Close to the Action

Close to the Action

Even the most passionate champion of management education might concede that there was a time, well within living memory, when the business campuses were little more than ivory towers. MBA students were far too busy poring over case studies to worry about what was going on in the real world outside the classroom. Particularly if that classroom happened to be situated well away from the hoi polloi in a leafy French forest, for example, or overlooking the Charles River in Massachusetts.

Times change and now fashion dictates that programmes should be as rigorously practical as they are they are academic. Graduates are expected to emerge from their MBAs with corporate dirt under their fingernails. So with this in mind, wouldn’t it make sense for potential MBAs to select their school not just on the basis of its faculty, student body and the effectiveness of its careers department, but also on how close it is to the heart of commercial and political action?

Students at London Business School, for example, don’t just learn how banks and hedge funds operate from their professors and the media. They can hear it direct from the financial services front-line troops with whom they share the coffee bars and the pubs of the City. In the same way, their peers at IE in Madrid or IESE in Barcelona can see the effects of high youth unemployment every time they leave their campuses. Prospective MBAs at SDA Bocconi in Milan, meanwhile, will learn everything they need to know about the dead hand of Italian bureaucracy as soon as they try to lease an apartment, open a bank account or apply for a driving licence.

If you are going to find out how and why things go wrong—and how to avoid repeating mistakes in future—one way is to opt for a place where they have gone spectacularly awry. As a successful lawyer, Iris Christopoulou could have had her pick of business schools across Europe or North America. Instead she opted to stay in her home country and study at the ALBA Graduate Business School in Athens. She thinks this has given her a clearer understanding of the role that business and politics plays in underperforming economies. “Our professors have a lot of insight into the reasons for the crisis and what we need to do to get out of it,” she says. “Our problem isn’t just economic, it’s also political. We’ve got too many career politicians who haven’t got a clue about what’s really going on. We need more leaders with entrepreneurial backgrounds. And ALBA is trying to play a part in helping to create them.”

Whether you learn more from studying in a country that gets it wrong than where they get it right is an interesting one. Those who subscribe to the latter viewpoint may prefer to head to Germany, currently one of the few successful European economies. Although the country is a relative newcomer to the MBA, schools such as Mannheim and ESMT offer the chance not just to hear from its business leaders and understand the export-driven business culture of Mittelstand firms, but also from the politicians who may make or break the euro zone. It also has the added bonus of not having to fight through picket lines and riot police to do so.

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