Bernardo M. Villegas
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IESE Business School MBA Program

           The year 2014 was memorable to me because it was the fiftieth anniversary of my coming home to the Philippines after five years of studies abroad in the U.S. and Spain.  Among the important milestones I celebrated was the fiftieth anniversary of the MBA Program of one of the best business schools in the world, the IESE Business School, where I am now a Visiting Professor.  After obtaining my Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard in 1963, I worked as a research assistant at the fledgling IESE business School in Barcelona to help their faculty prepare materials for their first year of the MBA which was launched in September 1964.  Over the last fifty years, the MBA program to which I made a very small contribution in its beginnings has become one of the best programs in the world, in some years being ranked as Number One by The Economist.  The Philippines should be proud of the fact that from the very first batch, the IESE MBA Program had a Filipino participants in the person of Mr. Florencio Cecilio (Tagan) Reyes, today  still active in Philippine real estate.  In the second batch, former Ambassador to Spain , Joseph Delano Bernardo, was the Philippine representative.  In the last four to five years, there has been an average of four to five Filipinos admitted yearly into this very prestigious program.  Increasingly, graduates from our leading universities like U.P., the Ateneo and De La Salle University are opting to take their MBA program in European schools like IESE and no longer in the traditional U.S. business schools, which were popular in my generation.

          In the October-December 2014 issue of the IESE Alumni Magazine, the cover story is “The IESE MBA:  A Window on 50 Years of History.”  I was glad to read a testimonial of the first Filipino student in this program, “Tagan” Reyes, identifying a key attraction of the IESE Business School:  “People there were very welcoming and hospitable.  I was very impressed by the quality of the professors at IESE and the spirit of hard work and companionship.”  As a service to the dozens of university graduates of Philippine universities who inquire about the IESE MBA program, let me summarize here the article entitled “Key Aspects of the IESE MBA” to help them in their choice of an MBA abroad.  The headings of the article are quite suggestive:  “Focus on People”; “Global Leadership”; “Decision-Making:  The Case-Study Method”; “Cradle of Entrepreneurs”; “Faculty that Gives 200 Percent”; and “The Alumni:  IESE at Their Side.”

          From my intimate knowledge of the IESE culture, I must say that Focus on People is really the competitive edge of its MBA program.  Focus on people is linked to “faculty that gives 200 percent,” and to “The Alumni:  IESE at Their Side.”  Other business schools in Europe, US and other parts of the world may do a similar or even better job in developing global leaders, honing decision-making skills through the case study method or nurturing entrepreneurs, but IESE is unequaled in focusing on what is known as “integral human development “of the executive or manager, making sure that both professors and students are imbued with ethical values.  As is stated in the Cover Story, “When the Harvard Business School-IESE Committee met in 1966 it already emphasized that ‘it’s very important that each professor is able to recognize ethical problems that present themselves during the course and adopts a positive attitude toward seeking them out and dealing with them.”  One of the young economists I worked with in 1964 in developing teaching materials wrote in a document:  “The identification of ethical problems and the use of principles in order to resolve them must appear in every course.  If not, students might arrive at the erroneous conclusion that ethics are nor directly relate to these problems, but are simply an extraneous way of looking at things.   Whenever a course makes reference to decision-making, it should include the ethical dimension.”

          One of the graduates of the IESE MBA program, Nuria Chinchilla (MBA ’84) and now a prominent professor specializing in Work-Life balance in the business world, says that the type of leader that IESE wants to produce is “someone who sets out to improve those whom they lead and serve and to seek to allow people to develop all of their potentials. Prof. Maria Jesus Grandes (MBA ’80) comments that every executive who draws up an action plan must always “consider how it will affect other people.”  Another IESE professor, Manuel Velilla (MBA ’71) says that the obligation to avoid doing evil—not stealing, not cheating the customer or the supplier, not lying in advertising—is only the obvious starting point.  The MBA, however, does not casuistically teach a list of what you may and may not do.  IESE professors try to make the MBA students discover that, in relationships with people, one can always do better, aspire to a higher good.  That is what ethics is all about.

          The graduates are deeply affected by this model of human behaviour.  Alankar Joshi (MBA ’06, from India) says that during the master’s, “the most important lesson I learned was that people are at the center of any successful company.”  Speaking at his class’s graduation, Pedro Geonaga (MBA ’86, from Spain) said the best lesson he had received during his stay at IESE was from the late Juan Antonio Perez Lopez who emphasized the fact that “organizations exist to help human beings to develop their ethical qualities,” because “ultimately that’s what their survival depends on.”  Needless to say, the lessons in ethics are learned first and foremost from interaction with the professors themselves, the ones who give 200 percent.  Professor Juan Manuel de Toro (MBA ’88 and later professor) was amazed that when he went to the office of some professors they attended to him “as if they did not have anything else to do with their lives.”   And he added:  “With this example they showed that at IESE, the student comes first, not as a student but as a person.  It’s something that we professors have learned from the older ones.”

          Young Filipino professional in their mid-twenties who are seriously considering taking their MBA in some business schools abroad are advised to consider the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain for the reasons mentioned above.  You will not just be a statistic in a class of  300  or more students.  You will be a person aspiring for integral human development in the business world and you will have all the help from the professors and other members of the staff to achieve your purpose.  Interested parties may get in touch with Singapore-based Mr. Anjan Borwankar at email address for a possible interview.  For comments, my email address is