Interview with Dr. Andrea Masini, Associate Dean at the HEC Paris MBA Program [Show Summary]
HEC Paris’s MBA program has a class that is comprised of 90+% international students. If you are interested in an MBA with a strong focus on diversity, the HEC Paris program might be for you! Dr. Andrea Masini, Associate Dean in charge of the HEC MBA Program, provides an excellent overview of HEC’s MBA program and its admission policies. The podcast shows that HEC is an MBA program with a global and innovative focus and commitment to developing business leaders around the world on a campus that values diversity and community.
HEC Paris: All About the MBA Program and How to Get Accepted [Show Notes]
Dr. Andrea Masini has been the Associate Dean in charge of the HEC MBA Program for the last three years. He is also an Associate Professor of Operations Management at HEC since 2010. He earned his PhD in Management from INSEAD and prior to coming to HEC was an Assistant Professor of Operations and Technology Management at London Business School. Dr. Masini’s research focus is in the operational and organizational impact of technology innovations, with a particular emphasis on information and communications technology, renewable energy technologies, and sustainability issues.
Dr. Masini, can you give us an overview of the HEC Paris MBA program? There may be listeners who aren’t that familiar with the program itself. [2:29]
We have a 16-month program, which we believe is the optimal length. The first eight months are composed of fundamentals of management, and the other eight months are customized with seven specializations dedicated to specific topics of management and dozens of elective courses. We also offer the possibility of doing projects with global partners in various locations around the world. It is a very comprehensive program and allows graduates to be credible talking to any subject matter expert, but also specialize for their professional needs.
What’s new at HEC Paris? [3:48]
We just went through a curriculum review and revamped it with greater attention to leadership and multicultural understanding. We have about 275 students, almost 60 nationalities, and are 90% international, so students are confronted by diversity on a constant basis and we want students to understand and value the diversity and manage and leverage it. We also have two new specializations (a specialization is a coherent set of eight electives dedicated to one topic) – Digital Innovation and Sustainable and Disruptive Innovation. These are important for recruiters but more so for participants, as more and more want to transform their career in a way that is meaningful with a digital and sustainable/social point of view.
How has HEC been affected by the recent turmoil in France, the Brexit situation, and the perception that the U.S. is less welcoming to foreign students than it used to be? [8:52]
The MBA program welcomes globalization, exchanges, and of course we are not pleased with the tensions we’ve observed. HEC has been growing double digits in application volume and class size-in the last 3-4 years. We had 200 students and now we are closer to 275. We are also seeing higher quality candidates. I wouldn’t say it is related to Brexit or the U.S. situation, at least not as the primary driver, but rather it has more to do with the HEC MBA being a better program with greater visibility, a stronger alumni network, and greater corporate outreach. Recent events in France have not affected the demand, and we view them more as an opportunity to reflect on how we can contribute to create a more just society, and we make sure graduates develop skills and competencies to be better leaders.
HEC prides itself on producing CEOs and residents of C-suites in general as well as entrepreneurs. How does it prepare its students for leadership roles? [13:19]
Some people think leadership can’t be taught, that it is part of your DNA. We think it can be a combination. We have a number of programs here that teach the fundamentals of leadership from a theoretical point of view, and then we have hands on experiences that challenge leadership ability. An example is an activity we do with a French military school which is the equivalent of West Point. It is a two-day seminar where participants are taken outside of their comfort zone and given individual and group challenges. Students are organized in groups of 10 and go through 10 different exercises, with each member having one time they are the leader, and the rest being led. Examples of activities are handling a crisis, rescuing someone from somewhere dangerous, or building a bridge, and they come to better understand attributes leaders should have and how difficult it can be to be led in certain situations.
A concrete example of this kind of activity is when a group had to build a bridge – it was a cold day, early in the morning, in the forest, and the leader of the group was a very self-confident alpha male. He had an idea about a solution, pushed everyone toward that solution, and it didn’t work. He had a teammate, a shy Asian woman who had the actual solution which she suggested three times but was completely ignored. At the end of the exercise the coach debriefed with the team and said to the leader, “You are overplaying your strength – you are very charismatic leader willing to lead by example, but by doing that you are not listening to your teammates.” To the Asian woman the coach said, “You were not able to have your idea understood or heard due to your shyness, so you can’t be an effective leader, either.” This was extremely helpful feedback for all participants. We also have student-led activities. A team of 25 students organizes an MBA sports tournament for MBA students coming from all over the world. It is a half million dollar project and run by our participants with the help of professors as coaches, helping the team function well. We have lots of opportunities like that. It is a combination of understanding fundamentals and applying them in a learning-by-doing environment.
I read recently that HEC has expanded its recruiting and outreach to Africa. Can you dive into that initiative a bit? [19:18]
We just opened a new office in the Ivory Coast, and we run communications for the west coast there but also promote the school and brand in the entire African continent. We have a lot of visibility in Africa, and it is a priority for our school.
HEC has an unusually high-touch and fast application process, promising a response in 5 weeks from submission of an application. Can you review the process? Is its efficiency a reflection of your operations background? [20:40]
I like to think it is a reflection of the quality of our team and the fact that we care about our candidates and value their time. We keep the program strategically small because we like to be able to have personal interactions with applicants. We also know applicants want to know fast so they can look at other opportunities if they need to. We rely on our alumni to really make that speed happen. Once all the requirements of the application are ready we have a pre-selection jury. If you pass that threshold you will have two interviews with alumni, and once we receive the recommendations from alums they are discussed in a final selection committee. This process wouldn’t work as efficiently if alumni didn’t help us.
What gets HEC excited (in a positive way) about an applicant? [22:45]
The little spark in the eyes of the applicant. We certainly look for candidates that will make the class better off as a result of being in it. We want applicants who have a professional plan, a mission to work hard, are open to diversity, candidates with international experience, who are willing to learn, and get out of their comfort zone. The usual criteria also apply – outstanding academic and professional background.
When someone tells me that he or she is interested in international marketing or luxury goods, I immediately think of HEC. What does HEC offer the prospective applicant interested in luxury good marketing or strategy? [24:22]
We offer an add-on to the MBA program, which is a certificate in the luxury and customer experience, so students have access to courses and training in luxury but also access to companies that are based here. We expect students that participate in this area to have the ability to join luxury goods companies in strategic roles and to understand it is not enough to just have a nice product. Our students get to enjoy campus visits from companies like LVMH and take trips to other countries in Europe, Italy for example, to further study luxury goods.
What else should make me think of HEC Paris? [26:10]
The core values of the school. One is excellence – academic and process excellence is in our DNA. Second is diversity – we are one of the most international programs in the world, if not the most international. Third is we are a school where a sense of community and belonging is very important. An example of this is that we have 58K alumni, and they have a get together in 55 countries on the same day as a global celebration of the MBA.
What’s something really cool that an HEC alum is doing? [27:33]
One strength of the program is we have huge diversity, so I don’t want to focus on just one alum. We have a specialization in entrepreneurship where students can work with nearby research scientists. One student decided to start a company using nanotechnology to improve roads, and it is doing really well. Another has a medical background and is producing medical imaging equipment. Another alum is working on a system to reduce back pain. We have another who left Google to become the marketing director of Netflix in the Netherlands.
Do you have any advice for people considering the program? What should they be thinking about? [32:11]
I would ask yourself why you need an MBA, and whether it is really something for you and for what purpose. Second, is HEC Paris the right school for you and are you the right person for HEC Paris? Also ask yourself if you value diversity, have a mindset open to sharing and collaborative work and excellence at the very top, and what you can bring to your classmates. It is a question we often ask: Why should we be interested in you? What is different about you? If you tick all those boxes, you should consider applying.
What’s coming down the pike at HEC Paris? Increases in classroom size? Additional satellite locations similar to the Ivory Coast office? [34:49]
Technological innovation at large. Online education is our top priority, and we are leveraging technology. However our program remains residential with a little online content and blended courses that give an additional level of flexibility to participants. We will take advantage of the new chairs being developed; one is on Purposeful Leadership where our participants have to achieve goals, but they also have to find a certain meaning in what they do. We have recently signed an agreement with a polytechnic university to develop common initiatives around business and technology innovation, which we are excited about.
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