A Question of Timing

Business executives can find many high-quality courses to help them build their knowledge and skills, but as Idunn Jonsdottir explains to Jim Banks, not all of them can accommodate their busy schedules.

Executives need to continue their education, no matter how high they have risen in their organisations. But fitting education programmes around complex work schedules and jobs that demand quick responses to dynamic markets can be difficult.

Idunn Jonsdottir, director of general management programmes at IESE Business School, has seen first-hand the difficulties executives have balancing work, family life and personal development. It is part of her job to ensure that IESE’s courses help them achieve this balance.

With campuses in Barcelona and Madrid, IESE is the graduate school of management for the University of Navarra and is among the world’s leading MBA schools. The school offers many kinds of MBA and general management courses, as well as a range of short, focused programmes addressing topical issues.


The school’s advanced management programmes target a growing market. Jonsdottir describes typical candidates as being in their late 40s and as having built their careers in a specific functional division, often sales or finance. Their overriding need is to broaden their understanding of their business.

‘They have usually gone into general management very quickly, so they lack knowledge of other functions. Also they don’t know what they don’t know,’ she says.

IESE’s additional modules in the soft skills of management, such as communication, building trust and achieving a healthy work/life balance, are increasingly in demand.

‘We not only teach them about other functions, but we add soft skills training. It’s optional, but almost all of our attendees sign up for it,’ says Jonsdottir.

These modules reflect the importance of keeping the school’s courses up-to-date by addressing topical issues and refreshing course content to reflect the current business environment. The aim is to offer education that is firmly in tune with the needs of the modern executive and is built on analysis from the university’s respected academic resources.


IESE’s understanding with executives and their lifestyles shows in the structure it has developed to deliver its education programmes. Its general management programmes are delivered in separate modules to ease the pressure on executives’ schedules.

‘The structure of the courses has been a real success factor for our AMP programme,’ says Jonsdottir. ‘We have four one-week residential modules spread over six months. Most of our competitors run programmes for four or five weeks in a row. We feel it is good to have time between the modules to reflect and prepare for the next part.

‘Executives are very busy, so it is hard for them to find time. Our courses are very work-friendly, very family-friendly, and we find that people are excited to be coming back to us,’ she adds.

These long courses integrate with IESE’s short, focused programmes, which are updated in line with the latest research. The school draws on the considerable expertise of the faculty, and recognises the value high-profile individuals from outside the school can add to the school’s courses as visiting lecturers.

An emphasis is placed on social activities, interactive training and networking. There is plenty of opportunity for people to talk about their experiences and contribute to discussions.


The success of the model is evident from the spread of IESE’s activities around the world. It runs courses in Brazil, Germany, China, Poland, North America and elsewhere.

During 2008, IESE will build its US presence. It is running courses in Miami with its partner schools in Mexico and Argentina for executives interested in Latin America, and has a new office in New York that will house its global business research activities.

IESE is looking to put together the pieces of a global learning platform, and the picture is already starting to take shape.

Idunn Jonsdottir, director of general management programmes at IESE Business School.