A Historical Look Back at the HEC Paris MBA


A Unique Academic Offering within a Prestigious French University…


1881                      Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) founded by the                                    Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris Île-de-France                                      (CCIP)

Image of HEC's original campus on rue de Tocqueville in Paris, near Parc Monceau

HEC’s original campus on rue de Tocqueville in Paris, near Parc Monceau

During the Industrial Revolution, with its development of railway networks, large commercial banks, and the first large shopping centers, creating high-level education in commerce became indispensable. In the 1870s, Chambers of Commerce in cities throughout France opened the very first French business schools.

In 1881, HEC opened its doors in Paris between boulevard Malesherbes and rue de Tocqueville. Its ambitious mission: “to be in the fields of management and trade what the Ecole Centrale Paris was in the field of engineering — among the most prestigious and selective grandes écoles.”


1883                     HEC Alumni association established

Image of HEC Alumni event at a later year


1916                     Ecole de Haut Enseignement Commercial pour les Jeunes                                           Filles (HECJF) established – Business School for Young                                               Women

Louli Sanua, founder of HECJF, explained the business school for young women answered “the need to give women an education that will enable them to earn their living in all the possible circumstances of existence, in order to protect both their material and their moral independence.” The school existed independently from HEC Paris until 1923, when it officially became affiliated with its “big brother.”


1958-1969       Guy Lhérault served as Director of HEC Paris until 1969, when                                 he focused entirely on opening the MBA program

Image of Guy Lhérault (far right)

Guy Lhérault (far right) devises a strategy for implementing the MBA program

When Guy Lhérault became President of HEC Paris in 1958, he was determined to develop a program that represented the essence of American business schools – the MBA.

The HEC Paris MBA (then known as the Institut Supérieur des Affaires, or ISA) was created based on the American business school model, which recruited students with prior work experience. “The program would have the defining characteristics of American business schools as its foundation, but it would be adapted to the French culture.” –Guy Lhérault


1964                     Campus moved from Paris to Jouy-en-Josas. The new,                                                130-hectare campus was inaugurated by General de Gaulle

Image of President Charles de Gaulle delivers a speech in the Hall d'Honneur to officially inaugurate the new campus

President Charles de Gaulle delivers a speech in the Hall d’Honneur to officially inaugurate the new campus

The move from Paris to the spacious campus in Jouy-en-Josas marked a desire to revolutionize HEC’s identity. On July 9, 1964, General Charles de Gaulle inaugurated this international-style campus “composed of modern glass and steel buildings.” The new location was part of the “American” vision of Guy Lhérault, who wanted to increase the school’s reputation internationally.

The beautiful campus offered new facilities – such as a football fields, tennis courts, and areas for students to meet and organize events – which had not previously existed. The move would notably allow the prestigious French institution to attract foreign professors and students.


1967                    Centre de Formation Continue pour Dirigeants (today’s                                               Executive Education program) created



...laying the Groundwork for a Leading Career-Transformation Program



1969                    Institut Supérieur des Affaires, or ISA created (later known as                                 the HEC Paris MBA) by Guy Lhérault and the CCIP

Image of ISA

The creation of the ISA (today’s MBA) by the Chamber of Commerce in 1969 was the product of a detailed analysis of the organizational and management needs of French businesses. Due to the lack of programs offering business-management training for young professionals 25 to 30 years old, many French students were pursuing their studies at American MBA programs.

To counter this brain drain, the Chamber of Commerce decided to create the HEC Paris ISA, an educational program specially designed for the need of the French market. When it was founded, the program offered 2 years of intensive training in management for a group of participants rigorously selected based on their personal profile and motivations, and with a few years of professional experience.


1971                     ISA’s 1st graduating class with 64 students

400 candidates applied in the first year of the ISA, and less than 70 were admitted. Nearly half of the admitted students had Engineering backgrounds.


1972                    HEC Foundation created


1973                    ISA program changed duration from 2 years to 18 months

Image of old seminar


1975                     PhD program created


1987                     ISA’s program duration changed to 16 months

“Choosing to spend one year out of the job market to pursue an MBA could lead to career progression, but it is really the full 16 months required to complete the HEC Paris MBA that allows enough time for career transformation.” –Alejandra Cervio, MBA Director of Academics, 2010-2019


Late 1980s        Milestones achieved in HEC’s internationalization project

In an effort to transform the HEC Paris MBA into a truly international degree, plans in the late 1980s called for finding qualified international professors and staff.

Along with HEC’s internationalization efforts, the school underwent a profound reform of its teaching methods in the late 1980s. A strong emphasis was placed on developing real-life projects, seminar courses, and case-based methodology.


1989-1993        Nicole Ferry became Associate Dean of the ISA Program

Image of Nicole Ferry in discussionNicole Ferry, Director of the MBA in 1989-1993, implemented the internationalization of the program. Before 1989, the program was exclusively francophone, and only open to French students. The “new” ISA program introduced in 1990 offered two sections (one in French and one in English) for the first 6 months. Following this foundational phase, the classes offered to all students were either in French or in English depending on the professor’s native language.

“As the professorial body was almost exclusively French at the time, the most difficult challenge I encountered was finding English-speaking teachers. I had to call English-speaking colleagues and make prospective visits to create a homogenous pedagogical team.

HEC adapted quickly and effectively to become a true MBA program.” -Nicole Ferry



Acting and Excelling on the International Stage…



1991                     Bilingual MBA track created

Image of Bilingual MBA

HEC’s Bilingual ISA track is promoted at an MBA fair

In 1991, HEC’s internationalization goals culminated with the successful creation of the bilingual MBA track. For the first ever class with access to ISA’s bilingual option, the school recruited 50 students from 20 different nationalities, making up 40 percent of the class. The bilingual track, and welcoming students from a diverse range of profiles, introduced a new element to the MBA program – that of professional and cultural exchange between students.



1991                      MBA Tournament (MBAT) introduced

The first MBA Tournament in 1991 was a success from the start, welcoming 1,200 participants from 8 prestigious business schools in Europe. With 12 sports competitions, a sponsorship from Crédit Lyonnais, and a party hosted at the top of Centre Georges Pompidou, the very first edition of what was to become an annual sporting event garnered great interest and attention.

Image of Women’s soccer in 2010 (with Dean Valérie Gauthier)

Women’s soccer in 2010 (with Associate Dean Valérie Gauthier)

“The idea of MBAT was born of rugby tournaments organized by MBA students every 2 or 3 years, which were already successful, with 400 to 500 participants. So, we thought to ourselves why not organize a large tournament amongst the big MBA schools….

I am delighted to see the MBAT, a tournament that a few classmates and myself created on a whim in 1991, has grown and become more professional every year. The MBAT is now an institution among the world’s MBA elite, and therefore greatly contributes to the reputation of HEC.”

–Briac Pinault (MBA ’92), former President of the MBA Students’ Association and Founder of MBAT


1996 – 2015    Bernard Ramanantsoa served as the Dean of HEC Paris

Bernard Ramanantsoa

A graduate of HEC Paris’ ISA program, Bernard Ramanantsoa joined the school’s faculty in 1979 as a professor of Business Strategy and Policy. After serving as its Head of Faculty and Research, he is appointed Dean of HEC Paris in 1996.

During his 20 years steering the business school, Ramanantsoa forged HEC Paris into an internationally ranked institution recognized for the quality of its research. In 2015 alone, more than 360 articles by HEC Professors were published in peer-reviewed journals. Among his many accomplishments was greatly increasing the number of non-French students and professors.


1999                    The program officially becomes known as MBA HEC after                                          being called the ISA for 30 years

Image of Z Building, where MBA classes were held prior to 2012

Z Building in 1992, where MBA classes were held prior to 2012


2000                    First school in France to achieve Triple Accreditation; start of                                 TRIUM (HECNYULSE) Global EMBA

In 2000 HEC Paris was accredited with the “Triple Crown” from the AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS organisations, a privilege reserved for only a select few business schools in Europe.

Trium Conference in 2011

Trium Conference in 2011

Created in 2000, the TRIUM Global Executive MBA will become one of the world’s leading degree programs for global leaders. The program is jointly run by HEC Paris, New York University Stern School of Business, and London School of Economics and Political Science.


2000                    Expansiel Constructed 

Image of Expansiel

Following the construction of the Expansiel residence, it became possible to house all the MBA students in the same building. The 200-room residence allowed MBAs to benefit from all the perks of campus life and to bond with their classmates in an informal setting.



…towards a visionary future of cutting-edge innovations



2002-2010        Valerie Gauthier served as HEC Paris MBA Associate Dean

Image of Valerie Gauthier

“Moving up to the Top 20s in the Financial Times rankings for the first time in 2007 was just the visible part of a profound transformation of the program. In 2003 we were pioneers amongst management schools when we trained students from 45 nationalities and very diverse backgrounds and expertise to reach leadership roles in impactful industries all over the world. Valérie Gauthier



Image of Station F innovation nooks

Station F innovation nooks

2007                     HEC Incubator & World Rankings

The HEC incubator was created to help entrepreneurs achieve their goals in a third of the time it would normally take if they were launching a startup business on their own.

The HEC Paris MBA broke into the Financial Times Top 20 in 2007.


2009                     Saint-Cyr Leadership Training Seminar initiated

Image of Saint-Cyr Leadership

“We believe that the best way to understand leadership is to learn by doing. The Saint-Cyr Leadership Seminar gives students a unique, hands-on experience of leadership. It helps them to understand their strengths, and to adapt those strengths to their own leadership style.” – Xavier Boute, Affiliate Professor of Economics and Decision Science, founding professor of the MBA Saint-Cyr Leadership Seminar


2010                     Class of 2010 demographics

Snapshot of the MBA graduating class of 234 students comprised of: 83% international, 50 nationalities, 24% women, and 90% who can speak at least 3 languages fluently. Image of Class of 2010







2011-2015         Bernard Garrette served as Associate Dean of the HEC Paris MBA

Image of Bernard Garrette“I had the chance to meet, teach and advise outstanding students from all possible parts of the world. At the end of the day, their academic and professional success is both our raison d’être and our reward.”  –Bernard Garrette

Extensive curriculum review in collaboration with Bain to respond to evolving demands of the market

Associate Dean Bernard Garrette worked closely with Bain & Company and the MBA faculty to perform a comprehensive curriculum review. This led to a complete transformation of the program, including new courses and the creation of specializations during the  Customized Phase of the program. The program was completely taught in English for the first time, and its intakes were rebalanced to help grow the January class.


2012                     Bâtiment S built

To meet the demands of a growing student (and faculty) body, the S building was built to not only house the teaching facilities for the MBA courses and re-house its administration services, but also to provide the main entrance to the campus.

Image of S building construction

“The S building acts as a gateway to the whole campus, an interface between the wider community and the teaching environment of the school.”David Chipperfield Architects, designers of the S building





2014                     Inauguration of the MBA eLab Image of eLab

The eLab (the “e” stands for both “entrepreneurial” and “electronic”) serves as a technologically advanced meeting hub where MBA students meet to share their ideas and hear from inventors, scientists, venture capitalists, lawyers, alumni and professors.


2015                     Peter Todd named Dean of HEC Paris

Peter Todd, Dean of HEC ParisWith over 20 years of senior leadership experience at prominent universities in Canada, the US and France, former Chief Executive Peter Todd became the first non-French business leader to serve as the Director General and Dean of HEC Paris starting in 2015.

Professor Todd has over 40 published works on information technology and innovation management.




2016                      1st school in France to obtain autonomous EESC status

Image of aerial view of campus

Aerial view of the HEC campus

The HEC Paris EESC (Etablissement d’Enseignement Supérieur Consulaire) became an autonomous, privately governed body. Its primary shareholders are the CCIP, the HEC Foundation and HEC Alumni.

The new status gives HEC Paris greater operational autonomy, a more efficient structure for implementing reforms, and the flexibility to diversify its funding sources.


2016                     Andrea Masini named Associate Dean of the HEC Paris MBA 

Image of Andrea Masini








2017                     Alumni Reunion Project and HEC MBA Global Afterwork                                             Events commenced

The annual MBA Alumni Reunion event reunites alumni back on the HEC campus. The genesis of the first MBA-specific milestone reunion sparked from the desire to ensure that alumni stay engaged despite their highly divergent career paths across the globe.

Image of Alumni Reunion

The first Global Afterwork Event in October 2017, organized by HEC Paris MBA Alumni, gathered people across five cities: Singapore, Mumbai, Paris, London, and New York. By the 4th edition of the MBA Global Afterwork (held in May 2019), the event was being held regularly across 40+ cities around the world, hosting more than 500 MBA alumni.


2017                      HEC Incubator moves to Station F

In July 2017, the HEC Incubator and its startups moved into Station F (the world’s largest startup campus). Since 2007, the incubator has accompanied more than 250 companies, including Concord, Product-Live, Lettchi and Point Vision, among others.


2018                     Introduction of 2 new specializations within the HEC Paris                                       MBA

Photo of aerial view of S building's interior

S building’s interior

2 new specializations (in Digital Innovation and Sustainable & Disruptive Innovation) were successfully incorporated into the Customized Phase of the MBA curriculum, offering students a robust selection of 7 management fields in which to specialize.



2019                     The HEC Paris MBA celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Image of 50th anniversary logoTraditions such as the Saint-Cyr Leadership Seminar, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018, and MBA Tournament (MBAT), which has been going strong for 29 years, continue to flourish. The 2019 MBAT brought together 1500 MBAs from 14 schools in Europe for 25 different sporting activities.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the HEC Paris MBA, we can be proud of all that has been accomplished in the last five decades. We currently have a top-ranked program that is 92 percent international and represents 56 nationalities. But our focus is on the future – on continuing to provide our students with the best learning experience possible and to remain on the cutting edge of business education for the next 50 years.” –Andrea Masini, Associate Dean, HEC Paris MBA 2016-present


2019                      The Economist ranks the HEC Paris MBA No. 1 in Europe

The Economist’s Which MBA rankings place the HEC Paris MBA as the No. 1 program in Europe and the No. 3 program in the world.


2020                     Class of 2020 demographics

Image of Class of 2020Snapshot of the MBA Class of 2020: 274 students, including 92% international participants and 33% women, coming from 56 nationalities.