This article looks at the history of business schools and identifies specific characteristics that are common to European management schools. On the basis of these characteristics, European management is subsequently defined as a cross-cultural, societal management approach based on interdisciplinary principles.

In a final step, a closer look is taken at how European business schools should prepare their students for the unique European management context. It is suggested that such schools should provide courses on cross-cultural management and courses explaining the interdependencies between the private and the public sector, offer students opportunities to experience other cultures over the course of their studies, and teach management from an interdisciplinary and practically-oriented perspective.

Knowledge @ ESCP Europe

Cross-cultural Management

Defining European management: Insights from the history of business schools


Andreas M. Kaplan
Professor of Marketing and Communication

With approximately 50 countries and more than 60 different languages spoken, Europe clearly embraces the idea of cultural diversity. The European Union actively promotes a multilingual economy and gives all EU citizens access to information in their own language. In this context, one can legitimately ask the question whether this multitude of cultures and languages allows for such a thing as a common ‘‘European Management’’? And if this was the case, what unique knowledge should European business schools transmit to future European managers?

Looking at the history of business schools reveals specific traits that are common to European schools and that differentiate them from their US counterparts. One notices, for example, that the curricula of the first business schools in Europe integrated teaching and learning of foreign languages from the very beginning, while this was not the case across the Atlantic. Given these commonalities, it makes sense to define European management as "cross-cultural, societal management based on an interdisciplinary approach".

Furthermore, the historical evolution gives an indication as to how European business schools were meant to prepare their students for the unique European management context. It shows that European business schools should deliver courses on cross-cultural management, provide students with the possibility to experience other cultures within the scope of their studies, and teach management from a more interdisciplinary and practically-oriented point of view.

In addition to differences in the content of education, European and American business schools also differ in their teaching methods. While ESCP Europe, for example, initiated the use of pedagogical simulation games invented by our school's co-founder Vital Roux, the Harvard Business School introduced the case study approach. Also, there is empirical evidence that European management schools value professional projects, internships and action learning, more than US schools do.

In times of globalization, cross-cultural competencies become increasingly important. This suggests that European management education - and particularly the international attractiveness of Europe's business schools - should rise in the coming years. Main challenges of the future such as cultural diversity and differences in cultural values have been on the curricula of European business schools for decades.
The reason for this is simple: Europe holds maximum cultural diversity at minimal geographical distances.


Kaplan, Andreas M. (2014) European management and European business schools: Insights from the history of business schools, European Management Journal, 32(4), 529-534.