Turning up the Heat: How Can MBA Programs Stay Attractive Globally?

Categories: Global Mindset

Top business schools around the globe have realized that their students need to be better prepared for a global, often virtual, workforce. Traditionally, MBA programs have focused on training future leaders to manage in-house and onsite teams. However, with about 1 in every 5 employees globally telecommuting, responsibilities, and requirements for business professionals have changed. Not only have the job requirements and organizational challenges changed, but so has the typical MBA student. MBA programs’ student populations have become more diverse, higher caliber and more likely to look beyond the traditional sectors of employment. How well are business schools responding?

More diverse MBA student body than ever

Jesse Rowell, our Director of Global Mobility has his MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He questions how well the diversity in the classroom is used for real-life experiences.

A third of every MBA class in the United States is made up of non-U.S. Americans. And though global leadership as a topic may be covered in depth theoretically, it seems that the opportunity to mimic the real work in the class setting is missed. Lectures may have some back and forth interaction, and teams are formed for cases and work projects. But are these interactions set up with the idea of working globally or virtually from the outset?

— Jesse Rowell, Chicago, IL, USA

Looking at the MBA class of 2017 (U.S. specific), data reports show that it will be among the most diverse and accomplished student bodies yet, with 36.1% of students hailing from overseas and 39.1% being women. Several business schools have reported record female enrollment numbers, according to the Gender Scorecard for Business Schools. The question, as Jesse rightfully poses, is whether the programs are fit to leverage this diversity in the classroom and project settings. With a higher caliber of students applying for MBA programs (GMAT scores continue to climb each year), business schools have to turn up the heat to set themselves apart from the mass market of MBA programs. Students are becoming pickier in terms of philosophy, vision, and strategic location of their MBA school. Equally important, they are looking for the right network and peer contacts.

Simone- Eva Redrupp, our Managing Director of Customized Learning Solutions is an MBA-graduate from Thunderbird School of Management.

From my experience in the Executive MBA world, the majority of participants have already gained international experience from having ‘felt the pain’ without preparation. Given that these executives had acquired 20 + years professional experience, this audience seeks mini-theory to allow reflection, analysis of past experience to classify lessons-already-learned via cultural dimensions, and actual business situations. Additionally, there is a strong need for “peer coaching” and sharing of past experiences, that needs to be addressed by the business school.

— Simone- Eva Redrupp, Paris, France

MBA graduate career paths outside the traditional industries

The diverse body of MBA students has equally diverse expectations about how to utilize their MBAs. While traditionally, MBA graduates gravitated towards leadership positions in banking, finance or consulting, nowadays students are looking to join startups, build not-for-profit organizations, or start their own businesses. Take Nicolas Brusson and Frederic Mazzella as an example. The two entrepreneurs met while attending the top-ranked INSEAD MBA program in France and entered the prototype of BlaBlaCar, a car-sharing app that is centered around the principles of the shared economy, in the MBA program’s business venture competition. Now the hugely successful app runs in 14 countries and employs staff in nine locations across the world.

MBA schools, therefore, need to attune their programs to foster cross-border business skills and to offer real-life case studies outside the realm of banking and consulting in order to stay attractive to the range of students.

Morten Skov-Carlsen is one of our Senior Consultants and also teaches at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.

Business schools must realize the value of exposing their students to different work styles and the impact on productive business interactions. I observe many differences in how students contribute and communicate, and having a “neutral” descriptive language for that would be beneficial. I am a strong advocate for the Case-Teaching method a la Harvard.It puts the business value of optimizing working relations in place and shows a clear bottom line impact of successful culturally attuned interactions.

— Morten Skov-Carlsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Top business schools are implementing new courses or programs that leverage practical experience, internships, and international rotations to shape programs that fit the global needs of students in the 21st century. Mike Greto, our Managing Director of Client Strategy, also graduated from the Thunderbird School of Management. He was part of a team that launched the “Thunderbird Emerging Markets” (TEM) Lab, a capstone international consulting project for MBA students to engage in fieldwork with clients in emerging markets.

I loved the hands-on approach of an actual client consulting engagement in the TEM experience. It requires you to apply the full range of professional skills you have acquired during your studies at Thunderbird in an emerging market.

— Mike Greto, Raleigh, NC, USA

Online tools like GlobeSmart® that further develop your understanding of key markets and your fellow students, can facilitate the process of developing a global mindset.


Imagine the dynamic if everyone in a cohort could analyze the cultural profiles of their classmates. The professor should focus on this awareness of different approaches and work styles early in the term, then form project teams with maximum diversity in mind to mimic real-world scenarios. This addresses the ideas of global mindset and global business acumen, skills these students need to start developing in order to be true global leaders.

— Jesse Rowell, Chicago, IL, USA