An Interview With INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

As it turned out, Mihov was one of those rare professors who could excel at both teaching and research. He has been nominated several times as one of the best teachers in the MBA and EMBA programs and has won INSEAD’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 2006, 2008 and 2009. His research on monetary and fiscal policy as well as economic growth have been published in myriad academic journals, including the American Economic Review and the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

While Mihov told Poets&Quants he intends to focus on improving the school’s academic excellence, there’s one thing he has no plans of changing. Unlike most of its rivals, who are fairly transparent about their admissions stats, INSEAD has consistently declined to report how many applications it receives in a given year, how many applicants it actually admits, and it’s overall acceptance rate. The obvious reason is that those numbers tend to undermine its positioning as a school in a peer group that includes any Top 10 U.S. business school.

‘WE MAY ACTIVELY DISCOURAGE PROSPECTS FROM APPLYING’

Mihov explains it this way, “INSEAD focuses on attracting and encouraging the right candidates to the school rather than focusing on application volume.  As a result, we may actively discourage prospects from applying if we feel that INSEAD is not the right choice for them after meeting them. We focus on encouraging the right candidates to apply.  We prefer to see a smaller pool of excellent candidates in order to give each application a full and comprehensive evaluation.”

Insiders say that the school accepts about 31% of its 4,000 applicants in any given year—substantially more than the 6.8% acceptance rate at Stanford, or the 12% at Harvard. The average GMAT score for the latest entering class at INSEAD, 701, is lower than any Top 10 U.S. school and 31 points behind U.S. leader Stanford whose average GMAT score is now 732.

On the other hand, a majority of INSEAD’s prospective students only apply to the school and nowhere else. They prefer a one-year MBA program that is as truly global an experience as any MBA student can get. So the school’s yield—the percentage of admitted applicants who enroll—is as high as 75%, 10 points higher than Wharton’s 65.2% yield rate and 15 points lower than Harvard’s 90% rate.

A DEAN IN SINGAPORE ‘SHOULDN’T MATTER’

When Mihov became dean, he raised some eyebrows by saying that he would remain in Singapore rather than move to Fontainebleau where all of INSEAD’s previous deans have been headquartered. “It should not be interpreted as a statement that Asia is more important than Europe,” he insists. “It should be interpreted that INSEAD is a global school. Where the dean is located shouldn’t matter.”

On his first day as dean, Mihov welcomed a peer review team of the deans of three schools: Columbia, Chicago Booth School, and UCLA’s Anderson School. In their report, they wrote that they witnessed an unusual level of commitment from the faculty to the school. The phrase they used was, ‘They put their minds where their mouths are. They are doing things that would be very difficult to convince other faculty to do.’ At INSEAD, the school is part of our faculty’s identity. The feeling I had when I was on sabbatical at Columbia Business School was that you are an employee who works for the university and the business school.”

We recently caught up with Mihov in a telephone interview from his office in Singapore.

So you’ll soon be six months into your deanship. What have you decided to make your core priorities for the school?

There are many things we want to do, and we want to do them better. I think first and foremost, it’s very important to maintain and to increase the academic excellence of the school. It’s something that should be characteristic of all top business schools in the world. We want to make sure we stay in the Top 10 or Top 15 of the schools in the world. I am also very adamant in maintaining high teaching quality.

The second objective is innovation. iI is time that we become a little bit more organized. We have been a pioneer in simulation building and introducing new methods in the classroom. We are now waiting for the faculty to innovate and come up with ideas.

And the third part of academic excellence is research excellence. The school changed in the 1990s when it was mostly focused on teaching. We had a couple of deans who for the long term sustainability of the school focused on research quality. It was not an easy change to make. Changes are always difficult. In going forward, the schools that will differentiate themselves will be the ones who can deliver on all three dimensions: quality teaching, innovation, and research excellence.