Perfectly qualified for global success

Taking an MBA abroad could help you land a top international job
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The Independent Online

Despite the abundance of home-grown MBA courses, many prospective students are electing to broaden their search beyond these shores. Assuming that it's not only the lure of living in a vibrant city such as Barcelona, what are the chief advantages of studying for an MBA abroad? As Peter Calladine of the accrediting body, the Association of MBAs, sees it: "Even if your workplace is in the UK, at some stage in your career you are likely to do business with companies which are non-British-owned or are based overseas. Studying for an MBA abroad will give you invaluable exposure to a wider international business culture beyond the Anglo-Saxon model."

Business schools in continental Europe are particularly popular with British students. "Not surprising," says Calladine, "when you consider that just over 50 per cent of our trade is with other European countries. Experience of studying for an MBA in Europe will help you relate more effectively to clients and colleagues in other business cultures, as well as giving you a deeper insight into European management methods. Although based on the US model, European schools have developed their own distinctive style, tending to be more international than US schools in terms of diversity of faculty and students."

INSEAD, based at Fontainebleau near Paris, can justifiably claim to be one of the world's most international schools, with 63 nationalities represented among the student body of around 700. The school is a favourite destination for British high-flyers keen to advance their global careers. With a background in developing technology for the healthcare industry, Julian Pieters, 32, from Cambridge has recently joined INSEAD's intensive 10-month MBA course. "The content of the study programme itself is only half the value of the overall INSEAD experience. Spending 10 months in this highly charged atmosphere, surrounded by a huge diversity of business practitioners from all over the world, adds greatly to the return on your investment of time and money."

Apart from providing a natural networking opportunity, language learning is another dimension to the offshore MBA experience. Although the MBA programme itself is taught in English at most European business schools, INSEAD requires students to speak three languages before graduating. If that seems too rigorous, but you already have some holiday Spanish to build on, Instituto de Empresa in Madrid runs a full-time bilingual MBA programme over 15 months. The first six months are conducted in English, after which the course becomes completely bilingual. At ESADE Business School in Barcelona, the first half of the 18-month course is taught in both English and Spanish. Non-Spanish-speaking students are obliged to take language lessons in parallel to their business studies as the second half of the MBA is taught exclusively in Spanish.

Many British people opting for an MBA in Europe do so with the express intention of finding a good job after qualifying in the country where they are studying. Success will largely depend on the extent and quality of the school's contacts with business and industry. As the birthplace of such global companies as Philips, Unilever and Shell, the Netherlands is regarded as one of the most significant players on the international business scene. Dutch schools such as Rotterdam School of Management and The Netherlands Business School at Nyenrode capitalise on this reputation.

"The Nyenrode MBA experience incorporates an intense interaction with international captains of industry. Our aim is to prepare our students for senior management roles in a global economy," explains Professor van der Veen, Director of Nyenrode's International MBA programme.

In Belgium's Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, more than 40 local and global firms are linked to the school's research activities. "This goes a long way to explaining why over two thirds of our July 2003 graduates were already employed by the start of September - a very healthy picture considering the industry average performance this year," comments the school's Dean, Professor Roland Van Dierdonck. "Wherever you choose to apply, it's wise to first check out the school's reputation with major employers, including those in your own country in case you decide to return home after qualifying," adds Peter Calladine.

While a key selling point of continental European schools is that fees and living expenses can be cheaper than in this country, a small band of British business professionals regularly opt for the high-cost, high-profile American MBA experience. This tends to last for two years rather than the average 12-15 months in Europe. As a qualification from top schools such as Harvard, Columbia or MIT costs $50,000-$60,000 (£30,000-£36,000) a year, a large bank balance or access to loans or bursaries is essential.

Is it worth it? "Whereas American schools tend to be less international in the make-up of their faculty and student body, an MBA from a school like Harvard gives you access to the American blue-chip business experience and top management salary levels," says Peter Calladine. "Before thinking seriously about one of the major American schools though, check that you are being realistic about your abilities. Is the investment likely to pay off in terms of increased salary prospects? Ask yourself also, whether an American MBA on your CV is going to impress your prospective employer significantly more than a qualification from a well-respected European school?'

Whether you ultimately choose to study for an MBA in Europe, the States or elsewhere in the world, the chance to tap into international alumni networks is an invaluable tool when job-hunting in a worldwide marketplace. Multinational companies are full of people who have studied and worked in more than one country. If you are planning to approach a global player, the experience and the contacts gained in studying abroad for an MBA could well give you an edge over your competitors.

'It's easy to offer a cosmetically European teaching programme'

Business schools all over Europe are busily forging alliances with partner schools in other countries to meet the rising demand for MBA courses with an international dimension. ESCP-EAP European School of Management, can justifiably claim to have gone several steps further. The school operates from a network of campuses in four European cities: Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Oxford (soon to move to London).

As the Director of the Oxford campus Chris Halliburton explains: "Being one school in four countries allows us to brand ESCP-EAP as the only genuinely transnational business school in Europe." Formed in 1999 from the merger of two of France's leading business schools, ESCP-EAP offers a range of Masters degrees in management and European business taught in several languages and involving lengthy periods of study in its different campuses.

Based in central Paris, the school's 12-month full-time MBA is taught in English, while a part-time Executive MBA is offered in Paris and Madrid. There are plans to recruit a separate intake of student in London, once the business school has transferred its British headquarters to the capital. The school also collaborates in a Global Executive MBA in partnership with the Krannert School of Management (Purdue USA), TIAS Business School in the Netherlands and Budapest University of Economic Sciences (Hungary).

Students of the full-time MBA in Paris may enjoy immersing themselves in French culture but their horizons are further stretched by the fact that no single nationality predominates, and more than 20 countries are represented in each class. This broad international exposure is also reflected in the school's multinational body of 120 teaching staff.

The cross-border operation means that full-time MBA students in Paris also have the opportunity to follow a week-long study programme in each of ESCP-EAP's centres in Berlin and Madrid. These intensive sessions allow direct exposure to local markets and include company visits and lectures from prominent business people. ''It is easy to be cosmetically European," says Professor Halliburton. "Our challenge has been to construct a well-integrated teaching programme running across national borders. We have essentially the same teaching structure in place in each city and our staff from all four centres meet regularly as members of a unified faculty."

Reflecting the fact that companies of all sizes have to learn to deal with opportunities and problems that transcend national borders, Professor Halliburton believes that ESCP-EAP is bettered equipped than most schools to enable managers in different countries to work together in this challenging environment. "How to put a cross-border sales team together, how to form alliances, how to find distributors for your products - these are the real questions that many more parochial MBA courses fail to address and which we include as an integral part of our genuinely pan-European approach to business education."


Davis Lewis (42) is a Business Development Director with consultants Ernst & Young in the UK. He studied for a full-time MBA in Paris at EAP (now ESCP-EAP) business school.

"I was looking for an MBA that had a genuinely international outlook. Many schools I considered pay lip service to offering this broader business view. This was not the case at EAP. Out of a class of 40 students, we were 22 different nationalities with a wide mixture of experience, culture and backgrounds. The teaching staff were from the United States and Europe, exposing us to many different business perspectives.

Paris is a wonderful place to spend a year. The fact that there were only 40 people in my class meant I was able to get to know my fellow students really well. After graduating, I joined Unisys with responsibility for setting up sales teams in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Having spent my MBA year interacting with people from many cultures, the recruitment process became much easier. Time and time again, I've found it's wrong to assume that people from different cultures will think and act the same.

Apart from giving me a wide group of friends throughout the world, the MBA has enabled my career to progress further and more rapidly. The ability to deal with people from different cultures is a huge advantage for someone like myself who has senior management aspirations.


Alistair Kirkwood (39) has always been passionate about American football. He now has his dream job working for the National Football League (NFL) as Vice President of Planning for Europe. The specially created job sprung directly out of his three-month internship at the NFL during his MBA course at Rotterdam School of Management.

"I had a background in marketing and finance. Although I had worked in the UK, I chose continental Europe as a place to study for my MBA because I wanted to gain an appreciation of a wider business environment. As one of the top five schools in Europe, Rotterdam's international profile suited me ideally. In my year group alone, there were 49 nationalities amongst 120 students. The course itself is very international in scope, using a combination of US and European case studies, while the faculty includes professors from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. I also enjoyed the non-competitive environment and the strong emphasis placed on team-working.

When it comes to arranging the internship element of the MBA, Rotterdam has excellent contacts with Dutch companies which tend to be multinational in scope. My current role with the NFL covers such aspects as marketing and PR operations in 30 countries. Having studied at an international school, where it is second nature to deal with people from different cultures, has given me a real headstart.