The way that Barbara Souza ended up at EMLYON Business School is a bit unusual but also strangely fitting.
The 28-year-old Brazilian, a former merchant navy officer, was traveling solo through Ireland when a young Indian man took an empty seat next to her on a bus tour. The two struck up a conversation and after Souza told her new seat mate that that she had been living in Lyon for a few months he began to gush about the local business school, telling her that he was in fact an EMLYON grad now living in Paris. Intrigued, Souza contacted the school after returning from Ireland and set up an appointment. Four months later, she was sitting in her first class.
Photo: Barbara Souza
Without that chance encounter, Souza said she probably never would have ended up at EMLYON, from where she finished the International MBA programme last month. The international nature of her route to the business school – a Brazilian and an Indian discussing a French business school while touring Ireland – was not only a bit random, it was a harbinger of what was to come.
“There were 38 students from 22 countries in my cohort so I got to work with people from all over the world,” she said.
At the heart of EMLYON's International MBA program is the Entrepreneurial Leadership Project, a seven-month team-based consulting project. Souza's group, in which she was joined by two Chinese students and one Indian student, did their consultancy with the Louvre Hotels Group, where they focused on the hotel chain's HR guidelines. The project took them to hotels in numerous countries including a memorable training session in Istanbul, Turkey.
“I really love talking to people, so this project was perfect for me. The international makeup of our group was frustrating at times but the outcome was great,” Souza said. “At EMLYON, everything we do is in groups and the biggest challenge is communication, because each culture has its own way of communicating. But an MBA serves to teach everyone the same language in a way: the language of business, so I learned to put more energy into my own communications in order to make things work.”
The small cohorts at EMLYON mean that each student gets a lot of one-on-one time with both their professors and the school's career services team, which helps students tailor their CVs to meet local expectations and runs them through mock job interviews. And because the students come from such varied backgrounds, both culturally and professionally, they quickly come to feel like a family rather than competitors on the job market. Although the International MBA program is exclusively in English, participants also go through a French ‘bootcamp' that builds camaraderie as students learn the new language together.
View of Lyon. Photo: vwalakte/ iStockphoto
Souza focused her International MBA on entrepreneurship and is now interning at Magic Circus Éditions, a Lyon startup selling designer lighting. An artist herself, Souza is also chasing her own startup dreams and using her EMLYON experience to sell her maritime-themed art online. She hopes to build her business from Lyon, a city she fell in love with and has no intention of leaving.
“I originally came to Lyon to learn French and it was just going to be for a month or two but now I'm planning a life here,” she said. “It's so peaceful and it feels so safe. Every time I walk along the rivers I stop and take it in because it's beautiful. I like the way people enjoy life here and after my hometown of Rio de Janeiro, I think Lyon is now my favorite city.”
With its central location - it's just 2 hours from Paris and 1.5 hours from Geneva - Lyon checks a lot of boxes that appeal to students and recent graduates: it's cheaper than other major cities in France while offering a higher quality of life; it's the country's third-largest city, so it's full of cultural attractions but not overwhelmingly huge; it's the centre of France's tech and pharmaceutical industries; and it has a large and thriving international community.
The city also provides a supportive environment for entrepreneurs as evidenced by the fact that 15,386 businesses were set up in Lyon in 2015 alone.
It's among the many reasons why EMLYON appealed to recent grad Daniel Ortiz. Ortiz came to Lyon from California with his wife and young son. He was working in IT when he made the decision to pursue higher education in Europe.
Photo: Daniel Ortiz
“I thought it would be really cool to move to Europe so I developed a strategy for how I could do that,” the 26-year old said. “I eventually narrowed it down to France, because the economy is doing great and I thought I could learn French, and then I chose EMLYON because it has a really good reputation. But really the decisive factor for me was the consultancy project.”
In a group with students from Brazil, Mexico and Switzerland, Ortiz's consultancy was helping Hilti, a multinational B2B construction company, develop a unified retail strategy. The international dynamic of the group project was an invaluable learning experience, he said.
“Interacting with so many different people is something I've never really done before. I was born and raised in the LA area and had never really left so moving to Lyon was an eye-opener,” he said. “At EMLYON, you're working with people from different cultures every day so that definitely prepares you for an international career.”
Moving from Los Angeles, Ortiz said he originally thought that Lyon “was a really small city” but he soon discovered that its size was one of its biggest selling points.
“It's a beautiful and very manageable city. You can walk or take the bus anywhere and quickly get around. There are a lot of cultural events. Literally everything you would need is here. There are even quite a few really good Mexican restaurants so for me it's got everything in a small package.”
Thanks to Ortiz and some of his classmates, Lyon may even soon have a new cultural offering. As part of the EMLYON International MBA program, students take part in a New Ventures class in which they come up with a startup idea and then present a feasibility study to a panel of entrepreneurs. Ortiz's group's idea idea was to start a craft brewpub with a taproom in Lyon. They won the competition, and although he joked that serving his home-brewed double IPA might have swayed the judges in his favour, the entrepreneurial seal of approval has him now considering the idea for real.
Like Souza, Ortiz is hoping to stay in Lyon, especially now that he and his wife have welcomed a new daughter into the family.
“I'm definitely happy with my choice of the school and the city. I really fell in love with Lyon,” he said.
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by EMLYON.