The Dean and Director of Grenoble Graduate School of Business tells us how he worked his way up from working in a university restaurant to Dean of a triple-accredited business school.
What does a typical day at GGSB look like? Is there such a thing?
There’s no such thing as a typical day – which is the part of this job I like the most.
As a director of a school, you have to deal with all of the complexities: all the problems; every new situation. There’s something new every day. Part of the job is traveling a lot and seeing people. We have a lot of international sites: London, Paris, Moscow, Tbilisi, Berlin and Singapore. I’m always roaming around and looking for new business opportunities.
What are the main challenges you face in your role, and how do you try to overcome them?
Education is not like a typical business. For example, let’s compare it to technology. If you develop disruptive technology, you can change the way things are done in, say, three years. In education, it’s not like that. One of the oldest technology companies, IBM, is 100 years old. Whereas the oldest university is 1,000 years old. So time spans are definitely different. Adapting to these time spans takes some learning. In fact, adapting to things is the main challenge I face. To overcome the challenge, I try to be more patient, understand myself better and understand the education environment better.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
The contact with the students. That’s unquestionable. During both the happy times and not so happy times – it’s always rewarding. We try to be there when they have difficult situations they need help with, or when they need to rethink their future. That’s the most important thing: being there while they grow.
What's the most important skill you've learnt during your career that has contributed to your current success?
Adaptation. In such a changing environment, you need to be adaptable: to be able to change along the way and sometimes play things by ear. Planning is one thing, but stuff happens and you need to deal with that. Adaptability and flexibility are vital.
How does GGSB compete in a global and competitive business environment?
By adapting, learning and reinventing. We are one of the newest business schools in the market, and yet have already achieved things in our 30 years of life that very few schools have achieved. We are now number 20 in Europe, and number five in France. We’re up there with much older institutions. The secret of that success is to be in constant evolution: adapting to change and tackling the challenges and the complexities of the business world in a very dynamic manner.
To give you an example: FULL FABRIC is one of the innovative things we’ve implemented at the school. We went from having a paper-based application process where programme directors had to be on site, to a new system where they can access things from the Caribbean, as long as they have an internet connection. We went from being a paper-heavy office to a paperless one.
Has studying and working internationally given you a wider perspective of education?
Definitely. I was educated up to high school in Spain. Then I went on to do a Bachelors and a Masters degree in the US. And then I did a PhD in the UK. So I’ve got quite a broad vision of what education looks like in many different parts of the world.
My first job in education was in a university restaurant washing dishes. I went all the way up from that to become Dean of a triple-accredited business school. So I was able to grasp the inner-workings of the university in a very unique manner. I try to apply that every day in my job. People think in generalities but they live on details. One thing that is quite detached from a dean’s life may be vitally important for a student. So it’s important to pay attention to those details and think about the bigger picture.
How do you see higher education changing in the next five years?
Five years is not too much time in education. Five years in a company can be a huge time, but five years in education is nothing. Sometimes it’s five years from the moment you start thinking about a programme to the moment you start delivering that programme.
But if we say ten or 15 years, that’s different. I think there will be a trend to make everything more technological. Nowadays we have a lot of MOOCs and learning delivered by distance. For instance, using virtual reality headsets in classrooms, or teaching a class from another part of the globe. Will that substitute the traditional classroom? I’m not so sure. The purpose of education, as we understand it, isn’t about inserting or transplanting of facts into student’s heads. It’s to make them think. Not to know the what, but the how and the why. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do that online, but face-to-face discussions and direct interactions with teachers are key.
This is the second in our series of higher ed interviews. See the full series here.