Students often wonder what classes they should take now, to prepare themselves for a successful career in business. Today’s answer may surprise you.

At a conference on MBA admissions, I spoke with a dean of Hautes Etudes Commercials (HEC), a top international business school that is also one of the highly competitive Grandes Ecoles of France. I also spoke with Vincent Bastien, the professor who teaches the course on marketing luxury goods.

An very interesting detail that came up in our conversation is that, although many classes are offered in English, HEC offers a special course in French. Luxury goods are largely French, and as Professor Bastien observed, luxury could be said to be a French sensibility. The course is not so much about how to speak French, but how to understand French culture–because French culture permeates the luxury goods business.

You may be interested in the book Professor Bastien co-authored with Jean-Noël Kapfere: The Luxury Strategy: Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands. Find it here:

During this visit to Paris, I made this video for you:

Athena Advises

Why was it easy for me to converse meaningfully with Professor Bastien?

I speak French. No, it’s not just the words. A language is more than a vocabulary list. It is, as Professor Bastien said, a sensibility. The study of a language should include extensive reading of literature written in that language, so that you come to understand how people of that culture think and feel: what is meaningful to them, what persuades or reassures them, and what they find abhorrent.

This is why I recommend that, even if you intend to go into business, you not limit yourself to a class that teaches you how to conduct everyday exchanges, but aim for the class that shows you the heart and soul of a people. That would be the class in literature.

And ff you are thinking about going into the business of marketing luxury goods–consider French.

Now take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the high-water level of a certain French sentence actually addressed to me, and which I have never forgotten, from my own days as a student at the Ecole normal supérieure:

“A bientôt le plaisir de vous revoir, et de converser avec vous.”


Dr. Marlena Corcoran
Founder and CEO