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.