Why INSEAD’s Time Has Finally Come

January 30, 2016 | by Caroline Diarte Edwards

Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director of Fortuna Admissions. An INSEAD MBA graduate, she was previously the school’s director of admissions, marketing and external relations from 2005 to 2012. The article originally appeared in Poets & Quants.

INSEAD’s number one spot in the Financial Times’ ranking has been a long time coming. In the 18 years that this ranking has been published, the top spot has been held only by Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and London Business School.  As INSEAD’s Director of Admissions, Marketing and External Relations from 2005 to 2012, I remember long hours of laboring over data collection for MBA rankings submissions for publications such as the FT, and sweating it out as we waited for the results. I have to say that I leapt out of my chair in delight when I heard the result this year.

So what is INSEAD doing so well?

Academic excellence

INSEAD has succeeded in attracting many of the world’s best and brightest faculty and has ramped up investment in research. Faculty are drawn to the stimulating environment of such a diverse community. Professors also talk about the breadth of perspectives they encounter in the INSEAD classroom, which sparks a richer discussion than they have found elsewhere. Professor Randel Carlock says: “I enjoy teaching at INSEAD because it truly is a global experience. And I get to lead innovative classes with some of the brightest MBA students in the world.” His perspective is echoed by the school’s dean, Ilian Mihov, who comments that “the diversity in the INSEAD classroom is unparalleled and this fact alone creates a magical environment.”  Assistant Dean Graham Hastie also notes “We are very proud of the fact that our faculty research is so highly ranked and that more of our PhD graduates find faculty positions at top schools than those of any other program.”

A truly international school 

INSEAD clearly benefits from the emphasis on international dimensions in the FT ranking. INSEAD was in fact the first school to recognize the importance of a truly international perspective for business leaders, and this internationalism has been a fundamental part of the school’s DNA since its inception.

The school has constantly pushed the boundaries of what it means to be international, in its quest to train business leaders who excel at working across cultures. “The Business School for the World” has long boasted the most internationally diverse program, with students from over 80 countries, and no dominant nationality in the classroom. The geographic expansion of the school, with the Singapore campus (now in its 17th year) and the Abu Dhabi campus (now in its 7th year) has further reinforced the international visibility of the school and its ability to attract candidates and recruiters from all parts of the globe.

A springboard for an international career 

The FT 2016 ranking shows that the 1-year MBA can deliver the sort of earnings power and salary increase to compete with the very best 2-year programs. The school has progressively increased investment in the past few years in the careers team (from 30 to 40 staff since 2014) and has attracted alumni donations for state-of-the-art video conferencing interview suites on the 3 campuses. The INSEAD careers team has a huge challenge, given the 1-year format, and the geographic diversity and sheer size of the 1020 strong student body.  You might think it would be hard to achieve a dramatic career change during a 1-year program, however 84% of INSEAD students change sector, function or country, and an impressive 25% switch on all three dimensions. The school has built relationships with a huge roster of regular recruiters from across the globe, and last year graduates took positions with 440 different organizations in 64 countries.  Recruiters are also increasingly seeking the international mindset and ability to work across cultures that is the very essence of an INSEAD MBA graduate. INSEAD now has the highest proportion of alumni at the top 20 most attractive employers (according to a Universum survey) of any school.

The global network effect

The school made a bold move in growing the student body to over 1000. The rationale behind the growth was that the school did not want to be a small, elite club for a few privileged westerners, but truly the “Business School for the World” – a transformative training ground for the next generation of business leaders from all continents. The size of the program is now paying dividends, as the school’s alumni network has grown to over 50,000 from 157 nationalities, living in 174 countries.  In 2005, McKinsey noted that there were 23 countries in which more than 100 INSEAD MBA alumni lived and worked; its closest competitor at the time, HBS, had such alumni presence in just 12. Since then, the breadth and depth of INSEAD’s network has grown dramatically, and INSEAD today can point to 45 countries in which it has more than 100 alumni. This network is an immense asset in creating a positive cycle of attracting more great MBA applicants and recruiters, as well as being a tremendous resource for the alumni as they progress in their careers.

The killer ROI of the one-year program

INSEAD invented the one-year MBA format over 50 years ago, and this has proven to be a highly successful model. Students appreciate the opportunity to gain their MBA degree (in which they cover 80% of the material you would cover in a top two-year program) in half the time, meaning a much lower overall cost and less foregone salary. The Forbes MBA ranking shows the program has the highest five-year ROI of any school in the world. Recruiters also comment that the intensity of the INSEAD program more closely mirrors the reality of professional life in a post MBA career, and better prepares students to hit the ground running when they start their new job.

INSEAD’s winning formula has firmly cemented its position among the world’s  leading business schools. In the last four years at Fortuna Admissions we have certainly seen increasing volumes of applicants from the US and around the globe targeting INSEAD as their first choice, and the number one spot in the FT will likely drive more applications to the school. In the volatile world of MBA rankings, the school should enjoy this moment in the sun. And regardless of rankings, under the strong leadership of the school’s dynamic young Dean, Ilian Mihov, INSEAD promises to continue to go from strength to strength.

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