The story behind the top-ranked Master in Management program in the world

The Master in Strategy and International Management (SIM) at the University of St.Gallen has been the top-ranked program of its kind for 10 consecutive years. We spoke to Prof. Dr. Omid Aschari, Managing Director of the St.Gallen SIM, to learn about the secrets of its success.

In short

The vision of the world's leading Master in Management program

“It didn’t start as a frontrunner, right?” reflects Omid Aschari, who heads up the Master in Strategy and International Management (SIM) program at the University of St.Gallen in Switzerland. “Everything starts small and takes time to come out of obscurity and eventually become the frontrunner.” (03:24)

​​​​The SIM certainly started small. Launched in 2004, the international prestige of the university gradually benefitted from the outstanding reputation of its flagship program. Fast forward to today, and the SIM has been the top-ranked Master in Management program in the world according to the Financial Times for 10 consecutive years – an extraordinary achievement that no other school has ever achieved in this ranking. So, what makes the program so special?

“There is something – I don’t know what it is – some people would say it’s the magic of SIM,” Omid tells us. “I would say it has to do with a few aspects. One of them is that I think the students who come here are individuals who are not only looking for a [top-notch] management education…the program is putting an emphasis on aspects which would be too time-consuming for someone who just wants to purchase a [seat in a streamlined] program. You really need to be interested in those undercurrents of the program. I think they (the students) are interested in something [that] helps them to find themselves.” (00:00)

The idea that SIM students are looking for something that goes beyond a business degree is clear. Omid believes that the program serves as a sort of enabler for students to fully realize their potential – not just in business, but in their personal lives too.

He says, “What you try to do with a program [is] you touch base with the talent pool and make it explosive, make sure that the individual starts learning because of the environment and the culture, in a way that he or she would have never thought.” (13:14)

The admissions process for the St.Gallen SIM

For a course with such a lofty reputation, it’s no surprise that the admissions process is very thorough. Essays, grades, GMAT scores, video interviews, and extracurricular activities are all components of the process, and international experience is also highly valued by the University of St.Gallen.

“We want to find out whether the individuals have had some exposure to different environments, different markets, different cultures,” explains Omid. (20:01)

When it comes to evaluating SIM applicants, the admissions team is looking for more than someone who can just tick all of the boxes. Successful applicants must also demonstrate how they can contribute to the program, to employers, and to society at large.

Omid says, “All of these things together give us an indication of whether an applicant [is successful], and whether it’s a win-win situation. [Because it] goes both ways.” (20:36)

Conversations, class sizes, and culture

The conversations that St.Gallen has with academics, alumni, and businesses help to create an ongoing feedback loop, which allows the university to constantly refine the program according to the needs of the market.

“First of all we gather a lot of feedback, we have a lot of conversations, not just with industry experts but [also with informed professionals] of different generations,” Omid explains. (08:45)

When it comes to class size, Omid believes there is an optimal level. He says their usual class size of 50-60 enables students to interact with each other and grow as individuals – without losing the personal touch of a smaller group.

“What we found out is that a group size beyond 60 changes the dynamics in the group,” he says. “It’s more difficult to grow – [a smaller group] can grow together in a way that you don’t have subgroups [for example].” (17:07)

The most important factor of all might be the SIM’s culture. According to Omid, this should be the first consideration of any program: “The program needs to have an agile culture – the first component of a program is you need to think what kind of culture you want to cultivate…Actually, the courses are embedded in the overall program culture.” (11:54)

Creating value for students, now and in the future

As we’ve mentioned, the SIM provides its students with more than a business degree. Omid states that their focus is on creating true value for SIMmies – in their personal and professional lives, both now and in the future. 

“The program wants to be real, wants to create real value for the students, wants to really have an impact, wants to provide meaningful education based on the best possibilities of what we know on this planet,” Omid says. (16:28)

“What we do is screen the markets regularly, we look for new trends, we anticipate trends ourselves in the meantime, and try to basically make sure that the topics which are brought in are aligned with what a student who finishes in two years, or one and a half year, or two and a half years will experience on the market [at a later time]. We’re basically always planning three to five years ahead of time,” he adds. (09:29)

“Our philosophy is that you are never done as a human being – you’re always searching, exploring, you’re building your potential, and that continues lifelong.” (01:04)

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