A European experiment in cross-fertilisation

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Big companies are increasingly telling business schools they want their MBA recruits to have a broader range of personal attributes as well as the core technical skills. In a globalised world, companies want their future leaders to be intellectually agile and culturally sensitive, capable of managing diverse, cross-border teams. But how do you teach that at business school?

London Business School is experimenting with a novel way of developing such personal attributes outside the classroom by encouraging foreign business leaders to mentor its students. It has just set up a pilot project in France in which three senior executives (none of them alumni) will for one year share their advice and experience with three executive MBA students.

Laura Tyson, dean of LBS, says the school will rapidly expand the scheme across Europe if it proves a success and might even extend it to Russia, China and the US. “We are always trying to come up with new and different ways of teaching and learning,” she says.

Under the scheme, a Greek student at LBS will pair up with a senior French banker at Rothschild in Paris, for example. A top executive at L’Oréal has also agreed to mentor an American student who runs an internet start-up in Estonia.

The students will have an initial meeting with their mentors and then stay in regular touch via telephone and e-mail. For their part, the mentors are hoping the students will provide outside perspectives on their own businesses and give them access to the latest thinking from the LBS faculty.

Catherine Pichant, who works in London for Calyon, the French investment bank, is the LBS alumnus who thought up the scheme. She says: “Most mentoring programmes connect people who are already in the same community, industry, city or school. They often share a lot of things: the same language, culture, education. The idea is to help that person become a member of that community and understand its values.

“But our programme is very different because we are connecting people with very little in common. They will not have the same native language, culture or education and they may not even be in the same ­industry.”

With students from almost 100 different nationalities on campus, the LBS is already one of the most diverse business schools in the world. It is hoping that its European mentoring programme will further encourage the international cross-fertilisation of ideas.

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