British MBAs look to broaden their horizons overseas

MANY British people choosing to take an MBA stay in this country, or head to one of the big American schools. There is no doubt that they are prestigious, but in a world that is increasingly tilting to the East, might there be better ways to spend your money? At most British business schools around 10 per cent of the cohort are British nationals, going up to 40 per cent at some. On the big US MBAs, about 60 per cent of students are from North America. True, there are often dozens of other nationalities and most MBAs involve studying abroad, but in a globalised world the immersing yourself in another business culture is increasingly important.

More are doing so. The numbers of Europeans applying to the China Europe International Business School is up 6,400 per cent in 10 years. Overseas schools are keen for British students, too.

Peter Rafferty, Director of International business development at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium says: “Many of our international students end up working in London. Without an established British alumni and student network it would be difficult for us to give students an understanding of the British business culture.”

We asked four British MBAs who studied abroad about their experiences.


Like most British people I kind of felt I had spent a lot of time in British institutions, at school, at university. I was very UK-focused. I attended open days at Wharton and Harvard and having seen them I thought that they were really US-centric, so I started looking at European business schools and IESE jumped out at me. There is no dominant culture – INSEAD tends to have lots of Brits and French people and the American schools a lot of Americans, unsurprisingly. And I really liked the idea of getting the southern European business culture and language, too – I spoke a bit of French, but not a word of Spanish. At IESE, you do a month of intensive classes at the start, plus an hour-and-a-half a day afterwards. At the end of a year I was pretty much fluent, but it was hard work. To go from no language to complete fluency is a difficult task, especially when you are also doing the rest of the MBA at the same time. I’ve used it off and on – I’d say it has been a useful thing to have in my back pocket. I had less fear of working in other cultures and countries, I ended up covering lots more around Europe, France and a bit of Spain, and it’s useful to have the Spanish – Spain is a hard place to do meetings in English. Knowing the language and culture definitely opens up avenues for you. I’m now running the business side of Lloyds’ London 2012 Olympics sponsorship. I can’t help thinking that given the next Olympics is in Rio and Portuguese is not so different from Spanish, there may be even more interesting possibilities to come.


I HAD been working as an engineer for five years and I was increasingly developing an interest in the running of businesses. I noticed that a lot of our work was starting to be influenced by developments in Asia – projects were happening there, technical equipment was being manufactured there, and engineers were being recruited from there.

I’d been in Asia for a year doing volunteer teaching and travelling, so I had a strong interest in the region anyway, and when I started looking into it I saw that some of the Asian schools were very highly ranked. At any business school you are going to learn similar concepts and techniques so it’s about adding value to that – I thought I could get more if I went to Asia. Part of it is cultural awareness.

For example, a lot of the MBAs work in teams and it was really beneficial to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. Europeans are quite direct and forceful when they give opinions, but people from other cultures are sometimes not like that, and you have to be sensitive to the ways they communicate.

That’s a valuable thing to learn first-hand. But the best thing is that I have got a massive database of contacts in Singapore, India, China – basically in every country in Asia I know people who are in big companies and important positions. I’m now working for Cyberhawk Innovations, an inspection company in Livingston, Scotland, and when we decide to move into the Asian market, then that will help us set up offices and win work. It’s given me a real head-start.


AFTER studying Veterinary Science at Bristol followed by a Masters at London Zoo, I worked in practice for three years, before moving into veterinary nutraceuticals. However, the financial crisis hit and I ended up doing the job of four people. It was time for a change.

I applied for a working holiday visa for Australia at the end of 2008, intending to only stay for a year, but I fell in love with the country and decided to apply for the MBA at Melbourne Business School. My plan is to eventually found a veterinary not-for-profit, and to do this, I needed to learn how to run a business.

Melbourne is one of the top schools in Asia-Pacific and my cohort consisted of 55 people from 20 countries, many from Asia, including countries such as China, India and Nepal – similar to Melbourne University as a whole, with a large proportion of Asian undergraduate students.

I spent a semester on exchange in New York, a fantastic experience, but somewhere I would not have been able to attend outright due to the substantial fees. Similarly, fees at London Business School are approximately twice as much – MBS is excellent value for money.

Will I come home? That depends on what happens job-wise. Australia has been relatively unscathed by the financial crisis, and there are many English people out here. It’s not too far a step away from life in England – in a sense it’s the same lifestyle, but it is more relaxed and the pace of life is much slower. Speaking to consultants here, they say that it is not as prestigious as in the US or UK – but you do get to leave at 5.30 and go surfing.


I graduated from Bristol University in 2001 and moved to London to complete a law conversion course and also to row – I made it into the British Olympic team that went to Athens in 2004. In 2005 I joined Clifford Chance and spent six months training in the Hong Kong office. I really enjoyed living and working in Asia and at the end of 2007 I took a two-year secondment to the Singapore office. In 2008, however, I decided that I wanted a more business-focused career that combined my sports background and legal skills and started looking into different MBA programmes in Europe, the US and Asia as a means to move out of purely legal roles.

I thought about doing an MBA in the US, but wanted a more globally representative MBA education. With 70 nationalities in my class, INSEAD’s focus on diversity really stood out. My husband was out in Singapore too, so going off to the US for a two-year course was not an option. INSEAD has a campus in Singapore and it was only a 10 month programme, plus I got to spend four months in France too, at the Fontainebleau campus.

Lots of the people in my class were keen on staying in Asia. Studying at the INSEAD campus in Singapore gives students a head-start in terms of understanding ways of doing business in Asia and in terms of connecting new graduates with alumni already established in the region. The alumni network is really important at INSEAD. Indeed it helped me get my first job after graduation, working with the International Olympic Committee on the first edition of the Youth Olympic Games, which have just been held in Singapore.

I am now moving to France to work for a sports consultancy company. In the future, I’d love to continue to work in the Olympic industry, be it at a host city, at a sponsor or at the IOC in Switzerland.