An interview with former MIF program director Jacques Olivier, new Academic Director Alexei Ovtchinnikov and Executive Director Ferdinand Petra.
- Jacques, you are stepping down as MIF Program Director in June 2015. Why?
Jacques Olivier : I have been in charge of the program since 2007. This has obviously been a very interesting time to be in charge of a Finance program and I feel very fortunate to have been in a position to implement many changes. As a result, the program is very different now than it was then: quite a bit larger, a lot more international in terms of student composition and extremely visible to top employers, especially in London where we place most of our students. After 8 years however, I felt it was important to let other people take over to bring in new ideas and lead the program to new heights. The new structure with an Academic Director in charge of the curriculum combined with an Executive Director in charge of placement and corporate relations is also more appropriate now given the size of the program. Last but not least, I know Alexei and Ferdinand and I know they will be doing a great job! I will also still teach in the program next year.
- Alexei, Ferdinand, what are the main challenges ahead?
Alexei Ovtchinnikov : The main challenge in my view is the continued academic improvement of the program. We have to ensure that students receive the strongest and most current academic content in order to ensure their success in the job marketplace. So, we work tirelessly on improving the academic curriculum, revising and updating the program structure, the course curricula, and the extracurricular activities. We are also facing unprecedented technological change that will certainly have a strong impact on how academic content is delivered in the future. We must not only adapt to it but stay ahead of the game, because when you are on top, the competition is fierce.
Ferdinand Petra : Our main objective is to provide our students with both an outstanding academic and professional learning during the program. One of today’s challenges is placing our students in top worldwide institutions in an increasingly competitive and international job market. To do so, we are endlessly increasing our efforts to help them in the job placement process through specific lectures, companies’ visit in London and ad hoc workshops. In addition, we believe that the personal links they will tie with the students of their promotion on campus and more generally with the HEC alumni community will be a great asset for them not only to find their first job but as well for their entire career.
- Jacques, what is your main take-away from the 8 years you spent as MIF program Director?
People! One of the key assets of HEC Paris is the fact that students spend a lot of time together on campus and, as a consequence, build much stronger ties with their peers and with the school than at any downtown university. Ever since 2007, I have regularly called on alumni to provide feedback and support and received an amazing response. I am very grateful to them as the program would be nowhere near where it is if alumni had not made themselves so available to new generations.
- The HEC MIF has occupied the top spot in the Financial Times ranking of masters in Finance without interruption during your tenure. How do you explain this success?
People again! Some of the main criteria of the FT ranking are career progress of alumni as well as their take on the quality of the program and the services we provide. The program’s success in the ranking is thus a reflection of how successful our graduates are and how they feel about the school. I also feel that the HEC MIF curriculum, with an equal weight given to theory taught by top researchers and practice taught by practitioners plays a non-negligible role in that success.
- Any advice for HEC MIF applicants?
Jacques Olivier : Be passionate! Strong academics are a granted to get in but passion is often what makes the difference between successful and unsuccessful applicants at the interview stage.
Alexei Ovtchinnikov : My advice as an academic director is to be curious and disciplined in your pursuit of knowledge. Finance is a subject that demands a strong academic foundation. It is also a subject that is built on a great deal of economic intuition. The latter comes from a solid academic foundation and from a very thorough knowledge of current events and economic, political and social dynamics. So, be curious about everything around you. And, with regard to academics, be disciplined in your studies. Finance (as well as many other subjects, I am sure) is impossible to master overnight, so study, study a lot, and study hard!
Ferdinand Petra : As you will have to do it for your job interview processes, prepare yourself for your interview at HEC: collect relevant information on the program, talk to MIF alumni from your home school/university and prepare an articulate speech on why you would like to join us, including your career objectives and why we should choose you. As Jacques said, be passionate during your interview process —as you should in an interview for any job!
Alexei Ovtchinnikov is Associate Professor of Finance at HEC Paris. Before joining HEC, he taught at Vanderbilt University (USA). His current research interests include regulation and capital structure, regulation and mergers, and firm political contributions and stock returns.
Ferdinand Petra is Affiliate Professor of Finance at HEC Paris. Before joining HEC, he spent 10 years working in M&A and coverage at J.P. Morgan and Barclays. He has been training HEC MIF students for investment banking interviews since 2013.