An Interview With INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

INSEADpix2How is INSEAD differentiated from other business schools and from other full-time MBA programs?

We differentiate ourselves on several dimensions: The first one is global. For the MBA program, we have these two campuses and they are very well integrated. The quality of teaching between the two campuses is the same. And now we want to make a clear statement that it is a global school, not just based in Fontainebleau. The second thing that is very important is diversity. At INSEAD, we have people representing 89 nationalities from all over the world. But the most important thing about our diversity is that there is no dominant culture in the classroom. We have capped people from one nation to 10% to 12% of the intake. It makes people not feel they are a minority.

Most of the best business schools admit a fairly diverse range of people. How different is diversity at INSEAD?

It’s a key characteristic of the experience. When you talk to people who are not like you, these are the people who challenge you and make you a better person. So diversity is very important in the classroom. And the third part is almost like a cult. We want to be very rigorous, and we want to keep the academic standards very high but we want to be relevant. We want to translate this research in a way that our MBA students and executives can understand. It was a very teaching oriented school, but even after we began focusing on academic research, the teaching culture persisted. Today we have many people who want to be both great researchers but also deliver very well in the classroom. This is something that all top schools should be striving to achieve. If you deliver to students the frontiers of knowledge, then they are really learning something.

INSEAD MBA students start the program in either France or Singapore and then can switch over to the other campus. How does the school pull off the logistics to make all that work?

INSEAD is the most complicated business school in the world. That’s just a fact. It is a logistical nightmare to handle students who want to go from one campus to another. Yet 80% move between the two campuses in France and Singapore.

We have a module in Abu Dhabi so students can fly there from Singapore and France three times for a period of two weeks. They fly back and work a little bit more and go back to present to companies their projects. It was hugely successful last year. We have 36 spots this year and it is very heavy on the costs so we have to put in subsidies. More than 150 students wanted to do it. In the next four or five years, we might bring in one of our periods—the third period as an option to study in Abu Dhabi.

Like most non-U.S. business schools, INSEAD has never raised all that much money on an ongoing basis from its alumni. Will that change in the future?

I am focusing a lot of this. INSEAD was the first school outside the U.S. to do a capital campaign in the 1990s and 2000s. But we were focused on corporate giving. Today we have grown our alumni network to 24,000 degreed alumni and about the same amount of exec education alumni. My focus is on the alumni to build the future of the school. iI we can motivate everybody, I think we will be successful.

How much money would you like to raise?

We don’t have a number yet. I am trying to make sure the fundraising has clear goals in terms of how we approach alumni. Right now we don’t have a target. If the board agrees, in the next year or three years, we will go into a capital campaign. i need the support of the board for this. We don’t have a university, but we do have a board of directors.

We don’t need to run our business as it is now with fundraising. We have surpluses every year. But there are two sets of arguments for why you need fundraising. The first one is competitive and it is scholarships. The competition is fierce. We are very privileged that there are students who say they want to study at INSEAD and only apply here. That is 50% of our applicants. But there are other students who may not be able to come to INSEAD if they don’t have the financial means. If we are able to give them a scholarship, that can make a difference. This is number one of the competitive argument.

The second one is faculty. Creating the right research environment costs money and you need to attract and retain the best faculty if you want to be competitive with the world’s best schools.

The third is facilities. Columbia and Kellogg will soon have brand new facilities. Stanford recently moved into a new complex of buildings. Our facilities are fine but I’m afraid that when others are investing hundreds of millions, we have to make sure we keep us with that and remain competitive.

We also need money for innovation: You need capital investment for innovation in the program and you need more technology to connect with students and that requires investment in digital technology.