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INSEAD Dean Tests Positive For COVID-19

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov sat down for an interview in San Francisco with Poets&Quants on Feb. 27th

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov has tested positive for COVID-19 and is hospitalized in Singapore, according to an announcement today (March 15) by the school. Only 17 days earlier on Feb. 27th, Dean Mihov was in San Francisco greeting hundreds of alumni and well-wishers at INSEAD’s newly opened Bay Area Hub.

At the time of his visit, he expressed surprise that in the U.S. people were still shaking hands. He told Poets&Quants he had traveled to the U.S. with a thermometer in his bag and had felt confident in being in Singapore which has acted more aggressively to combat the spreading virus.

In its announcement, INSEAD said that Dean Mihov, 53, is currently in stable condition and reports feeling well. An INSEAD spokesperson said that “we cannot be 100% sure how Ilian caught the virus. But based on our timeline, he is most likely to have contracted it during his recent travel to Europe. It is highly unlikely that he was infected in San Francisco or carrying the virus at that time.”

After opening the San Francisco Hub, Mihov traveled to France was on the European campus in Fontainebleau until March 12. He traveled back from France to Singapore, where he lives, on Friday, March 13th. A day later, on Saturday, he began experiencing mild symptoms and immediately went for testing at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases in Singapore. A nasal swab test came back positive on Sunday after which he was warded in isolation at an undisclosed hospital in Singapore.

“The areas Mihov worked prior to his diagnosis have been thoroughly disinfected, including his office, the wider Dean’s office and common areas, meeting rooms, pantry and toilets,” according to a statement from the school. “This includes all surfaces in high traffic areas such as lifts, handrails, door handles, desk and cupboard surfaces and bathroom facilities. Other areas he visited such as the INSEAD restaurant and coffee bar have also undergone thorough cleaning and disinfection.”

Peter Zemsky, deputy dean and the dean of innovation, will serve as acting dean while Mihov remains in the hospital.


“Based on his agenda and physical contact list, we have notified all the dean’s close contacts and requested that they observe a 14-day quarantine period, monitor their temperatures and health carefully and reach out to a medical professional as per local guidelines if they display symptoms,” according to the announcement. “Dean Mihov will be tested, monitored and isolated as long as safety and public health requires.”

The announcement was a shock to the INSEAD community. “Just 17 days ago, Ilian was the picture of health as he opened INSEAD’s San Francisco Hub with his characteristic charm and dynamism,” says Caroline Diarte Edwards, an INSEAD MBA and the former director of admissions who had attended the event. “He’s been a very visible and active ambassador for the school, which given the globally dispersed nature of the INSEAD community, has required years of grueling non-stop travel.

“Given the close-knit and internationally mobile nature of the INSEAD community,” added Edwards, now a director of Fortuna Admissions, “it’s not surprising that the coronavirus has hit fast. Ilian is in his early 50s, and in otherwise apparently excellent health, so most likely he’ll be back in action before too long. He’s much loved in the INSEAD community and will no doubt be flooded with well-wishes! The school’s community will also take comfort in the fact that Ilian has a highly competent deputy in Peter Zemsky, with whom he has been working closely for years, so stable interim management is assured.”


Only two days ago, Northwestern University t announced that a Kellogg School of Management staffer tested positive for the COVID-19 disease. It was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 at Northwestern and the first at any prominent business school in the U.S. In Europe, thus far, three students at IE Business School in Madrid and one student at IESE Business School on its Madrid campus have tested positive for COVID-19. Two days ago, IESE said the student was a participant in the school’s PADE program in Madrid who was infected. “The participant has mild symptoms and is recovering at home, and last visited IESE’s campus on March 9,” according to an IESE statement. “All of the participant’s classmates and others who have had close contact with her have been informed and are in quarantine.”

During his visit to San Francisco, Mihov noted that the precautions in Europe were much more severe than in the U.S. at the time. “Everywhere in Singapore, we check temperatures,” Mihov said during his interview with Poets&Quants. “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.

“It does impact us because safety is the most important thing,” said Mihov. “But Singapore is the most amazing place in terms of dealing with the virus so we feel quite good and safe there.” On the day of the official opening of INSEAD’s facility in San Francisco, there were 98 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Singapore. That number had grown to 226 when Mihov contracted the disease.


In today’s announcement, INSEAD said even though Dean Mihov had not been on the Asia campus in Singapore since March 9th, the school will take additional precautions, including classes being delayed for one week. All classes had already been suspends on the school’s European campus in France. “Due to additional French government regulations and a confirmed case on campus (Mihov), the Europe campus is now in full shutdown,” INSEAD said. “For the time being, unfortunately we will not be able to welcome alumni on any of our campuses or facilities.”

In line with the UAE government directive on March 5th, the INSEAD Middle East Campus has suspended all on-and off-campus events and teaching activities since Sunday, March 8th, for four weeks. Only essential staff are on campus and social distancing is in place, according to the school.

Mihov, appointed INSEAD dean on Oct. 1 of 2013, was reappointed to a second five-year term that will end in three and one-half years. The professor of macroeconomics believed his most important accomplishment has been harnessing INSEAD’s alumni network. “To me, the most important result of the deanship so far is the connection with the community,” he says.

Dean Mihov has served INSEAD well during this deanship. “The school has much to thank him for and has gone from strength to strength under his leadership,” added Edwards. “He brought in the largest single gift in INSEAD’s history, €40 million from alumnus André Hoffmann to fund a Global Institute for Business and Society, he has expanded INSEAD’s faculty from less than 140 in 2013 to what will be 170-plus next year, and built the school’s endowment from €160 million to €270 million. Furthermore, the school is planning an exciting €100 million renovation of the Fontainebleau campus. This is truly a golden age for the school.”

Orginally from Bulgaria, he holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a BSc in business administration from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina where, in 2006, he was recognized as a Distinguished Young Alumnus. At INSEAD he has been recognized several times with the Outstanding Teacher Award.

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

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