When Alice Guilhon became dean of Skema in 2009, she had big plans. Since then she has proven that she has the ability to deliver.
In just three years since Skema was created from the merger of two French business schools, Lille School of Management and Ceram, in Sophia Antipolis, Prof Guilhon has opened campuses on two technoparks, in China (Suzhou) and the US (Raleigh, North Carolina), received accreditation from Equis, the European accreditation body, received the authority to issue degrees in the US, and consolidated the brand of the school at home in France.
“I thought it would take a long time before students would be comfortable with the brand,” she admits, but that has not been the case. With Equis accreditation under her belt, she is now hoping for accreditation from AACSB, the US accreditation body, in 2013.
With a style more redolent of a French fashion house than a business school, Prof Guilhon is a networker par excellence.
From September, Bernard Bello, special adviser to former president Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée palace, will be Prof Guilhon’s special adviser at Skema.
For Prof Guilhon, the development of the school is a simple case of practising what she preaches. As a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, the garrulous 45-year-old is pragmatic. She has plans to create further mergers and alliances as the situation merits. “Merger is not an objective; it is a vehicle to carry the strategy,” she explains. And that strategy is to create a truly global business school.
So while most business schools continuously pontificate about their international strategy, for Prof Guilhon this is a day-to-day reality as she manages campuses across three continents.
“The attractiveness of the Shanghai campus, the attractiveness of the Raleigh campus, is a reality with international students as well as French ones,” she says, pointing out that the number of international students applying to study for a masters degree in 2012 is 50 per cent higher than in 2011. “They [international students] don’t want to apply to a French business school; they want to apply to an international business school.”
The most recent alliance has been with Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow. It will cover student exchanges and programmes, including three MSc programmes in global management, tourism and European finance, and gives Skema access to students and facilities in different locations, specifically the Middle East. It will also bring more English-speaking students into the Skema classroom.
Prof Guilhon wants to go further. “The real intention is to go beyond exchange programmes. We want to prove we are a new force in Europe.”
Meanwhile, closer to home, Skema also plans an executive MBA programme – an MBA for working managers – with the Ecole des Mines, the Parisian engineering school. The 18-month programme will launch in January. At the same time, the school is looking to relocate its Paris campus from La Défense in the business district to the centre of town.
Prof Guilhon is keen to establish a presence in India and in Brazil. “The next step for me is to open in São Paolo,” says the dean. She also has her eye on teaching programmes in California.
With bachelor degrees and specialised masters degrees in subjects such as luxury and fashion, finance and marketing, Skema already has around 6,300 students and is one of the largest business schools in France, but the ebullient dean is setting her sights on enrolling 10,000 students in the near future.
That will be the optimum size for the school, she believes. “I don’t want to create a multinational of education.”