A lot can change in 21 months. Industries can be disrupted. New models and players can emerge. The possibilities expand with every product launch, technological breakthrough, or medical discovery. It can be agonizing to watch these opportunities pass from the sideline. That’s the cruel truth of business school: FOMO doesn’t just apply to missing out on classes or activities. Many students also fear the stalled momentum and missed fortunes that can happen when they’re squirreled away on campus.
That’s one reason why INSEAD offers a 10-month MBA program. For many, business school means upending their lives: moving across the world to change industries and functions. Question is, do MBAs need two years to achieve these ends? INSEAD believes otherwise, cutting program time in half, enabling graduates to gain an extra year of pay and recoup their costs sooner.
GETTING AHEAD OF YOUR PEERS
“INSEAD offers a unique value proposition to its students,” writes Constantinos Linos, a 2019 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. “The one-year program means graduating one year ahead of your peers, one less year spent outside the workforce and one less year of tuition and living expenses. As if that were not enough, it has campuses across three countries, partnerships with leading universities across the globe, and a student body comprised of truly experienced, successful, international and intellectual individuals.”
The tradeoff? Think acceleration and intensity. The learning is fast-paced and unrelenting, says Jane Chun, a 2018 MBA who now works out of McKinsey’s London office. “There were many days at INSEAD where you had more work than there were hours in a day: almost 12 hours of back-to-back courses, an extracurricular meeting in the evening, a company presentation, a few hours of homework, a few hours of reading, a party to attend…and don’t forget you need to eat, exercise and sleep. Almost all business schools have demanding full-time programs, but the one-year, multi-campus design of INSEAD adds a layer of complexity of less time, but with more logistics and travel.”
Such demands would intimidate many MBAs…but INSEAD students are an entirely different breed of student. For the Class of 2020, this accelerated schedule is exactly what they’re seeking to prepare for what lies ahead.
“I am a large believer in if you want to truly learn something, you need to be fully focused on it at a high-intensity level,” explains Jayan Fazal-Karim, a sales engineer at his family’s aircraft company. “Boot camps tend to be high intensity for a short period of time for a reason. The more entrenched you are in the process, the more immersed you are in the culture, the more deeply-ingrained the concepts and experience will remain with you and the closer you will become with your colleagues who went through the same thing. Being able to complete a full MBA in 10 months without losing any quality of education is remarkable. Why take twice as long to do something when you have the option of doing it in half that time? We like to say in private jet sales that we don’t sell machines, we sell time. INSEAD sold me on the same concept we sell to our clients.”
A BOOT CAMP FOR THE REAL WORLD
The INSEAD MBA is designed to push students out of their comfort zones and test the limits of how much they can manage. In fact, Katy Montgomery, associate dean of degree programs at INSEAD, also uses Fazal-Karim’s boot camp analogy in a 2019 interview with P&Q. For her, INSEAD simulates the pace of work and volume of choices that MBAs will face in their careers.
“These are students who learn how to prioritize and understand the benefits and liabilities of making certain decisions,” Montgomery explains. “I hate the word Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). They have to experience FOMO, but they are also learning JOMO – the Joy of Missing out. Those are really hard lessons to learn. Do you step away? Do you not take on this? Or, do you say, “Yes, it’s going to be tight for the next few months, but it is going to be really important that I do X, Y, and Z.”
That’s not the only skill set that INSEAD instills, adds Montgomery. “It’s amazing that they’re able to pack up, go to another country, plop down, and start going to class in such a diverse place,” says Montgomery when speaking about INSEAD MBAs. “I think with the future of work – with the gig economy and the volatility and uncertainty – I don’t know of any group who would be better able to manage that. They deal with that every day. They are in this 10-month program on multiple campuses dealing with diversity. During that time, they are job searching, working with a personal leadership development coach, and going on treks. These people can handle a lot, but they can also handle not being perfectly structured. That’s where we’re going and that’s an amazing skill to have.”
INSEAD itself ranks among the largest MBA programs, graduating over 1,000 students a year. The main campus is located in the forests of Fontainebleau, France – a 40 minute train ride to Paris to its north – along with sites in Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Traditionally, INSEAD places among the top MBA programs in the world. This including stints as the world’s #1 program in 2016 and 2017 according to the Financial Times, along with being the reigning #1 internationally with P&Q.
A “MICROCOSM” OF HOW THE WORLD SHOULD BE
Synonymous with diversity, INSEAD markets itself as the “Business school for the world.” Think of it as a living laboratory where the same experiment is repeated every year: Can a school that draws students from over 90 countries coalesce into a community? Every year, the same dynamic takes hold. After a period of adjustment navigating the striking differences and complexities, the classes grow increasingly open and flexible. They choose reflecting over retreating, ultimately embracing as much as adapting.
“INSEAD prides itself in how diverse its student body is, how many nationalities we represent, how many languages we speak, and how different our experiences are – but I’ve found a pretty homogenous group of students here,” observes Constantinos Linos. “Everyone I’ve met is fiercely intelligent, an expert in their respective fields and committed to using business to effect positive change.”
Linos wasn’t the only alum who found INSEAD to be a deeply invigorating learning environment. “Most business schools market themselves as ‘global’ and ‘diverse’ but there’s definitely a wide range in that claim,” adds Jane Chun. “During my first week at INSEAD, I learned no nationality makes up more than 10-12% of each cohort, which is very different from other programs. We joke that everyone at INSEAD is a minority and that’s true without a dominant majority. There’s a constant cross-pollination of ideas across business, politics, and culture. INSEAD remains a microcosm of what I hope my life will be: global, stimulating, and fun.”
A RENAISSANCE MAN
That’s exactly what Kevin Diehn hopes to experience as a member of the Class of 2020. “The key factor that drew me to INSEAD was the opportunity to surround myself with highly-talented people in an unfamiliar environment in which no one background or culture is in the majority. At INSEAD, I believe that the diversity of backgrounds and ideas ultimately leads to a richer learning environment. In addition, along with my classmates, I will grow as a person and leader by taking in a wide range of viewpoints with an open mind before determining one’s own values and beliefs.”
As advertised, the Class of 2020 brings an array of backgrounds to INSEAD. Diehn himself is an engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur. He created a thin-film polymer gel to help athletes better their glove grip in sports like football, baseball, and golf – ultimately selling $1.5 million dollars of product both online and in 200 retail outlets. He also developed a chemical sensor technology to protect pharmaceuticals during shipping – a product, he says, that is being used by a majority of the Pharma 50. Before that, Diehn was a member of Engineers Without Borders at the University of Maryland, where he managed an 18-month project that changed his life.
“Until I applied to the project, I had never led any teams, spoken a word of French, or thought I would travel to Africa,” he recalls. “Just a year later, I had led a team of 25-30 students in weekly design meetings and traveled with a team of eight people to implement our solar-powered lighting systems for rural maternal health clinics in Dissin, Burkina Faso…The quiet, inexperienced engineering student I had been now spoke with confidence to a room full of people and had international project management experience. This experience has continued to inspire me at my later decision points.”
A TALE OF PERSEVERENCE
Across the pond, Jon Alexander Lindman Andersen came of age as an officer in the Norwegian Armed Forces, including a stint training the Afghan National Security Forces in developing and maintaining a supply chain. His “turning point,” he says, came the day he was drafted into the military.
“At some point, in the first couple of days in basic training, I found myself within a structured framework that made perfect sense to me at the time. In the military, you are presented with a basic incentive structure. Although I probably had the capacity to do something productive with my life before I got drafted, the military gave me the push I needed to start tapping into my potential. It changed me from a lazy 19-year-old looking for instant recognition and gratification to a goal-setting individual who quickly figured out that if you want to reach your goals you need to put some skin in the game.”
That’s not the only inspirational story in the Class of 2020. Jayan Fazal-Karim keeps a model of the first aircraft he ever sold on his desk, a memento of his biggest triumph. Truth be told, that achievement hardly compares to coming back from a bicycle accident two years ago, where he broke 11 bones…including his femur and three vertebrae. A surgeon also botched his first procedure, resulting in one leg being an inch shorter than the other. The second surgery resulted in a staph infection that required months of recovery. Now, he is walking – no small feat – with plans to take up running. In the process, he learned to measure progress “in millimeters not kilometers” and never to take his well-being for granted.
“I’ve been shaped by this because if I can make it through and come back from this trauma, then the things I choose to do and fight for will pale in comparison. We are all stronger than we are led to believe.”
WATCHING AND CREATING HISTORY
Andrea van Scheltinga, a Harvard grad and former radio show host, comes to INSEAD from Google, where she reported directly to the CEO of Google Cloud. Before that, she served as a product manager on the Smart Displays home device. Today, this device is a staple of Black Friday shopping. Back then, it was a complex and time-consuming project. It was a monumental achievement that van Scheltinga didn’t fully appreciate until the work was completed.
“After launch, I was walking through New York and saw a big poster of the device in its home screen state – a part of the experience we had spent endless hours designing and building – and I felt really proud of bringing the product to market.”
To access 10 profiles of INSEAD students, go to Page 3.
To read our exclusive interview with the school’s director of admissions, go to Pages 2-3.