The Top Global B-Schools

Recruiters like their grads' experience and language skills, which proved useful in a tough global climate

Should Coca-Cola Co. (KO ) replace recently acquired Indian drink Thums Up with its classic formula? To INSEAD MBA candidate Jung Kim and most others in the class, the answer seemed obvious: Go with the dominant brand name and serve up Coke. Until, he says, a classmate from India raised her hand and pointed out that since much of India is without refrigeration, Coke would "taste nasty and sugary." Kim says that prompted him to recommend that Coke keep Thums Up on its product list. That's the INSEAD modus operandi: In almost every class, "the professor inevitably pointed to the local expert," says Kim.

Diversity is more than a buzzword at INSEAD--it's an ever-present reality. The 836-person student body at the French B-school comprises 74 nationalities, so students have to leave many assumptions behind. With no one culture dominant, ideas always get challenged--and sharpened. It's the sort of cultural give-and-take that propelled INSEAD once again to the top of BusinessWeek's rankings of MBA programs outside the U.S.

INSEAD gained on an already impressive showing in 2000, continuing to improve its new campus in Singapore and establishing an alliance with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Moreover, students raved about the tight-knit community shaped by the intense coursework and the idyllic--if isolated--campus, located in Fontainebleau, about 40 miles from Paris. Throw in a crackerjack research faculty that placed tops in BusinessWeek's non-U.S. intellectual-capital tabulation, and it adds up to the second time INSEAD ranked No. 1, far ahead of the rest of the international players.

INSEAD's repeat performance is no small achievement. In the second-ever rankings of international MBA programs, BusinessWeek expanded its universe of schools, surveying more than 1,500 students from 18 programs in Europe, Canada, and Latin America. We factored in the views of 219 global recruiters, added an intellectual-capital measurement, crunched the data, and then ranked the 10 best programs, up from 7 in 2000.

The results yielded a few surprises, perhaps none bigger than the B-school at Canada's Queen's University, unranked in 2000, earning the No. 2 score. Its "MBAst" program, a demanding one-year course geared toward science and technology, received glowing reviews from Corporate Canada. Recruiters especially lauded Queen's' ability to mold introverted, left-brained techies into well-rounded managers able to lead and inspire. That vaulted the Kingston (Ont.) B-school past Canadian rivals University of Western Ontario (No. 6) and University of Toronto (No. 5). Queen's' students, mostly engineers by trade with more than six years of work experience, gave the faculty high marks, but they griped about the especially backbreaking workload. Many also expressed concern over controversy in the dean's office. Dean Margot Northey resigned abruptly in February amid speculation that her B-school privatization scheme had irked the University leadership. A new dean is expected by July, 2003, but it remains to be seen whether that person will pick up where Northey left off.

Rounding out the top three, Swiss executive-education powerhouse International Institute for Management Development (IMD) improves a spot on its 2000 ranking. Dean Peter Lorange smoothed testy relations between the administration and MBAs who, in 2000, felt neglected by the faculty in favor of visiting executives and research. Lorange also tapped marketing professor Sean Meehan to overhaul the curriculum, which now emphasizes leadership and entrepreneurship. Recruiters have noticed. "IMD turns out hands-on operational managers, not arrogant strategists," says Michele Cameron, executive recruiter for General Electric Europe.

Indeed, U.S. MBAs--who averaged 1.3 offers at graduation--were bested in the employment hunt by their international counterparts, who nabbed 1.6 average job offers. That's partly due to the European economy, which fell into a slump later in the year than the U.S. and wasn't as adversely affected by the September 11 attacks. What's more, the older, more experienced international graduates, who often speak several languages, give recruiters the flexibility to send them anywhere in the world, a particularly useful trait in tight times. That includes U.S. companies. Says Matt Stone, director of North American recruiting at Mercer Consulting Group: "I do not expect an INSEAD grad to have difficulty living in a different culture."

Still, not all of Europe's B-schools pleased recruiters so much. London Business School slipped two spots, to No. 4 overall, despite earning the highest marks among graduates at non-U.S. schools. LBS' career-services office rankled recruiters by being aloof and unresponsive. Many European companies also rated rival recruits from single-year programs INSEAD and IMD ahead of two-year London's MBAs for overall quality.

New Dean Laura D'Andrea Tyson is working to make that trend short-lived. Along with Academic Dean George S. Yip, Tyson oversaw a curriculum change that offers more courses in strategy and finance. The extra specialization in the first year should allow LBS students to land summer internships in consulting and banking, which they can more easily convert into choice post-MBA positions. Tyson (a BusinessWeek columnist) is also hoping to lure more nontraditional companies to recruit on campus.

Taking a bigger fall, Spain's IESE slid five spots, to No. 8. Would-be job-changers grumbled about ineffectual career services, while others noted poor integration of the Spanish and international students. An inability to distinguish itself among rivals also hurt the Barcelona B-school's recruiter score, dragging it down to just ahead of French B-school Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC), at No. 9.

Paris' HEC, often overshadowed by younger but more internationally renowned INSEAD, continues to break its regional mold. The school recently gave students the option to complete the MBA course entirely in English--which nearly 70% do. HEC also has increased the proportion of international students in the program. Last year's record number of applications yielded 35% more students from the U.S., where HEC's profile has risen thanks to partnerships with B-schools such as New York University's Leonard N. Stern School.

It's not that European schools are trying to become more like their U.S. cousins. Instead, the best ones are attracting more students from all over the globe--including the U.S.--by integrating traditionally U.S. business concepts into a global framework. INSEAD Dean Gabriel Hawawini calls his faculty's take on business "a view more rounded, more European." Vive la difference.

By Brian Hindo in New York

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