As Anupama Rao takes a quick lunch break at Infosys in Bangalore she is thinking seriously about her future. Since she graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology five years ago she's done pretty well, progressing steadily through the innovation department. But now she feels it's time to make a big change. She'd like to lead more entrepreneurial projects at Infosys, but she'd also be open to starting her own company in the Bangalore area with a couple of Stanford MBA grad friends. Either way, she's decided to study an MBA.
Soon she'll be taking the GMAT test in Mumbai so she's not got long before she has to decide which schools to apply to. She knows the best Indian schools are in Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, but Anu has her heart set on studying abroad, in the US or in Europe. She's checked out the international rankings and put together her own shortlist by country and city. Looking at the top 20 of each ranking, she's surprised to find that the Spanish schools come up highly rated again and again. In the Financial Times MBA ranking the three countries with the highest presence are the US (9 schools), Spain (3 schools) and the UK (3 Schools). Business Week's international ranking tells a similar story with Canada (5 schools) followed by Spain (3 Schools). The Spanish schools even have a strong presence in the Wall Street Journal's new One Year MBA ranking and the Economist's MBA ranking with two rated in the top ten of each.
So Spain is second only to the US as the country with the most business schools in the top twenty of the international rankings, with IESE and ESADE of Barcelona and IE of Madrid consistently appearing. In fact, it turns out that Barcelona is the eighth city in the world in terms of attracting numbers of MBA students, a leader board topped by Boston worldwide and Paris in Europe.
Struck by the fact that she had no idea about the Spanish schools and in search of a different cultural experience, our friend Anu decides to find out more about business in Spain. It hadn't clicked to her that Spain was a leader in fashion retail (although of course, she'd shopped at Zara and Mango) nor that it was a world leader in tourism, thanks to the draw of the Mediterranean sun and the extraordinary cultural and architectural offerings in cities such as Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao and Madrid. She'd heard tell of the country's excellent gastronomy and of world renowned restaurants such as El Buli, and even of Santander, one of the world's top five banks. Thanks to her friend Kumar, an avid football fan, she knew that two Spanish clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, were leaders in the sports industry. Yet she had never thought of Spain as a leader in Business Education.
Anu is not alone in being unaware of the strength of the Spanish schools. Spain is the smallest of the Big Five European countries in terms of population and has a GDP per capita similar to Italy's, yet its business schools stand out as an excellent choice for international students. Why?
Firstly, Spain has undergone a rapid process of internationalization over the past 10 years, initially through expansion into Latin America and then into the rest of Europe. The country has modernized and globalised itself, moving away from an inward-looking backwater towards a world leader in specific sectors such as banking, telecoms, renewable energies, construction, global services and transportation, and retail fashion. A wealth of small- and medium-sized companies, and strong family businesses have also become international leaders in their sectors.
Founded around the same time fifty years ago, the business schools developed alongside and intermingled with the internationalization of Spanish companies, acting as training providers in the professionalization of this globalization process, while also 'exporting' the knowledge gained training an increasingly international cohort of MBAs and Executive Education participants. Spain has a unique business history with Latin America and the region has played a vital role in the internationalization process, allowing Spanish multinationals to gain weight, a fact that has in turn allowed them to invest more resources in training. Today Spanish multinationals, such as Telefonica, have some of the best corporate universities in the world.
Secondly, the Spanish business schools have had to internationalize fast. Ten years ago the MBA programs offered in Spain boasted approximately 50% of their students from outside of Spain (not a bad figure even by today's standards especially compared with most US or Asian schools) yet now all three schools' MBA programs are over 80% international. No longer is the largest international component comprised of Latin American students but rather students from the USA and India. The percentage of international professors teaching at the Spanish schools is also growing rapidly, representing over 25% on average. While it is harder for the Spanish schools to attract leading international faculty than their American cousins, (due to fewer available resources arising from the lack of an alumni fundraising culture in Europe) faculty are often drawn to schools' innovative, diverse environments as well as the chance to live in cities as culturally and socially stimulating as Madrid and Barcelona.
The rise of the Spanish schools and their firm commitment to quality can also perhaps be put down to a cluster effect: with such a developed industry in a relatively small country it is true that the competition between the schools is far from irrelevant and there is no room for resting on laurels. At the same time, international expansion has allowed each school to develop its own style and areas of expertise, attracting talent (professors and students) that best fits its particular academic environment. To service the highly international student bodies, the schools have had to be very proactive in promoting links with recruiters all over the world. Each has Careers Services professionals based in different markets working hard to ensure fluid placement of graduates in a wide array of sectors and industries. The three schools have also paid close attention to their facilities, each having opened substantial new campuses in the past three years.
So for Anupama in India and others like her around the world, Spain has become a very viable option for an MBA. While it may not be the destination that first springs to mind, Spain offers a chance to gain truly international business experience in a rigorous academic environment, while being in close contact with a dynamic business atmosphere and within reach of career opportunities around the world.