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Anabell Iglesías Chavarria and her husband, Mauricio, made a bold decision when deciding where to take their MBAs. They turned down Fulbright scholarships in the US and returned to study at El Salvador’s Higher School for Economy and Business, where they fell in love both with each other and with business.

They are among the dozen executives working towards a Global MBA for Latin American Managers at Esen, known by for its initials in Spanish, the Salvadorean site of the distance learning MBA programme that is run jointly by the Garvin School of International Management at Thunderbird in Arizona and Mexico’s Tecnologico de Monterrey. Graduates receive a joint degree from both institutions.

Esen was established more than 10 years ago by a group of businessmen. Its remit was to try to create a cadre of entrepreneurs to enable the country to move forward after the civil war of the 1980s and ensure that El Salvador it had enough competent business leaders, economists and officials to implement economic development policies. It was part of the founders’ theory that El Salvador would require investment from international and local companies to make up for the jobs lost in the war.

“We basically experienced the war as children, so when this institution started to say that it would train people that would make a difference in the history of the country, we knew that this was an opportunity to be part of this change,” says Ms Iglesías, regional marketing manager for International Paper’s beverage packaging business.

“They need world-class professionals, who speak the international language of business and have world-class standards to help the country to heal and to grow.”

Ten years after the creation of the school, the couple seem to be perfect examples of what the founders had in mind. “We had an entrepreneurial bug that wouldn’t leave us alone, and we wanted to start our own businesses, but studying abroad would have meant being out of the country for years,” she adds.

“This gives us the chance to have everything. at once. We have the kind of education we would have experienced as Fulbright scholars and the chance to grow with our companies, but we but also have the entrepreneurship dream.”

Indeed, Mr Chavarria, until recently an executive in a coffee company, has put his MBA studies on hold and launched a company supplying cafes.

The Global MBA programme requires students to study international business through English-language courses beamed live via satellite, interact with peers in Latin America and the US through video-conferences and the internet, as well as and work with local teaching ­assistants.

As well as the Global MBA, Esen graduates 60 students undergraduates a year and offers executive education in the fields of leadership, teamwork, entrepreneurship, finance and marketing.

It also holds workshops for the families that dominate Salvadorean business, contributing to the development of a region stymied by civil war. The school’s academic advisory board has both northern and southern influences with includes three University of Chicago PhDs, a former finance minister and governor of the central bank in Chile, the dean of the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and a former dean of Costa Rica’s Incae business school.

The school’Its director, Rafael Barraza, proudly notes that the children of former guerrillas and left-wing politicians also study at Esen, a testament to the school’s commitment to freedom of thought.

opt par cut here Esen has a needs-blind admissions policy, offering loans to the 65 per cent of students unable to pay the $4,300 annual tuition for the five years it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree. The top ten third-year students spend a semester abroad. end opt par cut

Like the Chavarrias, many students find work with the local offices of transnational corporations including Kimberley Kimberly-Clark, Unilever, Proctor and Proct­er & Gamble and South African Breweries. The single largest employer for Esen graduates is the Salvadorean airline Taca.

Esen’s leadership centre, called Bienestar Total (Total Well-Being) trains undergraduates and executives in teamwork, leadership and organisational skills. Its family business centre caters to the second- and third-generation scions that dominate business in El Salvador.

The college , which resembles a private high school, currently sits on a former coffee plantation overlooking the capital, of San Salvador. The accommodation is temporary. But Prof Barraza is proud to show off plans for the new campus, designed by Ricardo Legorreta, the well-known Mexican architect. famous for buildings including the Camino Real of Cancun.

The expansion, which began in January, is being funded by one of Ricardo Poma, Esen founder and rector,Ricardo Poma, whose sprawling family business empire in Central America includes a the propertyreal estate company that set aside land for the school.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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