Everything you’ve always wanted to know about an MBA… but never dared to ask!

What is an MBA and what is it for? In a tight job market, is it still useful? And how can you make the most of it? These are just some of the questions that MBA candidates regularly ask themselves before taking the plunge. To find out, we spoke to Pascale PATAT-DUBOUIS, Academic Director of IÉSEG’s MBA Hub- Executive Track.

What is an MBA? What does this degree coming from the United States consist of?

“MBA” stands for “Master of Business Administration”. It’s an internationally-recognized degree that prepares participants for top-level positions in the corporate world.

The “Executive” designation means that this program is specifically adapted to people who already have a minimum of 7 – 8 years’ professional experience, and who want to fast-track their careers by moving into management positions. Executive programs are therefore generally taught on a part-time basis, so that participants can combine courses with their professional activity.

Why is it useful to get an MBA in France while we can find many other Master level degrees?

It’s true that in France, a certain number of graduates have attended a business school, but there are also many other profiles: doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, scientists, professors… So, a very wide range of profiles! At IÉSEG, a significant proportion of participants have a scientific background, and come to the Executive MBA to acquire a genuine managerial culture, because they have never been trained in management: they have learned on the job. So they realize that, to move up to the next level, they need to acquire genuine skills, and that’s what makes this training so interesting.

Another fundamental element is that you don’t need a Master’s degree to enroll in an Executive MBA. A Bachelor’s degree is sufficient to join the program. This means that anyone who interrupted their studies at the end of their Bachelor’s degree, whether by choice or necessity, and who therefore started working earlier, can come and deepen their knowledge and gain recognition for their degree.

So there is a huge range of people who can benefit from an Executive MBA.

Can a business school graduate also enroll in an MBA, or would it be of no use to them?

In fact, even a business school graduate can benefit from an MBA, for two reasons. The first is that when you’re a student aged 20 or 23, you don’t learn in the same way as when you’ve been in business for 10 or 20 years: some subjects may seem less important, or you don’t see the point of certain aspects. But when you’ve become a manager, with teams to lead, reorganizations to manage, large-scale projects to follow, you don’t have the same needs nor the same expectations…

The second reason is that the world is in a constant state of change… Our professions are constantly evolving, as technologies speed up and take off. It is estimated that 85% of the jobs of 2030 do not exist yet! In both cases, an MBA is an excellent way to update your knowledge, change your approach and challenge yourself.

This is one of the reasons why Executive MBAs have such a substantial finance module: to become a business leader, it’s essential to have a thorough understanding of finance, so as to be able to make strategic decisions as efficiently and confidently as possible. That’s why Executive MBAs make sense.

What do managers with 10 to 20 years’ experience expect from an MBA program? 

Each participant has a different background, history and career path, so expectations are very different! First of all, speakers with recognized expertise. At IÉSEG, we have a permanent high-level faculty from over 50 different countries, and we value not only research but also teaching skills.

But they are also, and above all, eager to share with other participants: they draw on the experiences of others, who work in a wide variety of sectors, in order to enrich their practices and compare what is being done elsewhere, something we don’t have the opportunity to do when we’re on the job. In fact, in the corporate world, you only meet people with whom you share the same corporate culture, the same values and the same objectives. In an Executive MBA, the diversity of profiles is rich, and you’ll meet people from other backgrounds.

By committing themselves to an Executive MBA, managers change their posture and come out of this highly engaging and absorbing experience feeling new. The Executive MBA enables them to develop their leadership skills, strengthen their strategic thinking, their critical thinking and their ability to find solutions to complex problems. Above all, they aspire to join a Management or Executive Board, which will require them to adopt a different stance, a Director’s attitude. Success in these positions is almost entirely a question of ‘soft skills’, and this is what the Executive MBA provides.

How has the CSR dimension been integrated into the teaching of the IÉSEG MBA Hub? Does a future manager also need to master these concepts?

In fact, it’s absolutely essential, and that’s why we’ve focused on the CSR dimension in three different ways. The first is the creation of a comprehensive module dedicated to sustainability, led by Maria CASTILLO, the School’s Director of Environmental and Social Impact. Maria is really the best module leader we can have, as she is both a professor and researcher in sustainability, and responsible for defining and implementing the School’s CSR strategy in concrete terms… So she has not only the academic knowledge, but also the practical experience of this subject. This CSR module will therefore enable participants to master techniques such as measuring and analyzing a company’s CSR performance, and understanding the impact of strategic decisions on biodiversity and society.

The second way is to integrate CSR into all the modules. For example, we have a module called “Organizing for Impact” and another called “Managing for Impact”. In these modules, for example, we have chosen to involve the company “Grain de Sail”, which provides carbon-free transport by cargo sailboat, the first modern cargo sailboat to transport goods. Beyond the mode of transport, their aim is also to maximize transport in each direction. We therefore invited them, as this company is proposing a very interesting breakthrough approach. Case studies are therefore a very effective way of confronting societal issues in the various subjects we teach.

The final way of instilling it is by integrating the ethical dimension into our teaching and taking into account the School’s values in all our actions. Ethics is a major dimension when it comes to making important managerial decisions. We have therefore chosen to place ethics as close as possible to the decision-making process. Ethics is also what a manager has to keep in mind when analyzing the impact of a new product he’s about to launch, when he has to let go of an employee… It’s really in line with the humanist approach of the School, based on our ‘ARISE’ values. It also translates into the caring and trust that we develop throughout the program.

So why does an MBA take so long? Does it really take 18 months or more to master this career change?

Indeed, one might say that 18 months, or even 2 years, is a very long time for all those people who, in addition to their studies, have to manage their professional career, which continues, and their family life. It’s very long and very short at the same time.

In the past, the MBA was a 24-month program, and we decided to shorten it precisely because it was a request from potential participants, for whom it was difficult to project themselves or commit to more than 18 months. At IÉSEG, this represents 520 hours of courses, divided into 8 modules, in addition to a Capstone project and a Career project. At the end of each module, participants are required to complete an “integrative project”, a kind of ” capstone assignment”. This project enables them to apply what they have learned in each module.

Taking an MBA means having many evenings blocked off, many weekends of work, so before starting, many say “It’s long!”. But the main comment that graduates tell us, when they’ve finished, is “It was actually short!”. The participants get into a routine of work, they enjoy catching up with their cohorts in each session, and in the end it goes by very quickly.

Professional life, student life, family life… How can we manage to make it all work?

To succeed in an MBA, you obviously need the full support of those around you. We sometimes see participants ready to give up a few months before the end of their MBA because of the pressure or lack of support from their loved ones. Beyond being a professional project, it’s also a family project. At IÉSEG, we give our participants a great deal of support to help them keep up the pace, and participants help each other out. This spirit of solidarity is a real strength of the school. What’s more, as we’re constantly explaining to them, you have to be able to take time off. Managing an MBA is like managing a project. In project management, you learn to manage your resources. And the main resource of the MBA is the participant himself! So you have to learn to listen to your body, to how tired you are. They have to learn to cut back at the right moment, and on the contrary, to speed up when they’re in top condition. You can’t run a marathon sprinting from start to finish: it’s exactly the same for an MBA. You need to take a break, dedicate yourself fully to your family, and recharge your batteries with your loved ones without thinking about anything else.

Why doesn’t IÉSEG offer a 100% online Executive MBA? Wouldn’t it be easier and more accessible for participants?

Not only would we lose the solidarity spirit and richness of the exchange between participants, but above all, we know today the added value of face-to-face and experiential learning… Today, some courses are already offered in hybrid or online format, but face-to-face is still essential. Above all, the aim of the Executive MBA is to change your mindset. Taking online courses enables you to acquire hard skills, but certainly not all the soft skills you can only develop through contact with others, in a safe environment where you can test yourself and rely on a professor whose role is also to challenge, help and coach you.

Today’s job market is tight, with a shortage of talented people. Career opportunities are plentiful. Why take on an 18-month MBA at this time?

Indeed, many managers are tempted to say to themselves: “I’m 40-45, in my prime and at the peak of my career. Why spend so much money and so many hours on an Executive MBA? To this, I always answer: “I had a former manager who used to say that the best time to change things is when things are going well, not when they’re going wrong! Indeed, today many managers are riding the wave, but in 10 years’ time, it will be more complicated. In fact, 40 is the best age to question oneself, go back to school and learn from your experience. This is a strong signal to future employers.

What’s more, the job market currently looks rather attractive for managers, but in reality the economic environment is complex and tense. We’re living through a period of high inflation, with wars impacting many regions of the world. Companies are becoming very cautious again and expect their managers to be able to react ever more quickly. An Executive MBA will teach them to sharpen their decision-making processes, analyze complex problems and find appropriate responses. Graduating from an Executive MBA enables participants to prepare for their professional future, and become more successful.

Given the cost of an MBA, why choose the IÉSEG MBA in particular? And why pay this much for this degree?

That’s a good question, because it’s true that many schools in France offer Executive MBAs… Firstly, IÉSEG is one of a very select group of schools with Triple Accreditation (EQUIS, AASCB and AMBA), a guarantee of the excellence of the degree and its international recognition. Then, in 2022, we combined our 3 MBA programs into one single Hub, so that participants in the Executive MBA can take half their courses with participants in the other 2 programs (the International MBA and the Leadership and Coding program). This means more networking opportunities, more intercultural and intergenerational exchanges, and a richer sharing of experience.

As for the price of the Executive MBA, it’s worth bearing in mind that €39,000 for an Executive MBA is actually quite cheap compared to similar programs offered by equivalent schools, both in France and abroad. IÉSEG is a not-for-profit association, and strives to offer the best value for money to its future graduates. You need to take into account the level of the professors, all of whom hold PhDs and come from prestigious institutions, the quality of the campuses, and the quality of the services – in particular the career support. Finally, what’s important is not to consider this sum as an expense, but as an investment in the future. And after all, isn’t investing in yourself, your future and your success the best bet and the best investment you can make?

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