Inside INSEAD’s 24/7 Culture Of Conflict

One of INSEAD’s three campuses in Fontainebleau, France


Of course, like all organizations and schools, INSEAD has room for improvement in multiple areas — something Peyer is very aware of. For one, the school’s underground reputation of enrolling elites with big, insufferable egos. “When I started here there were still a few students driving sporty cars,” says Peyer, who arrived in 2001. “I think now we very rarely see someone driving a sporty car on campus.” Peyer says he isn’t sure if it is INSEAD specifically, but he thinks students, in general, are “less flashy” these days and focused more on “each other and the teams.”

The other elephant is INSEAD’s notably low enrollment of women, especially compared to other elite schools. In past years, INSEAD has enrolled classes with 30% to 34% women — a far difference from competitor schools like Harvard Business School, which enrolled 43% women this fall or Wharton’s 44%. INSEAD even lags Stanford GSB’s 41% and London Business School’s 35%.

“One thing we are not so good at — at least from the ranking comparison — is on the gender side,” Peyer admits. Still, he insists INSEAD’s percentages reflect the composition of  GMAT test takers from the regions their students come from. “We have the same fraction of females from the United States,” Peyer says when asked about schools like Harvard and Wharton. The difference, Peyer maintains, is those schools aren’t enrolling the same number of students from countries where female GMAT test takers are much lower. “We could have 45% women,” Peyer continues. “We could even have 65% females that are just Chinese.”

INSEAD’s Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions Virginie Fougea says her office is “actively working” on the gender discrepancy. Fougea concurred with Peyer that 30% is a “fair proportion of the applicant pool” and that in some regions where the school recruits women are not really thinking about an MBA program. “We hope to raise awareness among women in countries where an MBA is not on top of their list,” Fougea adds. “So it will be more of a long-term effort rather than tapping into people who know about the MBA and taking the GMAT.”

After publication of this article, Fougea reached out to Poets&Quants to note the most recent class to enroll, which has not yet been published on their website, has jumped to 38% women, outpacing London Business School.


Once on the INSEAD campus, whether Singapore or Fontainebleau, it’s an all-in, hyped-up experience. “It’s a 24/7 culture,” says Ascott-Evans, “but there is a clear divide between the work aspect of it and the socialization side.” Mondays are filled with classes and assignments but also trying to find time to connect with classmates. By Wednesday, chats about the classroom change to weekend plan discussions. “It’s still, what can I do to optimize this time that I have,” explains Ascott-Evans. “So even if I just have a day and a half, what can I do? Where can I go? What can I learn from my classmates’ culture by going to their country?”

During one weekend late last year, both Ascott-Evans and Antunes joined more than 100 of their classmates for a quick weekend sojourn to Poland, where they received a locals-only tour from their Polish classmates. “I had a bunch of interviews during the week, but I was not going to miss the opportunity to learn from the locals,” Antunes maintains. “It’s a huge privilege we have.”


Students take advantage of the global privilege by hosting myriad culture weeks. According to Antunes, one day at the beginning of each four-month block, booths are setup where students “pitch their nationalities and regions” for a vote for which countries will host week-long celebrations of their culture. “It is our opportunity to show our classmates about our culture,” says Antunes, who, at the time, was leading Latin America week, which included a Brazilian breakfast, a Mexican dinner, and El Salvadorian rum tasting from a fellow student who runs a rum business in his native country.

Ironically, Ascott-Evans also led his region’s week. “One white South African representing the continent of one billion people,” he laughed. But in all seriousness, Ascott-Evans says, the short time around classmates from nearly 100 countries will make you think about your life differently.

“INSEAD forces you to think about your story,” he says. “Where you’ve come from, but more specifically, what your life story is going to be. There is a beautiful opportunity at the school to talk to people with so many different chapters. If you really want to push your boundary of what’s possible, this is the place to do it.”


With the revamped curriculum, surge in alumni giving and relations, and potential international fallouts from Brexit and U.S. travel and immigration restrictions, it’s easy to envision a continued rise in INSEAD’s prominence. During the past academic year, the school set a fundraising goal of €16.5 million ($18.2 million) — and ended up with nearly €24 million ($26.4 million). Plus, alumni attendance at events on campus is up 25%. The school is also developing toeholds in two of the most saturated MBA applicant markets. Mihov says students from the U.S. and India make up the highest percentages of the current class and applications from the U.S. are higher than they’ve ever been before.

“I think that everybody is fighting for two things. One is students, and the other is faculty,” Mihov says. “So the toughest challenge for us is to keep INSEAD an attractive proposition in this competitive environment.”

One of the best way to stay competitive? Beat the rest of your competition in high-profile rankings.“Well, we’re No. 1 now,” Peyer says with a smile when asked what sets INSEAD apart from competitors.

Not bad for the 60-year-old school in la forêt.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.