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Carlsberg, arguably Denmark’s most famous export, has a most memorable advertising slogan: “Probably the best lager in the world.” Copenhagen Business School, located in the heart of Denmark’s capital city, might be inclined to describe itself in much the same way: “probably a very good business school”.

For while most US and European business schools shout about the depth of their faculty, the quality of their students or the vision of their dean, CBS just gets on with the job quietly. This self-effacement surprises even some of the people who work there. Sven Junghagen, associate professor at the school and director of the CBS Graduate school – and a Swede – describes it as a peculiarly “Danish phenomenon”.

Those academics at other business schools who know CBS have enormous respect for the institution founded in 1917 by Danish industry. But respect among the academic community and local Danish business is not enough for Denmark’s premier business school, says Prof Junghagen. Denmark has a population of just 5m, 1.5m of whom live in Copenhagen, so Danish business needs to punch above its weight internationally if it is to be successful.

“We can’t afford to be great domestically,” says Prof Junghagen. “We need to have the international scope to drive internationalisation in Danish industry.”

CBS has three things in its favour. First is its size: the school has nearly 450 full-time academic staff – about the size of Insead, London Business School, IMD and Iese Business School all rolled into one. About 100 of those work in the faculty of languages, communication and cultural studies, teaching business languages, and 340 are in the faculty of economics and business administration. The school also has more than 1,000 part-time or additional faculty.

The student population is also growing rapidly. Today student numbers stand at more than 11,000 and the school graduates more than 3,000 from its undergraduate, MSc, MBA and doctoral programmes every year. That is an increase of more than 40 per cent on the figures of just eight years ago.

Second, it has built its reputation on working closely with business. The often-preached criticism of business schools these days is that they are divorced from the real world of business. Such a claim could never be levelled at CBS, where the business school is heavily integrated in local business.

When professors are conducting research in companies the commitment is long-term, says Christer Karlsson, dean of CBS Executive, the division of the school that houses the MBA and EMBA programmes. “Half the time they are in the business school, half the time in the company over the long term. They are actually working there [in the company].”

Third is the obvious high respect with which Scandinavian companies are held internationally. CBS is building its brand on the dual themes of innovation and design, long-regarded as Scandinavian traits.

And it has the support of Danish industry in doing this – Anders Knutsen, former chief executive of Bang & Olufsen, is chairman of the CBS board, for example.

Copenhagen itself is also a drawing factor – the city is the fifth most visited city in Europe, after the likes of London and Paris. And some students on the full-time MBA programme actually travel across from Sweden every day to study. One of the recently-enrolled students, Christine Blin, who is French-Icelandic, says that many of the 40 students enrolled on this year’s programme hope to work in Copenhagen on completing their degree. Only 22 per cent of the class are Danish.

As well as driving the agenda for Danish industry and making the school more international, CBS has two further aims: to increase its research productivity and build up a reputation as a world class provider of MBA programmes.

CBS Executive, home to the fee-paying programmes such as the MBA and the Executive MBA, was set up just 12 years ago. As well as the 21-month EMBA, ranked in the top 75 global EMBA programmes by the Financial Times in October this year, the school also started a full-time one-year MBA. From next year it will be the third partner (replacing Essec) in the European MBA, along with Warwick Business School in the UK and the University of Mannheim in Germany. In February 2007 it will launch an online MBA with the Kelley school at Indiana University.

As to research, Prof Junghagen says CBS needs to be “a learning university, where knowledge is created rather than distributed”.

These days the business school’s faculty of economics and business administration has 26 research centres, impressive for a school that had almost no rigorous academic research as recently as 1990.

Nicolai Foss, director of the centre for strategic management and globalisation, predicts the school “will emerge as one of the top five schools in research in the next five years” . . . probably.

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