“Our diversity, enterprising spirit and ability to respond quickly to the market make us stand out”

Diego del Alcázar y Silvela, Founder and President of IE Business School and President of the IE Foundation, and Santiago Íñiguez de Onzoño, President of IE University and Dean of IE Business School, discuss the past, present and future, and the importance of online learning.

If Diego del Alcázar y Silvela had to compare IE with a work of art, it would be a Picasso painting from his Cubist period: “Above all, for the diversity of the shapes,” explains Alcázar, who was born in Ávila, Marquis of la Romana, before going on to study Law, Political Sciences and Management in Madrid and Paris and found IE in 1973. He is currently President of IE Business School and the IE Foundation. The word diversity is a recurring theme in the conversation between the institution’s founder and Santiago Íñiguez de Onzoño, who holds a PhD from the Universidad Complutense in his home city of Madrid, with studies at Oxford, and an MBA from IE Business School, of which he is currently Dean. Here the two figures discuss what they see as being key to the success of the institution they represent. Satisfaction and pride are the feelings that arise when they look back on the success stories among the students that have passed through their classrooms. “We are particularly pleased that the education and network we have provided has helped them in their career,” explains Alcázar, who reveals his own recipe for learning every day: “I have lots of interests, I read about many different things, go to exhibitions and speak to lots of different people.” Curiosity, a passion for discovering new things, an enterprising spirit, shared experiences… This mixture is reflected in the tapestry that forms the basis of the institution over which he presides.

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Santiago Íñiguez: Diego, sometimes I call you the European Mr. Harvard. At IE we are lucky to have a founder who continues to lead the strategy in the selection of the senior management and drive the institution forward. In fact, sometimes I joke that we’ll have to turn your jackets and ties into heirlooms… What are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Diego del Alcázar: I’d say the biggest challenge is the one you’ve just suggested, turning my suits into an heirlooms business [laughter]. It’s true that from the outset I have been surrounded by extremely valuable people. The first challenge has been to survive with a definite idea of what we wanted. On many occasions I have repeated the phrase from the memoirs of general De Gaulle: “Je me suis fait une certaine idée,” (I have a certain idea). We haven’t turned our back on this idea.

DDA: What trait do you think identifies us best? And, once our identity has been defined, what do you think are the biggest trends in the development of the education industry at present?

SI: Our most important trait has to be our enterprising spirit, which has been present from day one. From this stems our innovative nature, our ability to respond quickly to the market, a system of governance that has more in common with companies than traditional academic institutions. This has allowed us to be more flexible when it comes to facing up to the challenges of our environment.

Regarding your second question, one of IE’s distinctive features is perhaps best described by the Financial Times: “an unusual school, unusual people.” We are a private institution that is managed and run on a not-for-profit basis. We have a system of governance that is extremely business oriented and has the ability to respond quickly.

Perhaps the most interesting trends are globalization and the integration of technology and teaching. The opinions of all our stakeholders show that we are pioneers when it comes to blended programs.

What’s more, we have always been good at identifying entrepreneurs. We have used our admissions tests to help us better identify candidates with the profile of an entrepreneur, as opposed to the traditional profile of the classic executive. Looking to the future, we are aiming to develop education systems that make it possible to foster this emotional, artistic or relational intelligence.

DDA: I believe we are entrepreneurs. How could we be anything else? We were born during a period that has made this necessary. Entrepreneurship implies innovation and a love for change. With the passing of time, we have added more features that make us stand out: a management system I would classify as liberal, which does not exercise detailed control over people’s work. And materials from the humanities: we believe we should introduce things that help make people better. In this respect, I’d like to ask if you think we have set trends and what are the most important projects at the moment?

SI: Above all, to consolidate the university. We have schools in the areas of architecture, international relations, law, communication, psychology… And we also want to be pioneers in the humanities.

But for me there are two major projects for this year: the formation of the world’s leading executive education company, together with the Financial Times Group, and the consolidation of our strategy with former alumni. In recent years, we have focused on excellence in education and are ready to take the next big step by offering our students higher-value activities, rethinking their qualifications, improving networking… We created the IE University seven years ago and you, Diego, were the inspiration behind this strategy. What was your vision then?

DDA: It was a high-risk, enterprising decision but, seven years down the line, we have an institution that appears to be one of the world’s few truly international universities. At the time, we believed it was important to have official backing. However, with the passing of time, we have seen that this assumption was not completely true: only 30% of our students are interested in the official qualification. Most are more interested in what stands behind it: high-quality, international education with humanist content.

It is difficult to find a group of students as diverse as ours. What attracts such a mix of people? Talent and a vocation that helps them see beyond the areas in which they study.

SI: Over 87 nationalities are represented at IE. The most important thing is that they all have different views of the world and this helps us foster an environment of tolerance and respect. In an environment in which there are so many different beliefs, conventions are extremely important, ranging from manners all the way through to how people dress in class. We aim to create graduates that love the cosmopolitan.

In terms of infrastructure, IE started out in a number of houses on the street María de Molina in Madrid and now occupies over 20 properties, including a campus in Segovia. What do you think about the physical campus in Madrid and the offices present in over 28 countries?

DDA: Our aim was to create an urban school. From the original house on María de Molina we have grown to occupy 30 properties in the area. You could say that our campus is the city itself. In Segovia we have a splendid monastery dating back to the 11th and 14th centuries where we have created a campus with more classic characteristics, one that is extremely attractive to European and Latin American candidates. The challenge at the moment is to continue to develop our third campus, the virtual campus, which is extremely important to us.

SI: You are right to point out that we have an increasing virtual presence. We are pioneering in this respect and plan to continue this leadership. We have run extremely successful massive open online courses and designed practically the full range of our executive MBA programs with a blended component. Our multimedia case studies have received awards from various institutions. And we plan to continue down this path. Indeed, who knows if progress in artificial intelligence will allow us to have artificial tutors in the future as well. Not teachers, though, because it is extremely difficult to replace teachers, as Bill Gates has mentioned…. But we will be at the forefront of the first advances in artificial intelligence applied to teaching.

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