Meet INSEAD’s MBA Class Of 2021

The year of COVID at INSEAD


Without question, INSEAD has kept itself in the headlines over the past year. Last February, the school opened a 13,000 square foot campus in San Francisco. The site will enable the school to tap deeper into the American tech and startup ecosystem, all while reinforcing INSEAD’s place as a global leader in executive education. At the same time, the school launched a Master’s In Management program, designed to bring the “INSEAD DNA” to a new population – while adding a greater emphasis on hands-on, project-based learning, career coaching, and network development.  At the same time, the school received its largest gift ever – a $60 million dollar anonymous donation in May – that provides the school with the capabilities to pursue additional investments.

That momentum has carried into 2021. A week ago, INSEAD ranked as the top MBA program in the world according to The Financial Times. Notably, INSEAD notched the highest score for alumni quality among survey respondents. At the same time, it produced high marks for pay, corporate social responsibility, and the internationalism of their student body, faculty, and coursework.

What else can future INSEAD applicants expect from the full-time program? Last year, P&Q reached out to Urs Peyer, INSEAD’s dean of degree programs to learn more about what’s on the horizon. From virtual reality to entrepreneurship, here are Peyer’s thoughts on the state of INSEAD.

P&Q: What are the most exciting new developments at your program?

Peyer: “INSEAD is now offering experiential, immersive, and innovative learning via virtual reality (VR). Last year, we have announced a partnership with Israeli VR start-up ActiView to establish the world’s first VR classroom for higher education. The use of VR glasses and carefully chosen case studies in the classroom enable students to experience real-world business dilemmas and scenarios. Each VR kit is connected to a tablet, enabling student-lecturer interaction and real-time analysis of student behaviour. In October, MBA students taking Professor Guillaume Roels’ Competitive Supply Chains elective went on a virtual reality trip to the factory floor for an unparalleled lean operations experience on campus.  Virtual reality brings immersive learning experiences which allow the students to learn at a much faster rate than when reading.

INSEAD has also launched new electives on managing the disruption of COVID-19. This includes a new MBA course on Advanced Negotiations that deals with the particularities of high-stakes discussion over Zoom. There is also a Negotiating your Career elective which focuses on giving insights when you negotiate when the competition for next jobs is higher. Our new elective on diversity, equity and inclusion taught by Professor Zoe Kinias will be offered for MBA and MiM students beginning in May 2021.

Urs Peyer, dean of degree programs at INSEAD

As part of the MBA course Realising Entrepreneurial Potential taught by Professor Ivana Naumovska, students were matched with entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized private companies from all over the world. They helped them for 1-2 months remotely, on a part-time mandate to analyse or manage a COVID-related challenge to the business.

For example, one team helped an Israeli company that provides data collection software for the market research industry that serves over 750 customers across over 110 countries. Our students worked closely with the TMT to assess the effect of COVID-19 on the industry (e.g., how the global research market is going to look like under its various segments and what research methods the company should be supporting in different regions). Another team worked with a German compliance and communication services provider in the healthcare industry, whose clients are large and mid-sized pharma companies. The students examined a range of Covid-19 scenarios assessing the impact on the business in 2020, and building on that created a bottom-up business plan for the next six years.

The school has also launched a series of Thought Leadership Webinars and INSEAD Conversations with specific and timely topics relevant for business and education in this pandemic.”

P&Q: What is the two most unique or differentiating features of your full-time program? How do they enrich the MBA experience?

Peyer: “With three fully-integrated campuses in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and over 80 different nationalities in the classroom, no other business school offers such a multicultural experience.

Two unique differentiating factors that sets us apart from the rest lie in our participants’ diversity and global perspectives. Our latest MBA cohort (‘21J) comprised of 64 nationalities: 38% from Europe, 32% from Asia-Pacific, 15% from North America, 7% from South America, 4% from Africa and 4% from the Middle East. Women make up 32% of the cohort. This means that unlike other schools, INSEAD does not have a dominant national culture; this allows us to turn diversity into a powerful learning tool driven by global perspectives. Another unique criteria is also our language requirement – in addition to English and entry language, all students will need to demonstrate at least basic knowledge of a third language in order to graduate.

Our MBA programme is powered by 165 world-class full-time faculty from 41 countries who are known for the rigour and relevance of their research, as well as their ability to inspire in the classroom and to synthesise powerful learning from diverse student perspectives. Two key innovations that students will experience are the Master Strategist Day and VR cases. The Master Strategist Day is part of the Strategy core course where students work in teams to solve a company or NGO’s strategy challenge related to integrating performance and societal progress. The VR cases provide an immersive experience bringing practical challenges to the students (e.g., lean supply chains, group dynamic challenges, or business model opportunities).”

P&Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your business school?

Peyer: “When the COVID-19 outbreak forced the closure of our campuses and facilities around the world, we moved all classes online in two weeks, made numerous curriculum innovations, and mobilised our entire community to enrich the learning experience in times of “lockdown”.

Having campuses in Asia and Europe is a key attraction for many students to choose INSEAD.

Even though both were closed during the lockdown, they are now both open for in-person teaching. Compared to other schools that are operating fully online, INSEAD is currently able to deliver in-person teaching on our Asia campus.

Students also have the option to choose which campus they would like to start off their MBA journey. Naturally, this is an advantage for those who see this as a valuable option – during normal times, and now even more during COVID times.

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

Due to the pandemic, several countries did not allow students to leave their countries. Thanks to a global network of close contacts with French consular services, Campus France, and personalised support, many incoming students managed to secure their visas and integrate with the programme on campus in Fontainebleau. For those who did not manage to travel, the programme has been offered via dual delivery: in-person classroom teaching and simultaneous Zoom participation. We remain committed to our dual mode teaching to enable students to be fully immersed and integrated in the programme, even from ‘Home’.

The health, safety and well-being of our community remain our top priority. INSEAD have a rigorous mandatory testing routine where students have to be tested once a week, along with mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, avoiding physical contact, hand-washing, and contact tracing. To keep in-person education open, we are strongly encouraging all members of our community to act responsibly both on and off-campus to minimise the risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to peers. To find out more about our on campus measures, visit this page here.”

P&Q: INSEAD is known as the “Business School for the World” – a melting pot MBA program diverse in every respect in terms of nationality and professional background. It is one thing to collect talent. It is another to harness it. How has INSEAD been able to leverage this diversity to create an environment that truly prepares students to be global managers?

Peyer: “Aside from quality classroom education, what sets INSEAD apart from other schools is its “dynamic and diverse” learning environment. That starts with the study group. For many, these 5-6 member teams will be the most distinctive group they have encountered in their careers. This uniqueness, coupled with the high calibre of their peers, forces INSEAD students to up their game academically, professionally, and socially.

In order to develop responsible leaders who are capable of transforming business and society, the MBA programme prepares students with thorough business and technical knowledge, but also the awareness of the place of business in society. Putting people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives together is to solve societal challenges is just one of many ways we harness this diversity. For example, our Master Strategist Day (MSD), part of the core strategy course in the INSEAD MBA programme, challenges students to practice strategy with a real organisation and encourages them to apply frameworks they’ve learned in class to make a meaningful difference. Last year, students went to South Africa to work with Unjani Clinics that provide affordable care to underserved communities. The MSD strategic challenge centred on how to grow Unjani’s network of clinics to 1,000 by 2030, with a sustainable funding model built in.

INSEAD Dean Illian Mihov

INSEAD Dean Illian Mihov

P&Q: INSEAD is being increasingly known for entrepreneurship. What types of programming and resources do you offer in this area? How do you incorporate an entrepreneurial mindset in your curriculum?

Peyer: “Entrepreneurship is in INSEAD’s DNA. Our business education and research as well as our four locations in San Francisco, France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi offer students a global perspective on entrepreneurship. Within INSEAD’s MBA Progamme, students have the freedom to choose from a wide range of entrepreneurship electives, such as, Building Businesses in China (field trip), Building Businesses in India (field trip), Building Businesses in Silicon Valley (field trip), Digital Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship in Action: Scaling Start-ups, SDG Bootcamp: Building Impact Business – just to name a few. We have recently added a new elective running across all elective periods called the Startup Booster for Entrepreneurs. This elective is targeted to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to compete in the INSEAD Venture Competition and start their own business after graduating.

Students also have access to The Rudolf and Valeria Maag INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship (ICE), which inspires, educates, and empowers INSEAD entrepreneurs as they innovate and create business ventures worldwide. To both aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, ICE provides knowledge and activities specifically developed to help entrepreneurs to start new businesses, grow existing businesses, turn around troubled businesses, or grow business areas within a firm and it organizes the INSEAD Entrepreneurs-in-Residence programme.  The centre also offers a unique Startup Bootcamp, an intensive and interactive weekend of training designed to test one’s entrepreneurial appetite and jumpstart their entrepreneurial adventure.

The school also offers The INSEAD LaunchPad (our first alumni start-up accelerator) located inside the world’s largest start-up campus – STATION F in Paris. More than just a workspace, alumni-led start-ups from all sectors and industries can take their ventures to the next stage through LaunchPad events and connections, and the many resources in the STATION F ecosystem. The LaunchPad actively promotes the vision of a connected global INSEAD start-up community and raises the profile of Paris as a leading centre for entrepreneurship.”

Page 3: Profiles of 10 Members of the Class of 2021