New Delhi: In January, when the Financial Times released its annual Global MBA Rankings, a business school with a one-year MBA programme made it to the top of the list. INSEAD, with campuses in Fontainebleau (near Paris), Singapore and Abu Dhabi topped the 2016 rankings, dislodging the previous year’s leader Harvard Business School. In a phone interview, INSEAD dean Ilian Mihov talks about the school’s journey to the top, a global approach to business studies and more. Edited excerpts:
INSEAD was ranked the #1 business school by the ‘Financial Times’ in its 2016 rankings. What is it about your one-year programme that got you there?
We believe that the rankings are an important statement that our one-year MBA programme can create value for students. It’s a strong and important statement. Our programme, which runs for one year, covers around 80-85% of what the two-year programmes cover elsewhere. It is very intensive. We are happy that in the last 56 years, our focus has been not only on academic rigour, but also on quality research. Also, our one-year programme is not a short-cut for getting a degree. It is very important to know that our students work very, very hard during the time they spend at INSEAD. We teach everything they learn in other elite business schools. Yes, we are extremely happy with the outcome, especially when we place students.
Is being a multi-campus business school an advantage for INSEAD?
We look at our approach as a multi-campus business school as a way of delivering quality global business education, as opposed to local. We have an intake of over 1,000 MBA students each year, divided between our Europe and Asia campuses. Right now, we have three campuses – Europe campus in Fontainebleau (near Paris), Asia Campus in Singapore, and Middle East campus in Abu Dhabi. This year, in Abu Dhabi, we launched a residential MBA module in January and February, which our students liked a lot, so we might continue.
Logistically, how does this work out?
It is not easy logistically. At the time of admission, we ask our students to indicate their preferred starting campus (or where they would start their programme from). Our programme is divided into five eight-week (or two-month) periods, where they stay in the starting campus for the first two periods. From the third period onwards, we offer the students the choice to move campuses (say, from Fontainebleau to Singapore and vice versa) and study four months, or the remaining three periods in the exchange campus. It is their choice. While it may be logistically difficult for us, we believe that it creates a lot of value for our students by giving them experiences in different locations in the world. In addition, we also offer exchanges with Wharton School (at the University of Pennsylvania) and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The exchanges typically take place for one period.
Do rankings like these typically matter?
We look at rankings as a good feedback mechanism and look for noisy signals. We also believe that it provides good value to the students, especially in terms of career placements. For example, if someone graduates from INSEAD, they can expect placements in organisations like McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group, which hire more students from INSEAD than any other schools. As per a survey, we have the highest percentage of MBA alumni on LinkedIn at top MBA employers. INSEAD has the highest proportion of graduates/alumni at the world’s top 20 most attractive employers (based on a survey conducted in 2015 with data from Universum and LinkedIn). We have placed our students all over the world (56+ countries) and this includes emerging markets like Vietnam and Indonesia. To go back to your question, yes, ratings do matter for us since they reflect some of these trends.
What are the key focus areas for INSEAD going forward?
We have two to three key things that we have identified as our priorities. First, curriculum review, something we do because we want to ensure that we are delivering the best possible management course throughout all programmes. We don’t want to be complacent. We are focusing on personal leadership development programmes, where we try and help them throughout their journeys, both for the present and the future, essentially prepare them to develop their careers. Career progression for us is as important as content of the courses and the programmes we teach in the classroom. Second, we have the deepest and the widest alumni network of all B-schools. We want to connect this network to the school, because we believe that as alumni, the learnings are lifelong. The students, we think, can benefit from this contact, and the faculty in turn can benefit from executive experience. We believe that as a community, we can create even more knowledge than what we know at INSEAD. Thirdly, we want to offer our students good value for money. According to Forbes, our alumni from 2010 realized a five-year gain of $171,200, which was twice that of Stanford Business Graduate School, whose alumni in comparison had a five-year gain of $89,100.
As a global business school, how important is diversity for INSEAD?
We are a diverse business school, and diversity is extremely important for us. With around 80 nationalities in our campuses, there is no dominant culture. The highest percentage of students from any country is 10-12%. In our campus, every country is a minority, which is extremely humbling to know.
What do you think of Indian B-schools?
Indian business schools are excellent, doing great. We have, in fact, tied up with the Indian School of Business for a joint PhD programme. I think Indian B-schools have a high level of research and are constantly developing their research environment, which is very important in any business school’s success, along with high-quality teaching. Having said that, our market is essentially people with a global mindset and global perspectives.
How is INSEAD innovating its courses to keep up with the times? Is it a high-priority area for the school?
We are constantly innovating at the product level. One of it is our customized online programme, which involves high-quality video lectures from the school’s thought leaders. We signed Microsoft as our first client. Our course content is highly customized for every client, with a mix of theory and practice. It is almost like we are delivering content to 1,000 people at a time. The course, I would say, is high-quality, with a high completion rate. We had 85% of the people who took the course complete it, which is extremely high for online courses. I think our next campus is digital, and it is one of our key area of innovation as we go along.
What next for INSEAD?
I think the competition (with regard to business schools) is very tough. But we are very confident about INSEAD because our programmes, I repeat, are based on serious academic research and high teaching quality, which I believe is our winning proposition. Equally, we have a supportive alumni community which is dedicated to INSEAD. The school changed their lives. If you ask them, it was the best year of their lives. We are sensitive to the market and we react accordingly. It helps us in being very nimble.