Mark Twain described travel as “fatal to prejudice.” For Twain, broad views couldn’t be developed “vegetating in one little corner of the Earth.” Instead, they required exposure, to step away from comfort and accept the awkwardness of a beginner. In essence, travel requires the curiosity to explore, the humility to listen, and the courage to embrace. That means being engaged in the moment, learning and connecting.
That’s the spirit of INSEAD, branded as “The Business School for the World.” Located in France, INSEAD is a place where nationalities, traditions, industries, and world views collide. After all, as the saying goes, “Everyone is a minority at INSEAD.” That dynamic lends itself, over time, to being flexible and inclusive, to seek compromise and produce holistic solutions that bring the greatest value to the greatest number of stakeholders. This wider and deeper perspective can only be achieved when MBA students live diversity every minute of every day.
NEED TO BE THERE AND LIVE IT
That lesson was internalized long ago by Chris Poldoian, a wine consultant who was the youngest person ever selected to Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 list. A July enrollee, Poldoian equates the INSEAD experience to Twain’s view of travel: Truly understanding something requires you to visit the sites and live with the people who will ultimately be your customers and employees.
“Ask any sommelier: the best way to learn about a wine region is by interacting with foreign winemakers and visiting their vineyards,” Poldoian writes. “It’s not enough to bury your head in a textbook on the Mosel – you have to see the region’s steep sites and touch the sun-soaked schist with your hands. If I’ve learned anything from meeting with the vignerons in Corbières, cidermakers in Basque Country, and grape-growers in Vayots Dzor, it’s that exposure to people, places, and ideas is the best catalyst for discovering new ways to conduct business and communicate ideas. In this increasingly globalized marketplace, good business requires empathy and mutual understanding. INSEAD understands this better than anyone. There’s an amazing energy that comes from getting such different backgrounds together in one room, working towards the same goal.”
Poldoian’s classmate, Maria Geagea, applies a different metaphor to the INSEAD experience. She harkens back to a famous picture of the UK’s Prince William. From a front angle, he was holding up three fingers to signify the number of children he had. From a side view, the prince appeared to making an obscene gesture. For Geagea, this signified the need to seek out multiple perspectives to prevent misunderstandings.
“I see each INSEAD’s classroom as one series of the same photo. The cultural and professional diversity would enrich the conversations and discussions providing new perspectives that I do not believe can be anticipated. It would enable me to take my thinking and analysis further than the boundaries defined by my background and experience.”
A PLACE TO PRACTICE
Indeed, you’ll find 70-90 nationalities at INSEAD, with every class organized so no more than 10% of students belong to one group. On top of that, the class boasts students from an array of backgrounds, something that has opened Constance Noziere’s eyes to many new “perspectives and approaches.” A New York City native, Noziere has admittedly grown up among different cultures and relocated several times. Such experiences have pushed her grow – and the structure of the INSEAD program has only accelerated it.
“I am so excited to learn from the global perspectives that pervade INSEAD,” Noziere explains. “For the first couple of months, we are split into study groups of about five people. INSEAD intentionally makes these groups as diverse as possible and I have heard repeatedly from alumni that these study groups taught them some of their most important lessons in terms of working across cultures and resolving differences, equipping them well for the global workforce.”
One lesson: Always look at a situation from someone else’s viewpoint, particularly employees and peers. “You become more open-minded, you learn to challenge your own assumptions in a constructive manner, and you better appreciate the value of different inputs,” explains Maria Lia Magni, an Italiy-based McKinsey analyst before joining the Class of 2022. “Mediating between different work styles and cultures can sometimes be challenging, but with experience you manage to uncover the benefits of these types of diversity and to overcome the difficulties. INSEAD can be a valuable setting where to practice these skills.”
THE PACE OF LEADERSHIP
It is also a place where students can develop a global outlook, to critically examine how they live and work while building a global network that can stretch to anyone and anywhere. Scale is one advantage of INSEAD, with the summer and winter intakes drawing over 1,000 students annually. While INSEAD is rooted in France, it offers a truly international experience with campuses in Abu Dhabi, Singapore, and San Francisco. To reinforce the truly global nature of the INSEAD experience, the school requires fluency in English and intermediate proficiency in a second language – with students expected to master the basics of a third language by graduation. Make no mistake: INSEAD is fast-paced and intense. Lasting ten months, INSEAD simulates the tight schedules and conflicting demands for high level international executives according to Katy Montgomery, the school’s associate dean for degree programs.
“INSEAD truly prepares MBA for the global collaboration and increased expectations that lie ahead of them, Montgomery told P&Q in 2019. “It’s amazing that they’re able to pack up, go to another country, plop down, and start going to class in such a diverse place. I think with the future of work – with the gig economy and the volatility and uncertainty – I don’t know of any group who would be better able to manage that. They deal with that every day. They are in this 10-month program on multiple campuses dealing with diversity. During that time, they are job searching, working with a personal leadership development coach, and going on treks. These people can handle a lot, but they can also handle not being perfectly structured. That’s where we’re going and that’s an amazing skill to have.”
Speaking of amazing skills, you’ll find them in surplus from the July cohort. Before James Atkinson became a manager at Deloitte Consulting, he played professional tennis, visiting 30 countries along the way. He also served as the Deloitte Netherlands representative in Europe’s large telecom transformation. Similarly, Bruno Lucas was a professional badminton player who made a similar transition to being a business unit manager. It was an easy path, as he reined in his competitive nature. Over time, this change served as his biggest professional achievement.
“In the short term, a career change from sports to the corporate world can be challenging and daunting. But in the long run, being a former athlete is a real advantage because the synergies between the two are obvious. Both require dedication, resiliency, and ability to continuously progress and meet challenges.”
FROM CROSSFIT TO COVID
Athletics became a passion project for Amanda Michel, a Swiss national champion weightlifter who competed in the Olympic Weightlifting. A hospitality management major, she helped start the Swiss Alpine Battle, which became a popular event on the CrossFit circuit, attracting the sport’s top athletes from 17 countries. The event also represented Michel’s biggest exposure to leadership, one that forced her to develop her own style…often through trial-and-error.
“This sport was not my profession, but the lessons I learned from leading and running an international event, as well as building and managing the organizational structure that supported it, rippled across all aspects of my life,” she writes. “It made me realize that what mattered more to me than anything else was to test my boundaries and grow through learning from other people who were further along in their journeys than I was in mine. It heightened my self-awareness. It made me humbler. Most of all, it helped me realize that by learning through new experiences, particularly shared ones, I could become better at creating positive effects both in my life and the lives of others.”
The class’ far-reaching experiences will certainly produce some fascinating class discussions. Felix Bataille, a supply chain engineer, spent two years in India building an automobile plant “from the ground up.” In Italy, Maria Lia Magni executed a youth employment training program that helped 50 students find jobs over its first six months (and grew to several hundred after three years). Speaking of impact, Sri Lanka’s Sakina Esufally worked with her country’s Minister of Health to develop COVID screening centers that keep the virus away from hospital wards.
“We joined hands with the Sri Lanka Air Force to construct structures in six short weeks that could withstand monsoons, harnessed natural ventilation to minimize infection, and utilized moveable partitions to improve patient-flow. To date, the tents have accommodated 200,000 patients and have the capacity to host more than one million by 2022.”
GIVING BACK TO THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY
Speaking of big numbers, Constance Noziere was previously responsible for Linkedin’s logged-out profile page…which produces 50 million views per week. At Facebook, Tetlanyo Lekalake served as a marketing lead. There, she built programs across a region that stretched from Africa to Turkey and supported women, ethnic minorities, and individuals with disabilities. Lekalake also co-founded a chapter of Black@Facebook in Ireland, the first internal support group of its kind outside the United States.
“I led this group for four years, working with the rest of the team to develop it into a more powerful resource for departments such as recruiting and sales. More importantly, Black@Facebook Ireland created spaces for Facebook employees to celebrate diversity and discuss race-related challenges.”
Chris Poldoian’s biggest achievement was rooted in the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. Once a sommelier, Poldoian was reminded of the high rate of substance abuse and mental illness in the hospitality industry. In response, he co-founded WellWeek, a program that raised awareness and funds for issues ranging from depression to responsible drinking.
“I’m most proud of the mental health workshops that I organized. I coordinated with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America), their staff-led seminars customized for the hospitality industry workforce. Manager workshops focused on fostering a healthy work environment and identifying depression and substance abuse, while employee workshops focused on an employee’s legal rights and how to handle restaurant-specific anxiety.”
Next Page: Interview with Katy Montgomery, Associate Dean of Degree Programmes at INSEAD
Page 3: Profiles of 12 members of the Class of 2022