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Parlez-vous MBA? A look at languages in MBA programs

October 26th, 2011 No comments

The Economist has a long-running column “Which MBA?” and a recent post talks about something with which you are all likely well acquainted: the role of foreign languages in education. The article features two French schools: INSEAD and Grenoble School of Management.

Do you think that learning foreign languages is an important factor in deciding an MBA program?

Parlez-vous MBA?
Oct 18th 2011, 16:32 by S.H.

SPEAKING three languages wasn’t enough for Lenka Menden. When it came to choosing where to study for an MBA, she wanted a chance to absorb a new culture and learn yet another tongue. “My first language is Czech, I studied for a degree in business administration in Germany and I went on to take an MSc in Prague,” she explains. “I then worked for three-and-a-half years as an analyst at Morgan Stanley in Canary Wharf.”

Ms Menden turned down the chance of studying at London Business School, instead choosing IESE in Barcelona, because she thought it would open new doors. “Staying in London I would have been in the same environment and there wouldn’t be that many challenges. So I learned a new language alongside my MBA because Spanish is a very important language of business. I have extended my personal network to include people from Mexico, Spain and the Philippines. I can now work anywhere in Europe or in an emerging economy,” she says.

High-profile business schools still teach primarily in English. But many, especially in Europe, are beginning to realise that language tuition is a big selling point. The attraction of learning a language is two-fold. With so many alumni on the market, bi-lingualism distinguishes the exceptional MBA from the run of the mill. And in a global business, the ability to speak languages and understand cultures is vital.

INSEAD, which has campuses in France and Singapore, has a three-language requirement. Students joining its MBA programme must be fluent in English and proficient in at least one other. A third language of a student’s own choice is taught alongside the MBA. Facility in that language is a condition of being awarded an MBA. “It’s about developing a cultural sensitivity and is a way of becoming a global citizen,” says Leila Murat, the school’s assistant director of MBA admissions.

Chinese whispers
Mandarin is popular on both campuses. A quarter of students are of Asian origin and many Westerners come to the business school specifically to gain insight into doing business in China. Other emerging markets are shaping interest too: Portuguese and Russian are also becoming more popular, says Ms Murat.

Despite Anglophones’ reputation for lazyness in this area, such stringent language requirements don’t seem to be putting off English-speaking students. INSEAD has seen applications from America more than double in the past five years. Nevertheless, there are drawbacks. For one, teaching languages is expensive. The most effective method is face-to-face. That means recruiting native speakers.

But how easy is it to find a native Chinese speaker in a provincial city? At Grenoble Graduate School of Business in France, they can call on the university’s renowned languages department. But responding to students’ demands is not always easy. Japanese teachers are particularly hard to source, says Carol Gally, the school’s language co-ordinator. She says she often has to rely on the partners of people employed on the campus coming forward to teach.

Grenoble’s students are given 72 hours of language tuition over two semesters, with classes running into the early evening after the MBA teaching finishes. Compulsory French classes expose students to everyday situations, official documents and radio and television. Beginners start with the basics, such as how to shop, eat and drink. Other languages are then taught in the medium of French.

At IESE, learning Spanish is a big attraction for international students such as Ms Menden. Although the MBA is taught in English, some second-year modules are in Spanish. The school’s aim is to graduate students fluent in both languages. Ninety per cent of students pass the Spanish element and qualify for what is known as a bi-lingual MBA.

Students are advised to come to Barcelona to attend a summer language school before joining the programme. This makes them more employable, according to Javier Munoz, IESE’s admissions officer. The internships arranged through the business school demand fluency in Spanish; without considerable language skills the offers from Spanish banks, engineering firms and car manufacturers would not be forthcoming. Given the current economic situation in the country, they need all the advantages they can get.

Will France be the next market downgrade?

As most of you have seen in recent days, world stock markets have been manic depressive, going through ups and mostly downs due in large part to widespread worries that the US debt downgrade from S&P and the fiscal debt in countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain will result in worse market conditions for investors.

My other sovereign’s an AAA (The Economist)

There was a market backlash against French debt and enormous market losses for French banks like Société Générale, BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole (exposed to Greek debt and other European sovereign debt) that is making investors increasingly anxious about France’s debt. Indeed as The Economist writes:

“France’s debt stood at 82% of GDP last year, from 64% in 2007. This is one of the highest of any AAA-rated country. That, investors fear, means it could be the next target for a downgrade, especially if already anaemic economic growth falters further. The extra yield required by investors to hold French debt instead of German Bunds jumped to almost triple the average level of 2010 while the cost of insuring against a default by France reached new highs during the week.”

Moreover, as The Telegraph writes, “French banks have €410bn (£360bn) of exposure to Italy alone according to the Bank for International Settlements. The twin crises in France and Italy are now intimately linked and appear to be feeding on each other.”

How will France proceed? According to a great, in-depth Bloomberg interview (embedding not allowed) with Philippe D’Arvisenet, global chief economist at BNP Paribas SA, France initiating austerity measures is “inescapable”. They go on to discuss France’s exposure to European sovereign debt, reform plans to cut spending but keep tax rates at current levels (though with elimination of some 500 tax loopholes).

The same Telegraph article states, “French president Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered a “general mobilization” to slash France’s budget deficit in a frantic effort to safeguard the country’s AAA rating and head off a downgrade by Standard & Poor’s.”

We will see how this plays out…for now, the markets will likely continue to be manic depressive. Hang on tight!

I leave you with this passage from the Telegraph article:

“…Marchel Alexandrivich from Jefferies Fixed Income said investors are worried that the latest contagion to France could bring the eurozone’s bubbling problems to a head in a dramatic fashion.

“If France is dragged into the problem, then we will hit crisis point. They will either have to move to a full-blown eurobond — and German politicians are set against that — or face a break-up. There is a significant chance that the euro will no longer exist in its current form within twelve months,” he said.
President Sarkozy said France would include a “golden rule” in its constitution to restore fiscal probity, adding that the fiscal targets for 2011 and 2012 were “untouchable”.

The new budget measures will be introduced on August 24 and are expected to include the closure of 500 tax loopholes.

The IMF said France has the highest debt ratio of any AAA state this year at 85pc of GDP and may have to tighten further next year. Like the US, France has also built up huge pension debt and contingent liabilities.”

Comparing the Europe and US debt crises

The Economist has an insightful commentary on both debt crises. Excerpt below.

Both the US and the European Union have public finances that are out of control and political systems that are too dysfunctional to fix the problem,” Mr Rachman writes. I have some quibbles about the way he frames the economic issues as a generalised problem of “an unsustainable and dangerous boom in credit”, viz homeowner credit in America and the overdrawn borrowing of Greece and Italy in Europe. This seems to smooth over a lot of differences a bit too easily; the American housing bubble was fueled by CDOs, but the economic problems in Europe aren’t about an asset bubble caused by Greek or Italian government borrowing, and to the extent that the problems are due not to asset bubbles but to financial interconnectedness, the interconnectedness caused by private-sector issuance of CDOs and CDSs isn’t really the same as the interconnectedness caused by the adoption of the euro across 17 countries.

French 2012 election dates set

The French government has set presidential election dates for April 22nd and May 6, 2012 and parliamentary election dates for June 10 and June 17, 2012. French elections are traditionally held on Sundays over two rounds.

Right now it looks like the UMP candidate will be current President Nicolas Sarkozy, and polls indicate that the strongest Socialist Party candidate would be current IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Meanwhile, far-right FN candidate Marine Le Pen is fairing surprisingly well in polls, but most people think she will not be a serious contender for office.

More from BBC News below (BBC actually made a mistake, it’s May 6th, not May 5th).

You can also read more at Le Point.

11 May 2011 Last updated at 11:39 GMT
France sets 2012 presidential election dates

The two rounds of the 2012 French presidential election will be held on 22 April and 5 May, the government has announced in Paris.

A two-round parliamentary election will follow on 10 and 17 June, said government spokesman Francois Baroin.

Opinion polls suggest sitting President Nicolas Sarkozy would struggle against a strong Socialist contender.

The popularity of far right leader Marine Le Pen has alarmed other parties across the political spectrum.

Since Mr Sarkozy won the 2007 election by a convincing margin, the centre-right leader has had to grapple with public anger over his austerity policies.

While the Socialists have yet to pick their candidate, opinion polls suggest IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be their strongest choice.

Why France is depressed and how it can reform

This fantastic, rather long article by The Economist (April 20, 2011 print edition),“Reforming Gloomy France”, profiles the country’s current pessimistic mood, economy, prospects for growth and entrepreneurial start-up spirit that is motiving many today. It speaks about how the French state of mind is hard to pinpoint and also hope for the future. Excellent read. These are only excerpts below. You can read the full article at the link above, and I’ve made it available for download.

France
Reforming gloomy France
The French are feeling morose about their future. The thrusting energy of their digital entrepreneurs suggests they should not
Apr 20th 2011 | PARIS | from the print edition

BEHIND the bustling terrace cafés and bright municipal blooms of springtime, France today is not a happy place. Tense, fearful and beset by self-doubt, the French seem in a state of defiant hostility: towards their president, political parties, Islam, immigrants, the euro, globalisation, business bosses and more. Such is France’s despondency that its people face “burnout”, said the national ombudsman recently; previously, he had described the nation as “psychologically exhausted”.

It is a sign of French disgruntlement that the publishing sensation of the past six months has been “Indignez-vous!” (“Time for Outrage!”), a pamphlet by a 93-year-old urging his fellow countrymen to revolt. Indeed, the French currently rank among the world’s most pessimistic. Only 15% told a global poll that they expect things to get better in 2011, a far smaller percentage than of Germans or even Afghans and Iraqis (see chart 1)…

…The French seem simply to doubt their politicians’ ability to do much to improve anything. The economy is emerging only slowly from the recession, with GDP growth this year forecast to reach 1.7%, compared with 2.5% in Germany. Joblessness, at 9.6%, is high, and even more so for the under-25s. Although the government has embarked on fiscal consolidation, public finances remain under strain, with a deficit of 7.7% last year. Ordinary working people keep hearing that their high-tax, high-spending model provides them with one of the world’s most generous social systems; yet even the middle class feels a squeeze at the end of each month.

The upshot is a fatalistic France that seems to have set its sights on little better than controlled decline: a middling economic power, whose people cling to their social model and curse globalisation, while failing to get to grips with either. Considering what they hear from politicians, this attitude is perhaps not surprising. The Socialist Party promises, with a straight face, to restore retirement at 60 (the age was recently raised to 62) and urges greater European protectionism as a response to globalisation. Ms Le Pen vows to withdraw France from the euro and put back border controls. Mr Sarkozy’s political day-trip of choice is to a metal-bashing factory—although only 13% of jobs are in industry—where he surrounds himself with workers in overalls and hard hats, telling them they need to be protected from globalisation and other ills.

One conclusion from all this is that France and its politicians are irredeemably conservative. Indeed, France often seems to be in semi-permanent revolt, arms crossed and heels dug in against change. Only last autumn, unions and oil workers led weeks of strikes and blockades in protest at Mr Sarkozy’s modest raising of the minimum retirement age. On a single day, up to 3.5m protesters took to the streets; petrol pumps ran dry across the country. “Why France is impossible to reform”, lamented L’Express, a news-magazine….

…But if the French really are so allergic to change, how come the pension reform not only went through but has now been accepted, even forgotten? Only weeks after the new law reached the statute books in November, the matter did not rank among the nation’s top ten subjects of conversation, according to a poll for Paris-Match. France seemed to go through a painful spasm of rebellion, then to shrug it all off and resume business as usual. “We were able to demonstrate to the French people that there are things that a government just has to do,” argues Christine Lagarde, France’s finance minister. “For once, the government did not give in to the street.”…

…By holding firm, and ignoring charges of political deafness, Mr Sarkozy appealed over the heads of those on the streets to the silent majority. He took a bet that this invisible France would quietly back change, and prevail over the rest. For, in reality, two halves of the country co-exist. One half, mostly, but not only, in the public-sector, is led by hard-talking trade unionists promising to prolong benefits for privileged “insiders” and entrench rigid labour laws. The other half, mostly found in the more dynamic, private sector, is plugged into global markets and just as despairing of its strike-happy fellow countrymen as anybody else.

This is the France that does not go on strike, that defies disruptions to struggle into work, and whose voice is seldom heard. It is found among the 92% of workers who do not belong to a union. It is the small traders and artisans who are up before dawn scrubbing their shop-front windows. It is the workforce whose productivity per hour worked is higher than that in Germany and Britain, and which helped to make France the world’s third highest destination for foreign direct investment in 2010. It is the third of private-sector employees who work for a foreign firm. It is France’s leading global companies—Vivendi, L’Oréal, Michelin, LVMH—which busily reap the benefits of globalisation, a force that the French say they deplore.

This voiceless France, more adaptable and forward-looking, seldom permeates the national conversation. Yet a glance at the France behind the headlines hints at a picture that is a lot less glum. Shops are full, markets busy and consumer spending is buoyant. Property prices are up. The French have snapped up the iPad and 20m, or nearly a third of the population, are on Facebook. The French may moan about their country, their bureaucrats and their politicians, but they seem happy with their individual situation. Though only 17% of young people told one recent poll that their country’s future was promising, a massive 83% said that they were satisfied with their own lives.

Libya and the return of French diplomatic leadership

March 22nd, 2011 1 comment

With the ongoing NATO intervention in Libya, both the New York Times and The Economist profile France as a leader on the international diplomatic stage. Excerpts are below. Now there is debate about who is leading the effort in Libya, but there is no doubt France is playing one of the leading roles.

What do you think of the Libyan intervention?

NYT excerpts:

Sarkozy Puts France at Vanguard of West’s War Effort
By STEVEN ERLANGER
Published: March 20, 2011

President Nicolas Sarkozy may be down in the opinion polls, but he has put France boldly in the forefront of an allied effort to prevent the decimation of the opposition to Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi…

…Mr. Sarkozy, motivated by French failures to respond quickly to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and pressed by a new foreign minister and vocal public figures like the writer Bernard-Henri Lévy, came together with Britain to drag Europe and the United States toward a military engagement in the Arab world that key allies like Washington and Berlin never wanted…

…France had “decided to assume its role, its role before history” in stopping Colonel Qaddafi’s “murderous madness,” Mr. Sarkozy said solemnly on Saturday, standing alone before the television cameras and pleasing those here who still have a strong sense of French exceptionalism and moral leadership…

…As for France, with at least 40 aircraft and numerous ships committed, including its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, the battle in Libya is one of the largest French military operations in years, even though it does not involve any troops, as in Afghanistan…

Economist excerpts:

France’s role in Libya
The welcome return of French diplomacy
Mar 20th 2011, 21:23 by S.P. | PARIS

THE success of yesterday’s Paris summit in securing international backing for the military strikes on Libya marks quite a comeback for French diplomacy. Just two months ago, France was offering another Arab autocrat, in Tunisia, help controlling rebellion. Last week’s farcical miscommunication over France’s recognition of the Libyan rebels pointed to ongoing confusion about who was really running its foreign policy. But President Nicolas Sarkozy’s “summit in support of the Libyan people”, which united European, American and some Arab leaders, was hard to fault. Less than two hours later, French fighter planes were in the sky heading for Libyan airspace, followed by the British and Americans. From left to right, the French political class has applauded…

…As always with diplomacy, and never more so than when it comes to the mercurial Mr Sarkozy, there was also an element of opportunism. The French president is deeply unpopular in the polls, and faces a presidential election next year. He had long been hoping to use foreign affairs to boost his standing, as he did when France held the rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2008.

This time, he used his opportunities wisely. He sensed American hesitation about leading another operation in the Arab world, and turned this to his advantage by putting France in the driving seat alongside the British. Germany’s abstention over the Security Council resolution at first irritated the French, but also handed them an opportunity to take the lead. The strange role of Bernard-Henri Lévy, a left-wing philosopher and media celebrity, who telephoned Mr Sarkozy from Benghazi to urge him to back the rebels, seems to have played a part too. For once, Mr Sarkozy’s personal political interests coincided with national and international ones…

…The atmospherics in Paris have changed almost overnight. Politicians of all stripes, including on the left, have praised France’s action. Even Mr de Villepin, a rival to Mr Sarkozy on the Gaullist right, said that “France has lived up to its ideals.” The French are feeling good about themselves as a country that has done the right thing diplomatically for arguably the first time since ex-President Jacques Chirac and Mr de Villepin declared that they would veto a UN Security Council resolution authorising intervention in Iraq. Whether this lasts is another matter. Although Mr Juppé made it clear that this is not a ground operation, nobody knows how long or how tough it will turn out to be. French public opinion is enjoying a renewed sense of national respect, but has not—yet—been prepared for a long and messy war…

Strong showing for left, far right in French local elections “cantonales”

The far right (Front National, FN) seems to be gaining ground in France, in the personality of Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the ultra-conservative former presidential candidate who made it to the second round of elections in 2002 against Jacques Chirac).

They recently received over 15% of the vote in the first round of France’s department local elections, les cantonales (compared to 17% for Sarkozy’s UMP Party, 25% for the PS Socialist Party, see graphic below). Although the abstention rate was very high (around 55%), it is an important alert for many French and politicians.

For France, there are worries about crime, immigration (specifically Muslim immigrants) and other issues that motivate people to vote for the hard-line party FN. But this is not a French phenonmenon, as the far right has a growing influence around Europe.

I wrote about these elections in Bonjour Paris and how the decline in Sarkozy’s popularity could undermine the strength of UMP’s election results. In fact, some members of UMP and even Sarkozy’s cabinet have called for voters to choose archrival PS (Socialists) in case the choice was between PS and FN.

Next step: the 2nd and final round of the elections will take place this Sunday March 27.

You can read more about this and the far right movement on France24 (English, excerpts below), Figaro (French, conservative), Libération (French, liberal), BBC News and The Economist. The Figaro most notably has department by department results of the election. They also have a special section on the elections.

Local elections see gains for left and far right

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservatives lost ground in nationwide local elections on Sunday that saw a low voter turnout and significant gains by opposition left-wing parties and the far-right National Front.

AP – French leftists and the resurgent far right enjoyed strong showings in local elections Sunday that left President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing conservatives struggling to maintain prominence.

Sarkozy’s role in launching the international military intervention in Libya on the eve of the voting did not immediately appear to have swayed the outcome of the voting in France’s cantons.

The elections for France’s smallest administrative segment are relatively minor, but they are the last test of parties’ nationwide strength before next year’s presidential elections.

Turnout was about 45 percent, low for France, the Interior Ministry said. The prime minister, anguished by the low participation, urged voters to turn out for the runoffs March 27.

The opposition Socialists enjoyed the most votes overall with about 25 percent of votes, according to preliminary results Sunday night from the Interior Ministry.

Sarkozy’s UMP party and allied parties had about 32 percent of votes, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said. But French television and rival parties said the UMP itself had less than 20 percent of the vote.

The far right National Front had about 15 percent of the vote, Gueant said. The party is riding the wave of popularity of its new leader, Marine Le Pen, who has tapped into worries about Muslim immigrants.

Le Pen took the party leadership in January from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, an icon in French politics for decades who worried millions of French voters and neighboring countries when he made it into the runoff in 2002 presidential elections.

Recent opinion surveys have showed Sarkozy’s approval ratings at historic lows. Leftist voters are angry at his cost-cutting measures and say he is too cozy with corporate interests. Many conservatives are disappointed that he has not been bolder about loosening up the labor market and hasn’t eased tensions between police and youth in suburban housing projects.

A win in a cantonal election gives candidates a seat on councils overseeing France’s departments, or provinces.

US states population and GDP compared to countries

As is often the case, The Economist has a very interesting feature with an interactive map that illustrates the states of the US and their population and GDP (I believe nominal here, not purchasing parity), compared to similar statistics of other countries.

For instance, the population of California (37.5 million) brings it close to Poland (38.11 million), and the GDP of Texas ($1.114 trillion) is roughly the same as that of Russia ($1.231 trillion).

How does France fare? Its GDP is estimated at around $2.5 trillion, making its economy about the size of a California-Florida combination, and its population of about 65 million translates into the combined populations of California and Texas.

For those of you interested in China, the magazine has a similar feature comparing Chinese provinces to countries (for instance, Guangdong’s GDP is similar to that of Indonesia). It also gives GDP per person and Exports stats.

For the US feature, you can click on each state for an in-depth analysis. I have pasted images below to give an idea of the feature (1st one is GDP, 2nd one is population). Enjoy.

Women in business; top French SME’s with women in control

In honor of the 100th International Women’s Day (Journée da la Femme) The French financial newspaper La Tribune had a special report with several articles yesterday on women in business. They paired up with the group Women Equity for Growth for the special. Links to the articles are below (in French). La Tribune also organized a Women’s Awards night in November.

The Economist also put out a series of charts on women in society: in politics, on boards, at business schools, in work. These compare the position of women in several countries. Very interesting and pertinent study. As the article states, despite significant progress and opportunities for women in the past century, “…the difference in male and female employment rates in many countries is still large and persistent. While progress has been made, there is a long way to go before gender equality is reached.”

Expatica also features an article on “Four trends helping women in business move ahead.”

Meanwhile, a European Parliament group released a report on gender inequality and called for the European Commission to cut the gender pay gap by 1 percent per year.

La Tribune articles:

Article on Top 50 SME’s with women at top
PDF list of the Top 50
Les Editions Belin publisher adapting to 21st century technology
Interview with Union Plastic President Florence Poivey

There were also several special TV programs dedicated to the day:
“Dans le coeur des femmes” (special show with debate and discussion by feminists, journalists, business leaders, philosophers…), not yet available online
“Une semaine sans les femmes” men trying to manage the family without their wives
Chabada show to celebrate women (with songs, etc)

Why London attracts French expats

February 24th, 2011 2 comments

The Economist has a feature this week about the growing French expatriate population in the Greater London area: 400,000 and counting, according to some estimates, with cultural, economic and social implications that go along with such a presence. In fact, the French Parliament will soon have a new constituency to represent French citizens in Britain and Northern Europe.

It turns out that in interviews with expats, some of the reasons for the flock include: high-paying job opportunities, lower income and corporate taxes, a chance to raise one’s children bilingual and, perhaps most importantly, a different “international feel” about London that many French do not find in London. Excerpts below.

What do you think of this article? Do you think France is less business-friendly than the UK, and what do you think should be done to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation, lower taxes and more business-friendly policies conducive to private enterprise and investment? Is President Sarkozy on the right track?

The French community in London
Paris-on-Thames
The French influx to London suggests what governments can and can’t do to boost their cities’ allure

“…French Londoners are often in their prime. The archetype is a banker with children at the Lycée Français in South Kensington, the established hub of the community (“the 17th arrondissement”), who misses the food and weather of home. The City, a bigger financial centre than Paris, is keen on French workers, especially traders—products of an educational system that turns out mathematics whizzes in droves. It is rational interests, rather than cultural affinity, that draw this type of Frenchman to London: high-paid work, lower taxes (especially on wealth), and the chance to raise bilingual children…

…The superior beauty and efficiency of Paris often come at the price of dynamism. Many young French arrivals in London say they are fleeing rigid social codes, hierarchical corporate culture and a sense of distance from the global swirl of people and ideas. “It is hard to go back once you have tasted the internationalism here,” says Jessica Moyal, who works in private equity.

French twenty-somethings see London as a “gateway to globalisation”, agrees Édouard Braine, the French consul-general, who compares the ritual sojourns in the city taken by his younger compatriots to the globe-trotting gap years favoured by their British peers. Not all secure high-flying jobs: many come to study, or to work as au pairs or waiters while perfecting their English, or to find a niche in London’s huge creative industries. Many young French of African or Arab origin also say that there is less discrimination in Britain….

….Far more likely to pull talented French people back home than Britain’s economic doldrums is the prospect of France becoming more business-friendly. Nicolas Sarkozy is chipping away at taxes and regulations, and wants Paris to expand through private-sector development. That sort of thing is within the gift of politicians. But replicating the loose, globalised way of life in London—the anything-goes culture that draws a certain kind of young French person—will be much harder.”

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