Diego del Alcázar Benjumea talks about the goal and ambitions of a major modern university. By Fiona Maharg-Bravo.
Diego del Alcázar Benjumea likes to quip that IE University isn’t afraid of heights. The chief executive of the Madrid-based global academic institution recently inaugurated its high-rise campus in the city’s northern financial district. The university’s 180-meter-tall building is the third tallest campus in the world. It houses IE University’s undergraduate students, along with its campus based in a 15th century former convent in Segovia, 100 kilometres away in the heart of Castile.
IE University has come a long way since Diego del Alcázar Benjumea’s father founded IE Business School in 1973. The family made a bold bet on the growth of higher education and the ability to attract international students to Madrid by branching out into undergraduate courses in 2007. The growth has been impressive: Today the university has 8,000 students from 140 countries, and attracts students that might otherwise join the top universities in the US and UK. IE University has also succeeded in luring faculty from other leading international institutions, and recently welcomed Pablo Isla, former Executive Chairman of fashion powerhouse Inditex, as Chairman of its International Advisory Board.
Many new private universities have popped up in Spain in recent years. What made you think that there was room for another undergraduate university in Madrid?
IE University is in Spain circumstantially in the sense that the founder, my father, is Spanish, and he started the university here. But we have always looked abroad. Today 80% of our students are international. One of our core values is diversity. University should not just be about having a great academic experience; it’s also about getting to know different cultures and have a broader understanding of our world.
Spain is recognized as a great place to live and to visit, and that’s an asset. Our alumni say that Madrid is a “hidden gem.” It’s a very safe city in Europe. All our programs are in English and many of our students take advantage of the opportunity to learn Spanish. Living here is just a different experience to living in New York or in London: It’s very fun and relaxed. And I think that’s also a big opportunity to explore and to get to know yourself better.
You’re the CEO of a university that’s founded by your father. How rare is it for a private university to be family owned? Does that make it different, for example in terms of funding?
For us, IE University is a legacy that we have a responsibility to maintain, to enrich and to make better. And that’s a huge responsibility.
I think one of the advantages of being a family behind this university is that our commitment and ambition is absolute and that our involvement in the governance is very active. We rely on our top independent executives, we promote quick decision making and innovation very actively, allowing our governance to be flexible and market oriented. This makes a big difference.