Meet INSEAD’s MBA Class Of 2018

Some of the MBA students in INSEAD’s Class of 2018

The world is contracting. Riven with fear, frustration, and fury, many have retreated to their safe corners – content to mythologize an old world that never really was. INSEAD was founded in response to a similar era of red-faced populism, when taunts fueled tyranny and age-old animus was twisted into a final solution. From the ruins of chastened Europe, INSEAD laid out a distinct vision. Here, engagement replaces detachment and hard-won teamwork is celebrated over rugged individualism.

“The recent rise of isolationism runs against the core values of our school,” explains Ilian Mihov in a 2017 interview with Poets&Quants. “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.”


Mission accomplished. Just ask the Class of 2018. Shane Zhu, an economics journalist who comes to the incoming class from China, declares that “it’s impossible not to be international” at INSEAD. Indeed, such cultural collisions are the heart of the program – and its biggest attraction to the incoming class.

“It all summed up to diversity,” says Alda Kule Dale, a native of the Congo who worked in private equity. “I wanted a school that would provide me with the ability to travel in a classroom. I wanted to learn from people whom I might, under normal circumstances, never have the opportunity to meet. I wanted to build a global network and get out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to not be the only odd one standing in an all-white male dominated environment—as was the case in my previous job. The INSEAD’s “all minority” culture simply resonated with me.”

The Financial Times ranks INSEAD’s full-time program first for two straight years

For many, this diversity involves more than just being exposed to different nationalities. By extension, it is diversity of thought, a means to explore the how’s and why’s of international business more deeply. This opens students up to new ideas and approaches that they can apply throughout their international business careers, says Bavaria’s Kristin Karlisch.

“Working with a variety of different people broadens views, brings new perspectives, and creates a different approach to problems,” she points out. “That does not only concern cultural variety, but also all sorts of different educational and professional backgrounds. Through each discussion with people adapted to a different way of thinking, communication and business, I will learn a new way to look at a problem and to approach it, I will get a better understanding of the other person and will therewith be better to predict the other person and increase my ability to act instead of having to react on things I have not been able to anticipate.”


 INSEAD’s main campus is carved out of a national forest just 30 minutes from Paris. The setting is almost symbolic – a place for students to stand back from the clutter and absorb the big picture – separating the forest from the trees, so to speak. It is here where you’ll find some of the most passionate, bold, and interesting business students in the world

Take Zhu. He dubs himself the “first Asian man to stand on the wings of a biplane in order to demonstrate wing walking in an aerobatics flight.” Gijs Pelt considers his first real job to be a professional sailor on the Dutch national team. Want a cool hobby? Talk to Rouzbeh Shirgiri about the guitars he builds or Karlisch about the horses she rides and trains. If you decide to go head-to-head against Roni Semaan, just know you’ll have to pull out all the stops to beat him. “I once kept going in a TV-broadcasted national swimming competition after my swimsuit fell off just to finish 1st,” he recalls.

Their professional stories are even more impressive. Nourhan Farhat earned five promotions in her first four years at Roland Berger Middle East, becoming the youngest person to make senior consultant at the firm. In two years at Ritual Technologies, Arianna Lu turned a thousand users into 100,000 – along with establishing the firm’s brand identity. Mohamed Bassiouny quadrupled the value of SolarizEgypt within a year of joining the solar energy company. At the same time, Shirgiri spearheaded an effort to open Iran’s first bio-ethanol plant, which will soon produce 200,000 daily tons of cleaner fuel.

Sometimes, the class even achieved feats that earned recognition at the very highest levels. Zhu earned that when he accompanied China’s 31st Antarctic Expedition, which explored the highest elevation of the continent. “I was working in blistering cold temperatures of -40℃, eating frozen food with no vegetables, and not showering for 55 days,” he shares. “In honor of my multimedia reporting of Antarctic Expedition (60-minute TV news reports, 36-minute documentary video, and 13 social media columns) which set records in length and diversity from 30 years of Antarctic reporting, I had an audience with President Xi Jinping of China.”



By the numbers, the fall class is comparable to the previous year’s autumn intake, though numbers rose in several key measures. Notably, GMAT averages climbed for the 500+ student cohort, going from 708 to 712. This places the class four points higher than the London Business School – and 26 points above HEC Paris. By the same token, this average still lags behind the top full-time American programs, falling closest to the University of Virginia’s Darden School at 713.

INSEAD also made strides in terms of the percentage of women in the class. 34% of the fall intake is comprised of women, up four points from the previous year. Progress, yes – but this performance still trails behind the London Business School at 39%. The school also slipped in terms of an international population, going from 93% to 89.4% between the fall classes. True to tradition, the class’ average age is 29 – nearly two years older than the average MBA (and ranking behind just HEC Paris as the oldest cohort). Consider this a hidden benefit of the program, with the extra work experience making classroom discussion all the more rich and relevant.

Despite these changes, the class compositions remains almost identical to the previous year. Business and Administration majors occupy the largest number of fall seats at 34%, up three points from the previous year. That difference was made up by law and political science degree-holders, whose representation dropped by the same amount. Majors in engineering (27%), economics (11%), sciences (8%), and arts and humanities (6%) round out the class. In terms of professional experience, the all-encompassing “corporate” role accounts for the largest bloc of the Class of 2018 at 40%. Consulting and finance take up 28% and 21% respectively.


The Class of 2018 is arriving at Fontainebleau and Singapore to a revamped MBA curriculum described by Virginie Fougea, the MBA Recruitment and Admissions Director, as “more rigorous.” Notably, the curriculum stresses analytical skills and the impact of political forces on business to a greater degree. What’s more, adds Fougea, the curriculum reinforces the program’s growing investment in career development.

“Highlights of the new curriculum include a personalised learning journey called the Personal Leadership Development Programme (PLDP) aimed to guide students to develop self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and communication effectiveness through professional and peer coaching. There are also content innovations within the core courses and electives aim to enable our students with the relevant tools and knowledge to understand and appreciate the complexity of the interactions between business and the society.”

Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming INSEAD MBA students.

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