Study the World for a European MBA

B-schools in Europe are setting up partnerships and satellite campuses in Asia and the Mideast to give students a jump in global business

Globalization has clearly arrived. The total value of world trade in exports has doubled in the last decade, to $16 trillion in 2009. A full 10 percent of China's total exports now land on the shelves of Wal-Mart (WMT) stores. And the Japanese earthquake and tsunami have disrupted supply chains worldwide.

Keeping their students competitive in this new global economy has become a focus for European business schools in recent years. They've inaugurated new courses in international business and have rolled out a growing number of foreign study opportunities and internships in places ranging from China and India to South America and Silicon Valley.

Already, three major European B-schools have opened satellite campuses in other countries. France's INSEAD, which pioneered the practice, now has facilities in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, where students can spend some or all of their MBA enrollment time. French rival HEC has a new campus in Qatar, while Spain's IESE has opened a New York satellite. Virtually all other European B-schools have established academic affiliations around the world; Rotterdam's RSM Erasmus, for instance, offers its students semester-long exchange programs with more than 100 leading B-schools in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Why admit students to a European MBA program, only to see them off to distant locales? The point of globalizing management education is to keep up with the reality of business. Barcelona's IESE is launching a new, first-year course called Globalization of Business Enterprise. Its goal is to give students "a framework for thinking systematically about the cultural, administrative, political, geographic, and economic differences across countries and how they affect business decisions," says Pankaj Ghemawat, who developed the course as professor of strategic management at IESE.

IESE Goes West, to New York

Last May the school opened a satellite campus in New York to promote its custom programs for executives and to establish a research center on global business. Professors from IESE's Barcelona campus take students to New York for several weeks, where they study business in the context of a great global city.

Copenhagen Business School has gone further by inaugurating a program that takes 15 undergraduate business students around the world for 18 months. Established in conjunction with Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Kenan-Flagler Business School at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the program begins in Copenhagen, then moves to Hong Kong and finishes at UNC. Regular classroom education is supplemented with hands-on interactions in conjunction with enterprises on each of the continents and is interspersed with field trips to such places as Beijing.

Diverse experiences are more common at European MBA programs, which tend to draw a higher proportion of international students than attend B-schools in the U.S. At Lausanne's IMD, for instance, there are 90 students from 45 countries in the MBA program, including Africa, Latin America, East and South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. "We have no more than five students from any one country," says Martha Maznevski, professor of organizational behavior and international management and director of IMD's MBA program.

IMD: Learn to "Manage in Complexity"

Although IMD has no satellite campuses of its own, students are required to work on international consulting projects. Depending upon their interest, this can take them to Europe, China, Mexico, the Baltics, the U.S., or Canada. All students also are required to spend two weeks in South Africa. "They all have to learn to work in the context of an emerging market … to manage in complexity," says Maznevski.

The payoff from exposure to different business cultures can be enormous. Christophe Chatterton got an Executive MBA in 2010 through a joint program of France's HEC and the Graduate School of Management at Russia's St. Petersburg State University. He chose to do two of his six-week training modules in China, working in Shanghai and Beijing with teams of other students on complex business problems. Among the projects he tackled: smart grid plans for China's planned megacities and a growth plan for a tea-house chain that could be "a Starbucks for tea," Chatterton says.

The cultural differences were eye-opening. Chatterton observed that the Russian students in his program spoke much more boldly to professors at Tsinghua University than the Chinese academics were used to. He was also amazed at how much time and effort went into formulating plans in China. "Strategy is far more important than profit in China, where they use proverbs like 'Understand the past to know the future'," he says. The Chinese take the long view, Chatterton says, "but their long view is 150 years. For Western business, it's only about 30 years."

Such insights will provide invaluable to students like Chatterton as they aim for success in an increasingly globalized business environment. European B-schools are making sure their graduates are prepared for that world.

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