Transforming the people of today to make tomorrow’s world a better place

In 2018, ESIC Business and Marketing School in Madrid, Spain, became the first Spanish School in 10 years to be newly accredited by AMBA. David Woods-Hale speaks to its Director General Eduardo Gómez Martín

What are the biggest challenges facing Business Schools today?

We see three main challenges: the first is teaching students about jobs that do not yet exist; the second is working with companies that operate in a changing and increasingly digitised and globalised business environment, and the third is embracing new ways of learning that are appearing as technology develops.

How has your background in theology and social thought  equipped you to lead the Business School and teach business students? 

When I started studying Theology, the programme’s first two years were dedicated to the study of philosophy. Back then, I couldn’t understand why we had to study philosophy in a theology degree, but now I can.

After obtaining my first degree, I was able to obtain a second one in canon law, which also included classes on civil law. These three sources of knowledge – philosophy, law and theology – helped me to structure my idea of the world, and motivated me to keep learning and questioning myself; they laid the foundations of my ‘critical thinking’. 

This idea made me think of what Greek philosopher Epicurus told another historical figure Menoeceus in a letter: ‘Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young, nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul.’ 

It shows how important humanities are for every aspect of life, because when the most intimate part of a human being is touched, this ‘touch’ will be reflected in everything this person does. 

Thanks to my studies, I have a better perception and understanding of the world, of humankind and society. This has provided me with a better direction and decision-making capacity, and also a greater knowledge of what happens ‘inside’ the men and women of today, and therefore, ‘inside’ our society. Nowadays everything around us is changing very fast, and this is why we must stay vigilant. 

This is what we, as Business Schools, are called to do: transform the people of today, so that we ensure they make the world a better place.

What do you believe draws prospective MBAs to ESIC?

There are several elements. Among the most important is the School’s strong focus on human values, respect for individual identities, critical thinking, academic rigour, entrepreneurship/professional practice, and its resulting combination. Also the close work of the School with local companies (not only in Madrid and Barcelona, but also in the other eight Spanish cities in which the School operates), which results in a seamless business training experience between industry and academia.

Within this, the different MBA programmes in the portfolio attract candidates with different interests. For example, the International MBA attracts candidates with a clear international focus, who are eager to embrace the personal and professional opportunities that globalisation brings and the changes in the business environment that this is creating (55% of the programme is developed in Madrid and 45% in Shanghai). The Executive MBA appeals to managers in their transition to more senior and/or international positions to strengthen the development of their professional career.

In what ways do you think real-life experience help MBA students develop their talent and knowledge? 

We believe that learning takes occursmany different places, including the place where graduates develop their professional practice. Therefore, the learning of management tools and the development of critical thinking usually acquired in the classroom need to be complemented by decision-making and people-management skills usually developed in the workplace. In other words, they are intrinsically linked in a comprehensive business education.

ESIC has a key focus on entrepreneurship. Can you tell us a bit about your incubators and start-up projects? 

The startup and development of new ventures is key to creating a positive impact in our society, therefore entrepreneurship is an essential part of the experience at ESIC. The incubator, located in the School’s Pozuelo de Alarcon campus, aims to encourage students and graduates to give life to strong and innovative business ideas. 

Among the latest business ideas is a robot that interacts with schoolchildren with the aim of identifying bullying, without them  having to talk to family members or teachers in the first instance.

As MBAs are the leaders of tomorrow, how should Business Schools prepare them for the challenges and what skills should they learn? 

In our School – and I am sure in other institutions – this is object of deep debate. Our understanding of these challenges in education can be summarised as follows:

  • personal and professional development based on human values 
  • professional ethos, with a strong personal responsibility, technical ability, and self-drive 
  • development of critical thinking, entrepreneurship, self-reflection and risk-management for making decisions
  • respect for each individual’s identity.

ESIC offers a creative-thinking course. Why is it important to nurture this innovative mindset in students? 

The origin of this course was a realisation that many management (and in particular MBA) students had a tunnel view of business which was fragmented and mainlyh focused on different functions rather than an holistic understanding of the value-creation process. 

The challenge then was to widen this view and integrate the different parts of what makes a manager, while at the same time encouraging candidates to think laterally. 

We looked for options for around a year until we developed this course with an actor from New York who runs an acting school in a bohemian part of Madrid. 

Candidates are surprised when they leave the comfort of the traditional business setting and go to a small theatre where they have to develop and run a play in which they are also the main actors. 

Why is this important? Because it equips future professionals with the drive to think beyond what they see, in an integrated and systematic way. 

At the end of the day, this is how they can create value in their companies as there is little sense in doing what every other firm is doing.

How important is sustainability and in what ways have Business Schools adapted this into their programmes? 

If we are not sustainable there won’t be a future. Business Schools, as the educators of the future leaders of companies, have a major responsibility in shaping a mindset in graduates that gives sustainability and responsibility sutmost priority. I would like to think that we all do our bit every day towards this very important objective. 

What are some of the innovative teaching methods you have come across that are used to create leaders of tomorrow?

The empowering creative thinking course mentioned previously has always been recognised by different stakeholders (companies, education agencies, recruiters) as innovative and unique. We are now working with a special division within the Spanish Air Force to develop of a workshop/course for decision making in high-pressure situations.

How can a Business School add value to an employer with which it’s working? 

This is our main challenge every day, and we understand it as the training of good people and strong professionals. In this context, we expect to embed in our graduates a management practice that is driven by innovation, emphasises quality, seeks sustainable and ethical development, optimises the structure of industries, and nurtures and retains human talent. As a result, we aim to prepare our graduates to make instant contributions to our partner companies.

Do you feel optimistic about the future of business, Business Schools, and the economy?

I do. We are all part of the same ecosystem and therefore the good work of each of its parts reinforces the whole. 

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