Alice Guilhon describes how two leading French business schools realised their ambitions by merging with each other.
Although mergers are common in business, they are far from typical in the higher education environment.
This could be partly because of the nature of higher education. Our production processes stretch over several years depending on the product (programme) so our decisions always impact the long-term. Our organisations also seem to have a certain built-in inertia.
Given this situation, implementing ground-breaking change in higher education is no mean feat. It involves breaking down familiar structures and processes, setting up new and unfamiliar ones and, to cap it all, no longer relying on the usual sources of revenue. To embark upon such a journey would be foolhardy without making sure that all collaborators are fully on board – and this means providing really convincing arguments.
In France, we started getting wind of inevitable government reforms from about 2007.
The first vague rumours became more and more concrete with each successive official declaration. The country would soon no longer be able to afford higher education, not only for the public sector but also private-sector institutions.
Two leading French business schools – CERAM, a business school run by the Nice Côte d’Azur Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) and, ESC Lille, an association under the French 1901 law – rapidly perceived the situation as a straightjacket on their institutions’development and ultimately a threat to their very survival.
These preoccupations resulted in the two institutions coming to an obvious conclusion: only major change could stop our respective stories ending in tragedy. Such a project could even enable us to achieve a common dream of a global business school in line with the aspirations of students from all over the world and the expectations of companies in the new knowledge economy.
The merger between our institutions would entail the disappearance of both our brands. But it would give birth to a mega-project, propel our establishments out of their regional existences and hopefully set them up on the world stage.
In March 2009, a merger was confirmed.
Fast and furious: decision making that works
Our institutions had very different governance structures. However, the governing bodies of the two schools ratified the following principals:
A merger with governance balanced equally between the two entities
The President would be from Lille, the Dean from Nice; the bureau would-be made up of nine people (four from the North region, four from the Alpes Maritimes and the President of the COS (an influential committee of alumni at Lille).
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