Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Changing Preferences for MBA Programs

          Even as late as one generation ago, Filipino yuppies desiring a foreign MBA degree were fixated on such U.S. business schools as Harvard, Chicago, Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), Stanford,  or Columbia.  Among the millennials today, I have observed a gradual shift to business schools in Europe or in our neighboring countries like Singapore, Hong Kong or China.  This change in preferences is actually backed up by the most recent ranking of business schools offering full-time MBA programs that appeared in a recent issue of Financial Times.  Among the top ten were European business schools, with INSEAD of France as Number One and two British schools (London and Cambridge) and two Spanish schools (IE Business School in Madrid and IESE Business School in Barcelona).  Eleventh in the ranking was CEIBS, the top business school in Asia located in Shanghai which was put up by a partnership between the EU and IESE and Harvard.

         As the Financial Times reported, “While some US business schools are struggling, many of their European counterparts, which offer 12-month MBAs, are seeing more applicants.  Imperial College Business School in London is among the schools enjoying an increase in applications this year.”   As a Visiting Professor of the IESE Business School in Barcelona, I can attest to the fact that applications of Filipinos to the l8-month MBA program in English of IESE have increased more than three fold over the last ten years.  I have interviewed graduates from the Ateneo, U.P. and La Salle who shifted their attention away from the traditional US business schools to the European ones.  Among the reasons they cite for this greater interest in European schools is the greater diversity of both the student body and the faculty compared to their US counterparts.  As someone commented, one can have her  cake and eat  it too by having access to MBA programs in English in these European schools while at the same time enjoying the cultural diversity.  An added benefit is the possibility of learning Spanish or French, as the case may be, while taking up the MBA program.

         The same issue of the Financial Times that carried the latest ranking contained a testimonial of a Lebanese woman, Ms. Joy Asfar, who managed two art galleries in London before deciding to take up the full-time MBA program of IESE.  She described in great detail the learning experience she had in Barcelona, a most beautiful city in which to take your masteral program.  She joined a team that worked on a project as part of the program.  As she described it:  “During that project we were divided   into teams.  The team becomes your family—you prepare case studies for the next day together.  My group included  a Brazilian, an Italian, a Briton, a German and an American.  Two were consultants, one was from finance, one had worked with the government in Taiwan...With such different cultures and experiences it becomes a very interesting conversation and you see and learn from how different cultures approach problems.”  Indeed, as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) allows freer movement of goods, services, capital, investment, and people, the challenge to a Filipino manager, for example, is to know how to adapt to different cultures as she moves from the Philippines, to Indonesia, to Vietnam, to Myanmar, etc.  Intercultural management is not the cup of tea of many US business schools.

         As regards IESE itself, Ms. Asfar experienced an added positive feature:  “I also like the fact that the intake is slightly smaller at IESE.  In my year there were about 300 students, which is small compared to others schools.  You do end up meeting the majority of students before the end of the year.”  In comparison, US business schools have intakes into the first year of as many as 900 students.    I can attest to the fact that during my stint at IESE, helping to deliver some of the economics courses to the MBA students, class sizes were small enough for me to get to know each student very well. I am sure it was partly due to this closer interaction with the professors and classmates which helped Ms. Asfar arrive at an important decision that confronts many graduates of MBA programs:  “As a result of the IESE MBA, I’ve now decided that working at a company for a couple of years before starting my own business would be an invaluable way of gaining the experience I need.”  Yuppies between the ages of 24 to 30 are encouraged to look into the possibility of applying at the IESE Business School.  An important requirement is to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test).  Detailed information and application forms can be obtained at the website www.iese.edu.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.