HEM Business School or the unique history of deploying a model of a private, sustainable and ethical school of higher education in a developing country ...
HEM, Hautes Etudes de Management, (French for Institute for Advanced Studies in Management), was founded in 1988, when Morocco was under the rule of the late King Hassan II. Private initiative was not always welcome and the sector of private higher education was in its infancy.
A man, Abdelali Benamour, married and father of 3 children, economist, university professor, first director of the ISCAE (flagship public business school in Morocco) and former MP, decides to embark on the adventure at the age of 46, with a few pennies in his pocket. His dream was to found a school of higher education in management of excellence and train graduates who will participate in the building of tomorrow’s Morocco, graduates who are open-minded, socially responsible managers and change leaders.
Banque Centrale Populaire (first Moroccan public bank) believed in the project and thus invested in it. HEM was born and based its first, brand new campus in a Casablanca neighborhood called "Polo". An oral and written entrance examination was established straightaway. In the first year, HEM received a hundred candidates. Sixty were retained. An entrance examination in a private school in Morocco? Unprecedented! The son of a Minister or notable that fails the admission test or is late for registration? Denied! At the time, even more unusual... a student fails more than half of the subject matters of the year? Expelled permanently! Still unprecedented... the school was under warning for years. Abdelali Benamour and his team were still clinging to the idea. Quality, values and sense of ethics come first.
As a pioneer, HEM has developed its own model. To be successful as a private school of Higher Education in Morocco, without any help or funding from the state, where the better-off students choose to study abroad, where the class of citizens able to pay higher education fees is small, while the public system is completely free, everything is a question of balance:
- As regards student recruitment, balancing educational and financial logic meant putting in place an entrance exam, not too hard though; otherwise, students would be fewer in number ... not too easy either; otherwise, the level and quality of graduates would suffer;
- As regards educational programs, balancing managerial skills, personal development and general knowledge of the learner was in order. Museums, libraries, discussion areas being rare in Moroccan streets, we had to re-create such a microcosm within the school walls;
- As regards infrastructure, balancing investment size and number of expected students was paramount. The built campuses must be adapted to HEM’s educational model, big enough but not too much; enrollment in private higher education in Morocco is unfortunately not by tens of thousands.
At HEM, positioning is clearly assumed: students whose level at entrance is average to good graduate as excellent. What is the secret? Five years of hard work, very close supervision, strong convictions and values, a sense of family, passionate staff, with still a quarter of the student body not being able to make it till the end, that is the HEM model. Integrated foundation classes appropriate to the incoming baccalaureate holders, a strong focus on languages, extracurricular activities – dance, theater, music, singing, sports, etc. – all being required the first year (at a time when the terms “personal development” or “coaching” did not exist), philosophy courses in the curriculum (removed in other Moroccan schools), organization of conferences and debates were considered high-level “shocks”. The great lecturers of Morocco follow one another and also teach at HEM. The audience attending lectures is becoming more numerous. Moroccans have found a place where freedom of expression is fostered, where taboo subjects disappear, where tongues are loosened.
HEM gradually secures its place. The corporate world recognizes it. Its alumni are highly appreciated by the national, and even international, labor market. The various studies rank it as the leader of the Moroccan private business schools, and among the top tier if we take into account the public business schools. Its DNA is taking shape. The committed aspect of the school affirms itself. The urge to develop the spirit of active citizenship in students, inter alia, is increasingly present. In 1997, HEM created the "L’Université Citoyenne®" (French for “Citizen University”) a set of multidisciplinary courses, free, open to all, without any prerequisites, where the participants in over 80% of the seminars received a symbolic auditor’s certificate. The idea is quite innovative in the country. Thirsty for knowledge, Moroccan citizens enroll in big numbers. The “Université Citoyenne®” counts over 25,000 enrolled attendees in the Kingdom and has delivered 3,451 auditor’s certificates. Some devotees are in their 12th round. Some versions of “Université Citoyenne®” have recently been created: “The presses of l’Université Citoyenne®” – works contributing in a new way to the dissemination of the culture of debating and critical thinking – and “the Reading Clubs of l’Université Citoyenne®” to keep the love of reading and the spirit of sharing. HEM is entertainingly said to be a private school with public utility.
A few years after the creation of HEM, the fateful question of growth arose: should other campuses be created or just be limited to a big campus in Casablanca? The decision was made. The Moroccans do not have enough means to pay all fees; the school must get closer to them. For years, most of the school earnings have been reinvested. Thus, HEM Rabat was created in 1992, HEM Marrakech in 2004 and HEM Tangier in 2008. In the meantime, and for considerations related to its overall strategy, the Banque Centrale Populaire decided to withdraw by selling its shares to the founder of the institution.
The campuses are the work of the same architect, imbued with the same atmosphere, the same philosophy, the same famous electric blue, “blue HEM” as it is affectionately called by staff in order to meet, almost in the same vein, the needs of the educational model. HEM is made of several campuses but only one school, one mindset.
In 2008, HEM witnessed several changes. After having led the school for 20 years, Abdelali Benamour was suddenly appointed Chairman of the Moroccan Competition Council in Rabat. He accepted the appointment, but as he cannot legally run the operational activities of HEM, he had to remain president of the school while entrusting its management to his daughter Yasmine (just emerging from a long experience in banking) and Hassan Sayarh, HEM’s Director of Studies for over 20 years. A very original co-management adventure began between two people who had not known each other before. The risk was great and coexistence started. Egos being of normal sizes, experiences and personalities being complementary, mutual respect being present, the tandem works well, and HEM, while maintaining its model and values, is evolving and structuring itself rather well.
HEM continues to grow and to defend its model tooth and nail. Accordingly, HEM Fez opened in 2010 and HEM Oujda in 2013, the school has 6 campuses in the largest cities of the Kingdom, more than 2,000 students and over 3300 alumni. It employs nearly 200 full-time faculty and staff and about 250 part-time faculty.
What about research in all this? How may one claim to be an excellent business school if no scientific research is produced? Thus, in 2007, together with its regional development, Cesem – Centre for Social, Economic and Managerial Studies – HEM’s Research Center, was born, unprecedented in the private higher education sector in Morocco. Cesem’s originality lies in the combination of these three disciplines, where the social and the economic are at the service of management. The focus was on a type of applied research. This is what Morocco needs up to the present time. Studies, surveys, company cases, policy papers, think tank creation, everything comes together. But I must admit, research is expensive. Again the issue of balance arises. HEM funds the bulk of the Cesem research, but fundraising, though difficult but necessary, is gradually growing. The journal paper "Economia" was released in 2008, first on paper and then in electronic format: www.economia.ma, a unique electronic research platform in Morocco posting the entire center's work free of charge.
Then comes 2013: some form of dedication. IFC (International Finance Corporation), a member of the World Bank Group, knocks on HEM’s door. They have heard a lot about the school, and they want to be associates. It soon became a shareholder, thus marking IFC’s first investment (and the only one to date) in private education in Morocco; a beautiful testimony in favor of HEM’s transparency and good governance. Development projects are being prepared.
Today, HEM is recognized as the best business school in Morocco. It is recognized by both the corporate world by its peers, including prestigious foreign institutions connected to it, sometimes for a long time (Paris Dauphine, Science Po Paris, Assas, Jean Moulin University Lyon III – IAE Lyon, IAE of Paris, Leuven Management School, Solvay Brussels School, UCLA, Florida International University, EBS Germany, Regent's University London, etc.).
Today, HEM has become a Group. It proudly pursues its path through its three-year plan 2015-2017 including several development projects.
The educational and socially responsible adventure thus continues, and so does the upkeep of balance.