From bull-fights to flamenco dancing and from Velazquez to Picasso, Spain has abundant beauty and famous cultural icons. But in recent years Spain has started to develop a reputation for another of its top exports - education. TopMBA Career Guide managing editor Ross Geraghty and ESADE MBA student Morgan Witkin take a closer look.
Over the last three decades a number of world-renowned universities have raised their game in Spain. Among them are three of the top-rated international MBA programs, located in Spain's capital, Madrid, and the Catalan city of Barcelona. In 2009 alone, the QS topmba.com Recruiters top 200 Business Schools: The Employer's Choice saw ESADE, IE Business School and IESE firmly cement top five finishes in the European section of the survey.
Surprisingly, given that the nation has only 40 million people and an economy dwarfed by many of its European partners, management education has boomed over the last three decades. Commentators such as Michael Aldous of IE Business School in Madrid point out that having three top MBA schools in such a country is an anomaly where countries with far bigger economies, such as Germany, do not.
The creation of such an environment is no accident though. In the years after the death of General Franco, a number of prominent business people, such as Diego del Alcázar who founded IE Business School in 1973, noted Spain's economic decline compared with other European nations. Through innovation, education and strong leadership, Spain's business leaders vowed to haul the country headlong into the 21st Century.
Despite such a difficult recent history, Spain upholds a distinct economic position in the European arena with a strong focus on innovation and internationalization, particularly relevant when considering the massive potential of the Latin American and European markets that it straddles. IE's Aldous points out that, in the same period, major Spanish companies such as Telefónica, Ferrovial and Santander have become global players acquiring substantial positions outside their traditional markets in Spain and Latin America. In the case of companies like Inditex, the owners of the Zara brand, he says, innovation has been at the heart of their success.
The traditional clichés of fiesta and siesta, he continues, have been supplanted by a high growth economy with a strong focus on innovation and internationalisation. Management education in Spain can be proud of driving this development. All three major MBA programs in Spain - which teach in English or in Spanish or in a combination of both - maintain close relationships with innovative Spanish corporations. This in turn leads to the development of innovative approaches to educating managers. These two aspects together have provided both the schools and the corporations with models and frameworks allowing them to expand and internationalize their activities with high standards and success rates.
There are other growth areas, in industries such as renewable energies and Spanish companies such as Iberdrola are rapidly becoming market leaders. Spain, says Aldous, is an exciting, creative business environment, a fascinating live case study of innovation, adaptation and change.
Spanish management education has played an interesting role in driving this development, with Spain being home to three of the highest ranked and most international business schools in Europe and indeed the world. This process gathered pace as both corporations and schools internationalized giving the top Spanish schools models and frameworks that have allowed them to internationalize their activities very successfully. The schools are characterized by a highly diverse and international approach to students, faculty, and curriculums.
These top universities are known not only for their international students - ESADE 78%, IE 91%, IESE 80% - but also their international faculty. Furthermore, it is important to note that an international MBA denotes exactly that - an international education. Students of Spanish MBA programs are not restricted to studying the business practices and laws of Spain. The subjects of the curriculum span beyond the border of the country and the European Union to America and the rest of the world. Nevertheless, the schools are located in Spain and every year, nearly thousands of expats flock the country in order to begin their MBAs.
The reasoning behind the influx of international students and increase in MBA applications to Spain's top three business schools is beyond the foundations of the system and beyond what the current MBA programs in Spain are offering. It is necessary to take a look at Spain itself, its geographic position, its language and its cultural distinctions.
This has opened up many opportunities for international graduates from Masters programs. Spain has often been regarded as the gateway to Latin America, with many multinational corporations operating out of Madrid and Barcelona having substantial holdings in both continents. Now we are seeing a rise in exciting job opportunities not only in Spain and Latin America, but throughout the international arena as well.
Current ESADE student, Emmanuel Lopez decided to leave Mexico and attain his MBA in Spain in order to add value and understanding to the Latin American culture through the European mindset. He notes, Our past and history are bred from Europe. It represents a balance between the American culture and Asian societies. Studying here allows me to truly undertake the MBA from a global perspective. I specifically chose Spain because it serves as a model for Latin America. Additionally, Spain represents 90% of the Latin American past.
Students from non-Latin countries look at Spain for its language possibilities as well. Spain's MBA programs include Spanish immersion courses and some require a certain level of spoken skills upon graduation. This is intended to prepare students to conduct business in Spanish speaking countries. At this point in time, the job opportunities presented to graduating MBAs are not only in Spain and Latin America but also in the international arena.
ESADE's incoming student, Tee Pruitt, who will make the move from America to begin his MBA in Spain this fall says, Spanish, to me, is much more useful long-term. More consumers are coming on board speaking it more than any other language, excluding Mandarin and perhaps Hindi. As a native English speaker, Spanish is easier to learn versus the other two quickly growing business languages.
The country's culture has attracted so many international tourists that Spain is the number four tourist destination in the world. Of course, its beauty and history are only a small portion of the reasons why a student would choose to study in Spain but then again, who wouldn't want to share a large pitcher of Sangria and a table full of colorful tapas with their classmates after a long day of case studies and lectures?