MBA Programs in Italy: La Dolce Vita

How a number of one-year MBA programs are still luring people to the country from all over the world, despite an economic downturn

Even in the midst of an economic crisis, Europe's third-largest economy continues to attract MBA seekers from all corners of the world. A big draw is a handful of internationally-accredited English language MBA programs, many of which are only one year long.

“We really do have students from all over the world,” says Lachlan Burns, marketing and recruitment representative for MIP Politecnico di Milano. “We see students from North America, South America, Asia, the rest of Europe, Africa.”

Burns says that some international students see Italy as an appealing entry point to Europe. 

“A lot of our students, after they've graduated, go on to work in Italy, and a lot of them work in Europe.”

Some students are drawn by the diverse range of high-end industries that Italy famously hosts. Gianmario Verona, MBA program director at the Milan-based SDA Bocconi School of Management, calls the school's location “the capital of fashion, design – it's the hub of all the financial and industrial companies that have their operations in southern Europe. So at the end it turns out that Milan is a great attraction in itself.”

Likewise, MBA students at MIB School of Management in Trieste have ready access to the headquarters of Assicurazioni Generali, the largest insurance company in Italy, as well as those of Lloyd Adriatico (part of the Allianz Group,) and Illycaffè, the coffee brand. During MIB's MBA program, students “go for company visits, so they go physically inside, and see how they work in different areas,” says Barbara Sepic, admissions officer at MIB. 

The one-year format of these and other MBA programs in Italy means that students don't have to take a lot of time off for studies. However, unlike some one-year MBA programs, many MBA programs in Italy also allow students to pursue a concentration, so that they can deepen their knowledge in a particular functional area or industry. For example, students in the SDA Bocconi MBA pursue two concentrations, and are able to choose from disciplines like “Private Equity, Entrepreneurship and Renewal” and “Finance and Financial Institutions.”

Similarly, Alma Graduate School offers seven different specialized MBA programs, including one in “Green Energy and Sustainable Businesses” and one in “Food and Wine.”

Some MBA programs in Italy offer students the opportunity to get hands-on experience with a local firm. For example, students in the University of Pisa's MBA program can pursue an internship as part of the second part of the program.

Likewise, during SDA Bocconi's MBA track in “Luxury Business Management,” students work directly with the luxury company Bulgari on real projects. And this could lead to real jobs at Bulgari after the program, according to  Gianmario Verona.

But it's not necessarily the goal of every international student to work in Italy, even after doing an MBA program there. Instead, some students are simply looking for an international experience, where they can connect with people from all over the world, before returning to their home countries. It can be “quite appealing to students, to come in and study in an international environment where you have students from so many different countries, so many different backgrounds,” says MIP's Lachlan Burns.

And because of the global nature of some businesses operating in Italy, many internationally-facing firms in the country might look for MBAs who want to go to other places. Allianz, for example, sometimes recruits MBAs from MIB to work in their headquarters in Munich, according to Barbara Sepic. “Or Generali,” Sepic says of the insurance company, “they might need people in Hong Kong, and we've had some Chinese students who they have employed over there.”

But for those who do want to stay and work in Italy, learning the language can help in a post-MBA job search. During an MBA program, students “can get by with English, definitely,” says MIP's Lachlan Burns, but “if you're looking to continue working in Italy, it's a great help to know the language.”

Fortunately, many MBA programs in the country offer complimentary courses in Italian.

However, according to MIB's Barbara Sepic, many of the larger international companies operating in Italy generally operate in English, so depending on where students go, not knowing Italian is not always a problem. For MBAs who “go on to work, for example, in Eli Lilly – the pharmaceutical company,” she says, “of course English is the official language, but when you know the local language, the company appreciates that.”

What crisis?

According to representatives from Italian business schools, the country's economic downturn over the past few years hasn't hurt interest in MBA programs there. 

“Our program is basically the same size as two years ago, says SDA Bocconi's Gianmario Verona.“Probably what has changed is the fact that it's not as simple as before to find a high-quality, permanent job when they finish the MBA program.”

MIB's Barbara Sepic would agree. She has noticed a change in the types of jobs that MBA graduates are landing. 

“The financial institutions and insurance companies, these are the ones that are employing more than other types of companies,” right now, says Sepic. “Once maybe it was marketing that was booming,” she continues, and “now it's the more technical functions: finance, or insurance, or very specialized engineers.”

Photo: Jakubhal / Creative Commons

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