What INSEAD’s #1 Rankings Repeat Means for the School

February 06, 2017 | by Matt Symonds

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Spirits are soaring on INSEAD’s campuses this week thanks to the school’s number one spot in the Financial Times ranking for the 2nd straight year. INSEAD has long viewed the FT’s ranking as the most credible, and when they finally achieved the coveted first place in the ranking’s 18th year, there were big celebrations on the school’s three campuses in Singapore, France and Abu Dhabi. As an INSEAD alum and former MBA Admissions Director at the school, I am among the many members of the INSEAD family around the world toasting to the school’s ongoing success.

How has the school attained, and now maintained, this top spot? Historically, INSEAD has excelled against many criteria in the FT ranking, especially those related to international diversity. More recently, the school has enjoyed improvements in salaries and in its research ranking, as well as the quality of the PhD program. The success of the INSEAD faculty and the school’s alumni are the new key drivers that have vaulted the school to first place for two years running.

In the words of soccer champion Lionel Messi, “It took me 17 years to be an overnight success.” In INSEAD’s case, it has been a 60-year journey. Its visionary founders defined some of the key attributes that are bearing fruit today: they pioneered the one-year MBA format, made internationalism a fundamental part of the school’s DNA, and were uncompromising on standards – this was to be the Harvard Business School of Europe.

The Best International Network, “Hands Down”

At Fortuna Admissions, we speak with thousands of MBA applicants annually about their school choices, and INSEAD features more prominently than ever. So what’s the appeal? Speak to students and alumni about what makes INSEAD stand out, and you’ll immediately hear about the school’s international diversity and how that shaped their education. Sofia Arhall, INSEAD MBA alumna and Director of Operations for Global Partnerships at Google says, “Nothing prepares you for an international business career like meeting and deeply engaging with students from a diverse set of backgrounds. I would clearly not be here, doing what I do today, without the education and international outlook I gained from my year at INSEAD.”

Christian Spies, an INSEAD EMBA graduate who leads a 750m-euro division of German industrial group Leoni says, “If you are a senior manager responsible for a bunch of sales and operations facilities around the globe and a truly global customer base, you have to be capable of dealing with that diverse context. On campus and in class INSEAD is dedicated to capitalizing on the incredible diversity, experience and brain power of the school’s community – and you just cannot get more international than INSEAD.”

Its internationally diverse student body also enables the school to advance an alumni network with unparalleled geographic spread. Spies adds, “INSEAD has the best international network, hands down.”

Vindicating the One-Year Format

INSEAD views its achievements in the FT ranking as a vindication of the one-year MBA format. Dean Ilian Mihov, says, “It was important to see that a one-year program can compete with the longer MBA programs and develop successful and impactful managers, entrepreneurs and leaders. And although the impact of INSEAD was already visible in many different ways, being recognized as the #1 MBA program by the Financial Times makes it more transparent that we create as much value as the other top programs – or even more.”

“Rewired My Brain”

With the one-year format and corresponding intensity of the program, the INSEAD adcom typically seeks candidates with slightly more work experience than the top two-year programs. Alumni cite this as a key driver in their learning experience.

Mrinalini Ramakrishnan, INSEAD MBA alumna and Director at HSBC Private Bank in London says, “Targeting slightly older students helps make the classroom discussions and content more relevant, current and practical, focusing less on business jargon and theory – this I believe is essential for an MBA education; to equip students with skills that help you think outside the box in today’s creative and less traditional work environment.”

Arhall also points to the impact that the INSEAD classroom had on her mental framework: “My background was not traditional for an MBA, I had studied journalism and arts, so the MBA added a completely new skill set and perspective. I remember thinking when I graduated that INSEAD had completely re-wired my brain.”

What’s Next for INSEAD?

In my conversation with Dean Mihov, he commented that the school’s rankings success has ”turbocharged our desire to build on our strength and innovate.” This summer INSEAD launches a new MBA curriculum designed to intensify the development of students both in terms of building analytical skills for the new digital economy and by creating a transformational environment for their personal development. To facilitate personal and career development, there will be greater emphasis on career services with the introduction of personal career advisors and a new Personal Leadership Development program with individual professional coaching. The school is also rolling out a “Business and Society” cluster of courses, addressing political factors influencing business, such as environmental sustainability and the effects of rising inequality. A slate of new elective courses will also explore the challenges and opportunities of digital disruption.

A Haven from Brexit and Trump

Last year’s ranking put a spotlight on INSEAD that triggered a spike in applications, and with several former senior staff from the school on our team at Fortuna Admissions we have witnessed a corresponding jump in queries from prospective INSEAD candidates. So admissions selectivity at the school continues to rise, and the consolidation of the school’s FT rankings success will no doubt increase interest levels and application volume even more. INSEAD is also benefitting from the fallout from Brexit and Trump, and has seen a bump in application volume from Latin America, the US and some countries for which access to the US and UK schools might be difficult. Says Mihov, “The recent rise of isolationism runs against the core values of our school. INSEAD was founded to promote peace and prosperity in post-war Europe by bringing people together so that they can build businesses and work together. Today, our mission is to bring together people from all over the world.”

This mission seems more critical and relevant today than ever.

A version of this post first appeared on January 30, 2017 on Poets & Quants.

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