The pandemic disrupted everything. It cancelled traditions and separated classmates. That was particularly true with MBAT – popularly called the “MBA Olympics.” In 2020 and 2021, MBAT was held online – a far cry from nearly three decades of students marching with their school flags or lighting the torch during the opening ceremony. And it just wasn’t the same awarding medals when everyone was huddled behind their laptops…hundreds of miles apart.
That changed in 2022, when HEC Paris again held MBAT in-person last May. This event attracted 1,500 MBAs from over a dozen schools. Ranging from the London Business School to ESADE, these students came to compete, network, and (of course) party. Over three days, students competed in 30 events, including soccer, basketball, rugby, running, ping pong, and ultimate frisbee. That doesn’t count a dance competition and a battle of the bands – all capped off by a black-tie gala.
For most students, the MBAT is a time to kick back and socialize, to deepen bonds with classmates and connect with members of rival schools. For HEC Paris, it is a chance to bask in accolades after nearly a year of intensive planning. That meant late nights for Victor Heaulme, president of the 2022 MBAT. It also required ruthless prioritizing, understanding that the unexpected will inevitably wreak havoc on careful planning. Despite the demands, running like MBAT has its perks…such as leadership experience that stands out on a CV.
“It just adds richness to a graduate’s overall MBA experience and allows you to connect with an interviewer on a different level,” says Aditya Vijay, who served as MBAT’s director of sports.
MBAT’s collegiality fits with a larger theme of HEC Paris: diversity. After all, the latest full-time MBA class hails from 58 countries – with just 4% of the students being French. In total, you’ll find nearly 100 nationalities at HEC Paris in any given year. That makes the school a daily laboratory in navigating the cultural nuances that can stir mistrust and conflict. At the same time, the class composition exposes students to all sides to an issue or opportunity, to help them pinpoint the real needs and best alternatives. Even more, this diversity gives MBAs a platform to practice flexibility and empathy, to ask and listen before deciding and lecturing. For Idris Baily, a first-year student and U.S. Army veteran, the atmosphere fosters what he calls “an agile mind.”
“I can’t imagine a better way to build mental agility than to simply spend time around people who think differently than you do, who developed entirely different thoughts and beliefs under entirely different circumstances than you did.”
And it can all be done in 16 months – another key HEC Paris advantage in a marketplace saturated with 10-12-month options.
“It is the ideal length of time to have a real impact on the future of our students,” explains Andrea Masini, associate dean of MBA programs in a 2021 interview with P&Q. “It gives them time to digest new information and build a CV through internships and specialized courses without keeping them out of the workforce for too long.”
Diversity isn’t HEC Paris’ only marquee attraction. In recent years, the school has invested heavily in entrepreneurship, digital transformation and social responsibility. That includes the school’s partnership with Station F, Europe’s largest incubator. Home to over 1,000 startups – not to mention offices for Microsoft and Google – Station F also houses the HEC Incubateur, a space that has nurtured startups from HEC alumni that have received over $400 million Euros in funding…in just the past four years. Two years ago, HEC Paris also launched its Creative Destruction Lab – Paris, which is dedicated to growing startups dedicated to fighting climate change.
“The HEC Program has attracted some of the most innovative start-ups in the field and it will benefit from the expertise of an impressive pool of experts from all around the world,” adds Benoit Banchereau, the school’s executive director of admissions and marketing, in a 2022 interview with P&Q.
Leadership is another talent associated with HEC Paris. After all, it is sometimes called Europe’s “Cradle of Leadership,” boasting MBA alumni CEOs like Jean-Yves Fillion (BNP Paribas), Olivier Herold (The Oxford Group), and Michel Vounatsos (Biogen). Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy, earned his undergraduate degree at HEC Paris. Last year, he endowed the Joly Family Chair in Purposeful Leadership – an initiative designed to promote “responsible and inclusive capitalism” that usher companies away from pursuing short-term financial gains and towards developing strategies that promote long-term value in social and environmental contexts. Such programming already constitutes nearly a tenth of HEC Paris’ graduate curriculum.
“Students are looking for more and more opportunities to make a difference through purposeful leadership,” explains Benoit Banchereau. “With that in mind, we recently added a new core course, Purposeful Leadership. We also have a number of core and elective courses that address impact leadership. They include: Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, Ethics and Performance, Globalization and Corporate Social Action, Leading in a Diverse World, Positive Psychology for Managers, Responsible Leadership, and Social Entrepreneurship.”
Of course, HEC Paris also enjoys the advantage of location – sort of. Technically, HEC Paris isn’t located in Paris. You’ll find it on a 340-acre forest campus near Jouy-en-Josas, a village south of Versailles that’s a 50-minute train ride to the city. That doesn’t mean it is far from the action. For one, it sits near the Paris-Saclay Innovation Cluster. Home to 150,000 researchers, inventors, and entrepreneurs, it features business and research hubs for companies like Danone, Nokia, Safran, and Sanoli. And let’s just say HEC Paris MBAs aren’t shy about heading off to Paris, either.
“Our location enables our students to draw upon the expertise of the cluster and team up with scientists to bring their technological inventions to market,” notes Benoit Banchereau. “Our proximity to Paris allows students to easily find an internship in the city and to take advantage of Paris’ location as a travel hub for all of Europe.”
And this ‘best of both worlds’ dynamic – secluded campus with quick access to the fabled City of Lights – makes for an unforgettable experience for HEC Paris MBAs. “Paris is an epitome of cultures, arts, and history,” writes the first-year Shawn Qui. “It’s hard to not fall in love with such a magnificent city because of its natural scenery and human masterpieces. It is the best example of what humans can leave to the world to showcase our wisdom and hard work. Being close to Paris, I constantly remind myself of the spirit of perfection.”
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