Infusing Tomorrow’s Leadership With Meaning – An Interview With Vincenzo Vinzi, Dean Of ESSEC Business School

From L’Oréal, Unilever, Accor and Danone to Accenture, HP, Jimmy Choo and EuroDisney, you’ll be hard pressed to find a major global brand has not I’ve seen a graduate of ESSEC Business School hold a C-suite position at one point or another. In fact, the CEOs of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in Europe were both ESSEC graduates for many years, which must be quite the tingle at alumni reunions!

And then there are the countless entrepreneurs, Olympic champions, artists and government ministers who have been part of the school’s 64,000-strong alumni network since its inception 115 years ago. ESSEC is one of the most prestigious and selective “grandes écoles” in France and is regularly rated by The Financial Times among the best European business schools.

How has the school created and maintained such a level of success and influence since its inception in 1907? I sat down with the Dean and President, Professor Vincenzo Vinzi, who in his 15 years at the school has supported international expansion on campuses in Singapore and Morocco and has guided the business school through the uncertainty of a global pandemic, and most recently, conflict in Europe.

“ESSEC is a world school, with roots in France. We have locations on three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa. And what makes ESSEC a world school is the emphasis on local embedding,” says Vinzi. “Whether you are in Paris, Singapore or Rabat, we guarantee the ESSEC education standard and promote a local understanding of the subjects. And as part of that embedding, we strive to maintain strong relationships with the local business community on each campus,” he adds, “ultimately learning from those communities in the process.”

With multiple campuses, it’s no surprise that Vinzi and his colleagues want to include the diverse communities that ESSEC calls home. “We’re multicultural,” he says. “Inclusion, diversity and equity: all of these are good for business – but above all, it’s good for society.”

Vinzi is clearly a man who believes actions speak louder than words. When asked what values ​​he felt underpinned his and ESSEC’s approach to education, he insisted, “It’s all well and good to say that you have certain values. But what really counts is proving you have them, which can only be achieved by being guided by these principles and ‘walking the talk’.”

Against this backdrop, what is ESSEC doing to demonstrate its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion?

“ESSEC has an impressive and long-standing track record when it comes to advocating for equal opportunities,” notes Vinzi. “In fact, we will soon be celebrating the 20th anniversary of ESSEC’s Equal Opportunities Center,” he adds.

The school pioneered in France by opening its doors to women and offering apprenticeship programs. Vinzi himself chairs a diversity and inclusion committee as part of the Conférence des Grandes Écoles (similar to the Ivy League, minus athletics).

“It’s about systemic Engagement. When it comes to addressing societal issues, champions lead. But you only see real changes when the system follows.” ESSEC is convinced that this commitment must begin much earlier in a person’s life. “All too often, when we talk about the educational gap, we look at this issue as a funding issue,” explains Vinzi. “While this is definitely one dimension of the problem, it doesn’t sum up the whole problem related to EDI or the lack of it in higher education.”

“We need to support people from a young age and not just financially if they decide to pursue higher education,” he adds. “Other than that, it’s no different than building an elevator that will open on the 15thth Floor. But what about those on the first floor?”

ESSEC has implemented a number of programs to promote inclusion in recent years, particularly for people from underprivileged backgrounds. “We recognize the challenges we face as a society and we are doing our part. We practice what we preach.”

Under Vinzi’s leadership, the school has not lost its strategic focus on tackling current economic, environmental and social challenges. If anything, those goals have been reinvigorated with what he describes as “making sense of tomorrow’s leadership.”

Across global BBA, MiM, MBA and a range of Masters programs spanning Supply Chain, Urban Management, Entrepreneurship and most recently an MSc in Sustainability Transformation, the business school seems more eager than ever to make its contribution to the Keep company.

“There is an immediate need for new forms of leadership, driven by compassion, responsibility and social awareness, to have a positive impact on society. And this applies to all leaders working in different sectors, for companies of different sizes, from startups to multinationals, from young to experienced executives. Everyone makes decisions based on responsibility.”

As the Dean is a firm believer in the importance of corporate responsibility, I wanted to know what advice he would give to an ESSEC graduate before he or she embarks on a career.

“The chance to make a difference is there,” he says. “From France to Singapore to Rabat – no matter what country or region you are in – the opportunity for you as a leader to make your contribution to value creation and the advancement of social causes will always be there. So embrace these opportunities with open arms.”

But Vinzi’s concern isn’t just about the impact the school’s graduates are having on the world or their organizations. “We spend most of our lives at work. So you really have to do what you love.”

“Passion is the key. Do things you enjoy,” he says. “And things are changing. Life is a seemingly never-ending learning process. We learn new things about ourselves, our abilities, our weaknesses, our interests – absorb them. All.”

As an obvious advocate of lifelong learning, Vinzi takes himself as an example. “I didn’t come into this industry to be a dean. Nobody does. That’s why people don’t usually pursue academic careers,” he says. “But over time, your passions will develop. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy teaching and research – but I know where I can be most valuable to ESSEC and society.”

And how can a young professional know if he is right or wrong, Work? His answer is short.

“If you’re in a position, no matter what the title or the salary, you feel the need to be someone else, then something is wrong.”

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