Earlier this month, HEC Paris emerged on top of the Financial Times ranking of European business schools for the fifth time in a row. It is also one of only 5 schools that have found a place in all FT rankings published this year. The superior quality and brand repute of HEC programs is globally acknowledged, and as an alumnus quoted in the FT puts it, the school can open any door.

In an interview with the IB Times, Associate Dean of the HEC MBA, Professor Valérie Gauthier has described some of the unique features of the program. Here are some excerpts:

IBTimes: HEC has always been a school of reference in France. But in an increasingly flattening education world, how has the MBA program embraced internationalization?

Valérie Gauthier: Steeped in the tradition of French excellence, we take our responsibilities as a leading higher education institution seriously. This goal spreads far beyond France. While remaining true to our French tradition and commitment to excellence, HEC takes its role to heart in the international arena - in corporate partnership, career placement for HEC graduates, diversity in student body and faculty, as well as innovative education.

HEC embraces the international world with a passion. The HEC MBA Program hosts 80 percent of our students who come from outside France, representing 55 nationalities. Over nine foreign languages are taught on campus and exchanges are offered with over 40 schools and programs (including IMMB, ISB, MIT Sloan, Stern School of Business, NUS, CEIBS, LBS, etc.). With 88% of our MBA graduates in positions of international scope, we retain our global reach in the context of local roots.

IBTimes: What would you say are the hallmarks of HEC MBA graduates, as they are perceived internationally?

Valérie Gauthier: An MBA is not only a degree; it is an experience that can foster life-long learning, and offer access to a network of professionals worldwide. It is important that we continue to convey the HEC message of both tolerance and diversity - to candidates, strategic partners and recruiters alike. In so doing, HEC MBA graduates will continue to be respected and sought after as savvy, authentic international leaders that offer a unique added-value in today's business world.

IBTimes: Talking of leadership, how does the HEC MBA imbibe leadership skills in participants as distinct from fundamentals of management?

Valérie Gauthier: Throughout the 16-month HEC MBA program, participants benefit from the inputs of our Visions of Leadership program. The ongoing process of leadership development is structured around a series of seminars and conferences which culminate in 'Visions of Leadership Week' - a dedicated week where participants can reflect on and debate issues with some of today's most prominent business leaders.

This initiative is dedicated to bringing about leadership vision by addressing the following three aspects of leadership:

  • Analytical Aspects of Being a Leader: By questioning practising leaders, MBA participants learn to recognize their own leadership potential and that of others. Analyzing and resolving complex, uncertain situations where there is no single black and white solution requires participants to consider real-life obstacles, such as linguistic differences, when developing different approaches to the problems at hand.
  • Critical Aspects of Being a Leader: By sharing their professional and personal experiences, the invited speakers enable students to gain a broader scope and better understanding of the complexities of strategic decision making. Participants sharpen their questioning skills, exercise critical thinking, and build self-awareness as speakers address their successes, as well as their failures, and impart the lessons that they have learned through their various leadership positions.
  • Experiential Aspects of Being a Leader: In order to put our participants' leadership training into practice, we create opportunities for them to obtain hands-on corporate experience.

IBTimes: Do participants have a chance to gain such experience through corporate partnerships entered into by the School?

Valérie Gauthier: Yes. The HEC Visions of Leadership Center is a great facilitator. The MBA is a cornerstone between the academic and corporate worlds, as it attracts people with experience and places them in companies at an executive level. The 'Visions of Leadership' Center is just one more illustration of how the MBA can build trustworthy and mutually beneficial relationships with companies. The Center was created in 2008 to foster innovation in the field of management science and unite the activities of HEC Paris in areas related to leadership and decision making. It brings together the research and the corporate worlds to examine all dimensions of leadership and creates an interface between students and experts.

As an integral part of the program curriculum, students can spend four months at a partner company under the guidance of a faculty member. There are four options within the curriculum for this: Individual Professional Project (internship), Company Consulting Project (consulting mission), Creative Academic Project (case writing), and Mission & Action Project (social mission).

IBTimes: Can you give us any recent examples?

Valérie Gauthier: In November this year, we announced the signing of a partnership agreement with Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) as part of the initiatives of the Center.

Leadership qualities of managers constitute an essential element for the success of Alcatel Lucent, whose strategy is based on innovation, organic growth and globalization. This partnership allows the organization to benefit from expertise at the forefront of global research to deepen its analysis, to coach for change and growth at all levels and to affirm its position among the leadership models of tomorrow.

Alcatel Lucent will also recruit talent and graduates selected by the various programs of HEC and collaborate in some seminars, symposia and courses to ensure the presence of enterprises at the heart of the teachings.