Innovative education for ethical minds

European CEO speaks with Professor Ashok Som, Associate Dean of the Global MBA programme at ESSEC Business School

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“Business is becoming more global every day, mixing cultures, generations, and crossing all of the borders that used to stand between technologies, markets and even jobs,” says Professor Som. “ESSEC Business School doesn’t just play a role in education, but also in society.”

ESSEC is certainly playing a pivotal part at the forefront of innovation. The school currently represents a student body of over 4,400 students from 90 different nationalities, and over three campuses in Cergy-Pontoise, La Défense (both in France) and Singapore. The teaching method of each focuses on developing creative and critical minds to complement the changing global business environment.

Adapting to the changing times
ESSEC is very keen to maintain a key position as a leader in global management training by educating responsible, ambitious and ethically aware entrepreneurs and managers, so it places a great deal of emphasis on moral values in business ethics, as a core component of its strong curriculum.  “Ready-made solutions no longer work,” said Som. “Companies are looking for a new breed of entrepreneurial manager who has the willingness to take risks and is capable of continuously inventing new ways of doing profitable, responsible business over the long term.”

The business school is over 100 years old, having celebrated its centenary in 2007, and maintains a ‘think-tank’ mentality, where it participates in joint research ventures, conferences and business expansion with other countries. Professor Som believes this dedication to social progress keeps the school at the forefront of globalisation. “Our strategy has always been to develop our resources, global presence and partnership networks. We have partners in the US, Germany, China, Japan, Brazil and India,  which has resulted in fantastic new opportunities for creating growth and value, especially in the emerging countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa.”

ESSEC was the first business school in France to create a centre of excellence for social entrepreneurship. The Institute for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (IIES) was opened in January 2003 and is renowned for its engagement with start-up support, funding and incubation for initiatives. In 2008, the school enhanced the programme with Antropia, a social incubator that fosters profitability and long-term viability. Som believes expansion in this sector and integration sets ESSEC apart from other business schools, but recognises there are many schools with high levels of collaboration.

Expanding the ethos
“Our goal is unique where we want to create a faculty and an ethos that first and foremost looks to how business has an impact on society, things like, for example, the impact of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics,” he said. “We are also very competitive in our field. We have around 88 exchange programmes and we are in the majority of global Top 10 business school rankings. Our Masters in Finance programme has just been ranked number two in the world.”

Entrepreneurial spirit is also a key element of ESSECs individuality as an educational institution, and allowing students to embrace this style of innovation has led the school to create pioneering results. Since the creation of ESSEC Ventures in early 2000, the school has been able to foster social entrepreneurship education, a business incubator and seed fund for budding business developers. “The programme benefits and prepares students for future business ventures in a number of ways,” said Som. “They have an opportunity to participate at all levels, from the business plan, to guidance, to setting up their own venture after graduation. Between 10 and 20 business are created every year, and the course allows for a metamorphosis from the theory of business, all the way to an inception of one.

“There’s definitely a huge amount of opportunity for students to see the vast world with this course, as there are lots of projects happening across the globe. One of the projects that our students are engaged with is LP4Y in the Phillippines, which aids disadvantaged youth suffering from exclusion. All of this is achieved through our social entrepreneurship.”

The business and talent incubators on the ESSEC venture programme also provide coaching and logistics to the students, in addition to entrepreneurial networking. The ESSEC venture funds invest in seed capital, so a fledging start-up can go beyond the training and coaching elements of the course and have the opportunity to be an independent, working business.  The school stresses it’s up to the young entrepreneurs to work out how to make the best of these resources, but the mission of the programme is to teach them to take personal responsibility and seek solutions to ensure the success and sustainability of their business.

More than an MBA
Students at ESSEC now have the opportunity to study a new global MBA programme that only recently launched earlier this year. A group of 24 students made up of 12 different nationalities are the first to try out the course, so it truly embodies a multi-cultural and international atmosphere.

Founded on fundamental business concepts, the Global MBA encourages students to work across the board in different countries, apply vigorous management theory to every element of the course, and interact with specialists in a hands-on learning approach.

“There’s a real gap in the market for this syllabus,” said Som. “It’s designed for students who for one reason or another want to fast-track their career in an international environment. The course offers more variety than the standard MBA, with a strong focus on placing the student in a real-world context.

It sets itself apart from other MBA programmes through its unique concept combining courses and seminars designed to expand knowledge within-the-field application. It’s an experiential learning method that continuously challenges participants, testing, developing and unleashing their critical thinking and creative ability.”

The school has developed strong corporate relations over the years, and Som acknowledges students and businesses have benefitted from collaborations.  “We interact strongly through five different elements: internships; apprenticeships; outside speakers who come and explain how they do business to the students; annual fairs where around 200 companies come to pitch to the students and share ideas; and by participating in the creation of a Chair or research institute,” said Som.

The success rate of employment is quite high as a result. The school currently has around 700 partner companies  involved in the training and recruiting of students and 15,000 internship, work experience and co-operative placement programmes like VIE posted online every year, including 2,000 outside of France.

As a result, between 60 to 80 percent of students are in full-time employment three months after they  graduate. ESSEC has also enhanced its corporate relations through the Asia Pacific campus, as well as strengthening its international presence. Inaugurated in 2005, its position in Singapore allows the school to respond to the increasing demand for management education in Asia.

“We discussed and debated the necessity of a campus outside of France, and we thought an innovative hub in Singapore would create a huge amount of value to the school,” said Som. “The city continues to attract a number of multinational companies and we thought we should also secure some of this dynamism for ourselves.”

Som continued: “we specialise in courses in finance, financial techniques, real estate, healthcare management and luxury brand management at this campus, and more than 2,500 students now study in Singapore annually to see how business is executed there, and are asked to come up with propositions for work in the region as part of their studies.”

Call for radical change
In recent developments, the school presented two projects at the fifth edition of the Global Social-Venture Competition, the only international competition for environmental and social business plans created by students and graduates, in May. The projects were shown at the regional semi-finals for the French-speaking companies of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Earlier in the year, ESSEC also became a partner of the first edition of the Deauville Green Awards, and gave support to the very first international corporate film on ecology and sustainable development.

Further developments
“We are opening up a joint Executive MBA programme at the Arabian Gulf  University in Bahrain, and looking at the potential of expanding in Mauritius, India and China where growth is quite substantial, but that won’t for some time,” he said; “we already have very strong partnerships with the University of Mannheim Business School in Germany, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in the US, the Fudan University School of Management in China, the IIM Ahmedabad in India, and with Keio Business School in Japan, and we will continue to maintain these links.”

It seems fostering the innovative multi-cultural and multi-school approach to engage the future policy makers and corporate leaders of the world is working very well for ESSEC business school.