The P&Q Interview: Mannheim’s Jens Wüstemann On The Value Proposition Of A German MBA

Mannheim Business School

Full-time MBAs at Mannheim Business School in Germany visiting the Porshe headquarters. The business school is surrounded by a large number of German companies of all sizes and functions. Photo by Cheming Chang

So, you’re shopping around for a premier MBA program. You’re looking for a program with a stellar reputation that will connect you with accomplished classmates and influential alumni. One that will lead to a great post MBA career in a preferred company and in-demand industry.

Look at the M7s, sure – the Stanfords, the Whartons, the Harvards, the Columbias.

But why stop there?

“The world market for MBA programs is not just in the U.S. Germany is a very interesting market,” says Jens Wüstemann, president of Mannheim Business School. “It’s the largest economy in Europe, and now, again, the No. 3 economy in the world – after the U.S., after China, but before Japan.”

Jens Wüstemann, president of Mannheim Business School

Within a 70-mile radius of Mannheim Business School, you’ll find Europe’s leading software company, SAP; the largest chemical firm, BASF; and the worldwide headquarters of Mercedes Benz. It is also surrounded by several hidden champions, the most successful of Germany’s small to medium-sized Mittelstands which also happen to be world market leaders in their niches.

This close proximity to Germany’s diverse industry, in both size and function, helps Mannheim Business School attract one of the most international student bodies in the world. About 80% of its one-year, full-time MBA cohort comes from outside of Germany.

It’s also part of the school’s value proposition: “About 20% of those studying in our MBA worked in Germany before the program, but 75% work in Germany after the program. So, in a way, our MBA program gets students from around the globe, but keeps them in Germany,” Wüstemann says.


Mannheim Business School (MBS) is the umbrella organization for management education offered by the University of Mannheim. While the university is state owned, MBS is a privately organized non-profit with the university having a 25% stake and the Prechel Foundation having a 75% stake. (All full professors of the university’s business school are Prechel Foundation members.)

The University of Mannheim has taught business courses and offered business degrees since 1907 when it was founded as the Municipal School of Commerce. However, it didn’t establish an MBA program until 2002. MBS was founded in 2005 with one primary goal: To build an international reputation through top notch MBA programs, Masters degrees, and executive education programs.

“In the U.S., I think there’s an overabundance of MBA programs, but maybe too few Masters of Science programs. In Germany, it is the opposite,” says Wüstemann, who spent time in the U.S. as a visiting scholar at both The Wharton School and NYU Stern School of Business.

“Germany’s normal diploma is best translated into Master of Science. The MBA degree – requiring professional experience, a different type of teaching style, and so on and so forth – was not the tradition. That is why we founded Mannheim Business School.”

Today, MBS enrolls more than 800 students across all its programs. It offers full- and part-time MBAs, an Executive MBA, and an EMBA in partnership with ESSEC Business School in France. It also offers master’s degrees in Sustainability and Impact Management, Management Analytics & AI, and Accounting & Taxation, as well as a full roster of company and open executive education programs. (Other bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are offered through the Business School of the University of Mannheim.)

MBS consistently ranks as the No. 1 business school and MBA program in Germany. It ranked No. 73 in the 2024 Global MBA Ranking by the Financial Times, and 17th in the magazine’s European Business Schools from 2023.

Full-time MBA students on a study trip earlier this year. The MBA class at Mannheim Business School is about 80% of international. While just 20% of the class typically works in Germany before completing the program, about 75% start their careers in the country after graduation. Courtesy photo


A distinct feature of the Mannheim MBA experience is its small class sizes, especially compared to those of the premier U.S. programs which typically have cohorts in the hundreds. Its full-time MBA typically has between 50 and 60 students while its EMBA has classes of between 40 and 50. It also costs a fraction of the premier U.S. MBA at €42,500 (or about $46,000) and takes half the time.

Wüstemann, a professor of accounting and auditing, joined the University of Mannheim in 2001 and became president of Mannheim Business School in 2010. During his tenure, the number of students enrolled at MBS has risen threefold, from about 280 to 840, mainly from the launch of several new programs.

Poets&Quants connected with Wüstemann via Zoom to talk about the value proposition of a premier German MBA. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your assessment of Mannheim Business School when you became president? What were your goals for it at the time?

When I took over in 2010, my main concern was to ensure that the strategy of Mannheim business education in general – which has this state-owned part but also this privately organized part – fulfilled what our stakeholders expect from us. That is, No. 1, to make or gain reputation.

Each year when my supervisors assess my performance, one of the key points is how did we perform in rankings? Not that that’s our purpose in itself, but we know that rankings decide whether very good students apply or don’t.

They also consider: Do we contribute to a fully fledged type of business school from bachelor to lifelong learning? I think we do very well, but I realize it can be in the eyes of the beholder.

I also wanted to grow Mannheim Business School in order to invest in infrastructure, in even better professors, and so on. I think it would be fair to say we at least tripled the number of participants in our programs during my presidency by introducing new programs like specialized master’s, part-time MBA programs and the like.

What, in your opinion, are the distinguishing factors for Mannheim Business School?

You may not know that, in Mannheim, the automobile was invented by Karl Benz. The bicycle was invented in Mannheim by Mr. Drais. The agricultural tractor was also invented in Mannheim for a company called Lanz which was later acquired by John Deere. It’s a city not very well known with some 400,000 inhabitants, but its innovation is quite outstanding.

To understand the environment in which we are working, if you make a circle around Mannheim, let’s say 100 kilometers, you have the leading European software company, SAP. The largest chemical firm, BASF, which also has the largest chemical plant in the world, is about 30 kilometers away. The worldwide headquarters of Mercedes Benz is maybe 60 kilometers from Mannheim.

Around us we have several hidden champions. These are German companies you’ve probably never heard of, but potentially their products are in your car, in your pullover, or in your coffee. You never heard of them, but they’re making billions. They’ve been globalized for 40 to 50 years, and they are typically in our region.

So, the diversity in our class in regards to industry and the size of companies is quite astonishing. Students have a lot of things to tell each other. That is the ecosystem we work in.

In fact, a lot of schools from Asia in particular – in Singapore, Hong Kong, and mainland China, for example – like to come to us for residencies to understand the logic in how this ecosystem is organized.

So that comes to our DNA at Mannheim Business School. We have, from the beginning, some features which are today approaching mainstream, but were not at that time. ESG is an example. Now, no ranking or business school can go without ESG, but we embodied this in our curriculum years before it was mainstream.

We also have the Social Class Project. Nobody gets a degree from Mannheim Business School who didn’t engage in a social project close to the community. This has been done since we started our first EMBA program in 2004, so it has a very long tradition. For me, when I was still academic director for our EMBA program, it was touching to see how much empathy managers who work for worldwide companies can develop towards those who are underprivileged. It’s even better if it’s a sustainable project that continues.

Executive MBAs from Mannheim Business School must complete a social project that benefits a local community. Courtesy photo

What kind of class do you attract? Do you target more of a regional student population?

With the exception of the U.S., we are typically in the international rankings among the leading international student bodies in the world. That has to do with our value proposition: If you come to Mannheim, and if you do what we tell you should do, you not only get a very good education, but we give you mobility within the German labor market.

Take the classical Indian engineer who went to a superb school in India and who comes to us as an MBA. When we screen him or her at the moment of application, we ask, “What is your future plan?” They might say they want to work in the European Union, but it’s typically Germany. Typically they want to work for Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen or BASF and the like. We say, “Look, we have the biggest network in Germany. We have the most successful alumni from the C-suites of the largest German companies.” And that’s our value proposition. That’s why they come.

Some 80% of our MBA classes are non-German. What’s also very astonishing is that we have a weekend Executive MBA Program, which we call the Mannheim EMBA, which is 50% non-German. Further, about 20% of those studying in our MBA worked in Germany before the program, but 75% work in Germany after the program. So, in a way, our MBA program gets students from around the globe but keeps them in Germany.

I recently read an article proclaiming that German business schools were on the rise. Would you say that is true?

I think overall, yes, and it has to do with the performance of the few very good business schools in Germany. Of course, there are MBA programs who would never be accredited as well. But a school like Mannheim Business School performs quite well in international rankings, so that is one of the components.

The second is that even though Germany at the moment has a recession, when you’re talking about highly qualified people, the labor market is just huge. The companies are in demand. Again, not for the whole economy, but for that market which we’re serving.

So I would say, if you think about a student coming from outside the European Union who wants to work in Europe, Germany is an attractive option. Students who go to school in the UK cannot work in the European Union automatically anymore, so then you would need to decide between France, Italy or Germany. When you think about the companies, about the performance of industry, I think Germany typically would still be No. 1.

Finally, the market in terms of suppliers of MBAs is not that big in Germany. If you take the U.S., I mean, there are literally thousands of business schools offering MBA programs, whereas Germany has room to grow. So I would think that Germany is still relatively seen as a quite attractive MBA market, and also the demand for our programs is very, very high.

The Schloss, a baroque-era palace, is the heart of the University of Mannheim campus. Photo by Norbert Bach

Looking ahead, what are some of your goals for Mannheim Business School? Or, are there new initiatives that you’re planning or considering?

Let me start with what may seem to be a little boring, but it’s very important: The maintenance of the program.

ESG, for example, is now somewhat mandatory in the Financial Times rankings, which Mannheim does well anyway. On the other side, a lot of stakeholders tell us they want to have artificial intelligence in the curriculum. Then there are companies that tell us they want to have a particular emphasis on, let’s say, data mining, data analytics, coming from quantitative data to qualitative insights. MBA students also expect that we teach them corporate finance and marketing management and the like.

So, maintenance in the sense of keeping up with what stakeholders expect, what applicants expect, but still providing a coherent curriculum that doesn’t just integrate the latest buzzword in order to help marketing efforts. I think that’s something which is absolutely not so easy to implement.

A classroom at Mannheim Business School. Photo by Kirsten Bucher

In regards to new programs, we have started an initiative to increase the volume but also the quality of our firm programs (executive education). In our portfolio, the firms range from the largest German firms to those hidden champions, but we want to increase this as well as our open enrollment programs. The degree programs are very important, but we want to have a better balance between our efforts for degree programs and our efforts for non-degree programs.

Another big effort is in our infrastructure. If you look at our homepage, there’s a video where you can actually fly over our palace and into our lecture halls. Our school is located in a baroque palace built roughly between the years 1720 and 1740.

We have very, very nice facilities in the palace, but we have made a clear decision that we see Mannheim Business School as an on-campus experience. Of course, we do have online modules, we have blended learning, that’s very clear. So it doesn’t mean that each and every type of learning outcome is done on campus.

But, we are convinced that if you bring people together physically in a room and let them work together, the learning outcome is just better. Corona was an eye opener because it showed what Zoom, for example, can do. But it also showed some limitations. And that’s also what was reflected by our student body. They wanted to come back to campus.

In order to be competitive, we need to have very modern infrastructure. So, at the moment, we are developing a new campus very near our palace so that we can deliver the high quality MBA, Executive MBA and so on.

At what stage are you in the process?

It’s very well developed. It’s with the city of Mannheim, we have the architects, we have fantastic plans. The difficult part, and unfortunately that is also one of the main agenda points for the president of a business school, is to get the money. (Laughing)

What else do you want Poets&Quants readers to know about Mannheim Business School?

We have very diverse classes, which I think really sets us apart from any other programs in the world. We also have small classes. For example, for the full time MBA, it’s just about 50 to 60 students. This is something which is really totally different from what you experienced at Wharton, Stanford, or the Ivy League schools in the U.S. It’s a very intense, very individualized learning experience and a very diverse experience. There are typically 20 to 25 nationalities per class.

Our diversity is not only a question of class composition, but of content as well. We don’t have this one-size-fits-all curriculum where you work through 10,000 Harvard Business case studies – which are all excellent. We can afford to have a much more individualistic style of teaching and tutoring our students. That is something which I think you don’t get at every business school when you have a thousand students.

Like I said at the beginning of our conversation, we decided early on that Mannheim Business School is about reputation. We could double our MBA cohort just with Indian students who want to study with us, and we could make much more money. But that’s not the point.

Last but not least, the network is something very special in our case. It’s a small network compared to the larger schools, but it’s a very exclusive one. There are many people working in really high positions in Germany.


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