By Patricia Alex
France was at the top of the list when Mariana Azevedo and her husband Boris Knoedt sought out a top-tier MBA program. As they weighed their options, the Brazilian couple knew programs in Europe could give them a broad international network — and perhaps the more accommodating work-life balance they craved.
Heading to France, they thought, could position them well in their careers. Plus it’s a convenient gateway to the rest of Europe.
The pair enrolled in the same class in the MBA program at HEC Paris, located just outside the city — and they weren’t disappointed. “It was amazing, we had the time of our lives,” said Azevedo. HEC is one of Europe’s largest business schools and the program spurred professional and personal growth for the couple, she said.
MBA programs are pivotal in personal and professional development, providing a unique time for future leaders to expand horizons. The “where” can be an important element. Many students from the Americas are finding value in pursuing a graduate business degrees abroad, and Europe remains a sought-after location with its proximity to world financial centers and culture.
Like HEC Paris, many schools on the continent have a diverse international faculty and student body, which is a big advantage in global business. A degree from a business school in Europe can bring with it an international network of alumni. HEC Paris, for example, has trained business leaders from no fewer than 105 countries and has more than 60,000 alumni.
“It was so much about learning from and listening to others,” said Azevedo. Shelbie Vermette, another HEC Paris grad agreed: “The biggest thing that schools can do is highlight the value of different perspectives.”
Vermette, a marketing manager with L’Oreal in Montreal, said the setup at HEC Paris also allowed her to challenge herself. “There were 139 in our class and everybody was a big fish in their respective pond before getting there,” she said. “It was a challenge to get out of my pond.”
Indeed, immersing oneself in another culture is one of the biggest challenges of a lifetime—and one that students say provides a good perspective for those training for global business.
English remains the language of international business, but programs abroad usually offer the opportunity to learn or study in a second or even third language, which can be an attractive asset to multinational firms.
Classes in the HEC Paris MBA were taught in English, but Azevedo and Knoedt also learned French while living in Paris. Azevedo said they gleaned new perspectives from classmates who hailed from 44 countries, and got the chance to travel throughout Europe. Both have since landed jobs in London at industry-leading tech and consumer goods corporations.
“One of the perks of being inside one of the top schools in Europe is we had Microsoft come in and do a presentation on their leadership program,” said Azevedo.
HEC Paris’ location, in the Paris-Saclay research and development cluster, provides added value students said. Azevedo, who trained as an engineer in Brazil, was able to do her externship with a researcher at a physics lab at the École Polytechnique, one of the nation’s top schools located near the HEC Paris campus. In that role, she raised money for a company developing propulsion systems for small satellites — an experience that helped lead her to a career in tech.
Margaret Hoffecker, a Virginian who worked in public relations in New York, said she chose HEC Paris because more than 90 percent of the class was from abroad, compared with U.S. programs, where less than a quarter of the student population is international. The mix provided the broad international perspective she sought.
“It was a great group dynamic,” she said. HEC Paris also has offices and programming in the Middle East and Asia. “It provided the perfect balance in the right amount of time.”
European MBAs also generally offer a shorter-time frame than the two-year programs that are standard in much of North America, with some programs taking as little as ten months. The shorter programs allow for less career and income interruption, while also saving tuition costs for most students.
At HEC Paris, for instance, administrators say its 16-month program can offer the best of both worlds: slightly longer than the shortest programs, it provides a chance for specialization while still saving students time and money.
“I like the shorter program and the smaller classes as well,” said Hoffecker. “And being able to explore Europe for a fraction of the cost.”
She wound up staying in France after completing the degree, getting a job as a consumer insight director for a boutique marketing agency. Hoffecker currently is involved in working on the account for Moët Hennessy, one of the world’s largest luxury brands.
Hoffecker also said she enjoys the work-life balance that seems more prized in Europe, including generous vacation allotments (35 days) and the French socialized healthcare. “People really enjoy life here,” she said.