Broadening students’ cultural experience

Josep Franch, Dean of ESADE Business School, Barcelona, discusses current differences between Spanish Business Schools and those in Latin America and the opportunities for Latin American Schools to attract more international students. Interview by Andrew Main Wilson

Considering the landscape of the top Spanish Business Schools compared to Latin America, what are your main observations of the differences and the similarities?

I would say that European Business Schools in general, and Spanish Schools in particular, have made significant improvements over the past 10 to 15 years. 

If you take, for example, the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking, in 2000 it was made up of 80% US Schools and 20% European Schools. If you consider the same ranking today, you’ll find 40% US schools, one third European Schools and 20% Asian Schools. 

This improvement didn’t come overnight. It started in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when European Schools began to internationalise. They started to change their reputation to attract international students and faculty. This happened 25-30 years ago and, as a result, the majority of European Schools today are probably at the forefront of internationalisation. 

When I consider Latin America, I still see it as regionally based, attracting regional talent, whereas at the majority of European Business Schools – and in the case of top Spanish Schools – we’re attracting students from all over the world in our MBA. 

We have 30% of students coming from Latin America, 30% from Asia, 25% from Europe and 15% from North America, so it’s a broad profile.

What do you think Latin American Business Schools need to do to attract more students from Spain and Portugal? 

Spain has, traditionally, been seen as the gateway to Europe for many Latin American Schools and countries. But at the same time [as a Latin American School] you need a focus on quality. 

International accreditations are the first step, but you also need to establish your brand. This can be done through publications of your key faculty who can produce and publish research in top journals. 

You need also to be relevant in the corporate world. Here, I believe Latin America has a great opportunity, with corporates coming from the regions expanding abroad. A number of [global multinationals] are seeing opportunities in Latin America. 

At ESADE, some students from Europe or Asia take our MBA because they see it as a gateway to Latin America. 

In a global world, there are lots of opportunities, but [success] doesn’t come overnight. It’s based on years of investment, publications, visiting companies, attracting people and placing graduates in
those companies. 

At the end of the day, your graduates and alumni are your best ambassadors. 

Do you think blended and online learning this will be the next step for Schools in Latin America, and will it be a struggle, in terms of investment? 

We’re all facing the same huge challenge. But, at the same time, it’s a huge opportunity. You can develop e-learning programmes anytime and anywhere, so the online revolution allows physical boundaries to disappear. I don’t see a difference between Latin American Business Schools and Schools in other parts of the world, in the sense that blended programmes are not a choice. A blended solution is something you need. It’s a percentage of your curriculum, but all programmes have to be blended. Fully-online degrees are a different issue. Schools across the world are discussing the next steps. How fast they’ll be able to go depends on how many resources they have and how fast a School moves. 

It also depends on how many risks they’re willing to take, because those that move first will bear the greatest risk. Other Schools will be playing the safe route of jumping on the bandwagon, but they’ll not be the first mover. In saying that, top Latin American Schools are coping well with, and addressing this challenge. 

You have partnerships with Schools in Chile, Colombia and Peru. What advice would you give Latin American Schools in building partnerships in Europe? 

We have a joint multinational MBA with Adolfo Ibáñez University in Santiago, Chile, and a double degree with Fundacao Getulio Vargas EAESP in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We are working with Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and Universidad del Pacifico in Peru. In Rio de Janeiro, we’re working with Fundacao Getulio Vargas on some executive education programmes. We’re working with some other universities in the region as well. 

I believe these partnerships are going to grow because they allow Business Schools to combine resources, areas of expertise and the footprint of the different partners in the same programmes. 

Partnerships also allow Schools to launch programmes that maybe they wouldn’t have launched on their own because of [limitations in terms of] size, capability, or lack of influence that they have in a
certain market. 

These partnerships are a good thing, but Business Schools have to be able to find a suitable partner. To me, one of the most important things is that you share the same approach and philosophy. A partnership is like a marriage. When you’re dating, you need to know the person and share
some things. Partnerships based on economic or financial factors are probably not the best partnerships, if you don’t share a vision, values, or if you don’t have the same ideas in terms of the programme and the education proposal for the Business community. 

What would you advise our Schools to do to encourage more Spanish and Portuguese-speaking European students to come and experience a Latin American School? 

Students have different ideas and motivations to go on exchange programmes. I’ve found very often that we might have Spanish students who prioritise going to the US or Asia because they see them as ‘cool’ destinations, rather than opting to go to Latin America. 

Sometimes, students assume – mistakenly in my opinion – that in the majority of Latin American countries, because the same language is spoken there, they cannot improve in a second language, but they can if they go to the US or another destination. 

It’s not just about the language, but also the cultural experience. If we share the same language or similar language, students can still learn different ways of doing business compared to Spain in terms of how international markets are evolving. There are fast-growing markets in Latin America with lots of opportunities. 

Some students want to go to Latin America because they want to pursue an international career and want to spend some years in that region because they will have lots of opportunities to develop themselves. We [as Business School leaders] need to keep insisting that there are plenty of opportunities [in Latin America] that students are failing to identify because they’re looking for the big names of American universities, that are attracting them to a place – rather than what they can learn.  

Josep Franch, Dean of ESADE Business School

Josep Franch has extensive teaching experience in various countries. He is an expert in international marketing and global marketing, and his main area of specialisation is brand management in multinational and global companies. He has also worked on subjects related to digital marketing and relationship marketing. 

From an educational point of view, he is one of the main European experts in the case study method. He has published more than 50 case studies in the fields of marketing and international business, some of which are available through the The Case Centre (formerly the European Case Clearing House). 

He has won the EFMD Case Writing Competition on three occasions (1999, 2001 and 2013) and also has three case writing awards at the North American Case Research Association (NACRA) Annual Conference (2004, 2010 and 2015). He regularly serves as a track chair in several case conferences and as a reviewer for different case journals and case collections, he sits on the Editorial Board of the Case Research Journal and Wine Business Case Research Journal and is one of the Co-Editors of the
Global Jesuit Case Series. He regularly delivers sessions on how to write and teach with case studies, both at
ESADE as well as for other programmes including the International Teachers Programme (ITP).

He has previous experience as marketing manager at Fuji Film and has worked as a consultant for different companies, including FC Barcelona, Interroll, Novartis, Soler & Palau, Sony and Xerox. 

He has also worked in many in-company training programmes with different companies including APM Terminals, Bunge, Desigual, Esteve, Novartis, Roca, Roland DG, Saint-Gobain, Sony, Telefónica and Tenaris.

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