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ESADE Business School Is Embracing Digital Disruption

Director general Eugenia Bieto says b-schools must innovate or die

Mon Jan 9 2017

For more than a century business schools have been trying to teach the world’s future leaders how to cope with digital disruption. Eugenia Bieto wants Spain’s ESADE Business School to practice what it preaches.

“We are forced to be innovative or else we die,” says the director general of one of Europe’s top-tier business schools. 

Innovation is something the corporate entrepreneurship expert has been trying to ingrain into teaching at ESADE since she took the helm six years ago from Carlos Losada.

She points to the creation of the Master’s in Innovation and Entrepreneurship as an example of the school’s creativity. The €26,500 degree program is designed for those wanting to find, launch or manage high-growth ventures. “Entrepreneurship is very important at ESADE,” says the softly-spoken Spaniard, noting the history of the school, which was founded by Jesuit entrepreneurs in Barcelona in 1958. 

A further example of the school’s innovation is the revamped teaching model, which focuses on experiential and cross-disciplinary learning. Students learn across academic disciplines through “action-oriented projects”.

“The world does not operate in silos,” says Eugenia, an associate professor with the strategy department. “It’s impossible to address a problem from one perspective.” 

ESADE has invested heavily in online education too. Part of a €10m three-year revamp, digital platforms have taken on a fundamental importance. They allow a large portion of learning, interaction and assessment to be moved outside of the classroom.

“The way young people are learning is changing. And the role of the professor in the classroom has to change with it,” Eugenia says. 

However, arguably the biggest project this decade has been the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. ESADE launched the “Creapolis” innovation centre just outside Barcelona in Sant Cugat. And the school plans to open three more “labs”, where students can conduct feasibility studies and launch a new product or service. 

The challenge Eugenia faces is innovating without abandoning ESADE’s core identity and values. While most European schools have moved towards teaching in English, ESADE still teaches part of its flagship bachelor’s degree in Catalan.

“We have to maintain identity but we need to differentiate,” she says. 

Given the background of the director general, ESADE’s innovation is less surprising than it seems. Eugenia served as assistant director of Spain’s Centre for Innovation and Business Development and has held several positions in the Institute for Small and Medium-sized Industry in Valencia. She also held the post of founding director of ESADE's Entrepreneurship Centre from 1997 to 2008.

Her focus on innovation is as much about keeping ESADE relevant to today’s students as it is about guaranteeing a future for the school, which was ranked #19 in the FT’s global MBA rankings last year. 

Eugenia has made it a mission to produce graduates more mindful of their impact on the world around them. 

“It's important to make entrepreneurs consider social value as well as shareholder value,” she smiles. 

“We want to prepare people who will take responsibilities in the companies of the future."