Inside the Evolution of IE Business School's Top MBA Programs |

Inside the Evolution of IE Business School's Top MBA Programs

By Niamh O

Updated July 17, 2019 Updated July 17, 2019

IE Business School topped the QS Online MBA Rankings 2019 last month, receiving a perfect score for the class experience offered by its Global MBA.

This outstanding performance follows the school ranking among the world’s top 20 executive MBA programs and performing fantastically well in last year’s QS Global MBA Rankings.

What makes IE Business School so special? To find out the secrets behind IE’s success, we caught up with Ignacio Gafo, associate dean of part-time programs, blended and executive MBA programs.   

Ignacio Gafo, IE Business SchoolWhat IE stands for

Gafo describes university as “an unusual place for unusual people”. He says: “I think something unique about IE is people are willing to change things. We don’t take things for granted, and we have a strong drive to challenge.

“Something exceptionally good at IE is diversity. Each year we have fewer Spaniards, probably 20 percent maximum, which is very unusual for a Spanish school.

“I’m not just thinking about demographic; diversity also includes background or ways of viewing things. That’s something we look for systematically. Work is moving into diversity, and if you want to be successful, you need to go with it.

“IE has a strong focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, which I think has a lot to do with your mentality. If you are someone who likes feeling comfortable, it’s not going to be a good place for you.”

Innovation and change are strongly linked with technology, which Gafo admits IE Business School is making a strong effort to connect with.

But he says the institution also endorses humanities as they “give you a broad vision and the ability to think laterally”.

He says: “Work is becoming very complex, it’s not just about measuring the financial impact, you have to understand culture and social movements, so humanities have a place.”

Game-changing mentality

As an institution that prides itself on innovation and defying the status quo, IE understands the need to challenge.

Gafo says: “We recently redesigned our Global Online MBA flagship program from top to bottom and decided the program should focus on disruption and transformations.

“This is an MBA, so you have to comply with the ABC of business, but we made sure approximately 40 percent of content was new. We included data analytics, more emphasis on entrepreneurship and corporate entrepreneurship, big doses of technology, a lot of digital transformation or non-market strategy.

“We also placed a lot of emphasis on leadership skills, making sure people were getting the right competencies for change.”

When it comes to launching a new business, product, or organization, even the smartest people with the most creative ideas have failed.

“It’s not only a question of thinking, it’s also about being able to make it happen; to connect, engage, and influence people,” he says.

But innovation isn’t all down to graduates striking out in the world, IE believes innovation should be reflected through teaching, including its Wow Room.

“We wanted to provide a more engaging and interactive learning experience. We knew it should incorporate new technologies like face recognition and data analytics to make sure we provide the best in-class learning.”

The growth of online MBAs

Online MBA programs offer an additional level of flexibility to students, allowing them to choose their study schedule.

Once thought of as a low-level degree, the perception of online MBA programs has changed. Gafo told us: “There was a misconception about the quality of online learning. People thought that if it’s online it’s second-class. It depends a lot on the methodology, the pedagogy, the technology, but if you do things right, it’s going to be impressive.

“Technologies are getting better and are permitting a deeper level of interaction and engagement. In some regards, I believe online is superior to face-to-face. Top schools are jumping online, which is clear evidence that online is growing and delivering, because no top institution would compromise its reputation.”

Gafo knows the hard work that has gone into finessing the Global MBA program and points out that the school’s strong performance in this year’s ranking has actually taken years to achieve.

“It’s great to be considered number one, but the result isn’t something you get from one year to another. It’s work we’ve been doing systematically for many years.

“It requires time because there’s a lot of learning. You go step by step, and you need to find things and check what works. It’s impossible to get everything right from the beginning.”

Teaching developments

Today’s students have a different perception of the world than previous generations. We are much more open to technology and feel highly comfortable with it. Consequently, schools have needed to develop their teaching methods to appeal to a tech-savvy audience.

Gafo says: “When I got my degree, I went to class, and you’d listen to a talking head. The professor would be lecturing, and you might be smart enough to ask a question, that was the approach all around the world.

“This isn’t accepted anymore, no one is going to take this. You can’t teach in the same way as people have different expectations.

“Students want to be engaged, have a say, and want to learn via debating and interacting. There’s a lot of learning by doing, people have become extremely practical, they want to learn theories and be able to apply them.

“It’s not only the way professors should be teaching, but also how you incorporate technology. Any successful institution needs to incorporate a blend of offline and online.”

This article was originally published in July 2019 .

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Written by

Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (;, creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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