Why are French Bschools practicing cloning when hiring their Deans?

Posted on 15/07/2014

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Last week, we had 2 interesting news: Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, one of the BSchools in South East Asia, hired the former Dean of Insead and Kellogg to become its next Dean. RMIT also announced that they hired an Aussie as their new VC, but who was previously the successful boss of the Open University in UK.

Meanwhile, in France, the recent appointments of Deans and the rumored ones for the few empty positions, shows a constant logic of cloning, with mainly numbers 2 patiently waiting sometimes 10 years or more to take a number 1 position in their own institution or in another one or existing Deans moving from one French school to another French school. There is this view in France that you need to be part of the “serail” (which can be translated as an “insider” or part of the “happy few”) to head a Bschool. Outside of Insead, which itself is not a French Bschool but located in France, deans are consistently taken among French (or worked in France forever) academics. The other particularism is that most of the Deans tend to stick to their position… for a long time… Some have been around for more than 20 years or so and won’t leave until retirement age. This approach is justified by the apparent need to “know people” to be a successful manager, particularly having been involved with local associations, or with ministerial working groups. Do you think that it is relevant for the new Dean of Sasin to already no or not the current Thai Minister of Higher Education? Of course not, it is a matter of weeks or months before all the necessary connections can be done. And in exchange, he will bring his amazing international network, his successful experiences in two of the best BSchools in the world, and the potential to immediately benchmark how Sasin operates compared to other internationally successful institutions.

Meanwhile, French BSchools prefer to practice a mix of Pax Romana and balance of terror (I did not say collusion, did I?) between acquaintances. You don’t really disrupt my model, I don’t disrupt yours. The recent example of a former member of this “happy few” group to shake out the status quo, with the creation of the France Business School, has been so far a failure, to the (behind the doors of course) satisfaction of the group. The rationale that French BSchools are small and should therefore stick to each others to survive and grow leads on the contrary to mostly a very slow pace of innovation and initiatives, particularly on the international front, while, meanwhile, foreign Bschools (mainly from UK and Australia, but also from China, India, Malaysia,…) are securing key positions in the growth markets.

France has the oldest system of business schools in the world, with several being older than Wharton or Harvard Business School, has the second highest number of triple accredited BSchools (behind UK) and many are well ranked in Business specific rankings (such as the FT ones for example). But they remain (intentionally?) small on the international scene, with again UK, Australian and American Bschools getting the bulk of international students, both in their respective countries and in overseas operations.

The parthenogenesis of the elites has often been cited as one of the issues in the economic, innovative and entrepreneurial development of France and one can hope that Bschools will lead the way to instil some beneficial and needed changes.

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