Happy 50th Birthday to the MBA!

Distinguished Alumni Reflect on the Program’s Impact

25/11/2014 Barcelona

Successful alumni and current students celebrate the opening event of the MBA's 50th Anniversary at IESE's Barcelona campus / Photo: Quim Roser

"Something amazing happened 50 years ago," IESE Dean Jordi Canals told a packed auditorium at the opening event of the Business School's MBA half-century celebrations.

Dean Canals was, of course, referring to the first-ever IESE MBA program. In his address he saluted IESE’s original dreamers, doers, backers and pioneers and invited the audience to keep the legacy alive and to keep their standards "very, very high."

Living up to such high standards throughout an entire career requires a clear, relentless focus on the concepts at the heart of the MBA program: general management, an international perspective, teamwork and strong values. Real-life examples of how to achieve this were discussed by a panel of distinguished MBA alumni, moderated by Franz Heukamp, Associate Dean for the MBA program. The panel members reflected upon the impact of the IESE experience on their leadership careers.

Catalyzing the Industry as Well as the Company

Kristoff Puelinckx (MBA '96), founder and managing partner of Delta Partners, said that globalization and the digital revolution had altered the business landscape and the role of leaders. He noted that CEOs today were increasingly in a position not just to set the direction of their own companies, but to act as catalysts for an entire industry. According to, Puelinckx, "As leader you are successful when you have a clear vision and manage and channel the energy your people bring, not just in their own company, but in the ecosystem around you."

Abertis CEO Francisco Reynés (MBA '89) agreed that vision alone was not enough and noted that leaders needed the flexibility to change their vision as the environment changed. In a constantly shifting context, the people a leader could rely on would become his or her cornerstone. "The difference between companies is not their assets or products…it is their people," he declared. For a leader this meant that they would "no longer be the boss but a colleague who tries to extract from people the best they have."

Nuria Cabutí (MBA '92), CEO Spain & Latam of Random House Mondadori, agreed that leadership had evolved from the "traditional boss" with all the the answers, to leaders who applied communication skills in order to ask the right questions.

Tools to Buid and Sustain a Career

The demands placed on leaders have changed drastically since the program was founded in 1964. Yet for both Rafael Villaseca, CEO of Gas Natural Fenosa, who completed the program almost 40 years ago, and for the panel’s most recent graduate, Juncal Garrido (MBA '03), partner at Rusell Reynolds Associates, the program has given them the same compass of core tools to navigate the ups and downs of their careers.

Reynés confessed that although he is not an expert in any single area, he graduated with a solid, general management perspective that today allows him to "understand what value my people who are experts are giving in each area."

Puelinckx, who is Belgian and grew up surrounded by other countries and languages, added, "When I came to IESE, my understanding of cultural diversity was taken to a whole different level." He noted that the insights from such a diverse environment had become his basis for operating a multicultural business.

Rafael Villaseca advised students to take advantage of teamwork opportunities during the MBA. "Learn it now, otherwise, success is impossible," he told the audience. Reynés added that the program’s focus on teamwork allowed participants to see that there was more than one solution for every situation and prepared them to "listen more than talk."

Juncal Garrido underscored the opportunity that the MBA gave her to absorb values inside and outside of the classroom. She said that during the program, "you are building your network, your circle of trust; you are shaping yourself through a lot of inputs." Together with the overall focus on people and the faculty’s open door policy, the values from the MBA stayed with alumni for a lifetime, she added.

Taking on Today's Challenges

When asked how the MBA had prepared them to compete in the world economy, the panelists first analyzed what was required. "The challenge for leaders in any industry is to question how to evolve and how to be a catalyst," said Kristoff Puelinckx. He noted that regulations in Europe could present hurdles, and that Asia’s growth cast a long shadow over European potential. However, he stated that it was important to understand what had fueled Asia's success and the factors that had hampered Europe’s. He speculated that perhaps it was not a matter of working from 9am-to-9pm, six days per week, but neither was it to tether the work culture to Europe’s 35-hour week.

The panelists agreed that they looked for graduates who had taken on board the main tools and values of the IESE experience: passion for excellence, an ability to motivate and inspire teams, and integrity.

Reynés concluded by advising current students that, "Thinking about the return on investment from the MBA is the wrong question; you have learned, now it’s time to deliver."