Listen to this article
If there is one thing Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School insists on, it is that you get the name of its finance degree correct.
It is a Masters in financial management, the school points out, not a Masters in finance. The difference is significant: while many finance degrees teach the technicalities of investment algorithms and bond yields, at the heart of the Vlerick degree, taught in Gent in Belgium, is corporate finance.
“We cater more for the [chief financial officer] than the investment specialist,” says Regine Slagmulder, head of the competence centre for accounting and finance. “We want to train well-rounded financial people rather than focusing on technical skills. There are certain things that you can’t put into a spreadsheet.”
Corporate responsibility, negotiation skills and entrepreneurship are all in the programme, along with budgeting and risk. Of the two elective tracks – corporate financial management or the more quantitative financial markets – 75 per cent of students opt for the former, says Wouter De Maesenaire, associate professor of accounting and finance, and director of the programme.
One of the other differentiating features of the programme, he says, is that it is taught by both Vlerick’s large finance department and by industry practitioners, with the latter involved in topics such as asset management.
This practical approach is typical of Vlerick, according to Philippe Haspeslagh, the dean. “We’re close to business, relevant and have high teaching quality.” In fact, 50 per cent or more of the school’s income comes from non-degree programmes for executives.
As part of its 12-month MBA programme all students have to work in a not-for-profit organisation for two months. Projects have ranged from setting up a home for stray dogs in Peru to contributing to education projects for children in India.
One of Vlerick’s claims to fame is that it received one of the largest single gifts to a European business school, when in 2006, Baroness Cécile Sap-Vlerick, widow of Baron André Vlerick, the Belgian banker and scientist, gave €50m.
The other two names in the school’s title come from the two Belgian universities – the Catholic University of Leuven and Gent University – that set up the school. With a campus in each city – and a third Belgian campus to be opened in the capital Brussels in January 2013 – Vlerick is the only school in Belgium, and one of fewer than 40 in Europe that is accredited for five years by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD).
For a school with just 59 faculty, it has international reach. Five years ago it took over MBA and EMBA programmes in Beijing from Fordham, a US Jesuit university. The Bimba programmes – as they are called – are taught at Peking University and these days 300 students take a Vlerick MBA there, which, like all the Belgian school’s programmes, is taught in English. The partnership has just been renewed for a further five years.
Vlerick also has a presence in Russia, teaching a part-time MBA from its campus in the commercial centre of St Petersburg.
Perhaps the most significant difference from other business schools in the way it operates is the commitment of the faculty. Close to half the faculty are what the school calls partners, which means they commit fully to the school.
The system has its pluses and its minuses, says Prof Haspeslagh, who joined Vlerick in 2008 from Insead. “In business schools I have been in before, you make a base salary and then you make your money competing with the school. The commitment factor is a huge thing. It makes governance tougher on the dean though, because you have lots of governance.”