September 20, 2010 12:12 am

The girl done good: studying at Essec Business School

 
Helen Schneider studies at Essec Business School

At the end of 2007, my final year of undergraduate studies at the University of the Pacific, California, I finally received the e-mail I had been waiting for. Gaining admission to my number-one choice of school was exhilarating, but I could not have predicted the degree of fulfilment my studies at Essec Business School in Paris were to give me.

A German national with a BBA from a US institution with a study semester in Spain, I was eager to strengthen my education with a good graduate degree, rather than seek work immediately. Essec was my first choice due to its reputation, opportunities to build a professional network and unconventional programme.

In addition to the academic excellence of its highly ranked MSc in management programme – Essec’s grande école degree – the school’s strong social values are vital to my experience here.

Learning at Essec takes many forms. Strong debate between peers and professors is encouraged, helping me challenge my own views. I am beginning to develop a global picture of the interconnectedness of individuals, society, markets and business. Petit à petit, I am gaining the skills needed to be a responsible leader. I have been helped along by role plays in mediation and negotiation seminars that have, in turn, raised my interest in consensus building in multi-stakeholder groups.

This has led to an individual research project in Mali, in collaboration with the Global Pay Foundation, supporting a programme for improving rural education. At a school in a village called Promani, I worked with children, parents, teachers and officials, and am now writing a case study on consensus building in this context. Essec’s support in allowing me to undertake research in a field of personal interest attests to the school’s flexibility.

The school has also enabled me to develop academically and personally through a programme of conferences in France and overseas. Besides learning French (which is compulsory for all international students) I have been learning Arabic, to help understand a completely different culture that is too often misunderstood.

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I decided to enrol in a two-year work-study programme (apprentissage) to immerse myself in professional experience alongside my academic studies. It pays my tuition fees and a monthly salary, while not obliging me to work for the funding company after graduation. From a range of offers, I chose to work in the strategic marketing department of La Poste, the French postal service, focusing on innovative and responsible product development. Some weeks I would work for three days, then study for two – or whole semesters would be devoted to working and then studying full time. I found the mix of academic coursework and corporate experience enriching. It even engendered an interest in anti-trust law – in the context of my work at La Poste, where regulation affects decisions daily, it was of vital importance.

Essec has encouraged me to compete with my peers. One of a team of four Essec students in the 2009 KPMG International Business Case Competition, I was involved in preparing case studies and presenting the analysis and recommendations to a jury. Several rounds took us as national champions through to the final three teams, up against the UK’s London School of Economics and the Technische Universität Darmstadt from Germany. In addition to presenting our financial analysis, we considered social responsibility issues and were delighted to take the overall prize. I gained immeasurably from the experience of working under pressure in a multinational environment in front of expert juries comprising KPMG partners from across the globe.

I am president of the Net Impact Essec Student Association, part of a worldwide network promoting corporate social responsibility. We have been working in partnership with Ideas, an association through which students consult voluntarily on governance, finance and efficiency for not-for-profit organisations.

Furthermore, Essec’s Institute for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship creates a community of students and experts in the social economy.

I hope that the financial crisis might have durably affected the basis for business decisions, and that companies will have learned the place of corporate social responsibility in their activities. At Essec I have been able to combine my two ambitions: to do well and to do good. 

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