Why INSEAD’s Time Has Finally Come

INSEAD students celebrate their No. 1 ranking in Fontainebleau, France, with a mimic of The Beatle's Abbey Road LP cover

INSEAD students celebrate their No. 1 ranking in Fontainebleau, France, with a mimic of The Beatles’ Abbey Road LP cover


INSEAD’s number one spot in the Financial Times’ ranking has been a long time coming. In the 18 years that this ranking has been published, the top spot has been held only by Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and London Business School.  As INSEAD’s Director of Admissions, Marketing and External Relations from 2005 to 2012, I remember long hours of laboring over data collection for MBA rankings submissions for publications such as the FT, and sweating it out as we waited for the results. I have to say that I leapt out of my chair in delight when I heard the result this year.

So what is INSEAD doing so well?

Academic excellence

INSEAD has succeeded in attracting many of the world’s best and brightest faculty and has ramped up investment in research. Faculty are drawn to the stimulating environment of such a diverse community. Professors also talk about the breadth of perspectives they encounter in the INSEAD classroom, which sparks a richer discussion than they have found elsewhere. Professor Randel Carlock says: “I enjoy teaching at INSEAD because it truly is a global experience. And I get to lead innovative classes with some of the brightest MBA students in the world.” His perspective is echoed by the school’s dean, Ilian Mihov, who comments that “the diversity in the INSEAD classroom is unparalleled and this fact alone creates a magical environment.”  Assistant Dean Graham Hastie also notes “We are very proud of the fact that our faculty research is so highly ranked and that more of our PhD graduates find faculty positions at top schools than those of any other program.”

A truly international school 

INSEAD clearly benefits from the emphasis on international dimensions in the FT ranking. INSEAD was in fact the first school to recognize the importance of a truly international perspective for business leaders, and this internationalism has been a fundamental part of the school’s DNA since its inception.

The school has constantly pushed the boundaries of what it means to be international, in its quest to train business leaders who excel at working across cultures. “The Business School for the World” has long boasted the most internationally diverse program, with students from over 80 countries, and no dominant nationality in the classroom. The geographic expansion of the school, with the Singapore campus (now in its 17th year) and the Abu Dhabi campus (now in its 7th year) has further reinforced the international visibility of the school and its ability to attract candidates and recruiters from all parts of the globe.

A springboard for an international career 

The FT 2016 ranking shows that the 1-year MBA can deliver the sort of earnings power and salary increase to compete with the very best 2-year programs. The school has progressively increased investment in the past few years in the careers team (from 30 to 40 staff since 2014) and has attracted alumni donations for state-of-the-art video conferencing interview suites on the 3 campuses. The INSEAD careers team has a huge challenge, given the 1-year format, and the geographic diversity and sheer size of the 1020 strong student body.  You might think it would be hard to achieve a dramatic career change during a 1-year program, however 84% of INSEAD students change sector, function or country, and an impressive 25% switch on all three dimensions. The school has built relationships with a huge roster of regular recruiters from across the globe, and last year graduates took positions with 440 different organizations in 64 countries.  Recruiters are also increasingly seeking the international mindset and ability to work across cultures that is the very essence of an INSEAD MBA graduate. INSEAD now has the highest proportion of alumni at the top 20 most attractive employers (according to a Universum survey) of any school.


  • Intrigued

    What is your problem with INSEAD really? Its amazing how on any P&Q article on INSEAD, we always have Americans spouting non-sense about INSEAD: when 1/they have never lived in Europe and 2/they have no clue of the employment market here. If any of the two was true, you would not be saying this non-sense.
    Why do you even care about INSEAD anyway? No one is asking you to apply and judging by your US centric points of views, you either already got dinged, which will explain this detestation. If not yet, don’t even bother applying because they will ding you for sure.

  • Incredible

    HBS, might be the end of the world in the US. In Europe, not that much. I will pick INSEAD any day. As a matter of fact, I just applied to INSEAD and will apply to HBS only if INSEAD dings me.

  • Banana

    He may or may not be telling the truth but the point still stands, there are many many reason why would you might pick INSEAD over HBS (although equally as many, or more why you’d pick HBS over INSEAD).

  • Atul Sharma

    As a student at the ILPSE program, I can truly say that the quality of the professors is amongst the very best in the world, and the impact on the students is significant. I have seen my cohort (with senior executives from a wide cross-section of business) evolve as leaders, and I have felt my own calibration improve due to this program. I am sure that I will emerge from this program a substantially different individual than the one I was going in.

  • David

    Like! Of course the suave, globe-trotting Most Interesting Man in the world would prefer the Europe-fashionable MBA for the world.

  • Alex

    The most interesting man in the world said:

  • Alex

    The difference between the top5 (or perhaps even the top10) business schools is quite marginal. More importantly, these rankings motivate schools to try and perform better than their peers. So why would any rational person give a damn whether a (or his/her former) business school comes up one spot higher or lower than another school in year x or y.

  • LIM

    Just a personal observation, Lee. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford a two year MBA. I know a lot of people much smarter than me at the time couldn’t afford to go overseas for a first degree. If they have a chance to do a one year MBA, they would take it. And these people are do determined to succeed (and smart) I would expect them to do well in their career. These days, I follow P&Q purely because it could soon be my turn to pay for my kids MBA (if they get in!) and the fees are just getting out of hand. And you know what I am thinking?

  • lee

    I’m not so sure what you stated was obvious… Why do you say the Asian MBA students see the degree as a pure commercial decision?

  • Pinch Of Salt

    Maria, both my brother and my partner studied at INSEAD and Wharton respectively, so I have an unbiased opinion. My brother couldn’t land a job at graduation, he had to use his own network in his industry to find a job 2 months post graduation, maybe it was easier to network post INSEAD, with an MBA tag, I do not know. And 90% stat is 3 months post graduation, I do not think any batch had such a high stat during the time of graduation, but I could be wrong though. On the other hand Wharton’s career service is indeed top class, the career team takes lot of effort in getting to know the student, and matching his skillets to the industry and function. Though in terms of quality and diversity of students, I think INSEAD is a notch better.
    Though I really think INSEAD MBA is world class, the career service really needs to get their act together and attract top industry employers, currently it is way too consulting focussed from what I have seen, which is not bad but it needs to spread out and attract more non-consulting employers, which would make the experience significantly better than most US B-schools.

  • inseadvshbs

    Condescening and ridiculous post, apart from the fact that MBB salaries are indeed lower in Europe than they are in the US. INSEAD recruits mainly for Europe. It therefore makes sense that quite a few INSEAD grads going into MBB are paid less than their US counterparts. That doesn’t make INSEAD a better or worse school – INSEAD recruits mainly for Europe, whereas M7 recruits mainly for the US.

  • Maria

    @pinch of salt … and this information comes from….? Personal experience or friends stories? In my class 90% of people were employed at the time of graduation….

  • Pinch Of Salt

    For a school, where 40-50% of the batch doesn’t have a job at the end of graduation, this rating should be taken with a pinch of salt. The career service needs to improve, especially by attracting more industries, as not everyone will/wants to get into management consulting.

  • Roger Panuplius

    Lol. What a sweeping statement. So everyone would want to study in the US for two years every time and you are so sure about that?

  • MichaelIsLying

    haha Ok michael. what is your full name. Oh wait you wrote anonymously because you are a lying troll.

  • loser

    *lose. You clearly aren’t one of the ‘people’ you know at all the top 10 programs

  • Maria

    datafreak.. do you know how many people go into HBS or Wharton from MBB with sponsorship? Most of my friends go into HBS every year with the same sponsorship you have mentioned. Actually what they do is they join MBB for a year or two, as they know this will be one of the most important selling points for them to get into HBS….

  • Maria

    datafreak.. do you know how many people go into HBS or Wharton from MBB with sponsorship? Most of my friends go into HBS every year with the same sponsorship you have mentioned. Actually what they do is they join MBB for a year or two, as they know this will be one of the most important selling points for them to get into HBS….

  • Pieire is a dumb american

    pieire – I did not go to INSEAD. I am an American that went to Cambridge (which I chose over M7 schools). I will not indulge too much here, but just state that you sound like an absolutely niave, idiotic American who has never been outside the country. You are an embarrassment. Now I’ll move on and give some perspective… Coming out of Cambridge I was hired into a company that is considered a top tier (probably top 4) company at all the top US schools. My starting base salary was roughly 10% lower than what an M7 school would have gotten since salaries are lower in Europe on average. The catch… My MBA only took 12 months and cost roughly 40% of what any M7 MBA would have cost. My SIGNING BONUS almost paid back MY ENTIRE MBA. Also, of course, since I “pocketed” one year with the shortened MBA, that means at the end of year one back in the workforce my salary already matched what the M7 grads were getting, accept they likely had a 100k in debt, whereas I was immediately debt free. So, you can take your slightly higher first year salaries from the M7. I’ll take my significantly higher ROI from a top tier European program, my 7 WEEKS VACATION (can’t get that in the U.S), and my much more unique international experience.

  • LIM

    I see a clear difference in philosophy between INSEAD and the HSW (and the M7). Harvard and Stanford, for example, clearly aim to admit only the best to preserve it’s elite status. Nothing wrong with that. That’s what attracts their applicants who have the potential to succeed without an MBA. INSEAD sees the whole MBA business with a purely commercial perspective. Hence its increasing intake and campuses in emerging economied. It will be interesting to see how the battle pans out with the emergence of the Asian MBA market where students see it purely as a commercial decision. These type of students may well be very successful in their careers. This may well be a master stroke by INSEAD. Clearly their respective successes depends on how the world changes. Sorry to state the obvious!

  • Christophe

    And the second year at Wharton/HBS/Stanford is known as the “party year” for what reason?

  • Christophe

    funny post but flawed. Even if MBB starting salary were higher for graduates of M7 (which I doubt), it really doesn’t seem to matter 3 years down the line, does it? Nor does it seem to matter for prospects for becoming a CEO of a FT500 company. Comment about INSEAD having no graduates working in SV, within entrepreneurship or hedge fund graduates is just flat out wrong. Sorry.

  • Christophe

    everywhere everytime in the US would perhaps be a bit closer to the truth, but even that’s incorrect. I know several people who chose INSEAD over Stanford and HBS. The high ROI and extremely international environment (vs HBS@35% international) is appealing.

  • datafreak

    Interesting how you’re accusing me of flimsy statements on the basis of a lack of data, even though you don’t provide a single data point to back up your view…

    I’d love for INSEAD to show us what percentage of their class comes from MBB with sponsorship, and how their famed statistics on salaries look if you take these people out of the population. I bet you’re left with a pretty unimpressive bunch.

    Funnily, the comment I made on the appalling academic standards of the school is based on stories from INSEAD alumni from the time I worked at an MBB. All those people indeed got out of INSEAD what they wanted, which was a year of amazing partying and a great excuse for it… But let’s not pretend it’s anything more than that.

  • consultant190

    Partially true in some respects, but completely untrue as a blanket statement.. had classmates that chose INSEAD over aforementioned schools. Sometimes people don’t want to spend 2 years, nor study in the US.

  • consultant190

    Completely incorrect. I was at INSEAD and have been at the mentioned firms. Have seen this from a recruit’s standpoint as well as a recruiter’s standpoint. Have a network of friends across top schools to draw as data points.

    Base, signing and bonus across MBB were standard by geography regardless of school. Individuals may negotiate higher signing bonuses when they have multiple offers – that happens across the entire school set.

  • singh87

    INSEAD takes ranking very seriously because its their only card..

  • sally

    the salary point is correct. the few INSEAD MBAs working for MBB in US don’t receive the same base as the HBS and Wharton. check out the emploment reports..

  • Bob

    Very average in my opinion. I wonder how many ads Insead purchases in the FT. Do some analysis on that.

  • rgarfie

    Pieire, sorry but your comment is absolutely untrue, flawed, and just horrendous throughout. I should not indulge, but I will go ahead and do so anyways.

    If you look at average salaries post-mba salaries, the averages at INSEAD exceed the US schools over the past several years. In terms of MBB or other consulting salaries, I know first hand that you are wrong. Yes, some country offices do pay lower salaries for consultants than others, and yes, INSEAD alum are more likely to recruit for countries other than the US, but your thinking is flawed. Beyond that, your whole post is terrible so I’ll just leave it there.

  • pieire

    MBB recruit from INSEAD because INSEAD is very cheap, its grads are much much cheaper than the M7 schools grads for the same positions. Look at the standard base salary for consulting in almost all the M7 schools, it is $140K. compare that with the 90 or so for INSEAD grads. At the end MBBs are businesses looking for profit. It is just like moving your manufacturing to China or Vietnam. It is hard for MBB to hire an HBS, Stanford, or Wharton MBA for the associate level in europe. Why would an MBA grad from HBS or Stanford or Wharton leave the prosperous US to go to the struggling europe or the corrupted other areas?!
    another point is that most of INSEAD grads are almost on thier thirties, and they would accept offers because they have no time to left. at this stage of life the HBS, Stanford, or wharton grad almost made it into partner level. It seems like europeans need longer time to grow and reach the same level of a 25 year old american with HBS MBA.
    all that aside, most of the top 15 US schools (US news ranking) are much much richer than INSEAD in term of endowments, financial assistance, scholarships, ..so, it is very tough for the struggling europe to have a school comparable to them.
    So, one may ask, how can I trust an european school knowledge in business and economics if the whole continent is in deep mess and could not fix Greek problem and getting nervous by the catalonia referendum ! looks like every two days we will be having a referendum in europe!
    INSEAD students mostly, chinese reject by M7 school, An INDIAN doing his/her fifth MBA, rich old white european don’t know what to do!, and of course a lebanese french culturally oriented targeting the Middle East , where the billy dance businesses flourish. sorry for that but it is the reality, Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, Wall Street hedge funds, are all reserved of the best of M7 schools..

  • elitone

    I know people at all the top 10 schools. There is very little difference between an HBS grad and an LBS or CBS or Wharton grad.

    I will say HBS and Stanford will loose long run as business becomes more international.
    I think the more global schools- INSEAD, CBS /NYC, LBS/London will surge

  • Michael

    Hi Claus,

    After meeting HBS and insead I applied and was admitted to both. Since my goal with an MBA was purely to get a job in mbb in Europe insead offered a stronger opportunity in much less time so I turned down hbs.

    I think many successful Europeans do not have the patience to waste two years partying with 800 cocksure Americans, and even hbs admit they have a problem attracting qualified Europeans.

  • Guest

    I agree that it is naive to give so much weight to this one ranking but overall the school is exceptional. I think that the top five all have students that turned down other top schools. I have met INSEAD students that turned down HBS and Stanford although I am sure there are many more that went the other way. Then again how informed are most people when they make that decision and how much do the rankings skew the results?


    whatever the rankings, everywhere every time, no one would select INSEAD over Stanford or Harvard.. It is really amusing to see INSEADers extremely happy with this flawed results, and very strange that even the INSEAD leadership holds the classes to celebrate..teenagers naive attitude.

  • guest

    and yes, there’s typos in the post above… who cares, you get the point nevertheless

  • guest

    datafreak has quite obviously too much time to write posts instead of growing his career… comment section are such an amazing pool of loosers

  • Duende

    Well your impression is wrong and for a datafreak, your statements sounds flimsy, by function of the lack of substantiation by data (-:
    I am an alumni, went there to learn finance (having been in a ‘poets’ field pre-MBA), learnt finance and made a career in investment banking. So yes, we do party and this bonds us for life (which makes our alumni network all the stronger, stickier and more valuable), and yes there are consultants (but a lots less as a % now than was the case 10-20 yrs ago), but everyone gets out of Insead what they go there for – academics are as good or better as in any of the other top schools.

  • dmitrylinkov

    Cmon haters, you should evolve. At least make an effort to look like a real person and not just “datafreak”.

  • datafreak

    I always had the strong impression that INSEAD is foremost a 1-year party holiday for European McKinsey, BCG, and Bain consultants that want to take a break sponsored by their employers, who then lock them in for another two years to pay back their tuition fees. Their dominant presence at the school massively skews the numbers in terms of employment rates and salaries post-MBA.

    Most of my friends came back from INSEAD with the same two impressions: 1. the academics are a joke, and 2. it was the best year or party and travel in their life.

    Still, it begs the question why we can’t just allow people to take a break to enjoy life every now and then. Why do we need to call it an MBA and charge €70k?