Interview with Director Anke Middelmann, Global Executive MBA of SKEMA Business School
With seven campuses across five continents, Business School has already lived up to its goal to be THE global business school distinctively positioning itself as a centre for excellence, humanism, diversity, and innovation. One of its signature programmes, the Global Executive MBA, was established in 2014, and it has already made the top of French and international rankings through its quality and unique blended-learning framework and enhanced multicultural training.
In this enlightening interview, Director Anke Middelmann gives us a glimpse into just what makes the school’s business-educational programme so attractive to aspiring business leaders from all four corners of the globe.
Good day to you, Ms Middelmann. Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to speak with you. We would like to congratulate SKEMA for its 10th anniversary this year and on the fact that the Global Executive MBA has been ranked among the 12 best Executive MBAs by Forbes. How do you feel about this achievement? What do you think are the unique features that set this programme apart from the others?
Thank you very much for the congratulations. We’re delighted with the ranking in Forbes because it’s another milestone for this relatively young programme. I think this is all due to SKEMA’s vision, and the dedication of all of the people involved in making the programme what it is today, including students, faculty and all other stakeholders that have brought us to this point so soon. I think it is also important to note that this comes in addition to the fact that we have the triple-accreditation from AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA, and we’ve just obtained a new EFMD programme accreditation for the Global Executive MBA.
What makes us so unique? I think it’s the fact that we’re truly global in our outlook. Our student body is about 91% international and our faculty has either lived and worked abroad or comes from other countries. This makes for a very vibrant atmosphere. Another unique aspect is that it’s a blended-learning programme, which means that our students, wherever they are located in the world can follow courses online, through webinars and other means. Then they meet face-to-face during the six residential weeks. Last but not least, the strength of the programme content not only enables us to give leaders tools to capitalise on but to manoeuvre and re-invent themselves in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
All these elements are important in today’s and tomorrow’s global business environments. So we have managed to recreate today’s typical professional environment and atmosphere in the programme. Our students find that this is a real strength and a major reason why they choose SKEMA.
As SKEMA’s Global Executive MBA Director, can you give us a glimpse of what your day looks like, and also can you share with us some of your favourite routines to ensure a productive day ahead?
My routine is that there is no routine! Given the international nature of the programme, with residential weeks on all of our campuses, in France, China, Brazil, the United States, and soon in South Africa, I constantly need to juggle with time zones. I can start my day with a conference call with the China campus, because they’re six to seven hours ahead, and might end it by exchanging with the Raleigh or Belo Horizonte campuses, because it’s the beginning of their day. My routine revolves very much around my ability to be adaptable and flexible. In short, it means that no day is like another, and that makes it a very exciting job. One key aspect of my job is to ensure that we, as a team, communicate as clearly and directly as possible with all our stakeholders, whether it’s about organisational matters, exchanging with faculty on course content, communicating with our campuses abroad to organise residential weeks, or our students and our business development team.
You have an impressive and extensive professional track as a multicultural consultant of some major international organisations. Can you tell us something about your professional journey and what the transition was like when you shifted into academia?
My personal life journey is very much reflected in my professional journey. I’ve lived and studied in different countries from a fairly young age, and I’ve been in multicultural environments for most of my life. This has really heightened my curiosity about, and interest in, other cultures quite fundamentally. That set me on my multicultural career path. I’ve worked with quite a few global organisations, always with the goal of enabling people to understand the cultural differences and to overcome them to work together more effectively. Some of the organisations that I’ve worked with include, AXA, Rockwell, Siemens, DSK, business units within Airbus and Saint-Gobain.
At the same time, I taught at business schools and I found that really enriching, because I was able to take the experience from my multicultural work in companies into the classroom. It is something the students find valuable, because of course they are leaving the classroom to work for those international companies afterwards.
The transition into academia was therefore quite smooth. In teaching multicultural management, I see the links between theory and practice at all levels, and it’s one of the things that I feel very passionate about conveying to my students. My desire is to enable individuals to become consciously competent in their international professional lives, so the opportunity to apply the practical side in an academic context is especially enriching for me.
What do you think are the crucial aspects that need to be addressed in order to bridge the gap between academic learning and the practical needs of business leaders and industries across the globe?
They often feel like two worlds apart. Academic studies are tucked away in one corner and business is at the other end of the scale. But you can link the two quite successfully. What’s important – and this is what we achieve with the Global Executive MBA at SKEMA – is to create very vivid links between the theory and the practice. Academic learning is necessary because you need that crucial foundation; without a theory, how can you put things into practice effectively? But, at the same time, theory on its own is not complete without some form of practical context. We do this across the board, through case studies, student observations and feedback into the classroom, or hands-on business simulations.
We also achieve this through the way we teach. For example, Dr Philippe Chereau, Professor in Management Science on the Global Executive MBA and former consultant in the strategic management of innovation and business modelling, uses his experience, expertise and latest academic research to draw that bridge when he teaches on the Global Executive MBA. Students are encouraged to analyse and rethink their company’s business model through the theory of disruptive innovation to help create a rupture in their environment by developing a new innovative business model for their organisation. Students can apply the theoretical foundations in ways that enhance their critical thinking and their analytical and communication skills. We think of entrepreneurs as innovator-transformers.
SKEMA Business School impressively delivers its blended format, specialisations and flexible options for the Global Executive MBA programme across the four continents. How will this global experience enhance the executives’ or your students’ cultural competence and management skills?
Studying at SKEMA is a global experience at all levels. The student body and faculty are international, and the programme takes the students to five continents. The sheer force of this – different perspectives, different experiences – makes the programme a real multicultural laboratory, and students learn to deal with each other’s differences first-hand, both face-to-face and in the virtual classroom.
To enhance these cultural and management skills, students take a course called “Developing Global Mindset”, throughout the programme where we combine learning about culture & cultural differences as well as geopolitical and international economic issues. In this way students really get the whole spectrum of what it means to be in an international and intercultural environment.
Practically, students do a lot of their coursework in teams, both virtually and face to face during the six residential weeks. I always pay great attention to ensure that teams are made up of diverse groups of students to ensure a real balance between cultural, professional and gender diversity.
What are some of the common challenges that you observed amongst your participants or students in a multicultural environment, and how does SKEMA address the shifting market trends and the varying demands of executives from different countries and industries?
The challenges among our participants are very much the same as those faced by organisations working internationally and multiculturally. These can be language issues, as well as differences in attitudes and expectations, to name just a few. It is our responsibility to work on these issues; and we do this through our courses, team-building activities and by taking the time to listen to our participants, to understand what issues they may encounter, and to explore underlying assumptions and preferences.
In terms of shifting markets and market trends, our programme is very much aligned with SKEMA’s overall strategy, which focuses on globalisation, innovation and the knowledge economy.
For example, we have recently developed two hugely successful specialisations: entrepreneurship and innovation and project management. Both of these were developed in response to participants’ requirements to work on innovation and project management in a global context.
What are the types of organisations that would benefit mostly from the unique set-up of the Global Executive MBA, and so far what is the best feedback you have received?
While our participants come from many different professional, educational, and organisational backgrounds, they do have a few of things in common: they all want to move beyond their current professional levels. We offer them a rich learning environment that provides them with a helicopter vision of business from a strategic perspective; linked to this is are the strong leadership skills that they all need to break the ceiling they have hit in their career. In addition to formal courses and teamwork, we offer all our Global Executive MBA students access to professional coaching. They leave the programme equipped with a skill set that large and small companies need, and particularly those that operate at international level. Past participants have come, as examples, from large and medium size insurance, telecom or engineering companies. Others are start-up founders who come on the programme to develop, consolidate and validate their business model. We have seen graduates being promoted to executive level during the programme or soon after they graduate. Others have moved up to new and demanding positions in other companies or have successfully created their own businesses. Satisfaction amongst students is high and former students or alumni send us new students every year.
What do you think are the most challenging issues when addressing the different needs of your participants, and what are the different career paths of your students? Can you give us some examples?
Given the diverse nature of our cohorts, meeting needs and requirements could be very challenging. It is also very invigorating! One of the key elements for us is to provide a good learning and growth experience for all as well as to give them support, advice and individual attention, whether this is academic or personal.
To help them enhance their professional performance and impact, they work on a substantial final project called the Capstone Project, in which students develop their professional paths by linking their project to their current future professional situation. Therefore, students who want to stay within their current company are often supported by their employers, and will tend to develop practical recommendations for intractable business challenges. Students seeking a career change will focus on a final project that will give them the opportunity to really discover themselves, improve skills and define their preferences. One of our students took a leap to move from France to Australia to start a new business venture Down Under, utilising all the skills that she gained on the programme. Another has just set up his own business in his home country as a result of doing this degree. We are able to meet the individual needs and requirements of our students and we accompany them and give them support throughout their time at SKEMA. We encourage them to use this unique opportunity to develop and strengthen their academic and professional skills and knowledge.
The uncertainty and the hypercompetitive roles of today’s industries call for a leader who can create these strong and positive changes, not only for themselves but for the whole organisation as well. How does SKEMA’s Global Executive MBA help and shape the new generation of leaders, and what do you think are the important qualities of a leader of the future?
Leadership skills are something that all students feel they need. In response to that need, we’ve recently created a major new course within the programme, which we’ve called “The Leadership Lab”, a course that covers every aspects of leadership development and gives students the space to experiment with and develop their leadership qualities. This is complemented by the teaching of practical skills such as negotiation, public speaking, resilience and mindfulness. Additionally, students get access to an executive coaching package tailored to their needs and requirements. But leadership development also happens intuitively and tacitly within the programme, and students develop new insights about themselves by interacting with, and being challenged by, classmates. Passion, self-awareness, confidence and self-belief are also very important, as well as the ability to lead inclusively, collaboratively and with integrity.
By the end of the programme, students have a clearer vision of where they want to go, both as individuals and professionals.
On a lighter note, we are interested to know how you maintain a healthy work-life balance. People in the upper echelons naturally have a lot on their plate. How do you manage?
An important learning curve for me was to recognise that, while you can multitask, you can’t do everything equally well. Setting priorities is very important and I try not to spread myself too thinly.
To maintain a balanced professional and personal life, it’s extremely important to make a point of ending the work day and not being tempted to check emails at night. It is vital for any leader, and I try to practise this as much as I can myself, to spend some time on myself every day, whether that is self-reflecting, reading a good book, going for walks, or spending time with family and friends. These type of activities help me recharge my batteries.
One of the global advocacies that we have nowadays is to empower women for leadership roles across all industries. So as a female leader yourself, how do you think we can progress in such an endeavour?
This is a very pertinent issue and it has been for a while. I feel very grateful to be where I am today, because it hasn’t always been (and still is not) like this for women everywhere in the world. When I see the number of women in high positions today, in business or in government, compared with even 10-15 years ago, I feel that we’ve come quite some way towards the empowerment of women in the professional context. It is mirrored in our Global Executive MBA, where we have a very impressive and very gratifying rate of 40% female participants. Of course, having said that, much still needs to be done. I think we need to recognise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Actions need to fit cultural circumstances; to give one example, we operate a female scholarship and we’ve noticed that it is proving highly attractive.
Lastly, what message of motivation would you like to get across to future and aspiring leaders, and what does success mean to you?
Success means something different to every one of us, and I can’t speak for everybody. For me, it means doing what I’m passionate about. And I have to say that running this international and multicultural programme with talented, highly motivated and passionate participants, and a wonderful team is exactly that, so I feel very blessed in that regard. If I were to advise or motivate any future aspiring leader (or, indeed, anyone really who’s not sure about what they want to do next), my message would be: start with yourself! Reflect on who you really are, listen to yourself and your intuition and you will identify that dream. And then, you should go for that dream, because if you’ve got the confidence and the determination, you will get there.
Thank you very much Ms Middelmann. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Anke Middelmann, Director of the highly esteemed Global Executive MBA of the SKEMA Business School, holds a Masters degree in Intercultural Communication from the University of Bedfordshire in the UK, and a Bachelors degree in European History from the University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. She also holds a coaching qualification from Coach U in the United States, and from the World Class Coaching Academy in the UK.
She is a permanent assistant professor in Multicultural Management. Prior to working for SKEMA Business School, Anke Middelmann worked for the European Commission in both Brussels and Washington, DC, and as an independent intercultural trainer, facilitator and coach.