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What does it mean to train “the best managers for the world?” [Show summary]
Judith Puigbo, Associate Director of MBA Admissions, explores how to get into ESADE, a top MBA program based in Barcelona committed to doing good.
Learn about ESADE’s unique MBA program [Show notes]
Judith Puigbo is the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at ESADE, responsible for MBA admissions in Switzerland and the Middle East. Let’s learn more directly from our guest.
Can you give us an overview of ESADE’s highly ranked full-time MBA program, focusing on what’s distinctive about it? [2:06]
We were the first business school founded in Spain, in 1958. Spain was a very closed society, and we were always looking at what was going on in the U.S. So a group of entrepreneurs (well, now we called them entrepreneurs; in that period, we were calling them family businesses) thought, “Listen, we need to establish a management school, a business school here in Spain.” We had very good engineering schools and economics schools but not management.
So that’s why a group of managers from family businesses decided to create a business school together with the Jesuits because they thought, “Well, we know about management. We have no idea about education.” So that’s why they wanted to partner with the Jesuits. (Georgetown in Washington, for example, was founded by Jesuits.) The Jesuits had a very large tradition of creating schools and universities all over the world, because they believe that it’s better to empower emerging countries through education rather than just doing charity. So that’s why they had the very large tradition of creating schools and universities.
I know this is a very “grandma” story about where we come from, but it explains the DNA of the school. We were founded by entrepreneurs, so we have this entrepreneurial spirit, but also we were founded by the Jesuits, so we have this collaborative environment as well.
And regarding the full-time MBA, I want you to remember the word “flexibility.” I think that’s one of the main assets, the flexibility of the program, because you can do it in 12, 15, or 18 months, and there are many moments in the year where you can tailor the experience through electives, language courses, student clubs, the career examination programs, different tracks, and study tours. So you can ask many people about their experiences, and they would all say something different because there are never two MBAs that are exactly the same. And of course our location is also an asset.
How do you address potential concerns about Barcelona not being a major business hub (like London, New York, or Hong Kong) if you want to pursue business studies? [4:54]
I don’t agree totally with that because Barcelona is very well-known in the startup environment. For example, we have the Mobile World Congress every year here. (Not this year; it had to be postponed due to the situation.) But there are many startups here because it’s a location where it’s easy to attract talent. So it is an important hub for startups. Many technological companies also have a subsidiary here. It’s true that compared to Madrid, they would have more headquarters, big corporations. That’s true. But Barcelona has always had this entrepreneurial spirit.
It’s true that many students, when they come to Barcelona, I have to be very honest, their main goal is maybe not staying in Spain. They take the opportunity more to have an international experience. While they are here, they can learn Spanish, and that opens the world to all Latin America. Spain is a good connection with Europe from the geographical point of view, but also with Latin America from the language point of view.
We have two other schools in Spain: one in Barcelona, one in Madrid, IESE and IE. And I always say that for me, they are not competitors. For me, we are a hub. So our goal is that when people are Googling where to do an MBA, that Spain or Barcelona are in their mindset. Don’t forget: There are two other very big important business schools. We are all different with our own DNA and different focus. But I do think that Barcelona and Spain, they are a reference.
It’s true that many students, they might not all stay here. I can’t remember exactly the figure, but something like 10% will stay in Spain. For the other ones, it’s more an international experience in their careers.
ESADE’s tagline is, ‘Do good. Do better.’ What does that tagline mean to you? [7:09]
Let me share a sentence from our Dean, who said, “We don’t want the best managers of the world. We want the best managers for the world.” So yes, we are in a business school. We don’t work for NGOs; we work for companies. We need to be sustainable from the economical point of view, but always with ethics, and always trying to give a positive impact to society, so that’s in our DNA as well. That’s part of our heritage, as I explained before: this collaborative mindset, willing to help each other, to learn from each other and understanding that even if we are working in business, always trying at the same time to have a positive impact in society.
Society is going through a tough time now (This interview was recorded March 26, 2020). Everything has moved online. How would you address potential applicant concerns that they’re going to be paying for and expecting and hoping for a traditional, in-person program but receiving an online education, which usually is less expensive? [8:03]
We have a program running now; in fact we sent all our students home even before our Spanish government was asking all schools and universities to close because we have a very international student body, so we thought it was safer. Our main priority was asking, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” We’re very proud of our professors. We didn’t have to cancel even one single class. We went online. We are using Microsoft teams. I don’t know what other schools are using, but we are using Microsoft teams and it’s working very well, honestly speaking. And I’m especially proud of our students because they didn’t complain. We didn’t receive a single complaint. We are still receiving emails thanking for the quick reaction.
But it’s true, we are not an online school. In fact, what we are very proud of is the diversity of our cohort and this team spirit. We are now working 100% remotely because our main goal is to start in September normally. But it’s true that now it’s very uncertain, the situation. We have good news coming from China. They already went into normal life after two and a half months of quarantine. In Italy, the number is still high, but it’s starting to slow down. We are now locked down. I think today is day number 13 or 14; I don’t know.
Our hope is that in a couple of months, the situation will improve, and we can start normally in September. If that doesn’t happen, of course, we will decide if it’s better to postpone because we are not an online school. We typically work on campus. So far we are doing the admissions process as normal, but of course in a couple of months when the situation is more clear and we are about to start normally or not, then we will decide. Of course, our priority is always safety, without a doubt. So let’s hope we can start normally in September. If not, we will decide if it’s better to postpone. It was the perfect solution for now, since we’re in the middle of the program, but if we have to start online, probably the best solution, I think, would be postponing.
There are a lot of rumors about the GMAT and GRE and their availability. What are your concerns as an admissions director? [11:02]
We received an announcement from GMAT saying that they are working very hard to launch GMAT online mid-April. I know it’s a very difficult challenge because there’s a lot of security behind an exam online, so I really hope they can manage. Maybe it will not be mid-April, but it could be in May. For the GRE, it was announced a couple of days ago that they, in a few countries, have started already offering the online version. I’m sure that they are doing a small test in the more critical countries, but I’m sure that they are going to improve that.
In the meantime, it’s true that we will have this one-month gap and we know that our students are very stressed about this process. As an alternative, we already had an alternative ESADE test for only the executive MBA (not for MBA full-time, not for the masters, but for selected candidates that already have a good GPA, a good profile, good CV). We think that now, we don’t want to stress them. We are offering this alternative ESADE test, but only as an alternative and only for very good select candidates. And of course it will not be for scholarship purposes. Unfortunately for scholarships, our main criteria are the GMAT or GRE. So scholarships will have to be postponed during this one-month period. But I’m sure that GMAT and GRE are working very hard to offer us solutions very, very soon.
We are extending deadlines. Normally, if someone asks for an extension of the deadline, we need approval from financial aid. The admissions directors are a big team divided throughout the globe, but we were all empowered to give a one-month extension without any approval from financial aid. In one month we will decide if this is something that we have to continue or not. But at least for now, for sure we are giving a one-month extension because we know that everybody’s now a little bit stressed. It’s a big investment not only in terms of finance but in terms of time as well. So of course we don’t want to push anybody now to make a quick decision without a clear situation.
What are ESADE’s career placement strengths? How are people going to benefit in terms of career growth? [15:14]
We have a big department for career services. Of course, when you’re doing this huge investment, that’s your main concern. We do have some candidates sponsored by the company, but that’s few. I would say the majority are making this effort on their own. Their main goal is to find a good position afterwards. So career services are very crucial at ESADE. The idea is that they are going to help our students not after graduation (that could be too late) but from day number one of the program. So that’s why we have what we call CAPs, Career Acceleration Programs. There’s one specifically for pharma, for consulting (that one is very popular), for technology. So the idea is that with these career services, they are doing this CAPs more oriented in some specific industry and of your interest in order to get prepared from day number one. CAPs are a mix of more theoretical content and also meetings with headhunters or managers from that specific industry. And of course also career services. They are always open.
They have what we call hotspots. So one day per week at lunchtime, you can pop in there without any kind of previous appointment and they will help improve your LinkedIn profile, your CV, how to face a job interview, what should be the typical salary in your industry, in your country, with your experience. They are working with candidates from the very beginning. That is why our cohort is 180 students, and that’s quite boutique-sized in the MBA world. And we don’t want to be bigger. We want to grow, maybe in other programs or whatever. But for the MBA, that’s our target number. We don’t want to be bigger because it’s a big family. We really want to have the chance to get to know each other and help them one by one.
What is ESADE looking for when it evaluates applications to the program? [17:18]
It’s a mix. One third is your past, so your GPA, professional experience, international exposure, number of languages you speak, and so on. We can highlight it, but we cannot change it.
One third is your GMAT or GRE. I personally get very stressed with the GMAT. I understand people don’t like this exam, but you know what? It’s the only objective part of the process. Because with GPA, we are not comparing apples with apples. There are some universities where a 2.9 GPA is amazing and another university 3.4 is super standard. So the positive part of the GMAT is that it’s something you can work on now. Your GPA, if that was low, you cannot change it. But the good news is you can put in effort and improve and have an amazing GMAT.
One third is your past, including your GPA and professional experience, one third is your GMAT, and one third is personal fit, and that’s why we have an interview with all candidates because on the application, on paper, you can be an amazing candidate, but maybe during the interview, you realize that maybe this is not the right program or it’s not the right time or it’s not the right school. If we think that the match is not in both directions, that we are not going to fulfill their expectations, then sometimes we even recommend another kind of program or another kind of school because we want to fulfill all of their objectives. So personal fit, it’s very relevant, and only during the interview can you really get to know each other.
You talked a lot about the importance of the GMAT. Is there a preference for the GMAT over the GRE? [18:56]
No. In general, we have more people coming to us with the GMAT, but in our case, we have said we accept both the GMAT and GRE. In fact, for example, I specifically am in charge of admissions coming from the Middle East, and in the Middle East, the GRE is much more popular. There’s no difference. We accept equally.
“Personal fit” can be nebulous and hard to understand. What makes a strong personal fit? [19:30]
I always use the same example because it’s super clear. So this lady, she was a Romanian living in Frankfurt, a physics PhD. Amazing GPA, amazing GMAT. A woman, and we want to have more women. On paper she was perfect, the perfect candidate. But then during the interview, her main purpose was to go from public industry, which was in a research institute, to private industry, but she wanted to stay in Germany. And she was super process-oriented. Even having a fluent conversation was difficult because her answers were “yes,” “no.” I wondered, why don’t you study in Germany? Maybe the school will not be at the top of the rankings, but in Germany, they will have a better network than us. And it would be more process-oriented.
If you choose to study, you have to be aware that the answers will not be “ABC” because we are discussing case studies, and the answer is not “ABCD.” We might have different opinions, so I always say business is more an art than a science. We thought that she would not enjoy the experience at ESADE. And that was a very clear example. There’s many, but that was very clear. It’s about understanding their motivations and really understanding how ESADE can help them to grow.
What are the language requirements for the program? [21:16]
Only English, so we do require some kind of proof of speaking English. So it can be TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS, Cambridge, or if you studied your bachelor’s degree in English, or you lived two years in an English-speaking country. Then you will have a waiver. So English is the only language. We do offer Spanish courses once you are here, but we don’t require any language other than English.
What is the ESADE interview like? [21:49]
We have different associate directors, so I assume we all have our different styles. But in any case, we always do the interview once the application is submitted because the main purpose is to really understand the application. Everything is clear because the admissions committee reads the application, recommendation letters, GPA, GMAT, and everything. But they don’t have the chance to meet that person. So that’s why I always say that the associate directors, we are a little bit partners in crime. We are their representatives.
The main purpose of this interview is, one, understanding their motivations and expectations to make sure that yes, we have that personal fit, and also to decide together which strengths we’re going to highlight in front of the admission committee. So that’s the main purpose of this interview.
We have a WhatsApp group. We called ourselves The Travelers because we are traveling all year round, and we try as much as possible to do face-to-face interviews during our trips. Of course, now everything is online, but we are still seeing a normal number of applicants. We have the same number as last year during this period. Nowadays with Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, we can meet them face to face even if it’s online. So that’s how we are doing now the interviews.
Any last pieces of advice for applicants to ESADE aiming for the 2020/2021 application cycle? [23:29]
As I told you, we are working with the assumption that we are going to start normally in September. That’s our main goal. I would say when deciding on a school, I always recommend speaking with the people from the admissions team. Because we work at ESADE, we have to say how wonderful we are. I studied at ESADE as well, so I try to share my experience as a student. But I always recommend they also talk with alumni because they were like them two years ago thinking, “Oh, is this the right program? The right school?” And there might be some questions like, “Are the exams difficult? Are the professors good? How is it in Barcelona?”
There are some questions that they will feel more comfortable asking of someone like an alumni or a current student rather than an admissions director. So if they want to talk with alumni, they can check LinkedIn, but they also can ask us to connect with them. So I would say that the best is, yes, of course check the website, brochures, and everything when doing your comparison. But for the final decision, I think you really need to talk with current students or alumni so they can share their experience. That would be my piece of advice.
What would you have liked me to ask you that I haven’t asked you? [25:01]
I always finish my interviews with candidates with the same question! I wanted to offer the big picture about ESADE, and I’m sure that was covered. I hope your audience now knows a little bit more about the ESADE Business School, and I would of course be more than happy to answer more one-on-one questions.
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