Interview: INSEAD Dean On The School’s New Bay Area Hub & More

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov at the school's new San Francisco campus

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov at the school’s new San Francisco campus

On his recent visit to open INSEAD‘s first North American Hub in San Francisco, Dean Ilian Mihov was surprised that people in the U.S. were still shaking hands due to the coronavirus outbreak. He even packed for the trip to the U.S. with a thermometer in his bag to take his temperature in the event he began to feel feverish.

“Everywhere in Singapore, we check temperatures,” says Mihov, the first INSEAD dean to maintain his primary office on the school’s Singapore campus rather than its European base in Fontainebleau, France. “When you come to INSEAD, we check your temperature. There are hand sanitizers everywhere, and there is no handshaking. This is the only way to contain the virus because it is very contagious. I was very surprised when I came here and everyone is still shaking hands.”

On the day of the official opening of INSEAD’s facility on Feb. 28th, there were 98 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Singapore. That has now grown to 166. “It does impact us because safety is the most important thing,” says Dean Mihov. “But Singapore is the most amazing place in terms of dealing with the virus so we feel quite good and safe there.”


Scissors for INSEAD’s ribbon-cutting ceremony

While there is no escaping the pandemic right now, Mihov is more focused on the ongoing health and future of INSEAD. Besides the new 13,000-square-foot campus on 224 Townsend St. in San Francisco, he is about to announce a massive €100 million ($114 million) renovation of the Fontainebleau campus, the most expensive upgrade in its history. The school is in the midst of recruiting its first cohort for a new Master’s in Management program. He is in the middle of a capital campaign that has thus far raised a record €185 million toward a €250 million goal by 2023 that he hopes to exceed.

And all this is after Mihov has brought in the largest single gift in INSEAD’s history, €40 million from Class of 1990 alumnus André Hoffmann and his wife Rosalie to fund a Global Institute for Business and Society, expanded INSEAD’s faculty from less than 140 when he became dean in 2013 to what will be 170-plus next year, and built the school’s endowment to €270 million from €160 million. By the end of the capital campaign, he hopes the endowment reaches an unprecedented €320 million.

INSEAD, he believes, has also become the second-largest provider of executive education programming in the world, behind only Harvard Business School. Annual revenues from executive education programs at INSEAD now total an unprecedented €120 million or $137.5 million, compared to $207 in fiscal 2018 at HBS. “That is a huge thing,” says Mihov. “That is a record.”


Mihov, however, is concerned that the MBA degree has become too expensive for many young professionals. “I really think the price of the MBA has become outrageously high,” says Mihov, who says that even applications to INSEAD’s ten-month-long MBA program have declined in the past two years. “We are trying to deal with this through scholarships and so on but when your big costs are increasing you cannot stay behind the competition. We are trying to raise more money for scholarships to make sure people can afford this. I still think the education is very valuable.”

This year, says Mihov, MBA applications are up slightly at INSEAD. “It’s probably better to call it stabilization than an increase because it is only 1% or 2%,” he adds. “The opportunity costs are becoming higher because people are being paid more and companies are becoming more flexible than they used to be. For many who start the application process and then disappear, we ask what happened? They tell us that they told their employer they were going to get an MBA and were promoted into a post-MBA position.”

By planting a flag in the U.S.–the largest single market for management education in the world–INSEAD is achieving a goal that it had first explored nearly 20 years ago. “We have been thinking about coming to the U.S. for quite some time,” Mihov told Poets&Quants in a wide-ranging interview at the new San Francisco location. “In the beginning of 2000, we were thinking of a campus with programs and then it was abandoned because we had just moved into Singapore (in 2000) and then Abu Dhabi (in 2007) happened.”

INSEAD’s new Wizard of Oz-like campus in San Francisco

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