Outsiders often bounce off Paris’s surface — something I experienced when I was a foreign correspondent there a decade ago. The social networks built up by the French at school can persist at university and carry through to work, creating an impenetrable knot for newcomers. At least that was my excuse for the woeful lack of dinner party invitations I received when I was living there; I’m sure Parisians had their own reasons — ones that were perhaps less consoling to my eggshell ego.
Qihua Wang is obviously faring a lot better than I ever did. A student on the MSc in Management programme at France’s Essec business school — and a settled Parisian — she is something of an advert for the cross-border movement of talent in an age when the globalisation of professional careers is under threat from political isolationism and slower economic growth.
The 24-year-old Wang’s knack is partly a result of taking things slowly. Having studied for a degree in English literature at Tsinghua University in Beijing, she worked out that a higher degree in the arts might be a little too abstract. She instead cast her eye over masters courses in both management and finance in the UK, the US and France. She opted for Essec, partly because she wanted to learn a new language, partly because it allowed her to spread the course over several years, aiding her French assimilation.
Now, coming into the third and final year of her course — and after various internships and an international case study competition in which she represented Essec and France — she has an offer from the French arm of KPMG to work as a junior consultant in its Paris offices.
But does she not feel she is missing out on a more dynamic career back home in Beijing by putting down roots in Paris? “It is true that there are much more growth opportunities in China. I guess you have to choose the lifestyle as well. I really like the lifestyle in France. It’s much more relaxing,” she says, without ruling out a return to China later in her career.
Wang’s experience highlights the resolute — and highly individual, even idiosyncratic — personal determination that drives many young people to criss-cross the globe picking up the skills they feel they need to prosper over the course of their careers. As Andrew Hill, the Financial Times’ management editor, explains, these working lives are likely to be much longer than those of their grandparents and parents — perhaps even as long as seven decades.
The prospect of such a long haul before retirement is a complication for business schools seeking to design a curriculum that can at least have a shot at remaining relevant over the course of such a long period of employment. But it also underlines the need for today’s twentysomethings to launch themselves successfully into the world of work at the start of their careers.
This in turn suggests that it will take more than a hardening of political rhetoric against globalisation or deceleration of growth to choke off demand for masters in management courses akin to the one Wang chose to follow.
One enterprising graduate of these pre-experience masters courses profiled elsewhere in this report is Tim Kunde, the 36-year-old founder of Friendsurance, a peer-to-peer insurance start-up based in the German capital of Berlin. He tells Guy Chazan, the FT’s Berlin correspondent, that his masters in management degree at WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management — including stints in Kobe, Japan, and Lyon in France — instilled in him “a kind of business instinct . . . with an academic underpinning”, something that chimes with the idea that flexibility will be the watchword in the new world of work.
But value for money is still vital for young graduates contemplating a masters in management — and the debt burden of tens of thousands of euros that most of these courses will create. The rankings of business school courses, are a powerful tool that looks at salary gain, international mobility and many other factors to help graduates choose.
The tables also break new ground in including for the first time a US business school: the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. This addition highlights a diversification of the masters in management qualification away from its European heartland. The horizons are not narrowing for the world’s ambitious footloose youth, it seems, even as the gaze of their elders turns inwards.