10 Business Schools To Watch In 2022

IESE Business School in Barcelona. File photo

IESE Business School at the University of Navarra

Rankings don’t matter. They’re easy to manipulate, biased, and measure all the wrong things. In the wake of COVID, many top programs opted not to participate in them. So why give them any credence?

You won’t hear talk like that in Barcelona. After all, the 2021 rankings were kind to IESE Business School. Last January, IESE ranked #1 with The Economist. Add to that, IESE finished 4th in The Financial Times ranking a month later. Of course, critics will argue, depending on the ranking, that IESE lucked out in 2021. After all, Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton acted as conscientious objectors this go-round. However, it is the reasons why IESE ranked so high last year that has cemented its place as a formidable player in the years to come.

Oh, and IESE reaching the top spot was hardly a fluke. The school had already achieved that feat with The Economist in 2005, 2006, and 2009 already.

What were the reasons behind IESE’s rankings successes in 2021? Let’s break them down individually starting with The Economist, where IESE climbed 9 spots over the previous year. In The Economist’s survey of MBA students and alumni, IESE notched the highest scores worldwide for Culture and Classmates, Programme Content, and Access To Overseas Programmes. When it comes to outcomes, the data showed new IESE grads enjoyed 8th-highest three month placement rate, with recent alumni earning the 5th-highest Post-MBA Salaries. Plus, the school produced the 6th-best score the Diversity of Recruiters survey question. On top of that, respondents ranked IESE’s Faculty as 4th-best in the world.

In a 2022, P&Q reached out to Paula Amorim, IESE’s MBA admissions director. She touted, among other factors, the program’s case structure, which requires students to work closely in teams and interact frequently in discussions. She also notes that the school invests heavily in the campus experience, adding that it held in-person classes even during COVID to maintain the students’ sense of connection. While keeping a close eye on safety, IESE split the cohort into more sections and added hybrid technology to ensure everyone received the tools needed to excel.

“When you talk to professors and upper management, you can feel the genuine will to deliver the best possible experience to students on campus,” Amorim adds. “We do this because we bet that if they have this outstanding experience (which, from the survey, we can see that they do), it will be so transformational that they will take the lessons they learn at IESE with them for the rest of their lives. And in doing so, we will have built the leaders that we believe can change the world.”

With The Financial Times, one number stands out: 9.84. That’s the average score that survey respondents gave to their overall level of satisfaction with IESE — on a 10-point scale, no less. To put it another way, the score was more than .50 of a point better than INSEAD, HEC Paris, or the London Business School. Connie Melgarejo has witnessed the IESE value proposition from two vantage points. A 2020 MBA grad, Melgarejo’s father earned his IESE MBA in 2001 when she was a child. She points to IESE’s efforts to create a deeply personal experience as one reason why IESE grads leave satisfied.

MBA students on a break

 “The use of the case method ensures that every single student at IESE isn’t there just to learn but also becomes an integral part of the teaching experience. The diversity of the class, composed of students from all parts of the world and walks of life means that each one of us has something unique to contribute to the class and we have an opportunity to make our voice heard and share our experiences. Additionally, despite the 700+ students in the full-time MBA program, all members of the cafeteria know the students by name and, in some cases, even know their regular order! For me, this showed how the members of IESE’s community are uniquely valued and create a strong sense of belonging.”

Beyond the highest satisfaction rates, IESE also topped all schools in both Executive Education and Corporate Social Responsibility according to The Financial Times. The latter based its ranking on the “proportion of teaching hours from core courses dedicated to CSR, ethics, social and environmental issues.” In fact, it was the second year in a row that IESE ranked 1st…and you won’t find the school resting on these laurels in 2022, either.

“We are launching a new MBA specialization on sustainability,” explains Paula Amorim. “As IESE’s Marc Badia [director of the MBA programs] recently told Poets & Quants, one trend set to accelerate next year is “the focus on adopting a sustainability mindset and related practices at all levels in organizations.” While at IESE we discuss ESG issues throughout all the different courses we offer (not just those focused explicitly on those topics), the specialization helps students deep dive into the subject.”

IESE was founded nearly sixty years ago in partnership with Harvard Business School. Not only did IESE adopt HBS’ two-year structure, but also its penchant for quality teaching. What’s more, the program’s 4:1 student-to-faculty ratio is a testament to its personal touch. Still, the biggest Harvard feature imported by IESE is its reliance on the case method, which underlies over three-quarters of its classes. As students, IESE MBAs can expect to analyze over 600 cases — three cases a day minimum — with one alum joking that the pile of cases she read went up to her waist. In scenarios rife with unknowns and uncertainties, the readings train MBAs to identify the most pertinent facts, issues, and options in making decisions. In the process, they are exposed to an array of industries, functions, and viewpoints.

“The case study method] is the most practical approach to quickly learn how to manage various types of businesses, as it allows you to see things from the perspective of global business leaders across industries,” explains second-year Michelle Marie Miranda Cua. “There is no “correct answer”, as each case can be approached in various ways. I personally look forward to engaging in healthy debates with my peers as we work together to identify the best course of action to approach business problems.”

It also brings an unexpected benefit adds Paula Amorim, herself a 2016 IESE MBA graduate. “The hardships you go through during the program with all the case preparation, high expectations, and rigor bring the students closer and make them rely on each other to survive. I honestly think this strengthens the bonds between students and makes the network even more powerful because you’ve shared profound moments with your classmates, not only the classroom. I believe much of the shine in our eyes when we speak about IESE comes from remembering everything we lived through with our classmates and all the support we gave and received in challenging situations.”

At the same time, IESE is a deeply international immersion, with 85% of MBA classes traditionally hailing from outside Spain. The school also boasts campuses in New York City, Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Madrid, and Munich. That said, IESE is adding a new immersion module in Dubai this year (along with a re-designed immersion for New York City). Last year, the school has also rolled out a Python Bootcamp For Data Analysis according to Amorim — not to mention nearly two dozen new courses over the past five years, mainly in the areas of digital business and analytics.

“One recent addition to the curriculum is the Barcelona Technology Transfer course, which aims at improving business-building skills across technology-intensive contexts (e.g., MedTech, pharma, etc.),” Amorim explains. “In a nutshell, the students help advance a technology-based idea or nascent venture towards a revenue-generating business. The course is project-based, and the students are matched to a dedicated real-life project with scientists and engineers as their counterparts. The students help them with their investor communication strategy, identifying market fit and segmentation, and assessing appropriate commercialization models and sales channels.”

While MBAs are ever-busy at IESE, they can still head down the hill to blow off some steam in Barna. ““Honestly, I can think of only a few places in the world as incredible to live in as Barcelona,” explains Louis Williams, a 2019 grad. “You have sun, beach, mountains for skiing and cycling: a broad selection of bars and restaurants at 60% of the cost of London. It is a historic architectural center, connected by an incredible public transportation system with an interwoven quilt of cultures: Spanish, Catalan, Latin and International. And that ignores the fact that Barcelona is one of the nightlife capitals of the world.”

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