The ESSEC MBA: What You Need To Know
All is well at ESSEC Business School, assures Anne-Claire Pache, professor and dean of academic programs at the school located just outside Paris. But some long-planned and dramatic changes are coming, nonetheless.
ESSEC, Pache asserts, continues to have among the most attractive “boutique” business programs in Europe. Its Master of Management degree is regularly ranked by the Financial Times as among the best in the world (No. 3 from 2014 to 2016), as is its Master of Finance (6th); and since its inception in 2011, ESSEC’s Global MBA has earned plaudits for its international flavor, with popular learning options in France and Singapore and an immersion project in various emerging markets, including Morocco and Mauritius. Still, ESSEC’s faculty and administrators have been troubled by “missed opportunities,” Pache tells Poets&Quants, especially in the “limited interactions” between the school’s three MBA programs: Luxury Brand Management, Hospitality Management, and Global. And so a “renewal” — read: overhaul — was in order.
Starting in the fall of 2017, ESSEC will combine its three MBA programs into one, redesigned Global MBA program that will pay particular attention to the digital changes that are transforming the business landscape.
“The idea was a sentiment of missed opportunities,” says Pache, who joined ESSEC in 2001 and became dean of programs three years ago. “We have great programs, standalone programs, but with very limited interactions, which we felt like were really missed opportunities for students while they are in the program. So we feel like students with different aspirations, with different backgrounds, and with different profiles initially, it will make a lot of sense for these students to interact more, to experience some core courses together so that they can broaden their perspective, widen their networks and learn together about the core of business and leadership.”
PREPARING STUDENTS TO BE ‘VISIONARY PIONEERS’
ESSEC’s new one-year Global MBA will be under the direction of Aarti Ramaswami, professor in the Management Department. It will be offered on both the Cergy-Pontoise campus (18 miles outside Paris) and the Singapore campus, and will contain six majors: Strategy and Management, Finance, Hospitality Management, International Luxury Brand Management, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Digital Business. The MBA will be characterized, Pache says, by a multidisciplinary approach, with a strong digital focus and an international element that involves cross-cultural case studies, field trips, an international consulting project, and campus exchanges. The first intake is scheduled for September of 2017.
“The new MBA will prepare our students to be visionary pioneers that are capable of taking on the challenges and technological revolutions of tomorrow,” says Jean-Michel Blanquer, dean and president of ESSEC. “The program will constantly evolve in order to teach students how to anticipate and confront the issues that companies will encounter.” To help students meet the challenges of an increasingly digital future, he says, ESSEC has structured its academic expertise, “educational savoir-faire” and its partnership with major companies into the new MBA program.
The program will have 18 fundamental, shared courses, including 10 specialization courses within each chosen major (about one-third of the overall program), a company project in relation to the chosen major that can be completed internationally; “Digital Week,” which will take place each year and requires a campus exchange; and a study field trip in relation to a chosen major area. The MBA will particularly focus on such fundamental business concepts as the importance of innovation and the acceleration of economic changes, Pache says, with academic content developed in collaboration with a network of companies and the support of alumni, and overall development backed by an international advisory board chaired by Pierre Nanterme, chairman and CEO of Accenture.
‘A FAMILY-SIZE PROGRAM’
The restructuring of ESSEC’s MBA was about a year in the making, Pache says. Alumni and corporate partners had a big hand in the redesign. Vital to the effort, she says, was a desire to keep “human experience at the heart of its structure” — meaning, foremost, that ESSEC has no plans to grow the program beyond about double its current size, or around 100 students.
“We want to keep a family-size program,” Pache says. “What this means is that we’re targeting about 100 students for the first year, and we’re not planning to grow much larger than this. The idea is that we want professors to know the students, we want students to get a chance to interact very informally with professors, we want students to know each other, so we want this to feel like a human-size experience — a boutique program, to some extent, which has really generated a lot of success for us in the past for us and we want to really capitalize for the future.”
Pache says another key dimension of the program is its emphasis on responsible leadership, which in France might be called “humanistic leadership,” including a partnership with a local military school “where the leadership component and the team component is strongly developed with the students” and the program-ending touchstone project, where students participate in consulting programs that have environmental, social, and developmental components.
Humanistic leadership “is one of the core values of ESSEC in general,” Pache says, “and so this translates into various pedagogical experiences, from the intense leadership experience that is developed very early in the program in partnership with a military school to a touchstone project at the end of the program, where students are invited to work on projects that may involve working in Africa to develop new activities, or thinking about how to frame the environmental component of the new activity in whatever sector this is.”
GENERATING MORE SYNERGIES
ESSEC has long been a trailblazer. In 1997 it became the first school outside North America to be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Its embrace of digital learning platforms and digital competencies has long put it at the forefront of B-schools globally.
However, ESSEC’s Global MBA is not currently ranked by the Economist, Financial Times, or Poets&Quants; when that program debuted with 24 students in 2011, it helped to earn ESSEC a No. 10 ranking in Europe by the FT, but since then praise for the B-school — frequent and effusive — has been focused almost completely on its executive education, master’s, and Global BBA programs.
It isn’t ESSEC’s status as one of the best B-schools in France and Europe that was considered in jeopardy when the school’s officers decided to overhaul its MBA offerings, Pache says. It was the interaction between the three programs — and between the rest of the business school and the MBA side — that needed improvement.
“What we realized last year was that it was a pity that we didn’t generate more synergies between the three programs, because obviously there are a lot of courses and content that the three different groups of people participating in these programs can learn,” Pache says. “So there are synergies across the courses but also very specific differences that wanted to keep to ensure that we maintain a high level of specialization for the existing specialized tracks. And so what we decided to create is an overall Global MBA platform that has a very high level of academic density across all levels of specialization while keeping opportunities for students who want to specialize.”
The solution was to keep the specializations that ESSEC was best known for, luxury and hospitality, while also designing new majors that are suited to the school, including Innovation and Digital Business. And to share academic content and resources across all B-school programs.
‘WE HAVE INVESTED A LOT IN THIS NEW PROGRAM’
And then there are outcomes. Pache calls this the “third component” of the new Global MBA program: a redesign of the career component to incorporate close mentoring of students “in a way that they can really develop their ideas about what it is that they want to do.” ESSEC wants to improve on the 70% of graduates who find a job within six months of earning their Luxury MBA. “What are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, what is it they need to work on to act as real leaders in the business world whether in the luxury world, the finance sector, or the consulting sector? We will really design a very individualized mentoring program that will allow each student to really reach the best of his capacity.”
Dozens of corporate partners from Chanel and L’Oreal to Credit Suisse and Allianz, along with the yet-to-be-formed advisory committee, will recruit and provide job and project opportunities for ESSEC students, Pache says. Greater employment opportunities, she says, will arise simply by virtue of the expanded, and expansive, new MBA program.
“We will not lose what made this program very unique — we’ll keep that and add on top of that opportunity to really go deep in one specific field,” Pache says. “We will add what is very key now in the life of any business leader in the luxury, in the finance, or in the hospitality sector: understanding the major transitions that the business sector is experiencing and preparing these leaders for the digital transformation, for learning very intense leadership roles, understanding macroeconomic dimensions, key geopolitical evolutions, etc. So we wanted to make sure we leverage all this key expertise in the program that will be shared across all the specializations, while keeping the opportunity for students to go deep in each of the specializations.
“This is a very strategic, important move for us,” Pache adds.”We have invested a lot in this new program because we feel like this is really a key program for ESSEC and one that should enable students to go very far. We are confident this will be the case and we are really preparing ourselves for that.”