Spirits will be high on INSEAD’s campuses this week as the school’s community celebrates the news of the school’s number one spot in the Financial Times ranking for the second year running. The school has long seen the FT’s ranking as the most credible, and when they finally attained the coveted first place in the ranking’s 18th year, there were huge celebrations on the school’s three campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. As an INSEAD alum and former Admissions Director at the school, I will be one of many members of the INSEAD community around the world raising a glass to the school’s ongoing success.
How has the school achieved and now maintained this top spot? Historically, INSEAD has performed well against many criteria in the FT ranking, especially those related to international diversity. In recent years, the school has seen improvements in salaries and in its research ranking, as well as the quality of the PhD program. The success of the school’s alumni and the impact of INSEAD faculty are the new key drivers that have helped the school secure first place for two consecutive years.
As world soccer champion Lionel Messi said, “It took me 17 years to be an overnight success.” In INSEAD’s case, it has been a 60-year journey. The visionary founders of the school defined some of the key characteristics that are bearing fruit today: they pioneered the one-year MBA format, they make internationalism a fundamental part of the school’s DNA, and they were uncompromising on standards – this was to be the Harvard Business School of Europe.
‘HANDS DOWN’ THE BEST INTERNATIONAL NETWORK
At Fortuna Admissions, where I now help applicants get into the schools of their choice, we speak with thousands of MBA applicants every year about their school choices, and INSEAD features more prominently than ever. So what’s the appeal? When the school’s students and alumni discuss what makes INSEAD stand out, you’ll immediately hear them talk about the international diversity of the school and how that shaped their education. Sofia Arhall, INSEAD MBA alum and Director of Operations for Global Partnerships at Google says, “Nothing prepares you for an international business career like meeting and deeply engaging with students from a diverse set of backgrounds. I would clearly not be here, doing what I do today, without the education and international outlook I gained from my year at INSEAD.”
Christian Spies, an INSEAD graduate who heads up an $800 million division of German industrial group Leoni says, “If you are a senior manager responsible for a bunch of sales and operations facilities around the globe and a truly global customer base, you have to be capable of dealing with that diverse context. On campus and in class INSEAD is dedicated to capitalizing on the incredible diversity, experience and brain power of the school’s community – and you just cannot get more international than INSEAD.”
The internationally diverse student body has also enabled the school to build an alumni network with unparalleled geographic spread. Spies adds, “INSEAD has the best international network hands down.”
VINDICATION OF THE ONE-YEAR FORMAT
INSEAD sees its success in the FT ranking as a vindication of the one-year format. The school’s dean, Ilian Mihov, says, “It was important to see that a one-year program can compete with the longer MBA programs and develop successful and impactful managers, entrepreneurs and leaders. And although the impact of INSEAD was already visible in many different ways, being recognized as the #1 MBA program by the Financial Times makes it more transparent that we create as much value as the other top programs – or even more.”
‘REWIRED MY BRAIN’
With the one-year format and corresponding intensity of the program, the INSEAD admissions committee typically seeks candidates with slightly more work experience than the top two-year programs. Alumni highlight this as a key driver in their learning experience.
Mrinalini Ramakrishnan, INSEAD MBA alum and Director at HSBC Private Bank says, “Targeting slightly older students helps make the classroom discussions and content more relevant, current and practical, focusing less on business jargon and theory – this I believe is essential for an MBA education; to equip students with skills that help you think outside the box in today’s creative and less traditional work environment.”
Arhall also acknowledges the impact that the INSEAD classroom had on her mindset: “My background was not traditional for an MBA, I had studied journalism and arts, so the MBA added a completely new skill set and perspective. I remember thinking when I graduated that INSEAD had completely re-wired my brain.”
In my discussion with Dean Mihov, he commented that the school’s success in the rankings has ”turbocharged our desire to build on our strength and innovate.” This summer the school will launch a new MBA curriculum with the aim of intensifying the development of students both in terms of building analytical skills for the new digital economy and by creating a transformational environment for their personal development. To facilitate career and personal development, there will be more emphasis on career services with the introduction of personal career advisors and a new Personal Leadership Development program with professional coaching. The school is also launching a “Business and Society” cluster of courses, addressing political factors influencing businesses, such as environmental sustainability and the impact of the rise in inequality. A slate of new elective courses will also address the challenges and opportunities of digital disruption.
A HAVEN FROM TRUMP AND BREXIT
The ranking result last year put a spotlight on the school that triggered a sharp increase in applications, and with many former senior staff from the school on our team we have naturally seen a corresponding jump in enquiries from prospective INSEAD candidates at Fortuna Admissions. So admissions selectivity at the school continues to rise, and the consolidation of the school’s FT rankings success is likely to drive interest levels and application volume even higher. The school is also benefitting from the fallout from Brexit and Trump, and has seen a bump in application volume from the US, Latin America and some countries for which access to the US and UK schools might be difficult. Says Mihov, “The recent rise of isolationism runs against the core values of our school. INSEAD was founded to promote peace and prosperity in post-war Europe by bringing people together so that they can build businesses and work together. Today, our mission is to bring together people from all over the world.”
This mission seems more relevant and critical today than ever.
Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director of Fortuna Admissions, a prominent MBA admissions consulting firm. An INSEAD MBA graduate, she was previously the school’s director of admissions, marketing and external relations from 2005 to 2012.