Fit for purpose: business schools

The time’s gone when a career as a business executive was open to anyone with energy and enthusiasm ... and maybe not a clue about what’s really involved in management. Such people are likely to get stuck at quite an early point in their career.

Back in the mid-Nineties I knew a young Canadian here. Nice enough guy but with no qualification better than “some college” (I think he’d done anthropology – before dropping out – and he liked explaining totem poles to people). Anyway, a small company hired him here and quite quickly, on the strength of a certain glibness, he made sales director. He was hopeless and, to his credit, eventually admitted it. Even before he was fired he told me, “I just don’t know what I’m doing. Sales and marketing aren’t just instinct. I’ve come to realise that.”

Nick (let’s call him) – and his quite small-time employer – had failed to realise earlier on that in our world of IT, globalisation and what I’d call, with no negative spin intended, “management theory”, the old seat-of-the-pants executive isn’t much use. To use Tony Blair’s celebrated mantra, it’s a matter of “education, education, education”. Business education, that is. Increasingly young people in management jobs who feel they’ve got limited prospects are opting for further training. Not everyone has the freedom to follow George W. Bush to the Harvard Business School or even William Hague to INSEAD. Such people are likely to look for one of two solutions: a high quality business school on their doorstep or some form of distance learning.

Outstanding teaching

Among the Côte d’Azur’s list of plus points has to be its wide range of educational possibilities at every level. These include the presence of the CERAM, one of the world’s leading business schools (ranked twenty-ninth in the most recent Financial Times league table). A grande école in French terms, dependent on the country’s second largest Chamber of Commerce, it offers outstanding teaching on a very agreeable garden-style campus in Sophia Antipolis.

Potential students face a tough entrance examination and, if successful, find themselves with the stimulus of a highly competitive academic community of a strikingly international character. The school offers degrees at bachelor (where there’s a very wide range of special fields on offer), master and doctorate levels. The programmes can cater for anyone from a business-oriented high school leaver to an experienced employee looking to improve skills and promotion prospects.

I talked with Frantz Carion, a vençois, who told me in his impeccable English that he came from “a Ceramic family” – of his six siblings, four have graduated from the school. Said Frantz, “I’m now an IT manager in Sophia. When I was younger I didn’t think I’d end up that way. I wasn’t attracted to the traditional French academic system – all talk and theory, very magistral. Then I heard about the CERAM bachelor’s programme. Another world. I took the International Business option. The teachers are, for the most part, working executives with a down-to-earth and hands on approach. I suppose you could call it an Anglo-Saxon style. From the word go you’re involved in what I’d call real world studies. The faculty are always ready to help you, even with personal matters outside the academic area. CERAM has achieved a great reputation and I got hired quickly. I’d recommend the school a hundred per cent.”

We cater for everyone

Some people, of course, don’t have the option of giving up their job to pursue a full-time course of study, even when close to home. In this case the solution is the Open University Business School. The OU itself was founded in 1969 and soon became recognised as the world’s most successful provider of distance learning facilities. The OUBS was created in 1983 and has won a place in the top ten of the UK’s business schools. As local coordinator Barbara Wilson explained, “This really is ideal for the person who seeks a qualification while working. We cater for everyone, from someone wanting a diploma in some speciality through degrees at bachelor, master and doctorate levels. We’ve got expat candidates all over Europe and they do well.”

To find out more I met with Gillian Attard: “I’m Maltese so I often meet people here with names I recognise – French people with a background in Algeria whose ancestors moved there from Malta generations ago. You’ll find over a dozen Attards in the Nice telephone book, for example. Anyway, I graduated in computer science from the University of Malta and then I looked for international experience. I worked for several years with a telecoms company in Vienna – such grey skies! – and then to broaden my qualifications I enrolled for an OUBS MBA. I knew of the OU’s reputation and it offered a flexibility I wouldn’t find elsewhere. I had no problem in carrying on when I moved here with my Austrian partner. I’ve just graduated after two and a half years. That reputation is no surprise – the system is very efficient with print and audiovisual teaching materials, tutoring and residential courses. But it’s not easy. You need to be dedicated – I was putting in 15 to 20 hours a week. My MBA was in general management with emphasis on innovation and creativity. I now think I’m a more saleable item with my double qualification. I’ve just been hired by a consulting firm and I’m working at Amadeus. Thanks to OUBS!”

From Riviera Reporter Issue 130: Dec 2008/Jan 2009

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