Interview: Torsten Wulf of HHL Leipzig

Hi there! This is the first in our series of interviews on MBA programs in Germany. Torsten Wulf directs the MBA program at HHL Leipzig, one of the top MBA programs in the country. We asked him why German business schools have taken so long to become competitive internationally.

Torsten Wulf, HHL Leipzig

Torsten Wulf (Photo: HHL Leipzig)

When will we start seeing more internationally competitive MBA programs in Germany?

I think that will happen pretty soon. We have a total of around 250 MBA programs. You have the leading schools: HHL, Mannheim, WHU in Koblenz, GISMA, ESCAP-EAP, and then you have a number of emerging ones. ESMT is doing very well right now, and I think in a couple of years they will be a major competitor because there is a lot of money behind it. Frankfurt Goethe Business School is saying that they are going to offer a full-time MBA program from next fall. A couple of the larger universities are considering setting up their own business schools, as Mannheim did. Aachen is doing that and probably Cologne will follow.

In the end, you might have a set of seven, eight, nine larger business schools, and these kinds of schools have realized that it’s important to compete internationally and also be in the rankings.

Why has it taken so long?

For us to get into the major European rankings – the Financial Times, for example – is not that easy, because a lot of the schools here are quite small, and the MBA programs have not existed for a very long time. You need to exist for five years before you can get into the rankings. If you are looking not at the full-time MBA rankings in the FT, but the Master of Management rankings, you find the University of Mannheim and the University of Cologne. So German business schools are actually getting into these rankings, and you’ll see more of us very soon.

How has the German structure differed?

The structure has always been different. We didn’t have the Bachelor-Master system where you have 3 or 4 years of college, then you work, and then you return to a business school. We have a diploma program here in Germany where you study for 4 years. Afterwards, you have your degree – a diploma in business (Diplom Kaufmann) – which is equivalent to a MSc. And then you go and work. This is now phased out. Diploma programs are not offered anymore.

We started the last one this year, and what is now happening here is that Bachelor programs are offered in business and economics, and also masters programs in business and economics. By 2010, all German universities are offering Bachelor and Master programs. Most of these only started in 2007, so the first bachelors will come out in 2010. And then the game starts.

With this kind of structure, things like MBA will become more and more popular. Bachelor programs exist in other areas, whatever Рengineering, natural sciences, whatever. Then you have to consider what you do after the bachelor. Then the MBA will become more  prominent. For us, the Bologna accord and the changes that are taking place not only in Germany, but all over Europe, is actually a good chance to make MBA programs more prominent.

Also you never had any kind of program management here at German universities: marketing, admissions, program management, career services, alumni management – all of these things hardly existed, and that is something we are definitely introducing.

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If more German schools aspire to be like US or UK business schools, what will be unique about studying in Germany?

When it comes to the structure of the school, we as a private business school, have a British or American business school structure. We are working with chairs, but are changing towards departments, and other business schools are doing the same thing, which I think is good.

What is still a little different is the way of teaching. When I compare my style of teaching with my colleagues with a more American style of teaching,  we use case studies in a different way. Americans tend to only use case studies first, and then develop a theory a little bit. We would do it the other way around: theory first and then more cases to illustrate it.

Also the kind of examples we are using. We are trying to take a more European or German approach in the selection of cases, guest speakers, etc. We are very much stressing the European component. It is more relevant if you want to study here. You get to know these companies. Guest speakers are coming mostly from European companies – which is a different perspective.

Probably also the size of the programs. Our programs are much smaller. We have a much closer relationship to our students compared to larger MBA programs, for example.

Do most of your MBA graduates end up somewhere in Europe?

Yes. It’s something like 90 percent in Europe. Our students come from all continents, and there are always a couple of Americans here, for example, and so far none of them have gone back – all of them are working in Europe. Indians are very strong in the program. Some of them go back, but many stay here. We offer German courses, and that is something that is necessary for them to work in Germany.

Our MBA program has 70 to 75 percent international students. And of these, only about ten percent are from European countries outside of Germany. Overall, 60 percent of our students come from outside of the European Union.

Are there jobs for MBA grads in Germany?

Germany has a number of jobs to offer. Many of our students are getting jobs in Germany, also the international students. The issue – which always makes Europe more difficult in general – is that you always need to know the language of the country where you are living. If you want to work in Germany, you don’t need to be fluent, but you should speak at least some German. That is important. If you are willing to learn the language, then it is not difficult to find a job.

I would say that if students want to work in Europe or Germany, then doing an MBA here is actually a good idea. What they have to look out for is a good MBA program. There are 250, and only 7, 8, 9 are good ones. If you select one of those, then you can pretty sure that you will find a job at quite a good company either here or somewhere else in Europe. It has always worked out, even though Europe is not easy when it comes to immigration and things like that. For people with a high skill level and a good education, it is always different.

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