For eighteen years now, Toulouse Business School (TBS) has been training professionals in management in the aviation sector with its Aerospace MBA. Christophe Bénaroya, a marketing professor, has been running the programme for nearly three years. After working to strengthen its reputation and its deployment in Bangalore, he is reforming the programme in Toulouse to improve its quality even further. These reforms will be put into action at the start of the next academic year.
What is the spirit behind the TBS Aerospace MBA programme and what are the participants' backgrounds?
It is an executive training programme for people who have significant professional experience, which has an international dimension, and where we essentially provide training in leadership and management applied to the Aerospace sector. Our ambition is broad since we want to cover the whole supplier chain, from manufacturers to airlines, via airports and space. What's specific about us is that we are very familiar with the sector's business practices and we can take our participants to the next level in terms of leadership and management. Our students come from two backgrounds: those who are working in the Aerospace sector and who want to work on their managerial and international aspects, and a smaller number who aren't from the sector but who want to understand the ecosystem.
The programme is an experiment to transform people who already have twelve to fifteen years' experience on average. This is quite unusual for an MBA since the entry criteria are generally a minimum of five years. We are far beyond this and that's related to the sector itself: you can have a very interesting career in it for ten or fifteen years, based on your technical skills. We take the participants out of their comfort zones. Someone who wants to get away from their business expertise and move onto a new stage in their career is incubated during the training and comes out at the other end with a more general view of things, similar to that of a CEO, with a transverse vision of all of the stakes involved and the impact each decision they make has on the company's different domains.
What are the specific features of the aerospace sector which drove the creation of a specialist MBA?
We work on complex products with major economic and safety factors in play. One significant specific feature of the sector is the influence of standards, legal matters, certification and extreme prudence: we need to provide the keys to understand what's at stake here. The associated value chain is also extremely complex. In the training, we will emphasis just what's at stake in the Aerospace ecosystem. But above all, the participants themselves, given that they are part of the sector, will be able to train others by sharing their challenges. There is a huge amount of actors involved and you need to understand the family if you want to be able to work in it.
You have decided to remodel the programme after eighteen years. What transformations will you be making to it?
Until now, we've had two separate courses: one full time and the other part time. From the start of the next academic year, in October 2018, we'll be producing a "hybrid" programme: there will only be one class rather than one full time class and one part time class in the MBA programme. The difference is that all the classes which will count towards the degree will bring together the people who'll attend full time from October to October (the former full time programme which we'll be calling Long-haul) and the people who'll follow the course part time (which will now be the Hub, with the participants taking courses towards the degree for a few weeks then going back to their companies).
The people who take the Long-haul course will have extra classes, which won't go towards the degree, but which will enable them to look in more detail into topics such as artificial intelligence or Big Data and the aerospace industry. We won't necessarily be able to look at them on an academic level, but more along the lines of business testimonials or two or three-week seminars to solve a business issue. These are more practical aspects.
For the Hub, the field application part will be provided once the training is complete, when the participants have received all their academic input. From October 2019, they will set out on two types of project, one individual project and one team project, and will receive their degrees once they have fulfilled their missions. The sequencing is slightly different.
What's the thinking behind this change?
There are several reasons for it. First of all, we were audited by our accreditation body, the AMBA (Association of MBAs), which concluded that we needed at least twenty people in the classroom to optimise and enhance the programme's quality through interaction. This isn't an easy thing to do because we don't recruit easily: it is a very high-tech sector and not everyone can take a year or eighteen months out for a demanding training programme. We couldn't be sure that we'd reach this quote in each course separately. However, when we added everyone together, we had much more than this figure. This was the first trigger factor.
But it didn't just come from the accreditation body. Our alumni and the steering committees who share their experience and the way they see the market also advised us to encourage this enhancement and the personal interactions between the participants.
Has this led to other major modifications to the MBA?
It has enabled us to introduce other modifications which will help us improve the teaching experience further. All our participants now have preparation work to do and will have to work all summer in interaction with the professors on a certain amount of educational content which will be given to them digitally. This brings them into the culture from the first day and we can anticipate any misunderstandings. It enables them to make the most of their time on-site, which they need. We cannot allow ourselves to go back over the fundamentals or things which are quite basic, we need to be able to target areas of expertise quickly.
There is another change for the options. The programme is broken down into three main phases on a teaching level: the core modules (the fundamentals of management: finance, HR, marketing), the process workshops (more application-based and transverse, such as project management) and the options. The problem with the options was that they accounted for fifteen hours of classes and there wasn't necessarily any cohesion between them since they were managed separatly. Solid education progress kept getting away from us.
We have proposed three longer specialist seminars, producing richer specialisation kits in terms of the number of hours: space business and application, aviation management and aerospace value chain. These three seminars last ten days, may include a company visit and enable each participant to acquire very strong knowledge of the theme. Some of them will be taken abroad, one in Casablanca (aerospace value chain) and another in Montreal (aviation management). They may be opened up to people from outside the programme and to our alumni (from all TBS programmes), which will encourage networking. We are getting very good feedback from people who are interested in these modules.
You place a lot of emphasis on the international aspect of the MBA Aerospace. What does that actually mean in reality?
This year, the sixteen students on the full time programme came from fifteen different nationalities and the seventeen students on the part time programme came from sixteen different nationalities. In total, we must have had twenty two nationalities represented, from India, Nigeria, Jordan and Kazakhstan to name just a few. This is quite difficult as the participants need to carry out projects together while their relationship to time and teaching, which is highly culture-based. But they learn a lot. In fact, it's one of the main lessons they learn.
What are your relationships with businesses and colleges in Toulouse like?
We are very firmly established in the Toulouse ecosystem. We have three aviation manufacturers (Airbus, ATR, Daher), two satellite integrators, a large number of sub-contractors and so on. Nowhere else in the world do you see this concentration of top level actors. We are members of the Aerospace Valley cluster and we are also very close to our colleagues at engineering colleges, such as ENAC or Supaero. It is fertile ground for trans-disciplinary research projects. And we are members of associations.
We cannot examine the sector's themes with a purely academic view of things, we need to be fully connected to its economic actors. This is why we do not take part in student fairs and we only go to professional events (Farnborough, Le Bourget, Aero India) or we are partners of professional events such as the Aviation Trophies. The people who follow us are professionals and they'll get their information from their own circles rather than MBA fairs.
What is demand like for the Aerospace MBA?
When I was entrusted with responsibility for the programme practically three years ago, I noticed that we weren't very visible in terms of communication. We carried out actions on social networks, created a blog and took part in more professional events, which put the programme on more people's radars. We need to keep doing this as it's a very long process. The conversion time between the point when people are interested and when they start classes can take five, six or seven years: these people are in professional organisations, they have business and family lives and going away for several months to a year is a huge undertaking.
We've never had so much demand as this year. I think this is due to the work we've put in in-house, but also to the fact that we are deployed in India and that this has created echoes in places around the world other than Europe. That being said, I don't want the number of participants to explode as this would be to the detriment of the training experience. We will be keeping it at a reasonable number of forty students maximum.
Could you imagine setting up other international partnerships, similar to the one you have with the IIMB (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore)?
I'm cautious. For fifteen-day themed seminars, I think it's completely feasible and it's a model which may interest a certain number of actors worldwide. Everyone's a winner as the college in question will be able to add a theme to its offer which it didn't before. We win as we can take support from a partner's infrastructure and network to organise it. I already have a few potential areas for deployment, particularly in Asia and North America - I'm in discussions in Canada for the fifteen-day module to be provided in association with another partner college.
There were suggestions that we might go to other places around the world to reproduce the programme, but we need to look at the whole picture. It's very complicated as there aren't a huge number of professors and you have to take the distance into account. Taking the case of India alone, we can't go there every week, especially as we also ask our professors to publish and get involved in research. Increasing the number of programmes means increasing the number of professors and I think that it's hard to carry out this type of recruitment just on a specialist programme.
In addition, we need to be able to ensure the accreditation bodies that the programme isn't diminished, unlike what they saw with some business schools in China, where ultimately all that was transferred was the sale of the brand and quality was completely lacking for the actual programme. We really don't want this. Some of us are going to India to teach. This is very demanding and I don't see how we could increase the number of agreements to deliver the whole programme.