Grenoble Life talks to Judith Bouvard, Dean of Grenoble Graduate School of Business, about her background, the changing business and training environment in France, and why students should consider coming to Grenoble.
Grenoble Life: Where do you come from originally?
Judith Bouvard: I was born in a small town near Manchester in the North of England.
GL: Why did you come to Grenoble ?
Judith: When I left Manchester I went to live in Romans in the Drôme, to work in the luxury shoe industry. After a couple of years there I came to live in Grenoble to resume my studies.
GL: What kind of work did you first do on arrival in Grenoble ?
Judith: When I arrived in Grenoble at the same time as I was studying I was working part-time for a UK firm as a marketing consultant helping them to develop the market of protective clothing for building sites and road works. I then started to work in the training and continuing education business by doing some teaching and helping some French companies to set up in-house training courses.
Then I started working at ESC Grenoble – this was the name of the school before we became ‘Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM)’. I was involved with the school right from the day it was founded and I was even a member of the entrance juries for the Grande Ecole program before the building was finished.
I started teaching at the school and little by little I increased my contributions by developing the international relations. Then, in 1995, I created the Master in International Business (MIB), which was the first international program to be offered by GEM. I really felt there was a niche market for such an Master in Management program taught in English in Grenoble.
I gradually introduced more international degree programs taught through the medium of English and continued to develop the portfolio of international programs until GGSB became one of the schools of GEM.
Parallel to that I continued my studies on the Henley DBA program and also obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Consultancy.
GL: What three professional achievements are you most proud of?
Judith: Developing a whole new international school from nothing and setting up all the programs; putting Grenoble on the map in international rankings, such as those of the prestigious Financial Times. I am also very proud of the careers and success stories of our graduates further to qualifications that I designed.
GL: Apart from the quality of the course programmes on offer at GGSB, why should potential students consider coming to Grenoble?
Judith: They should certainly consider coming for the dynamic nature of the city. It is easy to get by in Grenoble for non-French speakers. There is not a day that goes by without me hearing English on the street. However, most of our students become quite fluent in French rather rapidly as they experience true French culture. Our students are also sure to build a large international network of friends they can rely on in the future due to the fantastic diversity of the student population at GGSB.
GL: You have created partnerships between GGSB and schools around the world, including those in Iran and Saudi Arabia. As a woman, did you face any challenges in this respect?
Judith: The challenge was for me to actually challenge the pre-conceived ideas of what people had warned me about in advance. In those countries, people actually respect you for your intellect, status and qualifications regardless of your gender. Qualifications come above anything else and with more and more women gaining higher education degrees, the challenge for them is lessening. The other challenge was the dress code, but only from a comfort point of view. Wearing a head scarf when it is 40 degrees outside can be quite uncomfortable when you are not used to that!
GL: How has the business environment changed since you arrived in France, and how has GGSB contributed to this change?
Judith: Over the past 30 years, I have seen more international exchanges – both academic and corporate – and better means to conduct these exchanges, thanks to technology. Technology has definitely changed the way people do business. We can now work with different parts of the world without feeling that it is far away. For example I can be talking to a colleague in China or Singapore in the morning and to another colleague in Mexico in the evening. Of course the result is that the working day can be quite long!
At GGSB, we train qualified managers capable of working beyond national borders with a multitude of cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Our graduates are increasingly working in virtual teams spread over different countries. The contact with colleagues all around the world definitely adds a different dimension to business.
GL: How has the learning and training environment changed?
Judith: We now have access to more information, thanks to the internet. What used to be called a ‘correspondence course’ is now called a ‘distance learning course’; technology has made learning more user-friendly. Furthermore, whereas years ago classes were made of one single nationality, the learning environment has become highly international, offering numerous opportunities for students.
Also the faculty members have become more like facilitators than lecturers. At GGSB gone are the days of long monologues by a lecture standing in front of the students. Now there is far more interaction and exchange between the lecturer and the students. Also I think that business schools have realised that it is important to have a good blend of lecturers with a more academic approach and business professionals who bring their work experience to the classroom.
GL: What is next for you and the school?
Judith: I’m very excited about our new Global Executive MBA that will begin in January 2011. This new course will run in eight different locations: Grenoble – Geneva – Moscow – London – New York – Singapore – New Delhi – Beijing, and is aimed at top managers who will travel to each location for specific courses and country case-studies.
This Global EMBA is the result of all the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years, after observing how companies function and their different needs. I’m also an AMBA auditor, so I’ve got to examine various programs, their pluses and minus.
I’m also preparing the future of GGSB when I will no longer be there to ensure the continuity of GGSB. I’m busy getting the right people in so the school will keep the same prestige and have the possibility of progressing. I’m proud as I see the next generation come in to be trained by GGSB. Often, children of those who I taught come to seek advice and are keen to live the same enriching experience at GGSB as their parents did.