Global MBA Perspectives Becoming Key for an Emerging Generation

global mba perspectives

The ‘global MBA’ or ‘international MBA’ arose once it became clear that the art of management was becoming increasingly complex as businesses expanded worldwide. To meet this challenge, MBA programs at many leading business schools have been eager to adopt a more international angle designed to ready students for what awaits them on graduation.

Gaining a global perspective from your MBA experience is now seen as essential by many of those entering into the global workforce as well as employers, especially for those who wish to work with international markets or for the growing number of MBAs striving to effect change through social enterprise.  

Some business schools offer global MBA or international MBA programs by name, whereas others reflect this approach within the confines of their traditional program. Either way, common features include overseas travel that allows students to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar business culture and project-work carried out with overseas company partners.

The insights provided by global MBA or international MBA programs are designed to widen the outlook of MBA students and, in particular, to impress upon them the importance of navigating cross-cultural differences in doing business around the world – something that can only aid them in their future careers as leaders of an increasingly global workforce.

International experience ‘part of the DNA’ at IE Business School

Of course, the business school environment is often an international experience in itself. One school renowned in this regard is IE Business School, where the subject of differing cultural approaches to business on its full-time international MBA program presents itself during every class.

“The student-body is so diverse. We have 71 nationalities represented within the program so these are conversations that take place on a daily basis here”, says Julia Sanchez, executive director for the international MBA program at IE Business School. She adds that gaining an international perspective “is really part of the DNA of what they do here.”

Sanchez herself is an alumna of the program and has fond memories of the environment created when IE Business School’s intakes are divided into working groups designed to provide an equal cross-spread of student nationalities, working backgrounds and first languages.

“I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges for the students but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences. The first time you go into one of these working groups you’re confronted with so many different ways of looking at things and so many different working styles”, she says.

In a celebration of IE’s diversity, each year the school holds a ‘Global Village’ event featuring traditional food, costumes and music from students’ home countries, seen by some students as a highlight of the program. “Global Village is having a fresh Japanese ice-cream kakigori while watching Indian dances on the stage and seeing the mariachi pass by in preparation for their show”, said one of this year’s coordinators.

With regards to overseas experience, IE Business School offer short exchange programs with a wealth of international partner schools in every corner of the globe during the international MBA elective period. Students also have the option to participate in a long exchange program, taking all their electives at a partner school in lieu of taking them at IE.

The short exchange programs take the form of a one-week immersion course on a particular theme and are designed to be bilateral, with IE also receiving students representing the partner school in Spain for a week.  

One recent addition to the short exchange programs is the Global Network Week (GNW), which is run in conjunction with conveners, Yale School of Management as well as Turkey’s Koç University Graduate School of Business, Renmin University of China School of Business and Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV Brazil), and offers networking alongside presentations from participating schools on a theme key to their region and expertise.

Next generation’s global workforce to bring greater diversity and cultural awareness

But is the international atmosphere at business school really matched by large companies around the world once MBA graduates are ready to assume places of leadership in the global workforce?

In many cases, it seems the answer is no. For example, this recent article for BusinessBecause analyses why company diversity initiatives have often failed over the last 30 years, pointing to an overreliance on the appointment of a ‘diversity officer’ when fostering a climate within a company in which all levels (from the top down) are committed to the cause is the only way for it to truly succeed.

Pablo Esteves, an IE alumnus, describes how schools in Europe known for their diversity allow you to meet, work and become friends with people from anywhere in the world.

“Then let’s say you go back to McKinsey and you’ll be in your local office with, most likely, people of your same nationality because that’s how McKinsey operates”, Esteves says. Despite this, he sees a great deal of promise in the future to come. “What we want is for people to go back to these companies and in five years they will be the ones making decisions. That’s when all the things they were exposed to and learnt about will matter”, he says.

Esteves is one of four partners – all IE alumni – at Emzingo, a company running personal development programs designed not only to bestow participants with a global awareness but also to impress upon them the merits of socially responsible leadership.

Emzingo does this by running a fellowship scheme over the course of 6-8 weeks that revolves around a hands-on consulting project for a partner organization (all nonprofits or social enterprises). To date, 120 students have participated in the NexGen Fellowship, including Esteves himself who successfully applied while studying.

 “Going to South Africa to do a consulting project sounded very appealing”, Esteves says. He was so swayed by his fellowship experience that he joined the company after graduation. “I loved South Africa, I loved working for non-profits and the social sector and I really liked the whole diversity aspect and bridging the knowledge gap between NGOs and business. That was a big turning point in my career”, he adds.

Now a partner at Emzingo, he appreciates IE’s contribution even more. “I think they [IE] are crazy enough to try new things and push the limits a little bit, whereas other schools might be more wary. They trusted what we were doing”, Esteves says.

Emzingo: International MBA consulting projects and impact learning

Emzingo and its co-founder, Ramon Marmolejos, recently presented at the 2013 Net Impact Conference on the subject of social innovation and entrepreneurship. There, they were able to discuss its new shorter programs, available to future global workforce leaders during student breaks. Impact Learning Treks were devised to increase Emzingo’s reach and take place over one-two weeks and focus on cultural immersion and exposure to social enterprises in Brazil, South Africa and Peru.

There have been accusations in some quarters of the worst examples of business school trips abroad amounting to ‘MBA tourism’ (the theme of a recent Financial Times feature.) Indeed, Emzingo wanted to ensure that launching a shorter program wouldn’t mean compromising on its effectiveness.

“That’s one of things we’re being very careful about. The long program is very robust, it allows you to do these consulting projects for an NGO and clearly the Impact Learning Trek is just a third of the time. So, what we’re doing is we’re including more workshops around responsible leadership and cultural awareness as in-country sessions. So, we might go to Ayacucho in Peru for a whole day of interacting with the community to learn about market-based solutions for the bottom of the pyramid”, Esteves explains, adding that while the client is a clear priority for the fellowship program, the treks have more flexibility for activity-based learning despite their relative brevity.

The Global MBA challenge

For Esteves, having an awareness of today’s global challenges – such as water scarcity, food shortages and energy concerns – is essential.  He cites the lack of international service programs at Fortune 500 companies by way of evidence. “Only 26 are concerned that their employees should be prepared with programs that offer them the opportunity to see what’s happening in other places in the world”, he says before adding; “the bottom-line is that companies and big corporations will need new business models to approach these problems.”

It’s a view shared by Francisco Jaime Quesado, general manager of Portuguese public agency, the Innovation and Knowledge Society. “The act of global participation in such a demanding society is an exercise of commitment between the individual creativity and the collective cooperation. The global MBA is the right answer to times of crises where ideas and solutions are the key for the future”, Quesado wrote in New Europe, emphasizing in particular that, “the global MBA challenge is the challenge of Europe” because of the opportunity it can provide for Europe to reinvent itself post-Eurozone crisis.

The need for a perspective provided by an international MBA program as well as the looming inevitability that a changing of the guard could already be under way is neatly summed up Esteves. He argues that a lack of trust between CEOs and consumers as well as people’s diminishing faith in politicians have led to a desire and belief among the younger generation that they can improve things, once given the opportunity to lead the global workforce.

He says, “You see these old-school CEOs saying we don’t have the talent, we can’t find prepared leaders. Then you have all these young people from another generation saying we want to do things differently and we want to change things. So, for us, that’s a clear sign that there’s a real need for social leadership.”

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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