Through this program, we wanted to create a series of experiences and interactions so that they’re forced to learn from one another. So, as much as I might be irritated being in the same group as a 30-year-old full of ambition but with much less experience than me, I’ve got to understand how he or she thinks. I have to understand what that energy means. And I have to understand how I need to relate to it. Or, you know, the Kazakhstan guy may feel that he knows everything and because he’s from a major organization and because in Kazakhstan they accept leadership as being very powerful and always right, even if I like him or her or not, I still have to learn how to adjust to that and make it work. So, we have a wide range of students deliberately in terms of age, country of origin, work experience, and worldview. We have people who are very right-wing and very left-wing. We have people who believe business is the solution to everything and we have people who believe business is essentially corrupt. And you should see the magnificence in the classroom because of this.
Our professors are from all sorts of different countries as well. And so, the students go and interact with the local mayors and presidents and CEOs and alumni who we have over there. It’s not just about tools, techniques, and concepts, which are all important, it’s more about getting you to develop your mindset and totally appreciate how you can relate to the world and how you can actually make a difference.
My slogan is, “The best in the world and the best for the world.” I didn’t make it up myself, it’s from a speech from Father Adolfo Nicolás and it was just a line, but I snatched it. Because it’s great. And I think that is so Jesuit. We have to engage with presidents and prime ministers and CEOs and titans of industries to make a positive difference in the world. And so, that’s embedded.
All of our GEMBAs do a legacy project every year. There is no credit. We give them no time to do it. And we don’t supervise it. But every single cohort does it. They’ve done microfinancing for poor women in India. Or helping create a school for AIDS orphans in Kenya. Or working with underprivileged girls in Colombia. And this binds them together. Through doing this project, they see the world from a different perspective. It’s very important to not go to other countries and say, “This is what we can bring with our magnificence.” It’s good to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and walk in those shoes and see the world from their shoes, because in doing so, we become so much richer ourselves.
Why I’m so proud of that program is that we combine, of course the classrooms and interactions, but with numerous learning experiences, which not only changes you intellectually, but also changes you as a person and your intentions and how you act on your intentions. I could tell people everything and they’ll go back and be exactly the same. But when you make a learning journey yourself, you don’t go back the same. The idea of education as sitting in class and reading all the readings, that’s a fallacy. It has to become salient to us. We have to act on it. That’s partly through class, partly through interactions, and partly through experiences.
What feedback do you hear from students who have gone through the program, and from their employers?
I can honestly say that I haven’t heard a single student say the GEMBA program wasn’t worth their while. And we take a lot of money from them. And it’s a lot of time, especially for senior people. I seriously don’t know — and maybe I’m missing them — a single student who has said something bad. Normally they are exhausted and exhilarated. Some of them take journeys I never saw or could see happening. But that’s part of the experience. That’s why we expose them to so many things. If a guy working at a patent office ends up being a marketing manager for a major pharmaceutical firm in Switzerland, so be it. I couldn’t have seen it coming and he couldn’t have seen it coming. But, very often, our capabilities and possibilities are so much more that we can imagine. Therefore, it’s a journey of exposure and building opportunities for yourself.
We don’t give them jobs at the end of it. It’s not like a full-time MBA or something where you have career services. But we have a lot of executive coaching and a lot of individual coaching. We allow them to find themselves and, therefore, the possibilities in the world for themselves. And we tell them that.
Do you hear any specifics of what students are hoping to get out of the GEMBA program and why they attend?
It’s a range of things. The average age is closer to 40, so I think by then a lot of people are done working for the man. You know, “I’ve made my money, I’m fairly successful, but there must be more to life,” right? And, “I want a program that will allow me to discover dimensions.” Maybe it’s a program that after I leave the military, I want to know what to do next. Or I’ve been successful at this multinational and I want to rise within the multinational, but for that I need to know the geopolitical elements. I need to know non-market strategy. I need to know the difference between institutions, and not just people across cultures.
So, sometimes, it’s, “I want to continue along the same trajectory, but I don’t want a quantitative difference, I want a qualitative difference.” Sometimes it’s a less-structured search. But they are all searching for something more. They are all searching for an opportunity to discover things they wouldn’t naturally discover, in spite of their already successful careers.
That’s why my duty is to not just give them a bunch of facts, information, tools, or techniques — all of which are important and I believe we do very well — but to also allow them to expand their minds and see possibilities where they never saw them before. And, again, universities don’t think like that. You know, we have to put down three learning goals and things like that. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t have them. But, our learning goals should be much more expansive and much more challenging beyond what can be measured by a particular course or during a one-year or two-year period.
I went to Jesuit schools and we were always taught — as I said before — to see the world through different perspectives. To walk in other people’s shoes. Because you can never understand what it takes until you do that yourself. Partly, this is a journey to expose yourself to different kinds of environments and different kinds of people. When you’re not the boss, when you’re one of many, it’s very different.