The Bourne Education

The Bourne Education

You don’t need Jason Bourne’s drawer full of fake passports to flit around the world hobnobbing with the powerful these days. Given the way that governments have bailed out banks, industrial giants and failing European economies in recent years, it’s clear that business and politics are closely intertwined, and MBA courses are increasingly reflecting such developments. Having turned his back on his career as a CIA assassin, Bourne would probably fit right in studying geopolitics, marketing and corporate strategy. But where should a globally minded professional head to combine the study of discounted cashflow with trade and public policy?

London and Paris once formed the axis of global economic and political power, but the second half of the 20th century saw a shift to Moscow and Washington. The US’s economic fortunes may have had their ups and downs, but its economic and military clout ensure that Washington still occupies a place at the table with two relatively new players, Beijing and Berlin. This shift in power and influence means that those about to dig deep into their pockets for an MBA are packing suitcases for a new destination, with the expectation of learning more than just business.

Set in royal gardens where cabinet ministers once discussed state affairs with the emperor, the BiMBA programme at Peking University offers an historic backdrop for students trying to get to grips with China, and the influential alumni network that is so much a part of the MBA experience. In this case, students can take into account the guanxi dynamic of personalised relationships so central to Chinese society. The programme is operated by the National School of Development, which has played a key role in China’s social and economic reform in the past 30 years. “If you are serious about pursuing your career here it is essential to develop an in-depth understanding of both Chinese business culture and government policy,” explains associate dean Daisy Wang. “We have a truly international faculty, many of whom play an advisory role to the Chinese government, and provide the bridge between the values and mindsets of East and West.”

Understanding the mindset of German chancellor Angela Merkel has been a challenge for political pundits and financial analysts for months. So for MBA students at Berlin’s ESMT, the chance not only to attend her speeches but also to ask her questions has given an added dimension to their choice of location. “You expect to get insight from business leaders on any good MBA programme these days,” says French student Zoé Nautré, “but to be able to talk to the person who is setting the European, perhaps even the global, economic agenda at the moment is something that’s special about studying in Berlin.”

Over in Washington, MBA students at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business are exposed to the interworkings of world business and policy with access to commercial and government leaders, as well as opportunities for internships and careers at some of the nation’s most influential organisations. Jason Levin, a former marketer with Unilever who is active in the non-profit community, says his time at Georgetown opened his eyes to the intersection of world politics and business. “In our first year we met academic experts and political insiders who explained how public policy decisions impact on business strategy. We then had to go away and work in teams to analyse policy issues and develop advocacy strategies.” Levin now runs his own career-coaching business and encourages interviewees to consider the bigger picture when trying to make a good impression with recruiters. “Companies need managers who see the bigger picture, both locally and globally. Demonstrating that you understand the political framework for doing business is a must-have.”

So if CIA agent Bourne (played by Matt Damon, pictured) does head back to school, his only challenge is to remember enough about his former identity to nail the application process, and describe to the MBA admissions team his significant accomplishments. Not easy when you’ve lost your memory, and need to rely on a contract killer called Carlos the Jackal to write your letter of recommendation.

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