Leadership Is What Keeps Bain, Citi, Google Coming Back To IESE Business School

Spanish institution embeds leadership into core of top-ranked MBA program

Leadership is a sexy topic at most business schools. IESE is no exception. The Spanish institution embeds leadership into the core of its MBA, ranked in the top-20 by the Financial Times.

Part of the reason is that companies are demanding that MBA graduates hone their leadership skills. Amazon, General Electric and others have long run leadership development pipelines for MBAs.

Marta Escardó, MBA program director, says recruiters come to IESE’s Barcelona campus in search of students “with strong analytical and leadership skills — professionals with a global understanding of the company, who can lead [the] organization”. Among IESE’s top recruiters in 2015 were Bain & Company, Citigroup, and Google, according to its latest employment report. Many go into consulting, followed by financial services.

Andrea Hayem, who has worked at Ernst & Young and Morgan Stanley, believes the degree will help advance her career. More than 90% of IESE’s MBAs find jobs three months after graduating. One example is Rafael Villaseca Marco, arguably IESE’s most successful alum, who is CEO of listed Spanish utility Gas Natural.

“My exposure to different leadership positions has helped me to further develop my teamwork skills, learn to prioritize and look at the big picture, take into account different perspectives, and learn how to integrate feedback,” Andrea says.

The classroom plays a key role. An “active learning methodology” focused on simulations and case studies aids leadership development. MBAs are exposed to more than 600 cases during IESE’s 19-month-long program.

When Francois-Xavier Bonneville considered a cadre of elite programs, IESE’s case study approach set it apart. For an open day he prepared for a class simulation about marketing baby diapers. He was confident in his solution, but a diversity of perspectives from classmates enhanced the approach immeasurably.

“To be honest, I was shocked by the fact that it was just so much better! I was sold on the concept from that point on,” Francois-Xavier says. He joined the IESE MBA in September last year.  

“The case method puts students in the position of decision-maker,” says Marta, adding that it hones core leadership skills such as reconciling different perspectives and persuading others.

A diverse cohort helps here. IESE’s focus on leadership and general management is drawing international managers. Some 80% of IESE’s MBA cohort is from outside Spain.

For Frida Rustøen, this gives the business school the edge in leadership development. Cracking cases with 60 different nationalities “leaves you with amazing insights from different cultures and customs”.

“The extremely diverse environment at IESE is invaluable to anyone who aspires to be a leader in an increasingly globalized world,” says Frida, who speaks five languages and spent three months working in Hong Kong.  

“Living and learning in new environments heightens self-awareness, something I believe to be important to build strong leadership skills,” says the MBA student, pictured below.

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It is not case studies alone that make for great leaders, however. At IESE, Andrea says you are exposed to different forms of leadership throughout the experience.

“IESE is very open; it gives you a wide range of clubs, activities and organizations that you can join,” says the dual president of the Finance Club and Ambassadors Club.

“I’ve learned the importance of teamwork and how crucial it is to success,” Andrea says of her presidency. “Leadership and teamwork always go together.”

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