Francis Léonard, Dean of HEC 1986-1990
In summer 1986, the School Council elected a new team of deans for a term of two years, consisting of Professors Francis Léonard (dean), Marc-Henri Amsler and Alfred Stettler (assistant deans). The school had experienced a period of extraordinary development but had seen some internal tension; it suffered from budgetary and organisational constraints and particularly from its lack of autonomy within the university. Yet, on account of its teaching quality and specificity it enjoyed a good overall reputation.
The school had to come up with solutions for a number of new circumstances affecting its student training, in particular the IT revolution (the arrival of personal computers), whether to change its undergraduate courses from 3 to 4 years, student mobility, etc. From the start, the new deans defined as their priority objectives student support, research, IT and continuing education. Of these, only the improvement of student support could not be sufficiently addressed as a result of the marked increase in student enrolments. Research activities, on the other hand, were generally expanding based on the personal objectives of the faculty members.
Informatics within the school advanced very rapidly, on the operational side as well as in teaching and research. Thus, an impressive centre for information technology (CEI) was made available to large student groups and new staff posts were created. The Institute of Informatics and Organisation (Inforge), inaugurated in June 1988, ensured a better allocation of technical, financial and human resources in this upcoming area.
The field of continuing education, which could already boast several postgraduate programmes, focused on several areas such as banking, accounting, actuarial science, the hotel and tourism sector, the management of SMEs etc.
During Dean Léonard’s office, from 1988 to 1990, Professor Bernard Apothéloz succeeded Professor Amsler as assistant dean, while Professor Yves Pigneur carried out assistant dean Stettler’s office during his sabbatical.
In upholding their primary choices, the deans placed special emphasis on improving student mobility and on preparing students for an increasingly globalised economy. Thus, faced with the labour market’s growing demand for four-year bachelor’s degrees, the school decided to maintain its three year degrees, while offering a complementary masters programme during the fourth year. Concrete initiatives were also taken to establish the school as a leading force in the continuing education of leaders in two key areas for the local economy: financial services and SMEs. The school was thus able to contribute significantly to the establishment and the activities of the SME-University Association and create an Institute of Banking and Financial Management (IGBF/IBFM). Furthermore, the school got involved in the area of tourism and strengthened its CREA unit by awarding it the status of Institute of Applied Macro-Economics.
Before the end of their term of office, the deans also established the basis for an ambitious bilingual postgraduate programme in international management, which was to include student exchanges with foreign academic institutions. This project has been running as MIM (Master of International Management) since October 1990.
Olivier Blanc, Dean of HEC 1990-2000
When it became part of the faculty in the seventies, the School of Business and Economics had to earn its place within the University of Lausanne – it could not take it for granted. Unlike its counterpart in St Gallen, HEC did not benefit from a regional economic environment of equal importance; what is more, some “academics” found it hard to consider economics “worth the money” as a university subject.
In order to forge itself a place and make it, if possible, a respectable one, HEC needed an objective. It chose a very simple one: “To be to the University of Lausanne what Wharton School is to the University of Pennsylvania”. This was greeted with smiles by quite a few chancellors, but over time and against all the past and perhaps above all present odds, HEC has almost managed to reach its goal. How did it get there?
First of all, any institution aiming to teach economics at an international level requires a modicum of academic and functional freedom to allow it to develop in close relationship with the economy. Because of this, its mission and visibility far exceed traditional university membership. What is needed is an entrepreneurial mindset, a grain of provocation and academic nonconformism and above all direct and privileged relations with the economic and political world. For the past two decades, the heads of HEC have consistently fought for this freedom. As a constituent body of the University of Lausanne, HEC therefore adopted the name HEC Lausanne in the eighties and created a strong trademark which it has since developed further. The school is able to draw on public relations, collaborations and representations developed over time by its management, professors, students and graduates all over the world. The aim was to position HEC Lausanne at the top of the field in its areas of competence. It was a long and ongoing task, but crucial to the existence of the faculty and to the credibility of the teaching and research it delivers in the areas where it aims to excel.
The areas of competence of this problem child of the University of Lausanne and its “Wharton School” dream grew to a wider but well thought-out range of academic services in teaching and especially in research. In order to follow its dream, the school had to raise its teaching standard and choose between taking the track of the so-called hard sciences and moving closer to the ‘social sciences’. HEC Lausanne chose the former and very soon found itself in closer affinity to the engineering disciplines than to the ‘soft’ sciences – without, however, neglecting the input of the latter. Out of this general choice grew other promising and current areas: management theory and technology, accounting concepts, or finance and risk management in such fields as engineering or health economics and management, to mention but a few. All these areas have enriched the teaching programmes. They have led to four-year bachelor degrees, the creation of numerous masters’ programmes and structured doctoral studies. These teaching objectives could not have been reached without a marked development in research, mostly within the new institutes. It is thanks to the quality of its research, above all, that HEC Lausanne now ranks among the leaders in European university rankings.
HEC Lausanne has almost reached its dream of becoming the “University of Lausanne’s Wharton School”. It has experienced ups and downs. The school has had to struggle against academic conformism and tradition. Without being given many resources, the school has come a long way, thanks to its professors, assistants and above all students, who, with ambition and conviction, have continually aimed high. Has the school made itself heard, and is it still being heard? These are the questions the present and the future will have to answer!