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#14 IE MBA Admissions Q&A with Mr. Dirk Hopfl

Dirk Hopfl IE

“IE is focused on entrepreneurship… all our MBA students have to write a business plan and can present their venture to investors at the end of the program.”

This week Mr. Dirk Hopfl, Managing Director, South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan at IE Business School, joined the show to talk about the IE MBA, a 13-month program focused on entrepreneurship and change management. IE was ranked 11th in the world by the Financial Times in 2013, and has been ranked as a top 5 international business school by Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek. The school – based in Madrid, Spain – is also triple accredited by AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA.

The IE International MBA lives up to its name and is truly one of the world’s most international MBA programs, with over 80% of the class intake coming from nearly 100 different countries. The program is looking for candidates who have an entrepreneurial and international outlook; all students are required to take courses in entrepreneurship and write a business plan, and 80% of graduates end up working outside Spain.

IE has a rolling admissions process and 2 intakes in April and November which gives candidates lots of flexibility when applying. This is a great option for candidates looking to get an international MBA with an entrepreneurial and practical bent. IE also has dual degrees with MIT, Yale and Brown for those candidates who want a US brand name as well.

The IE MBA in 3 words: Entrepreneurial, Diverse, Personalizable.

Listen on for much, much more!

Touch MBA’s IE MBA Crib Sheet

Program Highlights (1:05)

  • 13 month program
  • 500 students, 80% of students are international, 100 different nationalities
  • Ranked number 11 by Financial Times 2013
  • 2 intakes: April (~150 students) and November (~350 students)
  • Accredited by EQUIS, AMBA and AACSB
  • Program is focused on entrepreneurship and change management
  • Curriculum has a practical, action-oriented bent
  • 90 full-time faculty, 300+ adjunct faculty
  • Double degree options with top US schools (Brown, MIT, Yale and Tufts), long and short exchange options as well
  • Spanish opens up opportunities not only in Spain but Latin America

Admissions (10:12)

  • IE has rolling admissions process; you can submit your application at any time
  • Your chances are the same whether you apply shortly before or long in advance of your target intake (April or November)
  • Candidates are encouraged to apply 9-12 months in advance of their target intake so they can prepare for financing and the logistics of moving to Spain
  • Shortlisted applicants are invited to interview, and receive a decision 6-8 weeks after applying
  • 3 years minimum work experience requirement
  • Avg age: 29, Avg work exp: 5 years, Avg GMAT: 680 (IE has no minimum, but encourages candidates to target above 600)
  • IE has global admissions test (no preparation required), a paper-based test with verbal, numerical and diagrammatical questions. You can take this test instead of the GMAT or GRE
  • IE looking for candidates who have entrepreneurial qualities, are open-minded and creative, can work with diverse classmates, and are well-rounded

Financing (20:22)

  • Tuition: 59,900 EUR = $78,000 USD
  • 40% of financial aid applicants get financial support (20-30% of tuition)
  • IE has 2 student loan programs for international students w/ Spanish banks that don’t require a cosigner

Career (23:22)

  • Students have 2-3 months after graduation to look for jobs under their student visa
  • 20-30% of graduates stay in Spain after graduation
  • Every student gets a personal career advisor
  • IE has a growing alumni network in Asia (1,000 in Asia, 250 in SE Asia), and regional offices in Japan, Korea, China, India, Singapore and Australia
  • Find IE’s latest placement report here

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Show Notes

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Full Transcript

Darren: Today it’s my pleasure to introduce Mr. Dirk Hopfl, who’s Managing Director of Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, IE Business School. IE is one of the top MBA programs in Europe and in Spain and it’s our third or fourth program from Europe to be on the podcast, so I’m really excited to learn more about this program. Welcome to the show, Dirk!

Dirk Hopfl: Hi, Darren, thanks for having me!

IE MBA Program Highlights

Darren: Dirk, what makes the IE MBA unique?

Dirk Hopfl: IE is a one year program, so it’s a short, short intensive program and it’s pretty much focused on entrepreneurship. We understand entrepreneurship much broader than setting up only your business back in your home country or in other places, but as well we understand entrepreneurship as corporate venturing, business development, expanding family business, take over family businesses, social entrepreneurship.

So within the MBA program all of our MBA students have to write a business plan as a mandatory project and you can continue your entrepreneurial venture throughout the program and actually present it to investors at the end of the program. So that’s one core aspect of IE.

The second part or second aspect is about change.  So we emphasize on change, personal changes, corporate changes, global changes, changes impacting on something in any time, especially in a more and more globalized world, fast changing environments, where we have to adapt. So we definitely showcase this within the program.

Nonetheless, I will emphasize that uniqueness is a kind of personal attribute. So what might be unique for some person about IE might not be for another person. So you usually select an MBA program mostly for personal reasons and you have really to see the fit for your person, your profile into that institution and to see how the institution fits to you.

Darren: Absolutely and I definitely saw IE’s focus on entrepreneurship all over your site and one option in particular grabbed my attention and that’s the Venture Lab.

Dirk Hopfl: Correct, yes.

Darren: Can you just talk a little bit more about the Venture Lab and the opportunity for students who are interested in entrepreneurship, what opportunity that gives them?

Dirk Hopfl: The Venture Lab has two phases. Every student, as I mentioned before, can actually write the business plan throughout the program with support from faculty members, alumni from IE in the particular industry or function you want to develop your business. At the same time, there is a group of projects which get elected for a more specialized Venture Lab in which you get professional assessment from lawyers, from communication agencies. Usually those are projects which are on high demand for angel investors and investors in general.

At the end of the program, you always have the chance to present your business plan to investors. We are conducting not only for graduates, but also for our alumni, Global Venture Days, which we have been running already in Latin America, in Asia, Middle East, in Europe of course, where alumni and graduates actually can present the business plans to local investors.

Many times investors in Spain are not too familiar with Vietnam or China or the region, so they might not be interested in investing in projects which are happening in these regions, but at the same time taking the Venture Days outside of Madrid and bringing them where the projects are going to happen increases likeliness to get funding from investors.

Darren: That’s fantastic! So maybe IE could also stand for International Entrepreneurship as well.

Dirk Hopfl: Yes, sometimes people take that as a reference.

Darren: So are there any new, exciting developments this year with the IE MBA?

Dirk Hopfl: I mentioned change, so we have been working in our Change in Action section addressing kind of global topics. So this year’s project has been making an orphanage in Pakistan sustainable, it’s actually where we had students working together with an orphanage to prepare it for the future and most of the activities proposed have already been implemented. We’re looking into social aspects, we’re looking into little kind of corporate projects where students can work.

At the same time, we have been developing recently quite a range of double degrees with the universities, mainly in the US, Brown University, Yale, MIT, where students can get a second degree, one European degree, one usually US degree, which gives them access to two brands, two alumni networks and allows them to scale their investment.

We are working as well with universities in Singapore, China, South Africa, Brazil, UK, US, on short exchanges, which are one week exchanges to certain regions to learn more, get more exposure to those areas, can be as well focusing more on certain industries where IE might not be totally specialized in, such as luxury brand management or other fields where there are more experts in other universities.

Darren: I noticed already from what you’ve told us that IE is a very international business school and I saw that there are over 80 nationalities represented in each cohort, is that correct?

Dirk Hopfl: That’s correct. The overall student body at IE probably has about 100 different nationalities at any present time on the campus

Darren: Wow, that’s really amazing! So it sounds like a very international experience and network, but why should candidates get their MBA in Madrid and in Spain in particular?

Dirk Hopfl: There are several aspects. If you think about Spain, for many people it is a new cultural experience, so it’s definitely something which adds value, especially in the globalized world, cultural exposure, understanding how people act and react, it’s definitely positive in the value add when you’re dealing with customers or providers around the world.

Secondly I would say language. Learning Spanish is not just only a survival necessity for being in Spain, but if you think about it as a business opportunity, you have the whole Latin American continent, which is Spanish speaking, and business opportunities are rising between Asia especially and Latin America in recent times. So it definitely is as well an opportunity after graduation if you manage to speak the language.

Definitely thinking about Spain and what has been in the media over the past couple of months or years is the crisis, euro crisis. Spain has been one of the focal points. I think everybody can learn if you’re in a crisis. It’s easy to learn if everything is growing, everything is nice, you add, “We grew 10%, we grew 15%, we might have some challenge to find the right talent,” but you’re still growing. Learning in a crisis environment helps you actually to realize how you impact change with your decisions and how you may step out of a crisis if it happens and right now the euro zone is in a crisis.

But there have been many crises across the world, the Asian financial crisis, SARS, there have been a lot of things happening as well in Asia. It’s a good preparation for times that might not be so good for certain countries or certain regions. So I think it’s definitely a certain exposure to things which might not have direct impact on your country’s economy, but at the same time it’s preparing yourself for the future and you’re learning about crisis management and understanding how to get out of it.

IE MBA Admissions

Darren: Yes, and I definitely would love to talk more about careers of IE MBA grads a little later in the program, so I hope we can get to that. But if we can now shift our focus to admissions, this is always the big concern with MBA applicants, especially applying to a top rank school like IE. So could you just walk us through and demystify the application process? What happens between the time an applicant submits and application to when he or she hears back from IE?

Dirk Hopfl: Okay, it’ll be quite easy and this process is quite straightforward. We have an online application where people register, they have to fill in a couple of questions, essays. And the essays probably in some ways are quite unique, just because you’re not asked only to write written essays, but you as well can express your essay in a different way.

You can upload a video on YouTube, you can make a PowerPoint presentation, you can make a photo reportage, which actually caters to the diverse student body at IE. As you mentioned, we have people from 80 different nationalities in the international MBA, but diversity doesn’t end there, it’s a little broader than that, looking into different academic, professional, function backgrounds.

So for some people it might be much easier to express themselves in different ways than in written means. So in that sense, I think from the admissions point of view, application point of view, it’s definitely different and unique.

Once you submit your application, you will have to take your GMAT or GRE, you also have to possibly take an IE admissions test. Once you submit all the documents, the Admissions Committee will revise your application, will select you or not for the interview. After the interview, it will usually take about another two to three weeks to get a final feedback. So the whole process usually lasts about six to eight weeks from the moment you submit your application.

Darren: Got it, and you mentioned an IE Global Admissions Test. Can you explain what that is? Do all applicants have to take that test?

Dirk Hopfl: No, it’s an alternative to the GMAT or GRE. So people can take it once they submit their application. It’s a test which does not require any preparation, just because the test is based on capacities rather than knowledge, you just come to the test date and you take the test. There are no examples, which makes some people a little bit nervous, but if they can deal with uncertainty usually it’s a real alternative to the GMAT or GRE, which usually require quite a bit of preparation.

Darren: Oh, yes, definitely. I’m sure candidates would love to hear about a test that doesn’t require preparation, but also be a little apprehensive as well. Could you just briefly talk about what types of questions are asked?

Dirk Hopfl: It’s a multiple choice test, paper based. You have three different areas, verbal, numerical and diagrammatical, logical questions, very business focused. So it’s not something where you talk about science, about any other topic which might not be related to business, so in a certain sense it’s very much related and targeted towards information we would like to have of a candidate for an MBA program.

Darren: I think that’s a very unique and interesting approach to test applicants. And in terms of your deadlines, I know you have two intakes, correct? One in April and one in November?

Dirk Hopfl: Correct, we have these two intakes you mentioned. IE does operate on a rolling admissions basis, so we don’t have any established deadlines or the admissions process. So you can actually submit your application any time you want. It might happen if you submit your application too short before the program starts that you actually will be waitlisted if there are no spaces left. In that case, you will be able just to transfer your intake to the following one. So the admission usually is valid for two intakes, which makes it easily to transfer from one intake to the other one.

Darren: Right. And so if I’m targeting say the April intake next year, do I have a better chance if I apply now as opposed to three months before?

Dirk Hopfl: No. Basically we process applications once we receive them and we don’t really compare candidates. So whenever you qualify for the program, you will get admitted. So there’s no better chance if you apply earlier or later. We might have more applicants admitted than actually slots in the program, this happens. But usually the admissions criteria do not vary across the year. They are at the same high standard and it doesn’t really matter if you apply shortly before or long in advance.

Of course, there are considerations, we will talk about them later, in terms of financial aid, in terms of moving to a different country, getting settled, etcetera, so it’s not really recommendable to apply very short-term for a program, just because it might happen that you will struggle probably when you arrive. So usually we suggest people to apply about 9 to 12 months prior to the program start, to be in a comfortable environment.

Darren: Got it. And I know that IE requires a Bachelor’s Degree, a minimum of three years of professional experience, but could you elaborate a little bit more on the qualities that IE Business School is really looking for in MBA candidates? As you mentioned, candidates aren’t often compared to each other, so what are those key things you’re looking for?

Dirk Hopfl: As I mentioned before, IE has a very diverse student body. So we’re not really looking into any particular profile in terms of academic and professional backgrounds. So within the process we’re actually looking into what the candidate, out of his experiences, can contribute to the class discussion. So there of course we look into the content of your work, of your experiences, but at the same time at your personal skills level. So if you’re able to express your ideas, if you’re able to work in teams, in very multicultural teams, if you’re open-minded, if you’re creative, if you have the ability to lead a team and to stand out of the crowd.

Darren: It definitely sounds like you’re looking for entrepreneurial qualities as well from your applicants.

Dirk Hopfl: They don’t have to set up their business in order to enter IE, but probably the qualities I mentioned, you will find them in many entrepreneurs, yes.

Darren: In terms of your GMAT, what’s your average GMAT score?

Dirk Hopfl: Average GMAT score is 680.

Darren: And do you have a minimum score?

Dirk Hopfl: No, we don’t have a minimum score. Tentatively it should be above 600, but we usually take quite a holistic approach to our applications, so in that sense if you have a lower score than the average, you will need to have other parts of your application stand out more than others.

Darren: So if you could leave us with maybe a few tips on anything applicants can do to improve their chances of getting into a school like IE.

Dirk Hopfl: So we’re looking for well-balanced, well-rounded candidates. I mentioned the personal attributes, we’re also looking into extra-curricular activities and definitely take a holistic approach to the applicants. So they might be doing not too well in the academics, but they have been outstanding in regards to their professional development or they might have been doing a quite regular work performance, but they have been participants of Olympic teams for the past four to eight years, which happened to me in one case, where actually he had kind of very outstanding academics, but the professional development was very limited.

So we interviewed him because of his very good test scores and he actually didn’t mention anything about his sports activities in the application. And we interviewed him and he mentioned in kind of a side sentence, “Yeah, well, I’m doing quite a little sport,” and then I investigated a little bit more and it turned out that he had been participating for the national Spanish team in the Olympic Games for the past eight years. Asking him why he didn’t mention it, he said, “It’s not business, so it’s not relevant.”

So we always insist that candidates should put everything there, especially achievements they have done, into the application. It’s for the Admissions Committee to decide how they value it, but put everything which is relevant to you personally into the application. It shouldn’t be any kind of awards from high school, from a little bit far back, but at university level or on the professional environment, if you receive any awards or any kind of special mentions, definitely put them into your application.

Darren: Or even if you’ve spent eight years doing something, maybe you’re not an Olympic athlete, but you’ve spent eight years of your life devoted to a cause or some hobby, I’m sure you guys would love to hear that.

Dirk Hopfl: Yes, whatever. I always say, “Leave it to the Admissions Committee to value if it’s relevant to us or not, but don’t discriminate yourself before we actually look at your application.”

IE MBA Financing

Darren: Great advice. So if we could talk about financing the IE MBA, your tuition is around €59,000, which comes out to about US $78,000, at least right now. So in terms of scholarships, could you let us know what percentage of your class gets scholarships and what are your average scholarship amounts?

Dirk Hopfl: About 40% of our Financial Aid applicants get some sort of financial support. The average support is about 25 to 30%, to give you an idea. IE has no full scholarships, so people who might look into full funding, we always recommend to look into government scholarships, international foundations, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) projects, who might provide scholarship programs, etcetera.

We have a very efficient Financial Aid team who supports candidates in all the financial planning and they are very knowledgeable about those schemes. But at the end, it’s the student’s responsibility to secure their financial planning. What international statistics say is that only 50% of the internationally available scholarship money is taken up. So that means that sometimes students are not lazy but probably not doing good research to actually get better funding which could be available for them.

Darren: And does IE actually give out student loans?

Dirk Hopfl: Yes, we have two student loan programs for international students, which are loan programs from two local Spanish banks where we don’t require a co-signer, which is usually attractive to students who might not be able to secure scholarship or the scholarship amount they were actually aiming for. So it’s a good option for students to look into.

Darren: Yes, I think that’s a fantastic option, because in most MBA programs international students cannot get bank loans from the foreign country they’re studying in, so that could be a real opportunity for those of you listening.

In terms of improving their chances for winning a scholarship, would you recommend anything, like applying early? I mean not just finding of course different scholarships, but would you have any other tips?

Dirk Hopfl: No, basically our scholarships are awarded on an ongoing basis, so there are no particular deadlines. We’re looking into merit as well as financial needs, so we try to balance this out. Probably there are limited things where you can improve your chances to get a scholarship.

IE MBA Career

Darren: Okay, great. So now if we could talk more about careers for IE MBA graduates, which is always the number one concern for people pursuing MBAs. What could you tell candidates who are concerned about finding a job after getting their MBA from IE?

Dirk Hopfl: Usually, when you graduate from IE, your student visa will last probably about two to three months longer than actually your program lasts, so you have some time to search for jobs in Spain. What we noticed currently because of the crisis in Spain there are a lot of companies actually expanding internationally, Spanish exports are at an all time high and we have seen more and more international students securing jobs for Spanish companies in order to help them for the expansion into different regions. So in that sense there are possibilities.

There is no automatic work permit in Spain, but usually when a company wants to hire a particular person which might not be an European citizen, they usually will secure the work permit for them.

Darren: How many full-time students actually stay in Spain to work? I mean maybe this has gone down recently.

Dirk Hopfl: From our experience, about 20 to 30% actually stay in Spain after graduation, the rest of the students move abroad. The international profile of the students actually indicates that not everybody who actually studies at IE plans to stay in Spain after graduation. So there are a lot of people moving back, they are corporate sponsored, they are setting up their businesses and moving back to their home or wherever a project takes them. So it’s not always a first priority for them to actually stay in Spain after graduation.

Darren: And given your experience in the Asia region, what would you say to Asian MBA candidates who are concerned about IE’s brand name in Southeast Asia or East Asia in terms of working with some of the big name corporate employers out here.

Dirk Hopfl: The IE Alumni Network in Asia has about 1,000 alumni in the region, in Southeast Asia about 250, so we have a growing network, I wouldn’t say established network, but definitely growing. Every year we have about 150 to 200 students from Asia coming to study at IE, so in terms of networking it’s definitely a strongly growing network and due to our regional offices, we have offices currently in Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, Australia and India, it helps also in terms of career opportunities and branding and being physically present far away from our campus.

Darren: I feel like IE is taking a very active approach to expanding internationally in Asia and around the world. I don’t know many other MBA programs that have so many development offices in different countries. But given the 13-month nature of the program, it’s super accelerated, could you highlight any unique ways your Career Services helps students find opportunities they would like to pursue?

Dirk Hopfl: We have probably one of the most complete career advising programs along the MBA program. So there are sessions which are starting from day one, people get assigned to a personal career advisor to actually give them orientation where to go. I mentioned change as one of the themes of the MBA, and many students actually aiming for change also in their career after graduation. And we feel that the career advisors take a very central role in defining what steps to take for the future career planning.

So the career advising program works of course with resume preparation, cover letters, etcetera, but also on personal branding, networking, mock interviews, salary negotiation, so a lot of very broad-focused topics and more specifically for certain industries we prepare them for consulting, investment banking, those areas where most of the students are actually moving into.

Darren: Great. So every student gets a personal career advisor.

Dirk Hopfl: Correct.

Darren: That’s fantastic. Okay, and so if our audience would like to learn more about IE and talk to a student of the program or alumni of the program, how would you suggest they do that?

Dirk Hopfl: They can definitely contact one of our offices across the world. As I mentioned, we currently have about 25 offices worldwide, in Latin America, in the US, Middle East, Asia and some of them in Europe as well. Of course, we’re living in the era of Facebook, LinkedIn, social media, and if you look for IE graduates on Facebook, my experience is that people know a lot of people without us knowing that. So if we ask someone, “Do you need any contacts?” “Oh, no, I already found some people on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever.”

So nowadays I think it isn’t very difficult to find alumni, but I think the best way is always to get in touch with the offices, just because they might have additional information regarding a certain academic topic or any link to any particular alumni who might give them certain feedback on the program they want to study, on the field they would like to work in after graduation, etcetera.

Darren: Great. And do you do any sort of pre-assessment service? So if a candidate isn’t quite sure if IE is a good fit, they could talk to you or send you a resume. Do you do that sort of thing?

Dirk Hopfl: We definitely give that feedback, so if the candidates send their resume, we have a look at that and usually I think the information we provide gives them indication on which program might be the best to take. It’s always good to know what you would like to do after graduation. So the past doesn’t predict the future, as we know, and it depends pretty much on the career plans how effective a master degree in general could be for the career development of the person.

Darren: We’ve talked a lot about IE so far, but is there anything else about the program that you wish more candidates knew about? Like a constant misunderstanding of the program or something that you’d like more candidates to know about.

Dirk Hopfl: I would say IE has a very hands-on approach. So we’re using case study methodology to a quite large extent, which gives the opportunity to actually exchange experiences between the candidates or the students as well as learn from the faculty members. We have about 250 to 300 part-time faculty who are actually coming out of the business to teach at IE and we make an emphasis on you really getting knowledge which you can apply on day one after graduation, when you start working.

So it’s not extremely theoretical-focused, of course theory is important and you will learn it, but for us the practical focus probably has a more important role than the purely theoretical aspect.

Darren: Actually just on that note, I noticed that you have a lot of core curriculum classes. If I understood your website correctly, almost 20 core classes and sometimes in each of your core periods students are taking maybe six to eight different courses?

Dirk Hopfl: Correct, yes.

Darren: How do they manage that course load?

Dirk Hopfl: It’s intense, we don’t deny that. A one year program does not really differ in terms of academic content too much from a two years program, so you will have quite an intensive workload, which prepares you very will I think for any kind of future challenge you might face in your company. Not all the assignments have the same length, so if you have eight sessions or eight different courses, it doesn’t mean that all the eight courses have the same length, so some might be shorter than the other ones.

But people manage. It’s hard, it’s intense, it’s a lot of time management, a lot of taking priorities, efficient teamwork, but people manage and people survive and people have time to have fun, engage in student clubs, party, sightseeing, etcetera.

Darren: Wow, it sounds like a really intense experience. So, Dirk, if you could leave us with three words, what three words would you use to describe IE?

Dirk Hopfl: I would say entrepreneurial, diverse and personalizable.

Darren: Personalizable, I think that’s come through loud and clear on the podcast. Dirk, thank you very much for your time and hopefully we can have you on next year to talk about any changes to the program.

Dirk Hopfl: Yes, thank you very much for having me and you’re most welcome. Thank you!

Darren: Thanks, Dirk!

That’s all, folks! Don’t be shy! We have a mailing list at Sign up and we’ll keep you posted with the best tips on how to find and get into the world’s top MBA programs. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook at Touch MBA. Thanks for listening and see you soon!

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