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December 4, 2006 12:01 pm

School profile: Esade

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One of the biggest complaints of students at Esade’s business school in Barcelona is that the heavy course load does not allow much time to enjoy one of the world’s great cities. With its mild climate, Mediterranean beaches, nearby skiing resorts, and cosmopolitan street life, the Catalan capital takes some beating as a student hub.

This goes some way to explaining the success of Esade, which, along with neighbouring IESE business school, is consistently ranked among the top schools in Europe and, increasingly, the world. Being able to offer high quality of life has given the school an edge over many competitors in the search for top-notch international faculty and students.

However, strip away the attractive setting, and Esade stands tall on its own merits.

“I think we’ve been fortunate in that we inculcated a humanistic approach to business and management well before it became fashionable,” says Xavier Mendoza, dean of the business school at Esade. Established in 1958, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, by a group of Jesuits and local business leaders, the school has always paid as much attention to the development of a just society as to producing business leaders.

While not eschewing classic case-study teaching techniques, faculty always have time for more personalised, pastoral care of students’ needs. Teamwork and co-operation are big themes at the school.

“To enthrone the case study is a big mistake,” director general Carlos Losada told the FT in an interview last year. “It is just one tool among many teaching methods.”

However, this is not to say the school has remained blissfully detached from the ferocious reality of global competition in an ever-widening marketplace.

In Spain, perhaps more so than other European countries, Esade and its competitors have been quick to adapt to changing demands from companies and students.

After traditionally drawing students and faculty from Spain and Latin America, Esade overhauled its admissions and hiring policy in 1998 in search of a more international profile in a rapidly globalising world. The result is that 76 per cent of the people enrolled in its current full-time MBA programme are from outside Spain, while 17 per cent of its 453 staff, part-time, external and visiting professors are non-Spaniards, from countries as diverse as India, Romania and Bolivia.

Esade has also embraced the Bologna agenda, a European Union initiative aimed at harmonising undergraduate and post-graduate degrees across the region to promote worker mobility. As part of this effort, Esade’s business administration school recently launched a one-year Master of Management degree whose credits will be valid at other European universities.

In another innovation, it last year introduced a one-year MBA course in recognition of growing demand from busy executives who feel the traditional 18-month programme amounts to too much time outside the workforce.

In many respects, the school’s transformation mirrors developments in Spain’s vibrant corporate sector, where companies in recent years have swung their focus away from Latin America and on to Europe and, more recently Asia. The rapid global expansion of Santander, the bank, and designer clothes label Mango, for example, have provided classic material for case studies for students at Esade and some of its partners around the world. The marketing strategy of Ferrán Adriá, one of Catalonia’s best-known chefs, has also been turned into course material, as has the case of FC Barcelona, the iconic football club.

As interesting as these two local cases are, however, the emergence of Madrid as the clear financial and business capital of Spain and, for some multinationals, southern Europe has created a problem for Esade. For all its charm, Barcelona has become increasingly isolated from the country’s top-line executives and corporate decision-making, and so distant from a potential source of revenue in its customised and open executive training programme. Good transport links between the two cities help offset this, but Esade, like Iese, have, in the past few years, opened Madrid campuses and executive training facilities in the Spanish capital to stay near the action.

Esade has also developed partnerships with more than 100 universities and business schools across the globe, and opened a campus in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital, and is a member of the consortium behind the Euro-Med School of Management, Morocco.

At its original site in the upmarket Pedralbes district of Barcelona, Esade is currently developing a 2,500 sq m campus extension, at a cost of €12m. It is also investing €70m on a new campus and technology park in Sant Cugat del Vallès, a business park north of Barcelona. The complex will cover 46,600 sq m and house lecture rooms and residential and administrative facilities, as well as a business incubator where entrepreneurs in mainly high-tech start-ups will be invited to share ideas and space with business students.

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