Michel Gehrig is a man who really understands the value of training. Although he started his professional career as a chef, today he is the vice-president at Kempinski, the European luxury hotel group that lists the Grand Hotel Geneva, the Hotel Bristol in Berlin and the Stafford Hotel in London among its upmarket hostelries.
These days he is vice-president for talent development, but his title does not mean all his training is behind him, though he has moved on a long way from the days of learning to fillet a Dover sole or whip up a perfect beurre blanc. He is enrolled on the latest corporate MBA programme that Kempinski is running with Neoma Business School. (The programme was originally developed by one of Neoma’s two founders, Reims Management School.)
So far more than 100 Kempinski employees have graduated from the programme, which is designed to give the hotel group’s existing and future general managers the skills they need to do a better job. “I’m lucky to be part of the latest cohort of the MBA group,” says Mr Gehrig – his intake is the seventh, with a programme starting every two years.
The Kempinski MBA is one of a growing number of MBA programmes developed specifically for one company. The value of such programmes is in developing internal networks and teaching the ethos and values of the company. In the case of Kempinski, because the programme takes place at different hotels in the group, it enables managers to learn about the challenges their peers face in different environments.
But there are drawbacks to such a degree, says Raymond Ouellet, a marketing professor at Neoma, who is in charge of the Kempinski programme. “It’s a limited experience they’ve had. It’s about the experience in hotels. In a typical EMBA you have people from different industries and this you don’t see in the Kempinski MBA.”
The company and school are now considering whether to open the programme to others. Initially at least this would be to others in the hotel business. “This would mean we would be able to expand, but it will bring huge competitive issues,” says Prof Ouellet.
Mr Gehrig admits that the programme has not been without difficulty for him. “Everyone has to deliver a dissertation at the end, which for me is a huge challenge.” But he is not alone in finding elements of the programme difficult – every one of the 17 participants has his or her Achilles heel, he says. For some of them it is public speaking, for others the finance courses. “Everybody gets something out of it.”
The 18-month programme starts every second October, says Prof Ouellet. It includes three residential blocks, each of two to three weeks in length, in Europe, the Middle East and China.
The most interesting module so far has been on leadership, says Mr Gehrig. “I think the self-discovery part is very important. I think people walked away with more confidence. I was absolutely amazed how interested everyone was in who they were and what they needed to work on to be more efficient leaders.”