When Annemarie Heyl, the daughter of the owner of a mid-sized business in Germany, decided to seek an MBA, she wanted to find a university in Germany instead of applying abroad.
“What’s the sense of me going to a university in the United States with a great reputation when I’d need to borrow immense amounts of money and I’d have friends that then return home to places all over the world?” Ms. Heyl said. “For me it is very important to build a network at home.”
So she studied at Leipzig’s HHL Graduate School of Management instead. After graduating, Ms. Heyl and two fellow graduates set up their own company making cold-pressed juices, called “Kale and Me,” in Hamburg.
The program she chose is a rarity: German universities don’t usually offer Masters of Business Administration, and those on offer don’t enjoy the same reputation as courses offered by big universities in the United States or the United Kingdom.
But German schools are now in the business of trying to catch up. Their goal: to rise up the international rankings of business education.
This new group includes HHL of Leipzig, Mannheim Business School, ESMT in Berlin, ESCP in Berlin, the Otto Beisheim School of Management in Koblenz and Düsseldorf, and the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. All are seeking to attract international seals of approval and students from all over the world.
But they have a ways to catch up: Many business degrees in Germany are still highly specific and don’t teach general management skills – a key feature of an MBA.
Another problem: German companies don’t typically care whether applicants have an MBA.
According to a Handelsblatt survey of 30 blue-chip companies in Germany, most require a master’s degree, but not necessarily an MBA. Furthermore, most companies said students who had MBAs came from schools outside Germany, mentioning Insead in France, Harvard Business School or IESE in Spain.
Employers said they didn’t necessarily have a preference as to which schools graduates came from.
According to a Handelsblatt survey of 30 blue-chip companies in Germany, most require a master’s degree, but not necessarily an MBA.
But companies are keen to hire graduates with a business background. Industrial giant Bayer hires 20 to 30 MBA graduates per year, while auto supplier Continental hired 90 students in 2015 and 2016.
Consulting firm McKinsey said that every 10th new hire has an MBA. The consultancy is also trying to recruit graduates from German universities such as HHL and WHU, though for now they said many students come from Harvard or France’s Insead.
According to a random selection of 1,000 experts at the online marketplace for independent consultants, Comtach, 17 percent have an MBA, with most graduating from German and U.S. universities, followed by schools in the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
Many companies in Germany support employees in their pursuit of a degree by financing them in parallel to their work at the company. Pharma company Merck is sponsoring degrees for 14 of their employees in Germany who are studying at the universities of Darmstadt, Rhein-Neckar graduate school and the private AKAD university.
“In general we recommend to take advantage of the program our partners are offering, because we believe in their quality,” a Merck spokesperson said.
When it comes to hiring experienced managers, Merck works with Ashridge university near Berkhamsted in England, the London Business School as well as St. Gallen in Switzerland, and Mannheim University and WHU in Germany.
Germany’s railway company, Deutsche Bahn, maintains connections with German universities including ESB in Reutlingen in Western Germany and ESMT in Berlin. Chemicals company BASF is linked with Mannheim Business School, Ludwigshafen University and the Rhein-Neckar graduate school.
Bayer works with schools that offer dual curricula such as the School of Management University in Bradford, Nanyang Business School in Singapur, Katz School in Pittsburgh, IE in Madrid and CEIBS in Shanghai, a spokesperson told Handelsblatt.
“German business schools such as WHU and HHL are attractive, but when it comes to an MBA our employees often decide in favor of universities abroad.”
When it comes to hiring senior executives, Bayer reaches out to IMD in Lausanne, ESADE in Barcelona and Harvard Business School, but also ESMT and Cologne university, which offers an EMBA, together with the Dutch university RSM.
“German business schools such as WHU and HHL are attractive, but when it comes to an MBA our employees often decide in favor of universities abroad,” said Carsten Baumgärtner, a partner and headhunter at Boston Consulting. He added that Insead, ESADE, LSE, Harvard, Columbia and Stanford are the most popular schools. They are well established, he said, and very international.
In fact, most students who decide to enroll in a business school program in Germany come from abroad. At HHL, 70 to 90 percent of the students are not German. After graduation, they either return to their previous jobs or find work somewhere else. Seven to nine of 10 students find jobs in Germany.
At the Mannheim Business School, 34 percent of students worked at German companies before they attended the school. After graduating, 75 percent went on to work at companies in Germany. Firms that hire from Mannheim Business School include SAP, Bosch, Roche, GM and Accenture.
Insurance company Allianz, the start-up platform Hit-Fox, sports gear maker Puma and the media company Bertelsman have hired from HHL, while Accenture, Bayer and BCG hired graduates from WHU.
“At the universities, companies approach students, not the other way around,” said Michael Szadurski, an MBA student at ESMT. For him, though, it was different: he went back to power company E.ON, where he worked before starting his post graduate degree.