MBA Programs in France: Of Baguettes and Business School

Why the world's fifth-largest economy is drawing more international MBA candidates.

If you've considered doing an MBA in Europe, you've probably thought about France. Among other reasons, it's the home of INSEAD, HEC Paris, and EMLYON - three business schools that cracked the Financial Times list of top-100 MBA programs globally. 

Behind only the USA and UK, France has more internationally accredited MBA programs than any other country in the world. Ten business schools in France are triple-accredited, meaning they have been accredited by all three major international accreditation agencies: AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS. 

Along with INSEAD, HEC Paris, and EMLYON, these other "triple crown" schools include Grenoble, EDHEC, Toulouse, Rouen, Audencia Nantes, Reims, and BEM Bordeaux. The country also represents the second-highest destination in Europe (behind the UK) for GMAT scores, with a 92-percent increase reported for French institutions since 2006.

But dig a little deeper than statistics, and you're likely to discover other enticing possibilities that come with studying in the world's fifth-largest economy.

All of the above mentioned schools offer their MBA programs completely in English. So, even if your answer to Parlez-vous français? is "non" or "eh?," you will still be able to get through any of the country's top programs. To work and function, however, some French will be necessary, perhaps even more so than in other European countries like Germany, Denmark, or The Netherlands. 

Another potential draw is that most accredited MBA programs in France only take a year to complete, upping their appeal to prospective international students.

There is also an increasing incentive among French companies to import foreigners to internationalize their workforce. For example, about 40 percent of INSEAD MBA alumni working in France are non-French nationals, with half being non-Europeans, and tend to join a variety of French companies.

According to Sandra Schwarzer, director of INSEAD Career Services, "a lot of French companies, especially in the consumer and luxury industry, recruit from INSEAD for their international operations."

France is home to some of the world's largest companies in key industries, such as finance (BNP Paribas and AXA), aerospace (EADS), luxury (LVMH and PPR), tourism (Accor), automotive (Renault-Nissan, PSA, and Michelin), construction (Vinci and Lafarge), energy (GDF-Suez and Total), and retail (Carrefour).

There are a handful of accredited French business schools offering highly-specific concentrations catering to these and other established French industries, such as the Wine and Spirits MBA at BEM Bordeaux, the Aerospace MBA at Toulouse Business School, the International Luxury Management at ESSEC Business School, or the fashion-focused programs at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers or MODSPE. 

But let's not forget the appeal of living in French cities like Paris, Nantes, Bordeaux, or Grenoble, the same landscapes, culture, and lifestyle that makes the country the world's number-one tourist destination. 

For Antonio Baccari, the prospect of spending two years in Paris was a big draw, and played an important role in his decision to join the full-time MBA program at HEC Paris in September 2010.

"Besides being one of the most visited cities in the world, Paris is also an international industrial hub," says Baccari. "So I have come to understand the financial and industrial network of French companies."

But despite Paris's famous charm and a strong alumni network at HEC, Baccari says he plans to return to London where he had spent the previous five years.

According to Leila Murat, assistant director of MBA admissions at INSEAD, many students will venture elsewhere after the degree, noting that INSEAD alumni have found jobs in over 60 countries. 

The need to seek employment outside of France might be attributed partly to the lack of entrepreneurial drive within its MBA world. Although INSEAD sees an increase in MBA candidates with "long-term entrepreneurial-objectives," many more of its grads still go into consulting. 

"The external perspective is that France hasn't had a strong legacy in entrepreneurship," admits Joseph LiPuma, director of the MBA program at EMLYON, which focuses entrepreneurship. "But the statistics show that there have been a lot of new entrepreneurial entry in the last 10-15 years."

LiPuma says that France's strength in scientific research, a relaxing of regulatory hurdles, and, surprisingly, the recent economic crisis are helping to rejuvenate the entrepreneurial spirit in France, not only among risky start-ups but also in the big companies.

"I think even before this most recent economic downturn, companies were looking at ways to reinvent themselves, ways they could become more nimble, more entrepreneurial," says LiPuma. "I think the last few years have reinforced that and gotten more companies to think about, 'Okay, we really do need to do this because the world is changing, and moving much faster.'"

Photo: Michael Filtz

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