An Interview With INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

Ilian Mihov, dean of INSEAD

Ilian Mihov, dean of INSEAD

Even though INSEAD is nearing completion of a six-story Leadership Development Center in Singapore, Dean Ilian Mihov does not envision increasing the school’s already high MBA enrollment in the near term. In an interview with Poets&Quants, Mihov says he prefers to focus on building the quality of INSEAD’s MBA program rather than adding to the current 1,024 annual intake of students—which exceeds the largest prestige U.S. schools such as Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Chicago and Northwestern.

“I think we are happy where we are,” says Mihov, who assumed the deanship six months ago on Oct. 1 after a five-month stint as interim. “We increased enrollment because we realized we were rejecting many people who were comparable to the ones we had here. But right now I am happy with this size. If I have to summarize the way I think about the program, it is one word: quality. I really want to increase the quality of the program, to increase the quality of the applicants and the quality of what we teach, and the quality of the jobs our students are getting.”

INSEAD is an unusual challenge for a business school dean. The school’s leader has to manage a multi-campus structure with campuses in Europe (Fontainebleau, France), Asia (Singapore) and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi). The Singapore campus has been a great success, but Abu Dhabi is still unproven. Mihov also has to figure out how to leverage digital platforms and avoid being left behind, given the huge potential for disruptive innovation in higher education. Yet his single greatest challenge may be something that is taken for granted in the U.S.: Mihov has to convince alumni to support the school.


Lacking the deep pockets of many U.S. rivals, fundraising is a critical priority because INSEAD is still working to build a global brand as a standalone business school without the resources or interdisciplinary clout of a larger university. Yet, INSEAD has only held two fundraising campaigns in its 57-year history. The first effort between 1995 and 2000 raised 120 million Euros, while the second between 2000 and 2008 gathered up 203 million Euros.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mihov detailed the school’s major challenges, explained his key priorities as dean, and expressed a desire to lead a significant fundraising effort. He also explained why he believes that INSEAD “is the most complicated business school in the world” and why some business school rankings “cannot pass the simple test of reasonableness.”

The veteran INSEAD professor brings to the job an insider’s knowledge of the school and its faculty. Other than a one-year sabbatical at Columbia Business School in 2004-2005, Mihov has spent the past 14 years at INSEAD. His commitment to the school was made when colleagues at Princeton University counseled him against the move. Mihov ignored what he called the “bias” of his colleagues in Princeton’s economics department who maintained that “you don’t go outside the U.S. and you don’t go to a business school.” Undeterred, Mihov joined INSEAD in 1996 after assurances from then Dean António Borges, a like-minded economist from Portugal, who promised him the resources to pursue a serious research agenda. At the time, it was not a no-brainer decision for the freshly-minted PhD from Princeton who after all had future Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke as his adviser.


Borges, who died last year of cancer at the age of 63, led the school’s expansion into Singapore and, just as importantly, elevated the importance of academic research at INSEAD. (In a recent ranking based on the productivity of faculty research, INSEAD was the highest ranked non-U.S. school, placing 14th on the worldwide list.) Mihov was among more than 80 research-active professors recruited to the school by Borges. To this day, Mihov believes that Borges, who was at the school’s helm from 1995 until 2000, was INSEAD’s most successful dean. “He was an amazing person,” says Mihov. “He is the guy who changed the school to being research-oriented. He said, ‘We have to have an intellectual impact.’ I never would have been hired otherwise. I had a breakfast with him where he convinced me that any research project I wanted to do would be fine. He said, ‘You have a blank check for all your research.’”

  • Bemused reader

    Wow, reading the comments here, it almost seems like an XBOX vs Playstation fanboys’ thread.

    My MBA’s better than yours! And your face is stupid!

  • hali

    why do you take things so serious 😉 take it easy my friend, we all know that IMD is the world’s best in picking its students, they know them personally before the start of the program, students at IMD are not just a numbers. IMD is far ahead of that factory, known inseed ;), you know it is very expensive to apply to IMD 😉

  • George the pretender

    After IMD received some flak because of his posts to promote his alma mater at the expense of other schools, he morphed from an IMDer to a U.S. business school wannabee.

  • You are wrong

    Wrong analogy! Rolls Royce isn’t Swiss.

  • George

    sorry, I’d like to add something important: most top american companies has a special recruiting scheme for MBAs through leadership or rotational programs or associates..most banks and consultants, big corporations use MBAs as prime source to develop next generation of the company leaders even for overseas markets and this culture is existed for decades. This culture of MBAs is not existed in europe for example, few (if any) of the big european corporations has similar schemes, I see Siemens CEO programs, Schneider electric Acorn, and few of banks, but it is still undeveloped and they prefer graduates of economics and management departments of Grand Ecoles, St Gallen, MPhil from Oxbridge, etc.. if fact, MPhil from Oxford is preferred in the city than an MBAs.. in france, Master of management from HEC is more prestigious than MBA, and so on…

  • George

    Recruiters are businesses, they recruit from US schools mostly for US north amaerican markets but also for overseas offices as well specially if the candidate from the country’s that they recruit for. And they recruit from non us schools mostly (if not completely) for non us markets. It is very difficult to go for US market if you did not graduate from non us school, (of course there are exceptional cases but they are not sufficient in number to built a case on). So, the main primary factor is if you want to work inside US go for US school even if it way lower in rankings, i.e Vanderbilt is far recognized in southern and southeastern united states than INSEAD and LBS. if you want global markets go for the school that better serve the area you target. However, as I said earlier, and as hedge since an MBA is done once in lifetime, it is better and more visible to do it in a good US school because it will serve you INSIDE and OUTSIDE US. and if you have not been in US before, then in fact you have to go there. Remember, today’s business even if we call it multinational, global, intercontinental, etc.. it is still built on US models of doing businesses, US still and will stay for at least next decade the major economy in the world and all the others just follow its footprints. Business schools in US are university based business schools and far ahead of the other. I am not saying INSEAD or LBS or IMD are bad, NO, they are terrific institutions, but they are not comparable to excellent schools in US in term of endowments, scholarships, job opportunities, prestige, life experience (I insist life experience), the education culture itself is different in US than anywhere else. living in US (I did live in UK, France, and New York) is very different than other places. Remember, more than 90% of cases studied at INSEAD, LBS, IMD and other non us schools, mostly from HBR, thats tell you something. The world’s currency is the US dollar! I want every MBA prospective NOT to forget these facts when considering his/her lifetime adventure called MBA.

  • Rec

    Most recruiters in the US are not familiar with INSEAD.

  • student

    Definitely an IMD student. I go to INSEAD. He is completely wrong. If you look at the INSEAD alumni database, you will see tons of alumni in a broad range of fields – banking, consulting, industry – and doing very, very well, across the globe. This is the truth. It is also completely untrue that you need prior MBB experience to get MBB. Many of my peers with no MBB experience are getting interviews now and I am sure will receive internships from them soon. I myself secured an internship from a top investment bank. As a general statement I would say that from my experience, recruiters in the US and Asia see INSEAD as comparable to a M7 and those in Europe see it as a top 3 school (globally).

  • Hussein

    It’s ok Nariman. By now we all know John is not that good at math, nor very good at naming the sources for his figures..

  • Crackmeup

    George, sorry but you’re full of crap.
    a) the number of consultants switching outfits after the MBA is tiny
    b) those “asian” companies with the most reputed MBA recruitment programs hire more people from non-US schools (in relative terms)…
    Stop trolling around with your half knowledge.

  • Realist

    I thought a weakness sign is when you mention your rivals. In this case you don’t really care.How many applicants can IMD turn away from INSEAD?

  • PressureCooker

    Apparently the most prestigious consulting companies are not.

  • W

    What does Eastern Europe culture have to do with that?

  • Herman

    Rolls Royce does not compete with peugeot 😉

  • George

    there are hundreds of students who just like you will try to connect to MBB floks at insead 🙂 thats the big obstacle of large class size. Unless you have major competitive advantage, it is very difficult to compete there with ex bain going to mckinsey, ex mckinsey going to bcg..and so on..Yes, emerging economies are booming but remember ALL modern businesses are modeled after US models. Many asian corporations wants people who are educated in US with asina roots or language. Modern economy is US economy wherever it was in Shanghai or Singapore, so it is good to learn modern business from its motherland.

  • Huffmann

    I disagree. It is great school as INSEAD. Not mentioning it in such an interview is a weakness sign. Good competitors respect each other and most likely the better always hails his competitors. may be not in the eastern europe culture!

  • Realist

    Because it’s not a competitor. 90 students, really? who cares about quality when you are way underrepresented in business world.

  • Realist

    Best comment I ever read on this site.

  • Herodotus

    There are other reasons why fewer people apply to INSEAD than just the language requirement. It is a one-year program. It is in two countries most applicants are neither from nor familiar with. It does have 7 (that is SEVEN) essays in the application, as opposed to Harvard’s 1 this year. And finally, it isn’t in the Consortium or anything where you can just tack it on as another app like many of the US schools. And it just doesn’t have that laymen’s sexy cache. These all affect the numbers.

    But whatever the numbers come out to, none of the above means it isn’t the best of the best for PE in Europe and consulting worldwide, among other things.

    And LBS doesn’t publish it’s official acceptance rate either. INSEAD is really competing with LBS, Said, Judge, IMD, CEIBS, etc, as much as the US schools people on this forum obsess about. It’s playing a different game than the US schools. International, not domestic. That’s something the Dean is talking about in this. It’s not showing off, it is a characteristic difference. And it’s not just Americans who are obsessed with the US and it’s schools, it is with as many or more easily swayed foreigners.
    The second someone defends INSEAD on a site like this, there will be three more people who try and bring it down. Because they don’t understand what doesn’t come from Hollywood, basically.

  • Anna

    Haha. As the only school with any nationality capped at 11%, your (not so serious, I’m sure) statement is likely coming from some personal angst you have. In any case, the statement is like saying Columbia is dominated by Jew bankers or Harvard by WASPs or Stanford by Asian nerds. Way off. Personally, I’m looking for a diverse and fun scene at b-school. Which is INSEAD.

  • salamander

    I agree that an MBA was an American product originally. But for me, I am attracted to the idea of building an international career. I am American born and raised, with Asian heritage and interests. And I firmly believe that economic activity/opportunities are more interesting outside of the US than inside US, though things are better developed on almost every level inside the US. I’d like to think with INSEAD I will have options everywhere. Yes, the INSEAD brand is not strong to laymen in the US, but it should be good enough to open some doors. And hopefully I will get the right connections with my MBB sponsored classmates/buddies.

  • Kerem

    hey buddy! you haven’t been though an MBA but you sounded like you know everything. Anyway good luck with your application!

  • Kerem

    There was an article from WSJ about this a few years back. But I heard that INSEAD managed to comply with the terms with Abu Dhabi by flying their MBAs there for mini-courses.

  • Nariman

    John, as per the interview: if they get 4000 apps with yield rate 65% that means the admission rate is around 45% NOT 30%!!

  • Herman

    Mr Defensive,
    1- with class of >1050 grad per year, there is really no prestige nor brand. and layman know insead BUT as a french institute. or as executive education for cheaper courses.
    2- Yes, PhD program at INSEAD is much much better than the MBA or GEMBA. They keep it at fewest number available, but they pay very attractive money to the candidates.
    3-INSEAD admission rate is close 50% NOT 30%, as per the interview, the insider said that the yield rate is 65% with about 4000 applicants, NOW if it is 30% acceptance then we should have 1200 accepted and with 65% yield that gives us 780! BUT we have 1024, THIS SHOULD TELLS YOU SOMETHING!!! I will assume that the yield rate is the correct figure, we have 1024 students enrolled then the accepted should be 1600 (giving they receive 4000 apps)! that tell that the admission rate is between 40 to 50%.
    4-Chicago left because it was EXECUTIVE MBA NOT FULL TIME!

  • Johnny

    Mr. Misinformed,
    1. INSEAD brand may not be known to the ordinary layman, but those in-the-know and those who hire MBAs value the brand. And this is what matters the most.
    2. Speaking of academic brand, INSEAD Phds go to teach in schools like Wharton, Kellogg and Harvard, and other top schools, and Phd students from these top schools go to INSEAD as well to become professors.
    3. INSEAD’s Admission rate may be higher, as mentioned by the article around 30%, but there’s some self-selection here because of the number of consultants from top consulting firms applying and INSEAD’s strict language requirement.
    4. Wharton/Harvard won’t. Chicago Booth was offering EMBA in Singapore, but because of competition they’ve left Singapore and now the Singapore/Southeast Asian EMBA market belongs to INSEAD.

  • herman

    Fragile means that the programs has no genuine brand from academic viewpoint, say Harvard, Stanford, Columbia,…etc admission rate at insead is nearly 50% compared to just 6% at Stanford. when asking most insead student they feel inferiority to M7 schools. Imagine if Harvard or Wharton opened a full campus in singapore offering one year full time MBA! I bet insead will move to Vietnam 🙂

  • Mike

    I’m not exactly sure what you meant by fragile. INSEAD’s program has been around for nearly 60 years now and in the eyes of many top recruiters, it has been a steady source of talent. Just look at their career report.

    Requiring students to speak three languages is probably a marketing tool by INSEAD to make them look more international. While some recruiters demand students speak a local language, many don’t especially in global centers like London, Zurich, and Singapore. Most students from the UK and other English speaking countries probably go to London or other English speaking countries after their MBA anyway. Also, what’s the point of Chinese students learning French if they’re probably going to Singapore, Hong Kong or China post-MBA.

  • Prakish

    if they relaxed the language requirement, then they will lose one of their major competitive advantages. It is a huge risk for a fragile programme.

  • Mike

    From what the dean said, it sounds like INSEAD will eventually have to relax its restrictive language policy. INSEAD is turning away many prospective students from Britain, Australia, Canada and the US who can only speak one language. Indeed, relaxing the language requirement would instantly broaden INSEAD’s applicant pool.

  • George

    if you have good GMAT, good work ex particularly in consulting, and you have competitive advantage such as speaking language of targeted office’s country, then even with MBA ranked 50 you will have good chance. But, if do not have previous consulting experience, it is good to go for two year program that is good for general management or consulting like Kellogg, Tuck, Harvard, Ross. Remember that jobs post one year mbas is largely depend on pre mba experience (60 to 80%), simply because one year is not advise for career changers, there is no internship, and the fast pace of one year mba leave some serous question about the quality of education and knowledge that the candidate could grasb. Also, bear in mind that a wise person is the one who hedge his/her chances as much as you can, for example with top american MBA you will have chances INside and OUTside US ,..i.e everywhere. but from european schools, you may have a chance in certain areas in europe, but definitely you will be suffering if you want to move to US, or to some areas that are american dominant culturally or economically. It is not about insead or IMD or LBS good or bad, all of them are good schools, but the reality is that an MBA is american product and far better doing it in america than anywhere else.

  • Vladutz

    I remember I saw somewhere that even without the sponsored students INSEAD tops MBB hiring or is in top 3, so you stand a good chance I guess. The only thing I don’t like is the european culture of not giving back.

  • salamander

    Just because INSEAD is good for people from MBB, what evidence do you have that INSEAD is not good for people not coming from MBB? I will be joining INSEAD and this thought has me a bit worried. Care to elaborate? Can’t I get into consulting, or into a good industry position, if I have a high GMAT, good work ex, and strong networking/interview skills?

  • Vladutz

    Thanks for your well articulated reply. I’m happy it wasn’t a bitter one as I saw too many times here between Booth and Wharton fans.

  • George

    MBB choose INSEAD because there are very few international schools that are compared to top US schools, and absolutely insead is one of them. Please remember, I am not saying insead is bad school, no at the end it is accredited by AACSB, the most credible business school accreditation body so far. but insead still way behind top 20 schools in US. most of those top 20 schools in US has been offering MBAs and doing business education since 1920s 1930s, the experience there is much richer and much established. Even in corporate culture of all US companies, an MBA is highly regarded than anywhere else. again, my argument is that INSEAD is good if you are: MBB sponsored and already have superior undergrad education. otherwise you will be suffering. What I do not like is that INSEAD uses this sponsoring mechanism to attract the other candidates who just fall into that trap and waste there money. if it is necessary to do one year mba and out side US, I see IMD is the only best alternative because its project based curriculum and cover as much hours as any top two years US program. (I am not an IMD student nor wannabe, I am targeting good 10 to 20 US school in the near future.)

  • Karim

    This is reality not an imagination. Ask anyone from insead administration 🙂 under pressure because the UAE paid them every thing, including salaries of visiting professors. Financially, INSEAD is french institute with all consequences 🙂

  • PressureCooker

    Under pressure haha, you’re funny.

  • Vladutz

    I partly agree with some points of your answer, but it seems you know better than MBB what’s best for them. If they send the employees to a “cheaper school” it means the value received there is enough or otherwise why are they sending the guys there? You said they have many sponsored students so what percentage of jobs affiliated with the school did you expect? Assuming one has a BS in Economics or Business what can you say about this guy going for a 2yrs MBA? He/she’s definitely not going to gain knowledge, every other reason but not knowledge.

  • dfdafdsa

    It’s obvious that you are biased in favor of your school – IMD. Are you one of the students rejected by INSEAD/LBS who went to IMD?

  • Nariman

    It is interesting that Mr Mihov didn’t mention IMD as competitor, why is that?

  • George

    avg age at INSEAD is 29 with 20% or so over 32! so, there is really no big difference here. if you look carefully into the IMD grads who joined Mckinsey for example, you will see that they start as associate just like other and reach Engagement Manager level faster than the other schools grad, 1.5 to 2 years. Be practical, no one of those kids would become strategy Directors or Corporate Executive in just 3 years out of the school! that was before, but when insead flood the market with such huge number, it is really difficult task for insead grads. Please bear in mind that IMD is focusing so much on industry side not consulting or finance. I consider this as big advantage in the fast moving economies. Being in switzerland is also a big plus, the country is doing well economically and hence the perception is that their way of education is quite good, unlike france’s insead 😉

  • Cool_man

    No doubt, if there is a ranking that ranks recruiter-student ratio, IMD beats Harvard and maybe also Stanford! But I’m sure that you’ll agree that not all recruiters who come end up hiring.. and IMD students compete with those from other top schools come final interview time.

    Also, around 3-4 years after their consulting stint, the kids who went to consulting will have higher salaries than IMD grads by the time they reach 31 when they become strategy directors on the corporate side 😉

  • George

    you mean the sponsoring employers 😉 or the employers who look for analysts and want a large factory 😉 ranking is a game. Results on employment is what makes the difference, IMD brings 60 big multinational and elite recuiters for just 90 students. at IMD, the real employment is NOT through sponsorship. ONLY ONE or Two at most are sponsored, yet, the school always manages to place its grads with the highest salaries, and with avg age 31, nearly 35% managed to change ALL the THREE (geography, Function, and Industry) in their career. Jobs at IMD are mostly a school affiliated!

  • Cool_man

    Actually, according to the employer survey component of Businessweek’s 2012 international MBA rankings, INSEAD is #1, LBS is #2, whereas IMD is #14.

  • HeraldTB

    INSEAD is dominated by lebanese consultants which is indeed not a good thing.

  • Goerge

    INSEAD MBA has some issues in quality, Dean himself says this. It is expected and normal giving the large class size. In any business, the mass production is just opposite to the quality. Jobs of majority of insead grads because they are sponsored and most importantly, they already studied business at excellent undergrad universities and already achieved a lot from their experiences so that their employers sponsor them at the “cheaper” option. That would leave the trapped students who are NOT consultants nor sponsored to suffer when they graduate. ask about the 250 to 350 grads every year, what kind of jobs they got, salaries,..! More, all this with no real brand name such as Harvard, Stanford, or Columbia or MIT. Plus, the alumni bond is so weak in european schools in general, the gard of insead is in fact the least to expect some help from the alumni, it is normal because of the culture and because of the huge class size. The MBA culture in general is in US, most of top 20 or even 30 top us schools provide much richer MBA experiences than insead. Just look at the latest employment reports of the top 20 US schools, look at the salaries, the percentage of the jobs affiliated with the school (mostly 70 to 90% in contrast with just 50% at INSEAD). The only non us school that really impressive in its quality is IMD in switzerland, it managed to be among the best with a class of just 90 people. Its when reading the blog of students of IMD, it mostly about real businesses and their classes, Unlike insead which mostly about partying and travel. With regard to the Abu Dhabi campus, yes it will affect the quality and the prestige and the experience as whole. I should remind you that there are failure stories of remote campuses such as Cornell and CMU in qatar, Georgetown, UCL, LBS, CASS, HEC, and many other schools. the reason is simple, the experience of living in different area and culture than Middle East, that the one should bring, plus the international atmosphere. Middle east campus should be at best for executive education.

  • Vladutz

    I think a new campus will be a good thing for INSEAD. Why will this damage the quality? It comes closer to most of the areas of its students and let’s face it if you really think in business terms you’ll never do a 2yrs MBA vs a 1yr MBA. When INSEAD had less than 1000 students and also less then HBS no one accused HBS that it has too many students. I feel a bit of envy from some of the US applicants. When you show them the jobs INSEAD students take at graduation they say “but Berlin, Paris or Singapore McKinsey offices are not the same as NY, Chicago or Houston” or “many of them are corporate sponsored” smth like MBB knows worst than individual applicants what they actually need. I think if you really care about your future (think debt, forgone income in one additional yr) and you don’t wanna be based in NA, INSEAD beats HSW, but yeah if you care about mother univ’s brand to brag about maybe it’s better to have P&Q’s readers thinking.

  • George

    I was always skeptical about insead quality, Now the den himself says this. Many top recruiters strongly believe that IMD MBA is the best when it comes to quality.

  • Karim

    INSEAD is under pressure from Abu Dhabi government (which gave INSEAD six to seven floors in a commercial building in abu dhabi as a campus) to have a full time MBA program just like France and Singapore. I believe INSEAD will ultimately do so. Such move will definitely affect the quality and the prestige of the program that already affected by the large enrollment.