Times are good for the business school headquartered in the quaint French town of Fontainebleau. INSEAD, which brushes up against a national forest about 70 kilometers southeast of Paris, is having a stellar year. Last November, it nabbed the top spot in Poets&Quants’ composite ranking of international schools. In January, INSEAD became the first school not named Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, or London Business School to claim number one in the Financial Times’ global ranking of MBA programs. What’s more, the school has more alumni giving and engagement than ever before, enjoys solid job placement rates despite offering a turbocharged 10-month full-time MBA, and is in the midst of planning a new curriculum that will roll out next September.
This past Saturday (Oct. 8), Poets&Quants had the opportunity to meet with INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov in his Fontainebleau office during a massive alumni reunion weekend to discuss his first three years as dean and where he sees the school — and business education as a whole — going. When Mihov took over as dean, he did so with at least three objectives. He wanted to put greater resources into career development, increase fundraising, and build a new curriculum. Three years later, he’s done all three.
First, Mihov says, INSEAD doubled the budget for career services. This led to increased staff and a new career development center. Students now gain personal career coaches before even starting the program, and more than 180 companies a year trek from around the globe to INSEAD’s Fontainebleau or Singapore campuses. Next, efforts to increase alumni engagement and giving have paid off handsomely. Five years ago, INSEAD raised about €4.7 million ($5.2 million). This past academic year, the school set a goal of €16.5 million ($18.2 million)— and ended up with nearly €24 million ($26.4 million). Meanwhile, Mihov says, alumni attendance at events on campus is up 25%.
Finally, after a lengthy process that was spearheaded by a five-member faculty committee and included input from recruiters, alumni, and current students, the school will roll out a completely revised curriculum for next September’s incoming class. Highlights will include a personalized leadership development program, a cluster of required courses focused on business and society, and, Mihov says, deeper self-reflection and character building.
APPLICATIONS FROM THE U.S. SURGING
To keep the upward momentum moving, Mihov says INSEAD must continue to fundraise so it can compete for the best students and professors. Currently, about 20% of INSEAD students receive scholarships, well below the near 50% level at Harvard Business School where the average annual student grant is $37,000. Mihov wants to get closer to HBS’ 50%. “I think that everybody is fighting for two things. One is students, and the other is faculty,” he says. “So the toughest challenge for us is to keep INSEAD an attractive proposition in this competitive environment.”
To be sure, INSEAD has tapped into two of the most saturated markets for MBA applicants. For the past five years, the largest nationalities represented have been from the U.S. and India. Each country has comprised 9% to 12% of the school’s cohort, which is enough for the highest conglomerate from one country. The school regularly enrolls students from more than 80 countries each year and has an alumni base that spans 170 countries. According to Mihov, U.S. applicants are higher than ever before. But to break deeper into the robust U.S. applicant market, Mihov says INSEAD needs to continue to communicate the legitimacy of the one-year MBA — and it needs to innovate.
In a robust and broad-ranging interview, Mihov discusses in detail the process INSEAD went through to revamp its curriculum, future development of the school’s Abu Dhabi campus, improvements the school needs to make, and why the one-year model involves classroom time equal to or more than a two-year program — among many other topics.
You’ve now officially been dean for just over three years. What are some of your proudest accomplishments over that time?
I think there are several key things that we did. At the very beginning, we decided to completely revamp our career services and build a career development center. We more than doubled our budget. We provide the students now with personal career advisers. So when students come to INSEAD, they have somebody who helps them during the year figure out where they want to apply, figure out what they are going to do, preparing them for interviews, preparing them for submitting CVs, recommendation letters — all of these things. Those are some of the technical things, but they also help with the behavioral things like how you behave during the interview. And I think that has a very big impact on how the students feel and the success rates on the reports in terms of matching students with the right employers.
We also invested a lot in business development — that is, relationships with employers. Today we have more than 180 companies coming to campus recruiting, which is quite significant. That was the first thing I really thought was necessary to do.
The second thing that I’m very proud of is that we went through a long process of curriculum review. It’s always difficult to build consensus around something. One of our colleagues warned us — he was at another school before coming to INSEAD and was a tenured professor — and he said that there, they went through the same thing and at the end they went back to the same curriculum as before. But in our case, I’m happy that it went very well. We will be implementing the new curriculum for the class that starts in September of 2017. We produced a leadership development program so that there is professional coaching, group coaching, and peer coaching during the entire year to make our students more aware about how they make decisions, how they have biases, how to correct those biases, how to behave in teams. It’s a standard coaching exercise. In addition to this, we produced a cluster of business and society courses in our third period. One is political analysis, one is more of a public policy — environmental, sustainability, inequality — all these issues that link business and society and have created some problems in recent years. And the third course is ethics. We had it before as a required course but it was between other courses. Now we put it together in this cluster.
So there are several changes that I think will improve the program and will make it more effective. We have the students develop not only competencies, but also build and further their character and understanding of themselves. That’s the second thing.
The third thing is the relationship with the alumni. Today the alumni engagement at INSEAD is the highest ever. In the last year we have seen a 25% increase in the number of alumni coming back for reunions. Last year, we had 3,200 alumni come back for reunion. This is very important. I think it creates a much stronger school in a sense that the students can benefit much more from this relationship with alumni. Our faculty benefit from the relationships and we are trying to build something for the alumni as well, like a platform for continued learning, so they will benefit as well.
On the fundraising front, we are doing very well. To me, this is one of the most important successes because we have an alumni network that spreads into 170 countries. We have more alumni in more countries than any other business school. So it’s a very powerful network and if we can activate this network and connect it to the school, we can do a lot of new and interesting things.
And a fourth thing that is also quite interesting is in the digitalization we have moved forward substantially. It’s more relevant for executive education, but we are trying to bring it to the MBA class.