Few cities have fostered so many leading business schools as the French capital, yet HEC Paris, along with local rival Insead, is consistently in the top cluster of rankings.

Bernard Ramanantsoa, HEC’s dean, attributes this to a specific focus on attracting the strongest students and faculty.

He also points to HEC’s strong connections with French corporate champions and the international companies that have made Paris their European home; they ensure that the school is on top of the latest business practices.

The combination of business links and pioneering research and thinking has been a cornerstone of the school since its creation in 1881 as the École des Hautes Études Commerciales by the Paris Chamber of Commerce, with which it continues to collaborate – one of the first schools in France to introduce Harvard-style case-study learning. Today, it has 111 staff, 3,600 students, an education programme training 8,700 executives each year, and triple accreditation from international standard-setters.

HEC Paris’s growth reflected the globalisation of companies in the 1980s and 1990s. It has double-degree programmes with the Free University Berlin, MIT Sloan School of Management and FGV-EAESP in Brazil, among others.

It also offers its EMBA China programme in both Beijing and Shanghai in collaboration with partner institutions, and next February will start offering its executive MBA in Doha, Qatar – its first overseas location without a local partner.

The strength of the HEC Paris brand, combined with a global network of 44,000 alumni, has helped create a virtuous circle, in which the brand attracts (and alumni refer) excellent students, whose presence helps recruit the best teachers.

Yet Prof Ramanantsoa is wary of complacency: “A virtuous spiral can easily become a downward spiral. If you have the top students, it is easier to recruit the top professors. But you have to be sure the top researchers also [have] experience of …the top preoccupations of business leaders.”

HEC’s core masters in management programme passes 500 students a year. Another 400 graduate from its specialised masters, 200 take the 16-month full-time MBA and roughly 350 the part-time executive MBA; 15 or so are admitted to the 70- to 80-strong PhD programme.

But perhaps its most intriguing course is Trium, a part-time global EMBA designed jointly by HEC Paris, New York University Stern School of Business and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

HEC Paris sells this $140,000, 16-month programme as “not just an EMBA, but a think-tank, incubator and executive boardroom that prepares executives to address the global economic, social and political forces that shape the world”.

The 65 participants spend two weeks at LSE and HEC Paris, as well as a month at NYU and a week each in two emerging markets. Typically, they are highly successful, in upper management echelons, but keen to go further. Prof Ramanantsoa notes: “More and more want to run their own companies.”

He adds: “The philosophy of [this] programme is to enable people to cope with diversity …There is no best way to run a company, but many different ways to run a company.”

HEC may remain a Parisian business school, but today its vocation is clearly global.

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