When Did Business Education Become Global?

Written on August 22, 2016 by Santiago Iñiguez in Arts & Cultures & Societies

santiagoBy Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, Dean of IE Business School and President of IE University.

Back in 1976, Steven Spurrier, the former vintner turned world French-wine champion, organized an international wine tasting competition in Paris. The categories he selected were Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds, and Chardonnay for the whites. The competing wineries were from the United States and France. The judges were French, and the tasting would be done blind so that the tasters would not know which varieties they were sampling. Everything about the event pointed to the French wines taking the day. But to the surprise of all concerned, the US wines came top in both categories. What’s more, among the top ten wines of both colors, six were from California, and just four from France. George Taber, in his book The Judgement of Paris [1], argues that this event marked the beginning of the globalization of the wine sector: for the first time, New World wines had beaten those of the Old World, and what’s more, based on the decision of French judges.

Unlike wine, which originated in Europe, business education was born in the United States around the beginning of the 20th century. A similar analogy to that of The Judgement of Paris in the business education world took place in 2010 when theFinancial Times (FT) awarded first place in its ranking of MBA programs—business education’s red wine category—to the London Business School, unseating Wharton, which had alternated the honor with Harvard Business School since time immemorial.

Furthermore, four of the top ten programs were not from the United States. At the same time, in the Executive MBA category—the equivalent to white wines–the FT ranked the program offered by the Kellogg-Hong Kong UST Business School, a Sino-Americancoupage, first; while among the top ten, six were not from the United States, or were joint programs organized between US and overseas business schools.

Business education may have its origins in the United States, but the FT’s rankings over the past fifteen years suggest that it has now gone global. The Americans’ loss of hegemony has been highlighted by Della Bradshaw, the Business Education editor of the FT: “When the FT began ranking MBA programs in 1999, 20 of the top 25 schools were from the US, with the remaining five from Europe; however, in 2010 there are just 11 US schools in the top 25, a further 11 are in Europe and three business schools are in Asia”, said Bradshaw in the FT in 2010.

The latest FT‘s MBA rankings published this year confirms the internationalization of business education and the presence of seven non-American business schools among the top fifteen, including the first position (see chart).

However, globalization at any sector does not happen instantly. In reality, the globalization of business schools began three decades ago. Globalization, a process that has taken place through the economy and other social activities, has been the most important driver in the development of higher education in recent decades.

A main catalyst for the globalization of business education has been the contribution of leading opinion makers and thinkers, particularly the specialized journalists in business schools. The most prominent influencers over the past decades have been Della Bradshaw, the former business education editor in the Financial Times, and John Byrne, founder and editor of Poets & Quants and former editor at BusinessWeek. Their contribution has been key to further the internationalization of business schools, increase the transparency and comparability of the educational offerings and improve the quality of business schools at large.

Along with business schools, the entire educational world is going through a massive transformation. Certainly, a major driver is globalization, which is unstoppable, irreversible and, overall, positive for the sector.


This post was adapted from a passage of my book “The Learning Curve: How Business schools area Reinventing Education” (London: palsgrave Macmillan, 2011)

[1] G. Taber, Judgment of Paris. California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine, (New York: Scribner, 2006).



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