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From Underdog to Top Dog

50 years of Business Administration at Reutlingen University

By Sven Rottner

On 1 October 2021, Business Administration at Reutlingen University celebrates its 50th anniversary as part of the internationally renowned ESB Business School. The guiding principle of ESB’s development has always been its international outlook - with international double degrees, English-language programs and students from all over the world, ESB Business School was a pioneer in Germany. Today, it is impossible to imagine the university landscape without it.

Today, when people hear “Business Administration in Reutlingen,” they think of internationality, practical relevance and excellent ranking results. The ESB Business School brand is known and recognized beyond national borders; for the past two years it has even been accredited by AACSB, the world's largest accreditation organization. This is the result of more than good luck, especially considering the difficult circumstances under which Business Administration in Reutlingen started.

Tough starting conditions

When the first lectures in the foreign trade and manufacturing courses began in October 1971, the still-new Department of Business Administration found itself in a difficult situation. Surrounded by well-known competitors such as Mannheim and Pforzheim, Professor Siegfried Höwelmann, Professor Werner Bantleon and Professor Rudolf Krause started with 33 - exclusively male - students, in very cramped conditions. The sparsely furnished “Schwarzwaldhaus” in Urbanstrasse initially served as their only place for lectures, seminars and enrolment procedures.

It was soon clear which direction the new department was to take. The founders of Reutlingen’s Business Administration sought to prepare students particularly well for careers in an international environment. Staff from abroad were therefore appointed to the university at an early stage, and a few years later a mandatory internship semester abroad was integrated into the curriculum.

The European degree programme for Business Administration

The European Study Program for Business Administration (ESB), launched in the spring of 1979, was Europe's first fully integrated double degree program. Despite its challenging start, the still quite small department succeeded in convincing renowned partner universities from the outset, including the École Supérieure de Commerce de Reims, Middlesex University in London and, a few years later, the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas (ICADE) in Madrid.

In the program, which was unique at the time, students spent half of their studies in Reutlingen and the other half at one of the partner institutions abroad. The network of partner universities has since been steadily expanded by all departments and now includes more than 120 institutions worldwide.

Due to this rapid expansion, the professors and students soon ran out of space. The success story of the Business School therefore continued at its current location in Hohbuch from the mid-1970s.

Leading positions for Reutlingen Business Administration

From the very beginning, Business Administration at Reutlingen University firmly integrated excursions to companies and management games; this made it stand out among the courses on offer. The department also cultivated the link to practical experience via a special offer for employees of all industries - at the Export Academy, founded in 1984, employees were able to further their education on a part-time basis or with postgraduate studies. This pioneer of today's MBA programs succeeded in initiating a whole 32 international cooperation programmes within ten years.

Business Administration steadily expanded its international orientation in the years that followed. At the beginning of the 1990s, the faculty of International Business renamed itself the School of International Business (SIB), and just a few years later, with its International Business degree program taught entirely in English, it was particularly appealing to students from abroad. The three faculties SIB, ESB and Production Management (formerly Manufacturing Management) finally merged in 2008 to form the ESB Business School.

Professor Christoph Binder, Dean of ESB Business School, summarizes the history of Business Administration in Reutlingen as follows: “The seed that was sown 50 years ago has fully taken root. What began many years ago with a handful of students and a small staff is now one of the top national and international business administration faculties. With this success story behind us, we are ready and well equipped for the next 50 years.”

Read more about our anniversary on our landing page.