Hunker down and get serious.
That’s usually not a winning message to prospective business students. After all, most business schools fashion their pitches around doing the right things for the right reasons so students end up in the right role with the right company. The IESE Business School takes a different path: MBAs repeat the same process over-and-over, so they can identify the right patterns and issues and weigh the right choices that will ultimately yield the best result. Here MBAs will read 400 or more cases…minimum. They prepare like never before — knowing their professors could call them at any moment to defend their positions. That’s because IESE wants students to experience every day what it’s like to lead: operating in the spotlight, setting priorities, breaking down problems, and leveraging their peers’ strengths.
It’s high demand and high return. It is an approach designed to elevate MBAs quickly — an upfront sacrifice in year one that makes year two all the more productive. Or, to use a popular phrase attributed to IESE faculty: “The first year is ours and the second year is yours.”
4,000 PAGES OF READING
“IESE is very demanding in terms of academics,” admits Christian Bopp, a 2021 graduate and P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. “Everyone told me this before I started and I would smile about it, but oh boy was it a lot. In the first-year, students have to prepare cases for three classes every day. It is important to do that well because otherwise you miss so much learning from the in-class discussions. On top of that goes all of your involvement with clubs and internship recruitment. The second year is much more flexible, and you can take fewer classes if you want to focus more on other activities such as clubs or traveling,”
Bopp’s classmate, Marc-Olivier Granger, found the first semester equally daunting. Now a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, Granger can look back and see a “clear difference” between IESE and other MBA programs — one that positioned him to maximize his time in business school…and beyond.
“The first year of the MBA at IESE is very challenging with essentially 3 cases per day, 5 days a week,” he tells P&Q. “It adds up to about 4,000 pages of reading. Add on top of the academics the time spent on recruiting and extracurricular activities and you get very busy very fast. However, after having been through that first year and reflecting back, I can definitely say that all that effort pays off. Coming from a non-business background, my learning curve was steep and the academic rigor of IESE allowed me to become a full 360-degree manager now. When we started the MBA, we were told by faculty and students, to “trust the process” and I’m glad I did.”
That’s not to say that the IESE experience is an ‘all work and no play’ proposition. After all, Barcelona is just down the hill from IESE’s University of Navarra digs. Set along the cool Mediterranean seaside, Barcelona is a mix of Neoclassical, Neo-Gothic, and Modernist architectural influence. A foodie paradise, the city boasts mouth-watering tapas, a Boqueria Market filled with exotic spices and fresh fish, and perhaps the world’s best restaurant — Costa Brava. That doesn’t count the revery of El Raval nightlife that’s only matched by the passion of FC Barcelona fans at Camp Nou. And let’s just say the luxury shopping at Passeig de Gràcia could give Paris’ Champs-Élysées a run for its money.
For the MBA Class of 2023, Barcelona turned out to be a welcome respite from the IESE workload. “Barcelona is an amazing hub to travel in and out of its borders,” observes Hahn Chang, whom Nicki Minaj once described as her hero. “If you like hiking, you can go on beautiful hikes in Tibidabo here in Barcelona, Montserrat an hour and a half away, or the Pyrenees, which are only two hours away. If you like the beach, you can stay here in Barceloneta, scuba dive in Costa Brava, or visit Mallorca or any of the other dazzling cities on the Mediterranean. If you like cultural sites, you can go to one of the many amazing museums here, visit Girona just an hour away, or fly to Rome for a weekend. The possibilities are endless and that is truly something special about going to school in Barcelona.”
Spain has been a long trek for Chang, who grew up in suburban Minneapolis. Before business school, he ran several vaccine clinics for Vault Health, which have administered over a half million doses to combat COVID-19. That role came after he served as a Congressional campaign manager in Minnesota, where he suffered a narrow defeat, but still turned around a 15-point difference from 2016. Chang isn’t alone in shouldering leadership early among the Class of 2023. Shir Zilberstein ran The Center for Israeli Innovation, which included 15 reports who “promote[d] the Israeli innovation ecosystem and mindset internationally.” In Brazil, Lais Giardullo Bernardes, a former McKinseyite, took on the role of chief investing officer for a firm focused on impact investment and ESG agenda. Here, she developed a framework to pull cocoa producers out of poverty. And you could say that South Africa’s Dian de wet has already lived the dream of many MBAs.
“I started my last company in 2016 with nothing, and built it into a company that had a revenue of 1.3 million USD in 2019. I went through a merger with a very large multinational company and, before my MBA started, exited very successfully.”
FROM BAKER HUGHES TO BAIN
At PwC, Han Yu Lee collected several awards for steering several of her projects into high revenue territory. For that, she was nominated for a spot in the PwC Key Talent Program, making her one of the few associates company-wide to be considered for this honor. Not to be outdone, Hamza Zahid led a 20-member team at Baker Hughes who turned around a failing project for a key global account. The reward? His team received another multimillion-dollar contract from a grateful client — and Zahid was recognized with a performance excellence award. However, sometimes growth is its own reward, says Ignacio Guitard, who notched two promotions in three years at Bain & Company.
“There are certain cases that come to my mind where we delivered a great output for the client and I feel proud of the work I did. However, I would say that my biggest accomplishment is learning from every experience (good or not that good) that I lived in the cases. During these years, I put under practice and develop things as being humble, listen first, appreciate any piece of feedback, gain perspective on problems, understand people… I’m definitely not the same professional who entered Bain in 2018; People helped me to make the best of every situation and that’s my biggest accomplishment.”
Not surprisingly, many IESE MBAs believe their biggest accomplishment have yet to happen. However, they have been busy making the most of their time this past year. Hahn Chang, for one, has focused on sharpening his Spanish — classes are taught in English — through the Business Spanish modules. At the same time, he has been giving back by preparing his classmates for case interviews.
“I previously worked as a management consultant and co-led recruiting at my office for Business Analysts. In that role, I interviewed candidates and I have used that experience to help my classmates navigate case interviews at consulting firms. What’s been especially exciting is seeing a couple of friends I helped land offers at their dream companies.
SPOUSES MAKE A DIFFERENCE
By the same token, Hamza Zahid adopted this pay it forward mentality by tutoring classmates on accounting. Mitsuhiro Miyamoto spent his spring working on a social consulting project for a coffee distribution firm. For Shir Zilberstein, the biggest takeaway from the MBA has unquestionably been confidence.
“Understanding where to prioritize and how to keep calm was an essential teaching experience for me, and one which will be invaluable in the future,” she tells P&Q. “Moreover, learning to communicate and work with people from various cultures while improving my languages skills is a process that is already starting to bear fruit.”
That said, these accomplishments aren’t the Class of 2023’s alone. Just ask Ignacio Guitard, who credits his wife for everything he has achieved in business school. “I’m writing about how amazing it is to be part of IESE, but she’s the one who has given me all the support and who has been spending time with our son while I am in class. Without her, I would not be able to accomplish anything. And I think it is important to mention this, because in general, lots of people have family (parents, partners and children) who support them in these ventures and they are a key factor to us reaching our goals. So many thanks Rocio!”
It takes real courage to move across the world to start over in a new city to study at a business school partially defined by academic rigor. You’ll find a willingness to push the envelope and embrace the uncomfortable across IESE’s Class of 2023. Hamza Zahid has already undergone “offshore survival and helicopter underwater escape training” due to his previous role as a field engineer. Precious Okoro, a petrophysicist by trade, discovered she was afraid of heights while climbing around Nigerian hills and waterfalls. Eventually, she summoned the courage to scale Angels Landing, a 1,500 foot rock formation in Utah.
And then there’s Shir Zilberstein…
“I spent eight months backpacking throughout South and Central America, starting in the snow mountains of the “End of the World” (the southernmost tip of South America in Argentina), and then climbing all the way up to Mexico’s beaches, through wild nature reserves in Brazil, a volcano’s crater in Chile, and a salt desert in Bolivia.”
This year’s class numbers 383 full-time MBAs, up from 366 last year. They average 29.7 years in age and 5.6 years in professional work experience. Like last year, they boast a 670 average GMAT. A quarter of the class is also women, with 81% hailing from countries outside Spain. Overall, 59 countries are represented in the Class of 2023.
This diversity creates a global perspective that’s both embedded in the programming and represented in the classroom. Maria Carnal-Fuste, a 2021 IESE MBA, was attracted to the program due to its academic demands, case methodology, and Opus Dei values. However, it was her classmates — hailing from a wide range of cultural and industry backgrounds — that kept her on her toes.
“Due to globalization, I believe it is highly probable that we will be conducting business with different people from all over the globe,” she tells P&Q. “To be able to succeed in such a global environment, we need to be ready to look through the lenses of the person who is sitting in front of us and understand how they approach a certain problem. It is not only a matter of knowing business concepts anymore, but of understanding other cultural biases, motivations and ways of doing.”
THE WORLD’S #1 PROGRAM?
Not only diverse, but IESE is expansive. The program’s alumni roll includes 50,000 graduates from 130 countries. The campus also extends to five locations: New York City, Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Madrid, and Munich — with additional school modules held in Shanghai and Nairobi. This footprint is only deepened by the school’s global executive education and executive MBA programs, which rank as the 4th and 7th in the world according to The Financial Times.
“I believe a big myth of IESE is that it is focused on the Spanish market,” Carnal-Fuste adds. “While it is only natural that there are many opportunities in this market through IESE, I have found this is not the case. IESE´s career services have strong contacts not only in Europe but also in LATAM and Asia. On top of that, IESE´s network goes beyond countries and reaching out to alumni is a great way to find the opportunity one is looking for. As I see it, this is the power of being part of such a strong and close community. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will always have a colleague who will be happy to help you.”
Next Page: Paula Amorim, IESE Business School´s MBA Admissions Director
Page 3: Profiles of 10 IESE MBAs from the Class of 2023