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It is sometimes difficult to avoid making comparisons, but in the case of Esade Business School in Barcelona it is almost impossible. From the original Pedralbes campus you can glimpse its main rival, Iese Business School, just up the hill. Both were founded by Catholics in 1958, but the two high-ranking business schools could not be more different.
Potential students and alumni discussing the choice on social media sites quibble about reputation, but mainly, they agree, it comes down to “feel”.
“I see the main difference between Esade and Iese is that [Iese] is more conservative and traditional, while Esade is more liberal and plural,” writes one.
That might be partly because, unlike Iese with its Opus Dei links, Esade was set up by Jesuits. Their ethos, “knowledge to serve”, runs through the school, says Alfons Sauquet, its dean. “[The Jesuits] want to make an impact on society – not just ethical, in terms of doing the right thing, but asking, ‘How can you make the world a better place?’”
Prof Sauquet, who took over in 2008, wants to put the school on the map as a global, rather than European, institution, and has launched a so-called international regional initiative, focusing initially on Latin America. Having set up a campus in Buenos Aires and alliances with regional business schools, Esade is bringing in more students from the region and making connections with companies.
Esade also revamped its MBA when it decided to move the programme to the Sant Cugat campus on the outskirts of Barcelona in 2012. (Executive MBAs and executive courses remain on the Pedralbes campus.) Students starting the MBA next September will find a greater emphasis on social responsibility, something the school describes as one of its “core missions”.
Also at Sant Cugat is Esade Creapolis, a centre focused on innovation and entrepreneurship, which leases office space to companies. The idea is for companies to work together – and students to work with them, says Jan Brinckmann, associate professor of entrepreneurship and strategy.
There are two compulsory entrepreneurial courses for MBA students. The first teaches the mindset of entrepreneurs and their approaches to management. The second sees students work in groups to create a company under the mentorship of a real entrepreneur.
“Some students want to create companies and we thought it was important to help them create real companies that have a real impact,” says Prof Brinckmann.
Creapolis has helped increase the number of students who say they would like to set up their own company from 10-15 per cent to 25-30 per cent.
In the reception area at Sant Cugat, there is a buzz among the MBA students chatting on the brightly coloured chairs. One student says he is aiming to solve a food problem in urban slums in the developing world. Another has an innovative fitness company idea. It is not hard to believe they will one day make that impact to which Prof Brinckmann and Prof Sauquet attach such importance.