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

My DBA recipe: patience, support and personal challenge

My name is Gerd Ehrhardt, and I have spent most of my career working in an international environment within the software industry. My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor in Engineering after which I went on to get my Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

A Lifelong learning experience

I have lived and worked in many countries on three continents; these include Germany, France, the USA, Singapore, and Jordan, and I have been taking on challenges in innovative management.

This path connected me with multiple great mentors—DBAs around the world who lead a successful professional life and are moving forward with the motivation to learn continuously as they perfect their business practices. These people inspired me to search for a reputable Doctorate of Business Administration program that is accredited by recognized international standards and which has a focus on technology and innovation within a multicultural environment and global marketplace.

The Grenoble Ecole de Management, with its triple-crown-accreditations by EQUIS, AMBA, and AACSB; and its partnerships and joint degree programs with business schools around the world, stood out to me as exemplary when it comes to developing a cross-cultural, global atmosphere for business and to continue my professional path.

Finding inspiration in your career

During my professional life working in various roles in modern, corporate business: sales, marketing, development, and human resources and also observing global trends, I became interested in developing a new framework for organizations to recognize and deploy innovative ideas from all important stakeholders for innovative products and services. The result of my study proposes a definition of a theory for condition setting to overcome challenging situations for millennial ideators.

While doing my DBA, I was able to extend my capabilities in management sciences and to become an inspired guest lecturer and World Economic Forum Agenda contributor.

A challenging journey

Undertaking a DBA was an exciting journey. There have been, however, challenges on both professional and personal levels, as obstacles naturally appeared during the course of my thesis’s development. Fortunately, my supervisor and the DBA program director offered their constant guidance during the development of my DBA thesis and my studies. Their esteemed direction and motivation supported me continuously throughout the program. Moreover, the involved faculty members from the Grenoble Ecole de Management offered advisory support through incisive questions that challenged me to extend my perspective as I navigated multiple obstacles. The Doctor of Business Administration program offered by the Grenoble Ecole de Management is definitely a program that strengthens you!

Dr.Gerd Ehrhardt – Grenoble Ecole de ManagementDoctorate of Business Administration alumnus 2017