Why Would an American Study an MBA in Europe?

I was recently interviewed by Business Week for an article about European business schools and how they are attracting more and more American talent. The full article is here; my quotes are on the second page under the IMD section.

What do you think, how did I do? Everything I say, write, or do at IMD is scrutinized and evaluated so why not this too? How well do I represent the appeal of a European MBA as a career choice? How well do I represent IMD as a program? How well do I represent myself to potential employers (Would you want to hire me?) or potential IMD applicants (Would you want to work on projects with me?)? Please leave me a comment or shoot me an email with your honest feedback–there is no pride in authorship here!

FYI the full text of my responses to the journalist’s initial questions (The rest of the interview was conducted over the phone.) is as follows. Again, criticism is welcome:

“Why did you choose a European school over an American one?
I didn’t explicitly decide on “European over American” and then find the right European program. In fact, I didn’t even decide on “business school over other options” and then find the right program. I decided to find the best opportunity for me to enhance my leadership skills and international business experience, whether that meant augmenting my then-current life with education and mentorship or doing something more drastic like changing jobs or going to school full-time.
Frankly I wasn’t that enthusiastic about the prospect of business school in general. I had a concept in my mind of what business school was like (based on myriad friends and colleagues who had attended American schools, mostly HBS, Stanford, Wharton, UT, and Darden) and it seemed . . . “fluffy.” It seemed more appropriate for people looking for major career change or who needed MBA credentials to accelerate their corporate ladder ascents. I, on the other hand, was a 28-year-old CEO of an exciting, multinational software company and I loved what I did—I just wanted to learn to do it better.
To be thorough, I included business schools in my research anyway, even though I wasn’t too enthusiastic about them. Although the American programs had much higher brand recognition in the US, my preferences pushed me toward European programs for four reasons. 1. Most of them were much shorter than the American programs. I’ve been a “sprinter” my whole life and I loved the concept of a one-year, intense program. 2. Having lived in Florence, I love Europe and am very open to the possibility of working here after my MBA. I hypothesized that a European program would put me closer to European professional opportunities. 3. My entire business education so far (in the workplace) has been in the American entrepreneurial mindset. As I contemplated taking a full year off to learn, I saw more value in being exposed to a different perspective. 4. Every business school in the world advertises itself as “international” but the European schools seemed to be much more international, both in terms of student/faculty demographics and in terms of focus, than their American peers.
Still, I wasn’t sold on business school at all (European OR American) until I discovered IMD—through Business Week’s rankings, incidentally! Between its dominant focus on leadership development, incredibly experienced and internationally diverse students, and use of international consulting projects for real world learning, I was hooked.

Did you apply to American MBA programs? If so, which? If not, why?
Although I considered Stanford GSB (specifically its Certificate in Global Management specialization) and the Lauder program at Wharton, I applied only to IMD. Had I not been admitted to IMD there still would have been time to apply to American schools and I probably would have applied to Stanford. Its entrepreneurial focus and proximity to Napa Valley would have been a good fit for me. However, as I considered my IMD acceptance offer in October of 2007, the choice between re-entering the job market in December of 2008 (IMD) versus May of 2010 (Stanford) really wasn’t much of a decision at all. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a sprinter.

How do you think an MBA from a European school will give you a leg up careerwise?
There are certainly pros and cons to having an MBA from a European school. As mentioned earlier, the European schools are certainly less well known in the US than are the American schools. However, my goal in this adventure isn’t to have a degree from a “prestigious” school; it is to develop myself, my skills, and my international exposure. At IMD I work with psychologists, coaches, and faculty to develop my leadership skills in an intensely personalized way. I spend the better part of 100 hours a week with a student body that is 90% non-American. I will spend almost half of my MBA studies working on projects for leaders of non-American companies and governments. These are opportunities that no American school can offer me.
The question remains, though: “Why is international experience so important and how will it give me a leg up careerwise?” Not to sound cliché, but we live in an increasingly global world. Teams span continental boundaries and the actions of an organization in one country may immediately impact organizations, people, or the environment in another country. It is absolutely crucial for our leaders to lead with global perspective; leading unilaterally is simply unsustainable. “Global perspective” is a great buzz word but it isn’t something that can be learned in a book or weekend seminar; it must be won through experience. As the generation of my parents retires, there will be an incredible opportunity for those in my generation to step up and fill leadership positions. Global perspective will be among the most prized attributes of leaders sought to fill those positions.

What are your career goals?
My two major interests are leadership and entrepreneurship, both of which I have been practicing in various ways since I was a child. My professional career so far has focused on starting up small software companies in the US, which has been an incredible experience. After my MBA I anticipate focusing on executive leadership, although ideally in an entrepreneurial, innovative environment, whether that be again with start-ups or with new ventures in established companies. My long-term plan is to be CEO of a truly world-changing company in the IT, renewable energy, nanotechnology, or spaceflight industries. That said, I would settle for something a little less “world-changing” as long as it were in the wine industry! 😉

These responses were longer than intended and I should really be reading cases right now, but hopefully this gives you some context for my thinking. Have a good morning and I look forward to our call in the afternoon.”

Published by Bryan Guido Hassin

These are the musings of a global cleantech entrepreneur. This blog began as a way to document my experience during the IMD MBA in Switzerland and now is the place where I publish eclectic thoughts on business, politics, fitness, entertainment, travel, wine, sports, and . . . whatever else is top of mind.

2 thoughts on “Why Would an American Study an MBA in Europe?

  1. Hi Bryan,I linked to your blog via the link in the IMD diary. I am thinking to apply to IMD next year. I am trying to get as much information as I can in order to make sure that this is a good investment for my time and money. Like you, I am not looking to go on an MBA just to have another qualification on my CV. I looking for a program to enhance my international leadership abilities.Anyway this is to let you know that there is someone out there reading your blog and she find what she is reading pretty interesting. Actually I am 95% sure that i will apply, after the \”research\” I have done.Sophie

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