Business Education Report, Fall 2011

Is international MBA worth the time, effort, money?

Special to The Globe and Mail

Adam Janikowski (Courtesty Adam Janikowski/Courtesty Adam Janikowski)

Two months remain in my MBA program at INSEAD and my classmates and I are beginning to feel the pressure of rejoining life outside our academic bubble. The weight of the possible decisions that need to be made – new location, new employer, new career – have caused many, including myself, to look back and consider whether taking a year out of my career, uprooting my family, and moving to France was the right decision.

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The hardest decision until now was determining which school to apply to. While I recognized that there were a number of top-ranked schools in Canada and the U.S., I also wanted to capitalize on the experience I had gained working in London with international companies. As a result, based on its ranking, length and cost of the program, and most importantly its international focus, I decided to attend INSEAD in France.

So how did my criteria measure up?

MBA ranking and cost

Achieving an MBA from a top-ranked school carries more value than one might think. As the MBA “brand” becomes more diluted with the increased supply of global graduates, an MBA from a top-ranked school is a definite advantage. Currently INSEAD ranks fourth in the Financial Times’ 2011 FT Global MBA and first in the 2011 Businessweek Non-U.S. Business School rankings.

However, an MBA at a top-ranked school is a serious investment. Students can expect to pay at least $100,000 (U.S.) to complete a two-year MBA at a top-ranked U.S. school such as Harvard or Stanford and approximately $75,000(Canadian) for two years at Rotman (UofT) or Ivey (UWO). Students attending London Business School’s (LBS) two-year program will pay approximately $80,000 (Cdn). INSEAD’s one-year format costs approximately $67,000 (Cdn), which effectively minimized my tuition costs, living expenses, and opportunity cost compared to other schools.

International focus

One can argue that an “international” MBA can be international because of its curriculum or because of its focus. INSEAD and schools such as LBS offer an internationally focused school with a business curriculum. “Globalization continues to increase the complexity and scale of organizations. Managing the legal and cultural variables that accompany global business requires an education that provides robust study of emerging markets as well as those in developed countries,” says Dipak Jain, the current dean of INSEAD and former dean of the Kellogg School of Management. “At INSEAD, students learn on three continents, gaining the chance to see how business works in widely different contexts. Then too, INSEAD’s genuine student and faculty diversity, with more than 80 nations represented, really offers a deeper understanding of global business and culture.”

Having justified my criteria, what did I gain from an international MBA?

An increased confidence working with other cultures

Like many MBA programs, INSEAD stresses team rather than individual assignments. I have had the opportunity to work with students from Latin America, the former Soviet Union, China, the Middle East, and Europe. With increased globalization, an understanding of other cultures is crucial to business dealings. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the nuance of every culture, I do have a sense of what to expect in international dealings and the basic understanding to help me avoid some of the larger pitfalls.

This increased knowledge of cultures holds international MBA graduates in good stead and is beneficial for one’s career. “The contacts I made during my MBA are invaluable, coming from every corner of the globe. Spending every day within such a diverse community allowed me to learn and become accustomed [to]many different cultures,” says Todd Rice, a Calgary native who graduated from LBS in 2010 and currently works in Hong Kong for Credit Suisse. “The experience has helped me on my career path as I have moved from North America to Europe and on to Asia.”

An international network

One of the greatest benefits of completing a full-time MBA for any business student is the powerful alumni network. The increased benefit of INSEAD is the international diaspora of its students. Following graduation, very few of INSEAD’s native students stayed in France, and the rest returned to their home countries or set off on a new adventure. This is very different from Ivey, where 92 per cent of the grads remained in Canada.

Experiences outside the classroom

INSEAD is ideally situated to provide a host of opportunities to discover the business and commercial centres of Europe. Over the course of the year, I have had opportunities to attend business focused “treks” – including a trip to London to meet with senior executives at private equity firms and energy companies, a trip to Geneva to speak with private bankers and watch manufacturers (and tour their facilities). I also travelled to Paris and Milan to speak with brand managers and designers at fashion houses. These treks offer a uniquely European MBA experience for those who take part.

I believe I have experienced a truly international learning experience and not just an international curriculum. Apart from the base knowledge every business student learns, I will take from this year a broader business perspective with a more international focus. I will feel comfortable dealing with people and cultures from around the world, having interacted with students from more than 70 countries and I will have access to an alumni network spanning more than 160 countries. Given the choice again, I would not hesitate to choose to study at an international business school rather than one in North America. For me, completing my MBA at a school focused on internationalism will pay dividends in the future.

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