Meet INSEAD’s MBA Class Of 2020

An INSEAD graduation at the Château de Fontainebleau in France, one of three INSEAD campuses

P&Q: In 2018, INSEAD unveiled a new curriculum, highlighted by the Personal Leadership Development Program (PLDP). How have the changes you initiated enhanced the experiences of INSEAD MBA students?

VF: “The primary task of PLDP is to learn about the individual, interpersonal and group dynamics that affect the exercise of leadership. Because leadership cannot be taught but the capacity to lead can be developed, PLDP proposes individual and group reflection on “who you are” as a person. Getting to know oneself to develop leadership skills is one part of the enhanced experiences during the programme. PLDP also includes a number of developmental exercises.”

P&Q: Traditionally, 95% or more of the INSEAD MBA class hails from outside France. Even more, INSEAD makes sure that there is no dominant nationality, with the largest bloc often accounting for less than 10% of the class. What does INSEAD recommend to help students more quickly adapt to this wide diversity of backgrounds and thought?

VF: “Adaptability is indeed one of the skills we are looking for when assessing applicants’ profiles. It is possible to demonstrate the ability to adapt to a different environment not only through international exposure but also through any sort of professional or personal experiences where the applicant had to adjust, show resilience or open-mindedness.

Ilian Mihov, dean of INSEAD

The various learnings throughout the programme come thanks to the diversity of backgrounds, cultures, thoughts, and languages. To facilitate the exchanges and ease the adaptation in such a diverse programme, we have a number of systems in place. For example, we make everyone come together from day 1, help each other and contribute to a community project. We foster a safe environment where everyone should feel comfortable and not judged.”

STUDENTS STUDY ON MULTIPLE CAMPUSES

INSEAD is often described as a “melting pot,” a place where it is impossible not to experience diversity, says Lorelei Gertz, a 2018 graduate and McKinsey consultant. That starts with six-member study groups and continues through INSEAD’s wide-range of team projects. For Gertz, the 10 months were an “eye-opener,” particularly with the wide range of viewpoints expressed in class. “This was not only a great way to learn about many cultures but also a way to question how our own reactions can be limited by our own education and background,” Gertz explains.

That diversity extends beyond nationality, class, politics, and religion, notes Ryan Bernsmann, a 2018 grad and Microsoft program manager. His class, he points out, also included “fighter pilots, classical musicians, nuclear fusion engineers, and genetic scientists.” While the differences can be staggering and exhausting at times, there are ways around it, he adds. “When I needed a break from it all, I could go for a walk in the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau which surrounds the campus or dine on the delicious local cuisine at the nearby restaurants or markets.”

The full-time program also comes with unexpected wrinkles. Before joining the Class of 2020, Andrea van Scheltinga had to meet the school’s language policy, which requires proficiency in a language besides English. She chose Dutch…and had to complete an hour-long writing exam to demonstrate her aptitude. In addition, says Katy Montgomery, students regularly travel between the school’s three campuses.

“75% of our students are studying on more than one campus,” Montgomery points out. “Some students are studying in our three different locations in a short 10 months. The way that group comes together and travels and sees the world together while they are here is a significant part of the journey…Students are going to have an opportunity to see the world. They’re going to have an opportunity to engage with employers from all over the world, so it’s truly global.”

INCREASINGLY ENTREPRENEURIAL

This multi-campus model appealed greatly to Isabel Weiner. “Working in multiple countries and in globally diverse organizations has shaped my perspective in a unique way. I felt that studying at INSEAD would continue that. By immersing myself in diverse markets, I’ll be prepared to bring a new way of thinking to my next role.”

INSEAD’s campus in Fontainebleau, France

That’s not to say the Class of 2020 won’t enjoy plenty of comforts in Fontainebleau, adds Anuj Karkare. “Being an outdoor person – a runner and a mountaineer – the lure to go on runs and go bouldering in the forest was too good to resist!…I also want to enjoy life – hike, run, and cycle around (if I get the time!). I don’t like cold weather for the very same reason. The Fontainebleau campus has bearable weather in the winters, compared to most other business schools.”

Karkare was also impressed by INSEAD’s impressive portfolio of courses in Family Business – an area of emphasis for the school and an outgrowth of its increasingly-entrepreneurial approach. In fact, the program ranked among the Top 10 in both Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship according to recruiters surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2018 – a nod to INSEAD grads’ intrapreneurial impulse to “push companies to innovate, to look at their business and push beyond the way they ordinarily think,” says Katy Montgomery. At the same time, the school has been the source of recent breakout startups like BlaBlaCar and RedMart, along with deepening its footprint in Paris’ Station F and Singapore’s Lufthansa incubators.

INSEAD offers great opportunities in the entrepreneurship space,” observes Peter Vaculciak. “It is the ideal place for me to pressure test my ideas with pioneers of relevant fields and future leaders. I am really excited about the Centre for Entrepreneurship where I can work on refining my idea beyond the concept phase, build an MVP, and even partner up with like-minded individuals who have similar aspirations. I am also excited about INSEAD’s plethora of entrepreneurship classes.”

NATIONAL WEEK IS A POPULAR TRADITION

Beyond classes, the program features over two dozen clubs, with students able to blow off steam by learning improv comedy. Jayan Fazal-Karim, for one, is looking forward to INSEAD’s legendary National Week.

“I went to a boarding school where International Day was so amazing because it truly opened your eyes to how beautifully diverse your environment is. When people can show how proud they are of their culture, that joy and enthusiasm they experience are contagious and you can’t help but experience it with them. National Weeks, from what alumni have told me, is like that but jacked up a hundred times. I cannot wait to see my fellow INSEAD classmates wave their flags and show us what their cultures are all about, letting us get to taste (both literally and experientially) where they are from.”

A recent INSEAD graduation.

A newer tradition is Launch Week, which kicks off the program with a community project. Over three days, students work together as teams, handing off a different part of the project to a different team each day. Last year, for example, the Singapore group built a bike track for mentally-disabled students. The activity is rooted in more than creating goodwill, however. It also introduces students to working in diverse teams – and the strategy, communication, and flexibility needed to bring out the best in everyone under high expectations and tight deadlines.

WHAT’S NEXT?

“This is the students co-creating their learning environment,” Katy Montgomery explains. “What was really amazing was seeing the hand-over to the group that goes in the next day and how they communicated how successful they were on the site. You see the evolution of, ‘This is what I was told’ to being generous with the next group and taking care of others in their class…You start to see the transformation right there. It just continues throughout the year.”

What’s next for the Class of 2020? Jayan Fazal-Karim is loath to answer that question. Instead, he prefers to focus on the here-and-now at INSEAD. “I look too far ahead, I’ll lose sight of what’s in front of me right here, right now. I know the immediate goals I have are excel and learn as much as I can at INSEAD, make long-lasting relationships, come back to help build the family office in an impactful way, and be a great partner to my significant other.”

Actually, there is one thing he pictures himself doing in 10 years…“I see myself enjoying a bike ride through the Tuscan hills with some of my fellow INSEAD alumni.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.

DON’T MISS: MEET THE MBA CLASS OF 2021: THE GO-GETTERS

MBA Student Hometown Undergrad Alma Mater Last Employer
Shiraz Akbarally Colombo, Sri Lanka University of Melbourne Akbar Brothers
Kevin Diehn Baltimore, MD University of Maryland Grip Boost
Mahmut Duvarci Copenhagen, Denmark University of Copenhagen Gorrissen Federspiel
Jayan Fazal-Karim Paris, France New York University Jetcraft
Anuj Karkare Pune, India Indian Institute of Technology Bombay Enpro Industries
Jon Alexander Lindman Andersen Oslo, Norway Royal Norwegian Naval Academy Royal Norwegian Naval Academy
Estefanía Merino Lima, Peru Universidad del Pacifico Scotiabank Peru
Andrea van Scheltinga New York City, NY Harvard University Google
Peter Vaculciak Telgart, Slovakia University of Edinburgh Boston Consulting Group
Isabel Weiner New York City, NY Tufts University Open Society Foundations

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