A scientific background in my DBA experience

When I started my Doctorate of Business Administration at Grenoble Ecole de Management four years ago, about 20 years had passed since I had earned my PhD in Chemistry. Since that milestone, I had been in several senior business management positions, and I had founded my own consulting company. So, even though I had gained much professional experience, I realized that I was not completely sure about what I would expect from a DBA. But, I was certain that it was going to be an intellectual challenge and that I was willing to embrace it.

My DBA motivations

Generally, professionals have various motivations when they decide to start a DBA: the desire to make a transition from industry to academia; the willingness to gain a different perspective or deeper understanding of business for their work as managers or consultants; or the wish to have access to very senior management positions.

Personally, I wanted to embrace the intellectual challenge of a DBA because I was interested in gaining the skills to look at business from new perspectives. After several years in industry, I realized that my knowledge of business based on managerial practices had some gaps. I reckoned that I needed to get new perspectives to answer questions like: “why do managers or entrepreneurs make certain decisions?”, “what should managers or entrepreneurs be aware of to cope with the unpredictability of the business?” or “why do entrepreneurs sometimes fail to bring to market very promising technologies?”

The knowledge that I had built as a practitioner allowed me to find answers, but that didn’t satisfy me enough. I wanted a deeper understanding of business situations I had encountered, and I thought that whatever I could learn from my work in the field wouldn’t provide me with the means to gain the knowledge I was looking for.

The art of observing reality from different angles

Maybe my openness to answering these sorts of questions was rooted in my background. As someone with a scientific education, I have always valued the importance of understanding the reasons why things happen and of identifying the mechanisms that explain and describe the complexity of reality. As a practitioner with a scientific mind-set, I consider this kind of knowledge not mere intellectual curiosity; rather, I realized it is essential for finding solutions to business issues and for adding value to the work in enterprises.

Often, cost constraints and the typical fast pace in companies oblige managers and consultants to adopt schemas and to follow conventionally accepted paths and practices. In sometimes doing so, little room is left to explore areas that would enable seeing a situation in its real complexity. My particular experience in high-tech companies made me aware that more often, entrepreneurs and managers are required to cope with highly unpredictable businesses based on fast-developing technologies. In these situations, the usual formats or standard, “ready-made” approaches are not enough. It is necessary to go beyond these and follow unconventional paths. It’s essential to have an open mind-set and observe the reality of business from different points of view and then apply a scientific mind-set to see the cause-and-effect relations in the events.

Lessons learned from my DBA experience

I realize now that when I started my DBA, I followed my scientific mind-set, my inclination to explore, investigate, and become aware of the way things actually work. I thought I could acquire the skills for in-depth understanding of business by identifying sometimes-neglected aspects, and by doing so, I could offer my clients a really valuable contribution by solving their business issues.

Now, I am writing my thesis and my DBA journey is almost at its end. I finally realize what to expect from a Doctorate of Business Administration: the means that allow me to dramatically sharpen my logical skills and to develop an open mind-set. The combination of these two elements enables me to understand the complexity of business by using creativity, with a scientific approach, and to avoid both oversimplification and over complication when addressing real business cases.

By Ritalba Lamendola, Grenoble Ecole de Management, DBA student

Watch our video “Doctoral research: the differences between a PhD and a DBA


The DBA Journey from Admission to Stage 1: Resilience and Adaptation Skills as Key Words

Despite being designed for practioners, the Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) journey is often counter-intuitive for us and therefore full of booby-traps. For two years, the DBA student must attend seven workshops (and possibly optional classes and conferences) and pass several milestones, such as the Preliminary Research Paper (or the admissions exam), Extended Research Proposal (ERP), Literature Review (LR), and Stage 1.

The first steps in research

The pre-DBA student generally applies to the program with a professional eye and approaches a research question (RQ), and more generally, field of research, through a proven expertise and an issue encountered in the “real” world that, based on his intuitions and expertise, deserves some thorough examination. Without any academic resources, the Preliminary Research Paper is written from that perspective and takes a few months of work. The very first day of Workshop 1, the student is told that the paper is not very good and nowhere near any academic standards of quality, but this was, of course, expected by the professors.

Workshop 1 and the following five workshops will guide the student through the art of crafting a top-notch RQ by using the appropriate methodology and will familiarize the student with qualitative and quantitative methods. This 24-month process takes its toll of casualties for a variety of reasons, such as work, family, or sometimes mere logistics. Discouragement and lack of motivation or commitment are rarely reasons for quitting. However, these feelings are common along the way, and students must prove to be resilient and follow Nicolas Boileau’s piece of advice written four centuries ago in The Art of Poetry:

“Put your work twenty times upon the anvil;

Polish it incessantly and polish it again;

Add sometimes, and erase often.

Talent is only a skill that develops.” *

The art of critical thinking

Though academic prose is hardly comparable to poetry, this remains most accurate for anyone who intends to perform any intellectual work. A Doctorate of Business Administration thesis is a very iterative process, and your production must be amended, erased, and rewritten several times, following your readings, data collection, and the sharpening of your thoughts on your topic. Most important, remain open to constructive criticism at all times. The only way to succeed with a research is to share it with your peers and professors. Persisting to write in an autarkic manner is the surest way to fail. Bear in mind that if your RQ and topic generates criticism, it is extremely positive! Indeed, if it triggers one’s interest and curiosity, it must be a “hot topic” and worthy of a dissertation.

Workshops 2 (on LR and RQ), 3, and 4 (though the last two were not expressly focused on RQ) were rare and valuable times to discuss our work and confront criticism. It appeared that in many cases, early-stage students were not in an academic but still practioners’ mindsets. They were examining their topics and RQ from a consulting angle: here is the issue to solve and this is how I intend to do so. The reality of academic research is different from an assessment-recommendation process. Everything must come from the existing literature: the knowledge, doubts, questions, theoretical gaps, and, ultimately, methodologies.

Resilience through adaptation

From my experience, the ERP was not a positive milestone. But it was probably a decisive one because it emphasized a lack of reading and conceptual clarity from my work. I spent the following months working hard on my LR, reading as much as possible on the several literature streams that were related to my research. I read and read, complemented my chapters, discarded unnecessary paragraphs, clarified the concepts, and linked different bodies of knowledge. After some deep immersion in an ocean of literature, the theoretical gaps sprang up naturally almost in a shock, and I was surprised that I had had these in front of my eyes for so long, but I had been unable to see them.

At the ERP stage, the student is still 10 months away from Stage 1. Given further readings, conversations, and contingencies in the actual research process (data collection and analysis), the RQ will keep evolving without a doubt and for reasons that could not have possibly been foreseen. Do not stand your ground stubbornly; rather, adapt to the evolving context should it challenge you and some preconceptions that you have had. Resilience and adaptation!

As you were warned at the outset, this is a rough journey, but, in my opinion, so rewarding. The DBA is a complex intellectual (and sometimes organizational) challenge that will drive you from enthusiasm to frustration and the reverse. It often questions your motives and reveals a number of things about you that you ignored before embarking on the DBA. Ultimately, only one essential question remains, and only you can answer it, and you should do so in good faith: Why did you join this program? An honest answer is the best incentive to succeed.

* Vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage; 
Polissez-le sans cesse et le repolissez; 
Ajoutez quelquefois et souvent effacez. 
Le talent n’est qu’une aptitude qui se développe.


By Xavier Tanazacq, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration student

A short journey to my DBA

When I started my journey to my Doctorate of Business Administration diploma, I could not imagine that my career and life would change so dramatically. In November 2011, I boarded a plane for Grenoble to attend the first workshop. Although it was freezing, I was excited to meet my new colleagues and, most importantly, my supervisor.

Some people say that the journey can cost you “a kidney and a lung”; some others are still struggling; and the rest have found it difficult to continue. However, in my experience, I enjoyed every moment: I found it short and fulfilling, and I embraced new friends and colleagues with whom to pursue my research journey. With my experience in mind, I’d like to share my two best tips for making it through the DBA in a time-efficient way:

  1. Get organized

Take control of your research and come up with ideas while intelligently reading papers and articles. Don’t read all the paper’s content; instead, focus on the abstract and the conclusion. Organize yourself to write all these ideas in one document while keeping track of the references. Use Mendeley or other software that organizes papers.

I organized my work using a phase-by-phase project management methodology used for projects with interdependent activities that included real-time communication with my supervisor and rapid adjustments throughout a project.  It contains a list of activities and uses a work break-down structure (WBS); a timeline to complete; and dependencies, milestones, and deliverables. My methodology consisted of phasing each step. For example, I had the reading phase, writing ideas phase, organizing papers phase, contents table phase, analyzing phase, etc.  Each phase had its own deliverables with its own timeline to complete knowing that some phases can be prepared in parallel. There were some major deliverables to send to my supervisor, like the table of contents, literature review, hypothesis development, analysis, and conclusion.

  1. Don’t overload your supervisor

Don’t overly rely on your supervisor: make sure you know what to do when he is unavailable for a month or longer. I have tried to take the lead many times and have co-organized work with my supervisor. Monthly meetings during the first year with my supervision were the best pattern to keep up with work, and deliverables were provided at least every three to four months, and sometimes six months.

If you have the choice, choose a supervisor who is active in one area of your doctorate and also in your main field of research. My supervisor has lengthy experience in customer/consumer education, and my field of interest is ICT. He has shared his different experience and expertise and given me insight into his field. In establishing a relationship with a supervisor, the most important things to consider are trust and the opportunity for intelligent communication. Invest time with your supervisor because it will repay you and not betray you. Because my supervisor and I have created this important trust relationship between us, he knew I could deliver on my work, and we are still collaborating by writing and publishing many papers and articles.

The key issues in my successful journey were confidence, trust, communication, reading (a lot), writing (a lot), and, most essentially, proper planning. I have survived my journey, and I have found it really short. I have invested this short time in learning, listening, reaching for others, and, most importantly, enjoying every moment.

Good luck!

Rania Fakhoury; Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration, Alumnus 2014

The DBA – A life experience that sharpens your analytical thinking

“My Doctorate of Business Administration journey was a life enriching experience.” This is what I would say if I were to be asked to pin a slogan to describe this event in my life.

The first steps

In December 2011, I started this journey with a weeklong trip to Grenoble Ecole de Management. During my visit, I met a very impressive group of educators and extremely helpful administrators, and I beheld a beautiful scene at the foot of snowcapped mountains. Initially, I was excited to be re-energizing my academic background, and I started planning to be a student again after more than 20 years since my last classroom appearance. At the end of the first week, I had made new friends, acquired new knowledge, and set out to start my thesis work. Weeks passed, and my research direction started to take shape. But, wait…it was not without daily efforts going down different streams of research to find the one that fit the objective of my intended study. My supervisor was very helpful in discussing the subject of my thesis, pointed out gaps in my efforts, and redirected my thesis using some best practice tips.

From research tools to analytical thinking

It was not easy; I had chosen a subject that required conducting a small survey to anchor the study, followed by a thorough literature review to ground a theoretical framework, then I had to carry out an empirical activity of five to six months to complete an iterative data collection. From there on, the analysis, the discussion, and the closure of the thesis were completed. Looking back at the roadmap taken, I can identify two inflection points that accelerated my progress: (1) the completion of a thorough literature review and (2) the definition of a clear research map with my supervisor. Reading and understanding more than 4,500 pieces of literature was bound to leave a mark on my skills. As a byproduct of the thesis activity, I have successfully improved my vocabulary, increased the flow of my thought process, and sharpened my analytical thinking.

My feedback and advice 

In the form of advice to fellow DBA students, I would highly recommend choosing a subject you like to work with, extending your research to include learning about different methodologies, not giving up, staying focused, and regularly working on successive thesis drafts. In addition to the reward of a degree at the end of the journey, you will be rewarded with a passion for writing, a wealth of knowledge, and a positive impact on your career.

Finally, I would not have been able to get to the finish line if it were not for the support of my family and friends. I wish you the best in your own DBA journey!

Dr. Nabil Georges Badr; Grenoble Ecole de Management, Doctorate of Business Administration Alumnus 2014



The DBA: The missing link?

Gaël Fouillard, Director of Executive Education

In this post, Grenoble Ecole de Management Director of Executive Education Gaël FOUILLARD discusses the benefits of collaboration between researchers and corporate partners and points out the advantages of efficiently connecting both parties in order to bring relevant research, knowledge, and added value to the partners and customers.

The DBA community is an essential valuable resource that can be tapped by employing a more systematic approach and cultivating better communication between the DBA community and Executive Education, and this could help identify future strategic opportunities.
Continue reading “The DBA: The missing link?”