As he heads down Bloor Street and steps into the Toronto offices of Gap Inc., Jeffrey Spivock reflects on how quickly his career has changed. A little over a year ago Spivock had begun his MBA at Melbourne Business School, one of the leading schools in the Asia Pacific. Now he is a senior manager at one of the world’s largest specialty retailers.
“While my previous job in Montreal allowed me to travel, I realized there was a whole side of the world which was foreign to me, and where I knew that, if I wanted to be successful globally, I would need experience first-hand. Australia, for me, offered the perfect setting to mix a Western MBA education in a setting that was extremely focused towards Asia’s emerging and emerged markets.”
Spivock is one of a growing number of Canadian MBA applicants who are shunning the U.S., and turning instead to Europe and Asia for their business education. The major destinations of the U.K., France, Hong Kong, Spain, Australia and the Netherlands have seen a 64 per cent increase in GMAT admissions test score reports from Canadian citizens in the last five years.
This is, in part, a reflection of cost. In the late ’90s, a two-year MBA program at a top U.S. business school would have cost about $50,000. This year, you won’t get much change from $90,000. But the economic crisis and terms of the subsequent government bail out have also seen employment visas dry up. Europe and Asia are now the international alternative for Canadian students intent on studying overseas.
“Europe seemed like the logical choice to do my MBA,” explains Andrew Kostic, who spent 12 months completing his MBA at Nyenrode, situated in a magnificent 13th century castle on the outskirts of Amsterdam. “I was already aware of a distinct difference in corporate responsibility, work-life balance, and corporate philosophy between North America and the rest of the world. All of that fascinated me, and I thought the best way to really understand it would be to immerse myself in a different culture.”
The international dimension of a European MBA was foremost in the mind of Andrew Mason, who had been working at Dundee Capital Markets in Toronto, after a stint with the Royal Bank of Canada.
“Given the global business environment, I think it’s a necessity for managers and executives to have meaningful international career and education experience,” says Mason. “For me, Europe was a natural fit for the next step of my career. I wanted to be more than just an expat, I was looking for a resume that proved that I had real international business experience.”
Mason chose to study at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, a top-ranked school close to Brussels. “I wanted to study with a highly international group of peers, with a small-class size that would let me have a more personal learning experience. Our class had 22 nationalities, and now thanks to Vlerick I have a network that spans the globe.”
Like many Canadian MBAs in Europe, Mason has stayed on in the region to work, and is now an associate in the investment bank of Citigroup in London. This is also the case for Dawne Goch, who graduated in April this year from the Esade Business School in Barcelona, and is now senior manager for different Johnson & Johnson consumer franchises for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “The main reason I chose Esade is that it is ranked by recruiters as Europe’s No. 1 school. This was very important to me because, in the end, you want a good job. I benefited from Esade’s career services as I ended up with a great career.”
In some cases students have ended up with even more than they had hoped for. Frank Dempsey earned an MBA with distinction from the U.K.’s Warwick Business School, and has since returned to his family business in Toronto, the Dempsey Corporation, a distributor of specialty products for the chemical and food markets. The Warwick MBA gave him the multicultural sensitivity and international perspective he was seeking.
“My family business is all about international relations; and I think that no amount of reading in textbooks could ever come close to actually experiencing the level of diversity you can find in an international MBA program.”
And Dempsey also found romance at business school. “I even met my wife in the classroom – we got married in July 2009. Talk about a life changing experience!”
Canadian schools are increasingly aware of the importance of international exposure. The Richard Ivey School of Business established its presence in Hong Kong in 1998, offering an executive MBA program as well as shorter Executive Development programs. The University of Toronto Rotman has partnered with Swiss school St Gallen for the Omnium Global Executive MBA. It involves five short-term global residencies in India, China, Europe, Brazil, and North America, and a number of intensive virtual team projects.
So reaching out to the world is key. As Frank Dempsey says, “Who, today, can still believe that you can survive in business without some kind of international business education or experience? Especially when the business environment has gone global and you are now expected to satisfy customers and fight off competitors from places you maybe never even knew existed.”