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François Bonvalet knows how to pick his business schools. Until its merger with the business school in Rouen to create Neoma, he was dean of Reims Management School, which nestled in the Champagne region of France. It’s specialisation? The champagne industry.
Now the affable Prof Bonvalet has swapped the champagne flutes of Reims for the engines and satellites in Europe’s centre for the aerospace industry, Toulouse.
With a population of close to half a million and more than 125,000 students, the city is a far cry from the vineyards of the Champagne-Ardenne region. But just as in his previous role, where he took advantage of the school’s depth of knowledge in the champagne industry, Prof Bonvalet believes the strong industrial brand of his new school in such a prestigious industry will be a clear asset.
As the recently-appointed dean of Toulouse Business School (TBS), Prof Bonvalet sees a significant part of his role as increasing the scope and footprint of the school.
“A few years ago you just had to run a good Grande Ecole programme,” he says, referring to the French masters in management degree.
Now TBS has signed joint degree agreements with many of the city’s elite engineering schools — engineering is a clear strength of education in Toulouse. TBS is also running a joint masters degree with the local mining school, not to mention a collaboration with the maths department at the city’s Paul Sabatier university to teach big data to TBS’s management students.
On top of that, TBS has launched a joint doctoral degree with Audencia, the business school based in Nantes.
Over the years TBS has established two overseas campuses, in Barcelona and Casablanca, and Prof Bonvalet has two further locations in mind for future expansion. London is top of the list, with plans to teach a finance programme in the UK capital, and the second location is likely to be in the Middle East because of its strong focus on space and aerospace.
Overseas experience is in the blood of Toulouse students, says Prof Bonvalet. “For most of our students that study on the grande école programme, a career abroad is normal.” Today 28 per cent of graduates leave France for their first job, compared to just 5 per cent in 2001, he says, citing the example of London, where 600 TBS alumni work.
Does he miss the joys of the Champagne countryside? Not at all, says Prof Bonvalet. Agriculture is one of the biggest industries in the Toulouse region, he says. What is more, Toulouse and the surrounding Midi Pyrenees are home to some of France’s oldest vineyards, planted in the time of the Roman occupation of Gaul.
So champagne may be off the agenda, but a fine Gaillac wine may just about take its place.