memorable projects is the financing of a start-up confectionary factory,” she writes. “At that point, most of the chocolate/sweets were imported to my country; today this local producer holds up to 30% of the Georgian market and has started exporting its goods to neighboring countries.”

In the IESE Business School Class of 2021, Gobadze will find plenty of peers who’ve built industries and companies back home. Exhibit A: Helena Gräfin von Drechsel. In Munich, she headed retail operations for Avantgarde Gesellschaft für Kommunikation, an award-winning brand agency. In this role, she built the retail channel for a long-term client – an experience that taught her that growing an operation can only be as successful as the culture you build alongside it.

“The task has taught me a more holistic economic view of our business, strategic decision-making, and long-term planning. Even more importantly, I have learned to be a positive leader with great availability. Today, our “start-up” has become one of the company’s most successful projects. I am very proud of its growth, and of the fact that I have become the go-to person for professional development questions of my colleagues, regardless of whether the person worked in my team or even left the company.”

Curved, glass-lined building of IESE Business School

IESE in Barcelona


Bárbara Grossi Hamdan earned similar trust from her peers. She went from the last member hired at a Pan-African law firm to the person who ended up running it. At All Nippon Airways, Shuji Maeda focused on building joint ventures with top European airlines. Starting as an engineer, Irwan Hernawan routed hundreds of millions of US dollars” from investors into ventures for “micro-entrepreneurs and SMEs.” At the same time, Xuejiao Wang followed the maxim of “Build it if you can’t buy it” in her startup venture.

“When I decorated my apartment, I felt that the interior products in China lack unique design and the quality is poor,” she admits. “As a result, I searched for these products and bought them from some designers overseas. During the search, I figured out that young people in the first-tier cities in China have the same desire as I do, because they started to pursue high-quality life and value original design and creativity. So, I started my own company to import interior products from European countries and Japan, and felt satisfaction when I saw my action met the requirements of people like me.”

The Class of 2020 didn’t just excel in the commercial realm. Samuel Zickgraf, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and a foreign security advisor in Iraq, is a case in point. “I had the opportunity to work closely with Senior Iraqi Army Officials as well as countless coalition partners to clear areas of Western Iraq previously occupied by ISIS. Besides the rewarding experience of tangibly helping a recovering nation and its people, the experience of working in a high stakes international environment taught me humility, leadership, and cross-cultural communication.”


Outside the office, Tselmegtsetseg Tsetsendelger once sang on stage with Chuck Berry. Ten years after graduating from college, Irwan Hernawan landed the “The guy I wished I had dated” award at his reunion…much to his chagrin. Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to challenge Alix Chausson to a dare.

“I love trying new things, and can cross off my list eating chicken feet in Hong Kong, trying crunchy cricket sushi in London, and crossing a river with water up to the waist not far from a very large American Crocodile and his family in Costa Rica.”

As a whole, Nana Gobadze calls her classmates “full of energy and supportive, open to new opportunities and curious.” What’s more, says Samuel Zickgraf, the class dynamics make for an unforgettable educational experience.

White, angular new building where the IESE Business School Class of 2021 attends.

IESE’s “new-look” Madrid campus will fully open in 2020. IESE photo

“One of the most substantial differentiators of IESE is the small group dynamic where the teams are purposely constructed to have a high level of geographic and professional diversity. Although this can lead to a lot of frustration and conflict, it creates enormous opportunity for personal growth and peer learning.”


By the numbers, the 371-member class comes from 57 countries and boasts a 681 average GMAT. 31% of the class is female, with 84.6% of students hailing from outside Spain. As undergraduates, 38% majored in Business-related fields, followed closely by Engineering (37%). Humanities (17%) and Sciences (9%) majors comprise the rest of the class. In terms of experience, 59% of the class falls under the generic Industry and Services category. The class is rounded out by professionals from Financial Services (22%), Consulting (15%), and the Social and Public Sector (4%).

It has been a busy year for IESE, which ranked 3rd in P&Q’s International MBA ranking in December. The program has certainly enjoyed a hot streak, going from 210 to 370 MBA students over the past decade. In addition, it has remained one of Europe’s few two-year options. In addition, IESE classes are taught mainly in English, with the school maintaining one of the continent’s few student-run venture capital funds. Indeed, IESE is pushing forward in full expansion mode, investing $52 million Euros in a new Madrid facility slated to open in the fall. Beyond that, the program has rolled out a new Masters in Management program, one that complements the school’s executive MBA programs that are considered among the best in the world.

What else can prospective applicants expect from IESE? Last year, P&Q reached out to IESE to discuss key topics at the school. Here are some new developments at the program, along with a look at underrated aspects of the IESE MBA experience such as entrepreneurship.

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