Francisco Veloso
Francisco Veloso sees the pre-experience masters as the 'hub of change' © David Clifford

Almost two years after becoming dean of the Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics, Francisco Veloso still feels a pang for the research work that occupied the previous 15 years. But the opportunity to contribute to “a unique period of change” in European business education proved irresistible.

“In their different ways, Europe and Asia have become the most dynamic business education markets in the world,” he says. “I miss my research work, but what motivates me now is directing a school that’s doing its best to become a leading European player.”

The Bologna Accord, aimed at harmonising degree formats across Europe, abolished EU borders for faculty and students, making it possible for business schools in a country such as Portugal, with a population of 10.5m, to set their sights on a place among the best in the continent, he says. Bologna has also enshrined the three-year undergraduate degree combined with a two-year masters as the dominant model for Europe. In business education, he sees the pre-experience masters, “a creature that did not previously exist”, as the sector’s “fastest-growing product” and the “hub of change”.

He believes European business education will resemble the US in a few years, with a first tier of a few top schools, a second tier whose quality is recognised Europe-wide and a third tier of local schools with few national or international ambitions.

Católica-Lisbon, 25th in the FT’s 2013 European Business School rankings (up from 32nd last year), is aiming for the top tier. “Ten years ago, we were limited to being a regional school in a small corner of Europe,” says Prof Veloso. “Now we have the potential to become a top European school that also has a broad Atlantic reach.”

He expects the pre-experience masters to play a key role in the rise of European schools, differentiating them from US counterparts as Europeans cross borders to reap the benefits of an education in differing cultural and regional environments.

Because of Portugal’s history of maritime discovery and empire, he believes its business schools are well placed to build international links. “Our roots in Asia, Africa and Latin America go back 500 years and are regions where the Portuguese are well regarded,” he says. “Combined with the mobility afforded by Bologna, our ability to interpret cultures and forge links has created a great opportunity.”

One recent example is the school’s co-operation with the German-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in an initiative to bring German and African companies together. It also has partnerships with business schools and firms in Angola, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the US and other countries.

“Our strategy is to build strong international partnerships rather than overseas campuses,” he says. About a third of Católica’s faculty now come from outside Portugal as do half its masters students.

Evidence from one of Prof Veloso’s main areas of research – which, with two PhD students, he continues part time – supports his belief that countries such as Portugal can nurture world-leading businesses. His studies into the early development of Silicon Valley show that spin-offs from existing firms play a much more important role in success than “corporate clusters” or regional factors.

“We have discovered that it’s the firms that make a region, not the region that makes the firms,” he says. He believes this has implications for countries seeking export-led growth to lift their economies out of debt and recession.

“It means you’re not bounded by your existing specialisations, by what you’ve done so far,” he says. “Rather than thinking about ways of helping existing firms, it’s important to provide opportunities for experimentation and to support firms that have not yet been born.” One of Portugal’s potential new export industries, he firmly believes, could be business education.


Out of hours:

Francisco Veloso, the dean of Católica-Lisbon, in Portugal , lists some of his favourite places, things and activities.

What is/are your favourite:

1. Animal: Dog

2. City: Lisbon (and Boston)

3. Holiday destination: Azores (and anywhere with good diving)

4. Sport: Mountain Biking

5. Artist: Alexander Calder

6. Music: Bossanova

7. Mode of transport: Bicycle

8. Talent wish list: Painting (and I did try…)

9. Alternative career: entrepreneur (might still be one)

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