A 2011 survey of the global Fortune 500 shows that more CEOs have graduated from Harvard University than any other institution. That may not come as a surprise to many, though you might have thought that other US universities would make the top 10, when in fact the next highest is the University of Pennsylvania at #11.
First in Europe, and #4 worldwide is French business school HEC Paris, whose list of alumni includes the CEOs of insurance giant Axa, luxury group Kering Kering (owners of Gucci Gucci and Balenciaga), cosmetics company L’Oréal, and not forgetting the current French President, François Hollande.
So what makes HEC Paris such an effective breeding ground for future business (and political) leaders?
In this video interview with Bernard Garrette, Associate Dean, he talks about how leadership is far more about being knowledgeable and gaining respect than being able to do a good presentation in the boardroom. He also argues that firms are increasingly led through influence rather than hierarchy, with the ability to motivate others.
For Garrette, business schools have the opportunity to develop the intrinsic qualities that their students already have, and provide tangible activities to help them hone their leadership skills. HEC Paris for example takes the MBA students to the Saint Cyr military academy, the West Point of France for a series of exercises that see them leading a team to solve problems, make decisions, perform given tasks and help the whole team to reach a pre-defined goal. Whether they succeed or fail, such activities make them more aware of their leadership strengths and weaknesses, and provides them with a method to solve team-based challenges.
Bernard Garrette also talks about what it means to be innovative, and the benefits and efficiency of training people to spot innovations outside their current remit. While many business school students aspire to creating their own company, he argues that more often it is the drive and entrepreneurial spirit that is more important than the ideas themselves. So while business schools focus on the business side of their learning experience, they can also play a key role in helping students to look beyond their immediate horizon, and partner with engineering schools and tech institutions to identify new ideas and opportunities.
Which may explain why HEC Paris is participating in an ambitious project to create a European powerhouse of business and technology on the outskirts of Paris. They will partner with institutions that include leading French engineering school Polytechnique, which ranks #7 on the global list of CEO alumni.
Together they might soon be competing with Harvard for the #1 spot.