Switzerland's Media MBA

St. Gallen's intense (and pricey) program aims to rival top-tier players such as Harvard and INSEAD

Europe's media moguls have often scaled the industry's heights without earning a master's in business administration. Just check out the executive offices of German media giant Bertelsmann. The CEO, Gunter Thielen, is an engineer. Chief Creative Officer Rolf Schmidt-Holtz studied psychology and law. Ewald Walgenbach, management board member in charge of book clubs, is a chemist.

No insult intended, guys, but your main shareholder thinks the media business needs more MBAs. To that end, the nonprofit Bertelsmann Foundation, which holds a majority of Bertelsmann's closely held shares, has given $2.5 million over four years to help create the new Executive MBA in New Media & Communication at the University of St. Gallen, in the ancient Swiss city of the same name. The aim of Bertelsmann's largesse, which was matched by the Heinz Nixdorf Foundation, another German charitable group, is to inject some basic management muscle into an industry that in Europe is often run by ex-journalists or other professionals (such as chemist Walgenbach) who have not formally studied how finance and other disciplines play out in a field as quirky and personality-driven as media.

St. Gallen's media program intends to change that. While the school has long offered top-tier business education for the Swiss and Germans, it has little international presence, partly because the language of instruction is German. By offering its media MBA coursework solely in English, it aims to go head-to-head with global powerhouses such as Harvard University, INSEAD, and London Business School.

Like those degree programs, the media MBA at St. Gallen offers plenty of the basics such as accounting and organizational behavior. But St. Gallen is creating its own niche by adding courses geared to the media industry, such as media law and entertainment finance. St. Gallen's program is hoping to be more practical in other ways, too. Traditional German business education often keeps aspiring execs at their books well into their 30s. The new media MBA takes just 11 intense months. That's short enough to attract students who have already begun a career and don't want to absent themselves from the scene--and forego a salary--for more than a year.

They will, however, have to pay a king's ransom for the experience. While most European graduate education is public and costs next to nothing, St. Gallen media students shell out $33,000 in tuition and fees--equal to the per-year cost of a top-tier U.S. MBA program. But the price tag buys freedom from the state-run education system, allowing the school to adjust quickly to keep up with the fast-changing media world. "We have to respond to the market," says Peter Glotz, director of St. Gallen's media MBA and a former member of the German Parliament. Already, courses are being revised to reflect the dismal times in the European media industry. Next year, for example, the program will deemphasize digital business and spend more time on management and finance.

Despite such flexibility, the program, which has 36 students this year, hasn't been an easy sell. Applications have slumped to fewer than 100 for the current class, from about 140 in 2001, the program's first year. Conceived at the peak of the dot-com craze, the new MBA has suffered from the Internet implosion and retrenchment at European media giants such as Vivendi Universal and even benefactor Bertelsmann. With luck, director Glotz will mint managers who can make the European media biz boom again.

By Jack Ewing in St. Gallen, Switzerland

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