NEOMA Business School was founded in 2013 out of a merger of two prominent French business schools: Reims Management School and Rouen Business School. When Delphine Manceau took over as NEOMA’s dean in 2017, the fledgling B-school was still trying to define itself.
“I think it was a strength that I didn’t come from either of these schools, because I had a new vision and I could push a new identity,” Manceau tells Poets&Quants. “I think my main achievement is that, today, nobody wonders what NEOMA is about. I tried to consolidate the identity of this new school, make it proud of its achievements, and really start a new era post merger.”
As new deans often do, Manceau started her tenure with a five-year strategic plan that included a new focus on digitalization while integrating tech and management training. NEOMA opened Europe’s first 100% digital campus at the very start of the pandemic, accelerating plans that were already in the works for a virtual campus to connect students across its three French campuses as well as its international students around the world. The virtual NEOMA is a bit like an island on Minecraft, where student avatars can jump into more than 80 rooms, lecture theaters, and break-out spaces to attend lectures, present projects, or just mingle with fellow students they meet in the virtual space.
In Manceau’s first tenure, NEOMA also built a new campus in Paris, and it will open a new Reims campus in 2025. “I think it is a great opportunity to combine architectural transformation with our digital transformation, because it means that we designed the new buildings for new blended teaching approaches and also for the new student experience combining online and on campus life. I think it’s key to really think about both together,” Manceau says.
ONE OF FRANCE’S TOP BUSINESS SCHOOLS
At the undergraduate level, NEOMA offers a diverse range of business related majors include a bachelor in services management, a global BBA, and the CESEM, an international dual-degree program in which students earn a BBA in France and in a country in either the Americas, Asia or Europe. NEOMA also offers a Global Executive MBA with tracks in France, China and Iran; its flagship Masters in Management; and an expanding portfolio of executive education.
It is one of just about 1% of business schools in the world with Triple accreditation from the three international accrediting agencies – AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA – and it is consistently ranked among the top 10 business schools in France and among the top 50 in Europe. Poets&Quants named NEOMA a European Business School to Watch in 2021.
Before joining NEOMA, Manceau spent 18 years at ESCP Europe, and she has a PhD from HEC Paris and was a senior research fellow at the Wharton School. In February, she was appointed to another four year term as NEOMA dean.
We last connected with Manceau in March 2021 to share lessons from 12 inspiring female business school deans. In the conversation below, edited for length and clarity, we ask Manceau about female leadership in business schools, about her big accomplishments so far, and what comes next for NEOMA.
Tell us a bit about your professional background.
I’m an academic, and I’ve been for many years a professor in marketing and innovation. My area of specialization was about how to do marketing when you talk about major innovations because usually the market and the consumers don’t know what to expect and what they really aim for.
I was also a high level expert for the European Commissioner on Research and Innovation, and we worked on how to boost entrepreneurship and innovation in the EU. I tried to transform my research into public policy as well.
So that was the first part of my career, being an academic. I was working for the ESCP Business School for many years, and I became the associate dean for programs and then the associate dean for what we call the corporate division, which put together all we did with companies including executive education, corporate partnerships, corporate funding and so on. Five years ago, I joined NEOMA business school as the dean.
NEOMA is a French business school based in two amazing regions: the Champagne region and Normandy. It has very strong historical roots, and we now have three campuses: one in Champagne, one in Normandy, and one in Paris.
Despite the attention to gender parity in business schools, there are still fewer women in leadership. When and why did you decide to take this step into leadership?
There were really two steps: The first was when I moved from a standard faculty position to the position of associate dean. It was in the same school, so it was kind of natural. After a few years, you wonder why the programs are like this and not like that, and you complain about how things are, and one day you’re like, “Okay, so if you want to change things, just go for it and take the leadership role.”
Then, at some point, after having been the associate dean in two different positions, I felt if I really want to become dean and have really full leadership, it’s basically now or never. I had spent 18 years at ESCP, so if I wanted to take the step, it probably meant moving to another school. I then started to talk about it, and then I was headhunted.
Why do you think women still lag behind in those leadership roles?
For a long time, I think women in general have had more trouble accepting their ambition and the will to take a leadership role. Maybe they wait for things to happen naturally, and often it does not happen naturally. I think women tend to be less assertive in the sense that they don’t, at some point, say, “Okay, now I’ve done this and this, so it would be natural for me to take the next role.”
But I do think it’s changing. Right now, in the top 10 business schools in France, for instance, there are three women (in deanships), and in the top 12 there are four. It’s much more than a few years back..
Why is parity important in the dean roles at business schools?
Well, first, because I think it’s just normal, it’s fair, there’s no reason why there should be a gender distortion.
But the second reason, which I think is very important and students talk to me about it, is so that young students and female students have role models. It’s true for female students, but also for male students. It’s important that they can see that the leader of the school can be a woman and that it’s natural. Some female students have told me how important it was for them to see that it’s possible. They asked me how I did it, how I combine it with my family life, and things like that.
I think it’s really key: If we want society to change, higher education should be the first step. It’s a way to show the path to young generations. Very often our activities are at the forefront of what will happen in 10, 20 years in other parts of the society.
NEXT PAGE: Creating a NEOMA Identity + Plans for the Next Four Years