HEC – In the MBA and Business School Elite
I’ve visited many MBA programs in the last 17 years, but this summer I experienced the highlight of all my visits… I flew to Paris to learn about HEC and its MBA Program. I found the program at another level, offering a completely unique experience that can become transformative for the MBA student. Here’s why…
Some facts: The school was founded in 1881, and many prominent business leaders (and leaders in other arenas) have graduated from HEC. Some include France’s current President, Francois Hollande. After Harvard, The University of Tokyo-Todai, and Keio University, HEC is the 4th top school in the world and the #1 in Europe to have the most alumni holding CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies.
The HEC MBA is a small program with a class size of up to 250. There are no plans to drastically expand, as HEC’s leadership has seen over the years how the small class size greatly benefits students and is not willing to sacrifice this aspect of the program for any reason. The school hosts 115 permanent professors and 80 adjunct faculty members with 30 different nationalities. As explained by Pierre Dussauge, Dean of Faculty and Research, their objective is to build the best faculty in management and business in Europe and the world. The program is 16 months long but can also be 12 months long, as it has two intakes (September and January). There is also a part-time option, possible thanks to the proximity with Paris, which enables married students unable to relocate for their MBA studies, or employed students who cannot leave their jobs to complete an MBA.
Very different from most MBA Programs, the HEC MBA is 85% international, and I found that the students show and celebrate their diversity! We spoke with four students from different geographic locations and backgrounds. They all reported that the experience they are gaining from studying in such an environment is thrilling and enriching. 1/3 of the program is women, which is a bit higher than standard MBAs. In its essence, HEC offers a very close-knit community where professors and students are on a first-name basis; if you miss class, you are missed!
The MBA Program is extremely international in focus. It strives to promote HEC at an international level by supporting global recruiting, involving professors from all over the world and managing “treks” (recruiting trips to visit companies) in France, Europe, the Americas and Asia. Many of the classes are geared towards supporting students to become global leaders and not just local managers. French is required although not needed to complete the MBA as all classes are taught in English. But being able to speak one or two foreign languages is important to the HEC student and faculty, who identify the global arena as their playground.
HEC’s location just 20 miles away from Paris is a great asset to students from an educational and recruiting standpoint. Being Paris the city with the largest concentration of multinational companies in Europe and arguably around the world, the opportunities to network with global business leaders are countless. HEC Paris also provides a springboard for entrepreneurship and innovation with many resources available to current students and alumni. An alumni network of 45,000 from all over the world also supports networking and job search. The school counts with 40 international exchange students and double degrees with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), London School of Economics (LSE), New York University (NYU) or Tsinghua University Beijing, among others. The school is constantly investing in upgrading and developing new facilities. Among other new investments, a new building was inaugurated a few months ago, and HEC is still building more infrastructure, including a new dorm ready to open for the next class.
Regarding the MBA program curricula, HEC divides the MBA in two major modules. The first is a Fundamentals module, which includes business core courses, leadership development and languages. The Fundamentals is followed by the Customized module, which includes electives, international exchange opportunities and/or fieldwork. Students are able to take on a double degree and focus on interesting areas such as Leadership in Global Organizations. While touring the school, I confess I got star-struck when meeting former CEO of Louis Vuitton, Vincent BASTIEN, who is professor of Marketing Strategies in Luxury at HEC. Luxury brand management is certainly an area to delve in at HEC, with many experts in the field teaching there. However, expertise is not exclusively to the luxury brand concentration, it extends to every single business discipline as HEC goes beyond its French borders to the UK, the US, Asia and really all over the world to engage top professors for every discipline.
As an essential component of the program, career development is incorporated in the curriculum, and not as help on the side (different to many MBA programs). HEC’s Director of the MBA Career Management Center, Tony Somers, explains that coaching is important for HEC students since they already have brand recognition (the HEC brand is incredibly prestigious in Europe, especially) but need to be ready to represent the brand. Their coaching takes place on Fridays and is mostly individualized. HEC also uses peer evaluations to support career coaching. Their process is divided into three steps, “Know Yourself,” “Know The Market” and “Match Yourself with The Market.” Their theory is that if HEC sends students out into the world without the right skills to successfully incorporate themselves, their job is not fully done. I support this theory, as I see many MBA students who complete their programs, and then are not sure about their career focus or their strengths when entering the workforce, thus don’t know how to “sell their personal brand.” HEC students are lucky to have services in place to tackle these and other post-MBA challenges.
As part of the educational experience, there are seminars and tournaments. A couple that were discussed when I visited were TEC, an executive seminar about how to become a leader, and MBAT, an MBA tournament that HEC hosts against other MBA programs, and that the students seem to greatly enjoy. In the beginning of the program, as part of the induction, students engage in leadership training in the French region of Brittany (Bretagne), and this includes working with the military to solve problems such as building a bridge to cross a river with few resources.
The HEC MBA was a wonderful discovery for me. Although I had read about it, and was familiar with the advantage of completing the program, visiting allowed me to truly grasp its essence and the potential it has to support students to reach their potential. If you are considering the HEC MBA (if you are not, my advice is to reconsider) I encourage you to visit! The Director of Career Management Center, Tony Somers explains, “we want to transform students!” And from what I saw, they do…