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A Quest for Knowledge Brings a Spanish Fulbright Scholar to William & Mary

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     Miguel Bardají Horno studies in the McLeod Business Library at the he Raymond A. Mason School of Business.  Photo by Kate Hoving
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     Miguel Bardají Horno and Amanda Barth, Director of MBA Admissions.  Photo by Kate Hoving
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by Kate Hoving

Miguel Bardají Horno MBA ’20 may have officially set foot on campus in August, but his journey to William & Mary actually began Saturday, September 23, 2017, at 11 am. That was when Business Dean Larry Pulley ’74 and Executive Director of Fulbright España Alberto López San Miguel met in Pulley’s office on the second floor of Miller Hall to sign an MOU establishing an award for one Spanish Fulbright candidate each year to pursue the two-year MBA program in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business.

The meeting occurred during a break in the 2017 United States-Spain Council Forum, held at William & Mary for the first time. U.S. Senator Timothy M. Kaine (D-VA) was the Honorary Chair of the United States-Spain Council, a non-profit organization created in 1996 to build stronger relationships between the public and private sectors in both countries. Senator Kaine’s office helped make the initial inquiry to William & Mary through Teresa Longo, acting director of the Reves Center at the time, and the details for the relationship were worked out in a just a few weeks, in time for the conference.

“Within the ultimate goal of increasing the understanding between the people of different countries, Fulbright strives to offer grantees the best training opportunities in their field of study while they get to know the U.S. culture,” says Alberto López San Miguel. “The collaboration with W&M provides a unique opportunity to offer a spot at a top MBA program not so widely well-known in Spain. Additionally, W&M’s location in a historic medium-sized town procures an ideal setting for the Spanish candidate to learn about the U.S., its society and traditions.”

It also makes study at William & Mary more accessible, explains Mason’s Director of MBA Admissions, Amanda Barth: “Since candidates from Europe have many less expensive regional options for MBA study, the Fulbright scholarship support makes it possible for candidates like Miguel to challenge themselves with a truly global immersion in the United States.”

Although not a lot of time passed between the MOU and Bardají Horno’s matriculation at Mason, this first Spanish Fulbrighter is already proving himself an asset to his classmates and the university.

Learning as a goal, not just a process

“I took a personality test at Mason, as all MBA students do, and my main strength is Learner,” Bardají Horno reveals. According to the StrengthsFinder, Learners have a strong desire to learn, to continuously improve through learning, and are energized by the gaining and processing of something new and useful. Although the test is a helpful tool, this couldn’t have come as much surprise to him or any of his previous teachers or employers.

Bardají Horno’s educational and professional journey has been from the beginning both multidisciplinary and international. He was born in Zaragoza — Spain’s fifth-largest city, located in Aragón — and rich in history and multiple traditions, from its 5th century B.C. Iberian beginnings, to Roman settlement, to four centuries of Muslim rule, and finally when it became Zaragoza and the capital of the Kingdom of Aragón. Bardají Horno received his Bachelor of Laws (and an award from the “Miguel de Cervantes” cathedra of the Spanish Army for being the top student) and Bachelor of Science, Business Administration and Management from the Universidad de Zaragoza, gaining the two degrees in six years, with a study abroad experience in Angers, France. He received his Master of Arts in European Economics from the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, again the top-ranked student in his program. He is fluent in English, Spanish and French, and is as versatile professionally as he is linguistically and culturally.

He has worked as a consultant in public sector policy, serving the EU account for Deloitte Consulting in Brussels, and practiced corporate law in Madrid and Zaragoza. He is equally skilled and comfortable in both private and public sectors, policy and real estate, negotiation and mergers and acquisitions.

This diverse experience and cultural sophistication made him especially appealing to Mason. “Miguel was an outstanding candidate for admission into the program with his breadth and depth of experience in Law,” recalls Barth. “His glowing academic history and competitive GMAT scores demonstrated his ability to handle the rigor of our MBA curriculum, but his incredible professional experience and his collaborative disposition are the greatest added value to our learning community.”

For Bardají Horno, each academic and professional choice he has made has been strategic, designed to broaden his capabilities and experience. At the time of his Fulbright application, he was looking for an educational opportunity that would help him grow professionally and prepare him for his next step.

“That’s part of what I’m doing here — getting a taste of different disciplines to be able to better say, ‘This is what I want to do,’” he explains. “That’s one of the things that appealed to me about the Fulbright. I have the chance to pause my career for two years and reconsider things.”

The Path to the Fulbright

When Bardají Horno learned about the W&M Fulbright opportunity, he was working in Zaragoza as a corporate attorney. He got a phone call on a Friday afternoon from the Fulbright office, telling him there was a new program and encouraging him to apply. He had previously applied in 2015, and made it as far as the interview, but there aren’t many opportunities for MBA programs, and his application was put on hold. (It’s still not as common an area of study for the program. When he met his cohort of fellow Fulbrighters from Spain, he was the only MBA student in a group that includes musicians, graphic designers and even a circus artist.)

The Fulbright seemed like the right opportunity for him, but he didn’t know anything about William & Mary. “It was evident the Fulbright officials really liked the university, especially the program officer. He was from Virginia, and he reassured me that it was a very well-known university and one of the best ‘Public Ivies’ in the country and steadily moving higher in global rankings.”

Bardají Horno was not fazed that Williamsburg was not in a large urban area. “I didn’t care that much because my first master’s degree was in Bruges, which is a beautiful town, but really, really small,” he recalls. “I knew that living in a small place allows you to focus more on your studies and you get to know your classmates better.”

Academic and cultural differences

Bardají Horno has seen first-hand the challenges of cross-cultural interactions in school and in business. “In my first job working in public policy in Brussels for Deloitte, we ran an executive training program for the European Commission that sent executives from European companies to Japan and Korea. The EU had commissioned a study from an Oxford economist to learn why the EU wasn’t trading as much with Japan and Korea as it was with other countries. The study showed that the issue wasn’t geographic distance — because Australia is just as far as Japan and Korea, and the EU traded a lot with Australia — but the “distance” of language and culture,” he recalls.

In his case, though, the global diversity at William & Mary inspires and energizes him. Approximately 40% of the Full-Time MBA cohort is comprised of international students, representing more than 20 diverse countries. “I have a multidisciplinary training, I’ve lived in four countries now, and I’ve met people from more than 60 countries. I really thrive where there are international perspectives.”

Bardají Horno had studied business in Spain, but the classes and focus differ from those in the U.S., and he is enjoying those differences. “In Spain the curriculum is more theoretical, and you memorize information. It’s the opposite here, more practical and geared toward real-world applications.”

In his first opportunity for electives, he has chosen data science and financial statements analysis. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here. I wanted to explore technology and more scientific approaches. I think they are the future.”

One aspect he had not foreseen was how much he has come to appreciate his Mason colleagues who are active military or veterans. “They’re really interesting people, some of the top performers here. And they bring so many different and valuable experiences.”

The intersection of economics and psychology

Each incoming student, whether from Richmond or Riga, brings their own intellectual interests and philosophical approach to their studies. Bardají Horno brings an enthusiasm for behavioral economics. “I love behavioral economics. Because it’s very much at the intersection between psychology and economics, it was not traditionally taught in economics,” he explains. “Economics was about how all humans are basically rational and we make optimal choices. They operated on the assumption that we were like machines or robots, and we’re actually not.”

That view was challenged by Daniel Kahnemann, “an Israeli-American psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002. That was almost 15 years ago by now,” he explains. “Last year the Nobel Prize was awarded to Richard Thaler, who is an economist at the University of Chicago. So it’s becoming more mainstream, with two Nobel Prizes in 15 years. Now in academic circles the seminal paper from Kahneman and his colleague Amos Tversky is one of the 10 most cited papers.”

Bardají Horno gains momentum as he describes the friendship and collaboration between Kahneman and Tversky, a friendship described in The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. For Bardají Horno, the process and personalities are as intriguing as the ramifications of their work. “I think it’s fascinating because they worked so closely together, that they literally flipped a coin to decide who would be the lead author of their first paper and for the rest of their careers they just switched back and forth. And they were polar opposites, Tversky was this extrovert with so much energy and Kahneman was a moodier introvert.”

In much the same way, Bardají Horno brings not only a knowledge of policy and procedures from Spain and the European Union, but also intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. Although he assumed as an MBA that he was a little bit different from his fellow Fulbrighters, he really does have the most important quality of a successful and effective Fulbright recipient: a passion for ideas that transcends — and potentially transforms — national and academic borders.

We look forward to seeing the impact he has in Williamsburg and in his career and studies, wherever his journey takes him.