HEC Paris: Learn from the best in the business - Jacques Olivier

Jacques Olivier, professor at HEC Paris, answers Finance Director Europe's questions on the famous business school's degree and master programmes, including its new executive MSc in finance.

Please tell us a bit about HEC Paris, and some of the finance programmes it offers.

Jacques Olivier: HEC Paris has been a leading European business school for many years, with a number of flagship degree programmes that regularly feature at the top of international rankings. Its MSc in international finance and TRIUM global executive MBA are both ranked first worldwide in their respective categories by the Financial Times, and Master in Management is ranked second. Many of our graduates find jobs abroad, London being by far the top destination, especially in investment banking and consulting; firms such as JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs or McKinsey are just some of the major employers of our finance students.

HEC Paris has a strong tradition in developing custom programmes for executives and companies value its expertise in tailoring curriculums to their specific needs. This area of strength has also been widely recognised in international rankings (number two worldwide in 2014).

We have decided to combine our expertise in finance and executive education to develop a new executive MSc in finance, which is something we are all really excited about.

How does HEC Paris differ from other institutions?

Before pointing out any differences, let me start by saying that HEC Paris is in most respects similar to all other world-class business schools. The professors who will be teaching the executive MSc in finance have taught previously in schools such as Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan and London Business School. Having said that, if I were to define the HEC Paris 'touch', two features would spring to mind.

First of all, we are very hands-on, and do not hesitate to ask high-level practitioners to teach courses alongside the HEC Paris faculty. Secondly, we have a holistic approach: we do not just teach financial techniques, but also include modules in our programmes on topics such as macroeconomic analysis, or negotiation, as we believe this is the best way to ensure that participants get the most out from their experience. This is true for the top-ranked international finance Msc programme I have been in charge of since 2007, and will also be also be true for our new executive MSc in finance.

Are corporates are doing enough in terms of developing their talent?

As a specialist, I cannot really answer this question on a general level. Talking solely about finance, however, it is clear that there is often a significant gap in terms of technical expertise between executives on the corporate side and investment bankers. There have been many well-publicised cases over the last few years where this gap in expertise has been the cause of some very costly decisions for the firms involved. Finance is a complex field, in which the 'frontier' is always moving. It is hard to keep up as an institution if you do not continuously invest in talent development.

HEC Paris is renowned for its experience and expertise in business matters. Is there a need for an executive master's in finance?

In a way, the answer to this question is contained in my two previous answers. HEC Paris firmly believes that corporations must develop the expertise of their finance executives and is convinced that it teaches finance in a different way from its competitors. Creating the executive MSc in finance was therefore a logical progression.

Tell us a bit more about the new executive master's in international finance programme offered by HEC Paris Executive Education. Who is this programme designed for?

This is a fully fledged MSc in finance that is run in a modular format (40 full days of coursework, plus an online module and a professional thesis, over two years). It has a strong focus on corporate finance and is thus uniquely suited to finance directors who will become CFOs in the near future, or CFOs who wish to improve their knowledge. Teaching will mostly take place in the HEC Paris campuses in France, with some modules in London and Qatar.

HEC Paris believes in a broad curriculum that not only encompasses such core finance topics as valuation, corporate restructuring or investments, but also comprises a module on macroeconomic analysis and country risk, as well as lectures on Islamic finance and energy markets. Two other topics - corporate strategy and negotiations - will be taught by highly experienced faculty members from our strategy department.

A third of the programme is devoted to advanced topics in corporate finance, such as divestures, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, real options and corporate governance. Last, but not least, the professional thesis is an important milestone. With the careful guidance of an HEC Paris professor, it gives participants the opportunity of investigating in depth a topic of interest to them and/or their employer.

Jacques Olivier, professor at HEC Paris.