Jerome Bon, professor of marketing at France’s premier Business school ESCP-EAP, has been an ESA intermittent teacher and advisor since the two institutions joined forces with the central bank of Lebanon in 1996. In an interview with EXECUTIVE, Bon talks about the new two-year masters in management program at ESA and ESCP-EAP, set to begin this fall, which he hopes will give students the opportunity live, work and study in France and Lebanon, and work against the dynamic of the brain drain.
Explain the linkage between ESA and ESCP-EAP and how the new masters in management program builds on that relationship.
Bon: ESA was originally created with the help of ESCP-EAP. Most of the courses are delivered here by faculty from ECABAB, exclusively in Lebanon. Now though, we are launching a new joint program – a two-year masters in management for students. In this program, the students will be in a position to spend one year in Lebanon and one year in France. In the final six months of the program Lebanese students at ESA will most likely also study with French students who will come here [to Lebanon] for a semester. Additionally, the students will be registered as students from both institutions and receive a duel masters in management degree from both.
What kind of students are you interested in attracting?
Bon: We are trying to have students who are deeply concerned with the development of their country, but completely aware of the importance of international experience to help their country to develop. We want to see students who want to take advantages of internship opportunities in France or in Europe so that they can get some benchmarks of how it goes in companies in Europe. One of the problems of training is to teach how it goes in real life, being able to benchmark how it goes in different countries. What we think is that education is not only the course content. Education is also a process and the process is what you are living, what you experience during your education period. A lot of what you experience is with the other students so the composition, the mix is something that is very important in the training process.
How does the program fit in with global economic trends?
Bon: It is not that we think the headquarters of companies are more and more composed of people from different companies, companies themselves are increasingly operating in different countries with different cultures so we think we are at a very important point now to offer such programs to students – to enable them to really understand other cultures and be able to work with other cultures. Otherwise you may have a very good knowledge of techniques etc. but your ability to work with other people is very poor.
How would you describe the capacity of Lebanese students?
Bon: This comes back to the real objective of this program – to see whether there are cultural differences in the way that students work and if we can enrich the program through those differences. I would say that there is a very strong oral communication capacity for Lebanese students. They can talk very easily, they can be very convincing and tenacious when they discuss. They may lack some scientific rigor in their reasoning – i.e., not always trying to go deep into a problem to solve it. Maybe they don’t always test the hypothesis that they have in their mind. For example, if I take German students, they go very, very deep into the details. They do not always communicate very easily however. So I think that globally, when you mix people from different countries and when they work in the same group, they will see that in each way, in each culture, while there is not someone who is right or better than the other, they can absorb part of what is good in each culture. This mix is probably better, more compatible, with the ways in which organizations work right now. What we try to do is not to try to develop mimetical cultures. We want people to keep their culture, but to be able to understand and accept other ways of working.
What do you see the new programs role and responsibility, if any, in Lebanon’s on-going exodus of talented individuals?
Bon: This is a question not only for Lebanon. We are working with Morocco and India, for example. We want people to keep their link with their country and to experience a link with other countries. Our objective then is to have a network of people, national people, working in different countries and being well connected so they can develop activities. So through that, our objective is not to [encourage the] “brain drain” so people can work in France. Our objective is for people to know French people, they will know the French system, sufficiently that they will know how to work with France in their future projects. What we want to give them is a knowledge network that will help them to develop activities in Lebanon with France, with Europe, lets say. With a rather tight employment market in Europe right now, a growing number of Moroccans are coming back to Morocco, a growing number of Indians are going back to India, despite lower salaries, because they want to keep on living in their countries. We have done this program precisely to enable students to experience this abroad experience without being kept from the Lebanese environment. So to answer your question, the design of this kind of program is done precisely to keep the contact with the country and to keep them in the country.
How will you judge the success of the program?
Bon: Our final evaluation will be if we have alumnae groups with people from all over the world…. If we want that, then we have to have people stay in their own country. For our school, it is very important. We cannot limit our role to just teaching. We have a responsibility that is more than that. Our customers are not only our students, they are also the countries where we are located. Our success then will also be the success of Lebanon.