A Founding Father Of INSEAD Passes Away

One of the founding fathers of INSEAD, Claude Janssen passes away on Saturday, March 27

After earning his MBA at Harvard Business School in the 1950s, Claude Janssen became stuck on a revolutionary idea. He became convinced that Europe needed a business school with the influence and prestige of his new alma mater. It was a radical idea. At the time, there were no business schools in Europe and the MBA degree was barely known.

Yet, upon returning to his native land of France in 1955, Janssen worked tirelessly to get the Institut European d’Administration des Affaires” (the European Institute of Business Administration), long known widely as INSEAD, off the ground and into a reality. With the help and support of Harvard Business School’s Georges Doriot, the first French HBS graduate and its first French professor, he would realize his dream only four years later.

When the first classes were held in 1959, Janssen informed Doriot, “The ship is launched. 57 registered today. Opening ceremonies completed. All engines turning.”


On Saturday, March 27, Janssen passed away at the age of 91, having seen his idea bloom into one of the best business schools in the world, with campuses in France, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and San Francisco, a business university with 165 faculty members from 41 countries and with more than 1,300 students annually in its degree programs and more than 11,000 executives in the school’s executive education courses each year.

His death was announced by INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov. “He was my mentor, my unwavering supporter, my inspiration,” wrote Mihov. “George Doriot once said, ‘Without action, the world will still be an idea.’ Claude lived by those words. Without him, INSEAD would have remained just an idea. Claude will be greatly missed, but his vision and passion lingers in our hearts.”

Mihov noted that HBS Professor Doriot envisioned “a revolutionary business school in France defined by academic rigor and relevance, diversity, independence, entrepreneurial spirit and closeness to business. Based in the U.S., he needed support to bring this idea to life, and Claude was the ideal agent. Claude worked tirelessly to get the school off the ground and turn the idea of INSEAD into reality. He defined effectiveness paired with discretion, the perfect diplomat to secure funding, facilities and faculty for the fledgling operation.”


Janssen, who went to HBS after his studies at École Polytechnique in Paris, would later say in an interview that he did not want to duplicate or copy the Harvard MBA experience in Europe, but rather to allow Harvard to inspire and inform a more international school. After earning his MBA, he went to work for the Worms group, a prominent private Paris-based group active in banking, insurance, shipping, and industry. But he also threw himself into the INSEAD project. Along with compatriots Olivier Giscard d’Estaing and Jean Raindre, both fellow Harvard graduates and Doriot disciples, Janssen worked hard to bring the school to fruition.

“Claude was instrumental in establishing INSEAD,” added Mihov. “He did not simply believe in the idea, he invested time, energy and passion to breathe life into the school. Over the course of six decades, Claude Janssen served the school and community admirably. Today, we mourn the loss of a great leader and great man. Our hearts go out to his lovely wife, Tuulikki at this time.”

Janssen was instrumental in finding and vetting candidates to become INSEAD’s first Director General, as well as scouring the Paris region for a potential home for the new school and serving on the Comité Technique, charged with constituting INSEAD’s operating policies and course outlines.

“All of this effort was for the sake of a mere idea: a collective aspiration without precedent, a school offering a programme without accreditation, without proven demand, without financial backing, without faculty, even without permanent facilities,” according to INSEAD’s history. “As with any entrepreneurial start-up, the likelihood of failure was high, and the chance for success slim. The scales were further weighted by the short-sightedness of some members of the French establishment, who contended that INSEAD’s multinational orientation would encourage a diaspora of domestic talent rather than concentrating it at home.”


Janssen was a cornerstone in building the INSEAD of today. Throughout the 1960s, he served on the Advisory Committee. In 1971, he was appointed first Executive Vice-Chairman of the Board. Then in 1982 he took over as Chairman of the Board, a position he held until 2004. Until his last day, Claude served as Honorary Chairman of the Board and Honorary Head of the International Council, continuing his lifelong mission to champion INSEAD.

“Under Claude’s leadership,” added Dean Mihov, “INSEAD grew into a global business school renowned for academic excellence and cultural diversity. It became a leading institution with campuses on three continents, a robust degree offering and reputation for cutting-edge research, as well as an active and engaged community of business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. This is Claude’s legacy and we are forever indebted to him for championing this vision and for his commitment to the school. Claude Janssen empowered and inspired generations of business leaders, and his legacy will live on as long as the INSEAD spirit does.”

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