Interview with Jordi Canals: Dean, IESE Business School
Q1. European Schools differentiate themselves from US schools in term of diversity. What is the uniqueness of IESE among top European schools such as Insead, LBS, and so on?
The first differentiating quality is that IESE offers a two year program. In the 1st year, we try to make sure that everybody has a basic knowledge of the various business functions and
skills and the way of thinking about business problems and decision-making. The 2nd year is about developing your own expertise, , and deepening your knowledge and capabilities for your future.
You need time to think. Some students want to develop their own business plan.
Second, among all the two-year MBA programs, IESE focuses on General Management, not just on Finance and Marketing but on integrating business functions, culture, geography, and different
ways of thinking. What we focus on here is not just about creating specialists but about developing great people who are able to think holistically about a company and
IESE is also one of the most global business schools. Now 45% of the students come from Europe. 25% comes from Asia. Less than 20% comes from North America. We have people from all the major continents.
Finally, I’d like to highlight that IESE focuses on the decision-making process involving people. We believe that the human and ethical dimensions of management are crucial. Managers actually manage people, help people, and develop people to achieve a number of things. We believe that this relationship and trust building is a universal value that every manager needs to acquire.
Q2. Nowadays, 1 year MBA programs have been prevailing and a lot of candidates choose them for economic reasons. What do you think about this trend?
There is no evidence showing whether a 1-year MBA program is better than a 2-year program. I think it all depends on what you want to do. I believe that a 2-year MBA program is great for people who want to study each business function in more depth and want to develop a holistic view of management and decision making. You want to get ready for not just the next 5 years but the next 25 years.
In a 1-year program, you cannot cover everything in basic business functions. You need to decide the best way to learn to achieve your goals. Typically, students in a 1-year MBA program can’t change their career. If they used to be in Finance, they’ll go back to finance. Marketing people go back to the marketing. Consulting people go back to consulting. People in 2-year programs have the option to change their career. A 2-year MBA is not only an career change opportunity but also a chance to enable you to get a better learning experience and develop new capabilities.
In addition, you can have more time to reflect what you want to do and how to keep learning. IESE prefers to maintain a 2-years MBA program to help these students.
Q3. It is said that IESE has the most intensive MBA program among top schools. Why did you design such a tough MBA program?
First of all, IESE is offering a lifetime education and a transforming experience. It’s not about the impact that the program has 2 – 3 years after graduation but 20 – 30 years later. Also,
I think that finding a balance is important. Taking into account that students make a very high personal commitment and economic investment in order to come to IESE, you will obviously want to
make sure that you are taking advantage of the many learning opportunities at IESE. We recognize that the first year is very intensive; however, at the same time, we feel that this leads to the
transformational experience which is highly valued by our alumni. So the point is finding a balance. In the 2nd year, as students learn how to deal and work with cases, the work load goes down a
bit. You can spend time on looking for jobs or studying what you want to specialized in.
Regarding the 1st year schedule, we have 3 classes a day but each class is not repeated on the same day as a rule. The same professor is usually not scheduled to teach two consecutives sessions to the same group in the same day, because the learning process may go down. If you have the same professor teaching 3 sessions consecutively, your work efficiency goes down. If you have one class in one day, you can keep building. This is more expensive for the school but the learning process is improved.
Q4. IESE has maintained almost 100% “Case Study Method” since the beginning. Is there any specific reason behind this policy?
Business cases are the closest to a real business situations and the real world decisions. Let me just give you an idea. From our experience, senior executives actually tend to place high value in the case study method. They discover something similar from the real business world and their own experiences. I believe that MBA students can also learn a lot through this methodology. It can be complemented with other methodologies, but so far, the Case Method is the best way to learn about the real business world.
Q5. It is said that IESE makes a strong effort to offer “Globalization” and “Entrepreneurship” courses. Would you tell us more about these subjects?
In the case of globalization, the experience we offer to students is very unique. It’s not just about diversity in the classroom and your smaller teams, but also the globalization course.
We have thought leaders in this area. We are unique in offering a globalization course in the 1st year and try to touch upon those issues in each course. In our regular MBA course, we try to
touch upon every global issue by providing the courses not only in Barcelona but also in the U.S., China, Brazil, Singapore, and Kenya. We made a huge effort to establish these off-campus courses
by collaborating with other schools such as CEIBS, so that we can offer this opportunity not only to those going on exchange but also to students who decide to stay at IESE during the term but
still wish to expand their horizons. Therefore, we have been investing time and money in making the program more global and opening up the students’ experiences to allow them to understand
globalization on a deeper level. This is a very unique aspect of IESE.
Further, very few schools offer entrepreneurship courses in the 1st year. In addition, we organize a business plan competition. Alumni come back as potential investors. It obviously gives the students great opportunities to provide them with exposure to a real life situation. Plus we have an investment fund associated to the school funded by alumni which is called FINAVES. This is a venture capital firm that invests selectively in some new business ventures founded by IESE alumni. We have a huge business angel network in the world.
Q6. What is the aspect of IESE’s MBA program which you feel should be improved?
One of the things I’d like to improve, is to offer more courses such as capstone projects in the 2nd year, where we have companies involved and with real integration efforts. They are not functional subjects, but you can learn a lot through the experience by dealing with how to think about the future of companies in real life situations. I’d like to have more 2nd year students who have an overall understanding of business through these real projects. In addition, we would like to see more modules overseas. Why not in Tokyo, for instance? Or in Mexico? Or in South Africa? We’d like to keep offerind a richer and deeper 2nd year experience in the future.
Q7. A lot of MBA students worry about their future career. Could you give us any advice and share your experience?
There are three key drivers when choosing your future career. First one is “Passion.” Find what you feel passionate about. Second, “Competency.” Build your capabilities and knowledge. The final one is “Perseverance.” Have perseverance to build your career in the long term. You may have a passion about what you like but the passion might disappear, depending on the situation. So the key is to build your “Competency” in the long term with “Perseverance.”
Q8. Do you have any experiences that you faced the difficult situation? How did you overcome it?
When I started teaching at IESE, I was still very young and I needed to learn how to teach. The first couple of years were a difficult learning process. It was the first time that I received deep and useful professional criticism from others. When I did a consulting project with a company, I found that their problem was too complex for me to handle. It was a tough learning process. You need to overcome them and ask for advice. The important thing is to try to overcome these hurdles by using your common sense and capabilities, and putting all your effort and commitment to the problem and also ask other people’s advice.
Q9. Japan is struggling to globalize itself. It is often said in media that Japan doesn’t have much of a presence in the world, although Japan still maintains the third largest economy. What advice would you suggest?
First of all, Japan plays an important role in the world. Every time I visit the country, I sense that the people have a very unique and sophisticated culture which stresses importance on
taking care of things, down to the smallest details, and the society is very well organized in such a respectful way, and companies are innovative and, in general, very well managed. I have to
tell you many of those values are universal values that anyone in the world would want to have. People like to have beautiful things, respectful people, and their appreciation for nature, beauty,
art and creativity. You have a lot of things which only the Japanese have. They are your values. It’s very important to explain more what today’s Japan can contributye to the world. There still
exists a knowledge barrier between Japan and the rest of the world, but it is possible to break this down. For instance, not many people know that Japan is a great country for design. People
think that Barcelona is a great city, but Japan is also amazingly good in design. Barcelona is selling as a capital of design. But Japan should do it as well..
Japan also has great traditions of your country. These are not isolated but a bit separated from the rest of the world. However, people like you are studying abroad and live in another country. It is not only an opportunity for you to share these aspects with others which you should be proud of, but also a wonderful learning opportunity for the people overseas. I’m sure that if a lot of Japanese people like you study abroad and expose yourselves to other cultures and also learn from people from other cultures, while preserving your own values and heritage, Japan will be even better in the next 20 years.