My Story: From INSEAD to Avon Cosmetics

The Singapore campus looks like any other skyscraper from the outside. My knowledge of South-East Asia really grew. Before Singapore, I thought of an Asian mentality as a Chinese mentality. Now I can articulate finer details of Singaporean, Japanese, and Malay mentalities.

In my “Strategies for Asia-Pacific” class, and one of my Korean classmates entered the classroom a few minutes after class had started. The professor asks her, in Korean, if she “had a good sleep”. Now this might happen anywhere, but in this particular case, the professor was Michael Witt, a German national, who is an expert on market-entry strategies in Asia.

Working for a multi-national, it is precisely these finer details that translate into very real business decisions around product choice, manufacturing and distribution strategies, and ultimately marketing decisions.

If I knew then what I know now, would I have done things differently in my businesses? I would spend a lot more time figuring out proper exits prior to starting my businesses. I would bring in outside funding, perhaps even an outside CEO to run the ventures. I was aware of these options before INSEAD, but they were outside of my comfort zone.

What would I change about INSEAD? I would create INSEAD-owned housing as an option for people who don’t want to deal with third-party landlords, given the short-term nature of the housing situation.

Initially, my job strategy was to go back to being an entrepreneur. INSEAD was meant to help me create credibility around business operations. But during P3, I saw everyone applying to these consultancies. I jumped on the bandwagon. I focused on McKinsey. I got invited to interview, but I didn’t get hired. It was a doozy. It was the first time I’d interviewed for a job in ten years – thank goodness INSEAD did so many mock interviews! – and my first ever failed job interview.

The reason they stated was eye opening: you have a strong entrepreneurial bend, and you’re much more of a big-picture, guy. They wanted someone who has that deep, analytical thinking ability. So then I started thinking, ‘If I go back to entrepreneurship, am I taking a big, $200,000 vacation? I’ll never see the salary uplift that people associate with having an MBA.’