Exclusive: INSEAD’s Dean Talks New Online Degree, New MBA Curriculum & What Comes After Covid

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

The mural on the side of INSEAD’s new campus building in San Francisco is a collage of drawings interspersed with buzzwords:




Look closely and you can even spot the word LOVE.

It’s a fitting display for one of the world’s most progressive business schools. Long before most of its counterparts in the United States were discussing “business as a force for good,” INSEAD was creating programs, weaving sustainability and ESG — environmental, social, and governance — issues into the curriculum, not only in its MBA but in its master in management and other programs, too. Even before 2013, when current Dean Ilian Mihov began his first term, INSEAD was a leader in the kind of forward-thinking, positive change-focused programming that its peers in graduate business education have lately come to embrace.

Key to bringing the world around to INSEAD’s way of thinking: the impossible-to-deny effects of climate change.

“I think that climate change became more visible, especially in the last three or four years, with the fires everywhere, especially California,” says INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov. “But they were also in China. There were floods, there were all kinds of extreme weather events, and many people realized things are changing.

“I think that today, fortunately, there is much more real desire to change things. Unfortunately, it is not so easy.”


INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov

Mihov was in San Francisco last month to visit INSEAD’s Hub, which officially opened in early 2020 — the school’s fourth campus after Fontainebleau, France; Singapore; and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. After a slow start because of the worldwide pandemic, the SF Hub is fully up and running, having welcomed to its 13,000 square feet of lounges, classrooms, and meeting spaces the first in-person Master in Management students in June 2021. “Now,” Mihov says with evident joy, “the manager was telling me that for the year, this place is almost full, which is really great.”

Days before it was announced that his school had topped our international MBA ranking for the sixth straight year, INSEAD’s dean sat down with Poets&Quants to talk about what the last few years have been like in the life of an elite B-school dean, plans for his last year and a half in charge, and what he might do after he leaves the deanship in 2023. INSEAD restricts its deans to a maximum of two five-year terms.

“I have one year, seven months, and four days left in my second term,” Mihov, 55, says. “I have two years’ sabbatical because I served two terms of five years. For each term, I have a year of sabbatical. There are so many interesting things I want to do. I’m a macroeconomist, and the last few years were the most interesting years.”


It has truly been a busy few years. Shortly after opening the SF Hub, Mihov contacted Covid-19 in March 2020 — “I was an early adopter,” he jokes — and spent four weeks in a Singapore hospital. His symptoms were mild, but tests were difficult to acquire and still primitive, leading to the protracted hospital stay. Once given a clean bill of health, he was not idle, even as the world locked down. In June of that year he was appointed chair of the board of Principles for Responsible Management Education, an initiative of the UN Global Compact which promotes scaling up the transformation of business and management education to advance sustainable development goals.

In September 2021, INSEAD became the first business school to join the UN’s HeforShe Alliance, which promotes gender equality through commitments to action by male leaders. INSEAD — which has seen its share of women in the MBA grow from 33% in 2018 to 37% in 2021, has committed to a gender-balanced, multi-national board by 2023; to reach a minimum of 40% female participants in the MBA program by the 2024-2025 academic year, while maintaining a minimum of 65 nationalities in each cohort; and to hire 50% women faculty across the next three years.

“We are trying to balance nationality diversity, gender diversity, and so on,” says Mihov, adding that INSEAD recently created an Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Africa Initiative, the latter leading to applications from Africa doubling in the last cycle. “One of our big problems is that we insist on still having a lot of Europeans in the classroom. I think they’re one-third. But then the problem is that in Europe, there are very few female applicants. In Germany we have about 15% to 20% female applications. Spain, Italy is the same. China has 60% women in the classroom. The U.S. is about 40% to 45%, so it’s like the U.S. schools here.

“It is not impossible to get to 50%, but then you will have a very different composition of the class. We are moving in the right direction. I’m pretty sure that by 2024 we’ll be 40%.”

Story continues on page 2.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.