Business Schools and Family Capitalism: An Insight into IESE Executive Program, 1958-1974

This paper is concerned with the interplay between elite business schools and local family capitalism. It examines the early stages of the Spanish-based international business school IESE (Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa) executive education program. Today, IESE ranks first position in the world Executive Education Ranking according to the Financial Times (data for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018). Accordantly, the paper has a double focus: a) Early executive education programs before the MBA boom, and b) family capitalism prior to the arrival of Family Business Studies. Our research reveals that between 1958 and 1974 most of IESE students were owners or managers of Spanish family firms. The school provided them with executive education as well as regular consulting and networking. These firms designed their growth strategies on the advice of IESE’s academic consultants, contributed actively to the school’s networking and became regular employers of IESE graduates. Nevertheless, a careful exploration of IESE archive reveals a two-way influence: as ESE alumni highly influenced the early years of the business school, last but not least through the design of executive education programs. The paper sheds new light on two interrelated issues. Firstly, it demonstrates the limits of external (American) influence of European business education, by providing an empirical analysis of how family firms and their need for senior management education played a leading role in the early history of continental European schools. Secondly, it demonstrates that IESE, through its early executive programs and academic consulting services, inspired and monitored the professionalization of its client family firms before the academic consolidation of Family Business Studies in the 1980s. This research also confirms that academic consulting has been instrumental in the transfer of American ideas and practices to Europe in the emerging field of family business.