An Interview with INSEAD’s Frank Brown: Making Business Schools a Truly Global Experience

INSEAD, one of the leading business schools in Europe, has taken another step forward in the globalization process, opening a new branch in New York where it will try to compete against such prestigious schools as Harvard and Columbia. Although INSEAD, which is of French origin, already has its own campus in Paris and another campus in Singapore, it believes that the moment has come for European schools to set up shop in the U.S. IESE, the Spanish business school, was the first European school to do so. In an interview with Universia-Knowledge@Wharton, Frank Brown, dean of INSEAD, says that the big advantage European institutions have is that their programs are not dominated by one single culture. They are more open to foreign students who come from other continents. Beyond Asia and the U.S., INSEAD also sees Latin America as a region with high growth potential for business schools around the world.

 

Universia-Knowledge@Wharton: INSEAD has just opened a new branch in New York. Is there any particular reason for doing that? What plans does INSEAD have for the U.S.?

 

Frank Brown:We opened an office in New York last October at 75 Rockefeller Plaza. Our main objective is to develop INSEAD’s brand in the Americas and build awareness within the corporate sector. By establishing a presence in the U.S., INSEAD will not only be able to extend its reach in the executive education sector, but also continue to foster relationships with its extensive alumni base in the Americas. Part of INSEAD’s mission in establishing a presence in the U.S. is to develop new relationships with North American corporations and better serve its existing clients with operations in the region. 

 

Mary Lee Rieley, director of External Relations for the Americas, will lead the alumni and external development initiative. Professor J. Stewart Black will serve as Associate Dean of Executive Development Programs.  

 

UK@W.: Last year, the Spanish school IESE also set up in New York. Do you think having a presence in the States is a must for European schools that want to internationalize?

 

F.B.: We don’t consider ourselves a European Business School but rather an international business school since we have two fully integrated campuses in Europe and in Asia, and a Center for Research and Executive Education in Abu Dhabi as well as a research center in Israel and now an office in New York. We did not become “international” because we have always been “international.” We have strong relationships with companies that have their home office in the United States and continue to build deeper strategic relationships with corporates. Our presence in the United States underscores our mission to offer business education that brings together people, cultures and ideas from around the World.

 

UK@W.: Are they prepared to compete with long-established universities such as Harvard?

 

F.B.: Absolutely. We are already number two in open enrollment programs and above Harvard in Company Specific Programs. INSEAD has long-standing national councils comprised of chairmen and CEOs in both the U.S. and Canada who advise the school on topical issues in management, and support the school’s interaction and outreach with the business community and alumni.

 

UK@W.: From a strategic point of view, what are the main differences between American and European schools?

 

F.B.: Strategically, U.S. schools in the classroom will have large amounts of one culture dominating the discussion. At INSEAD, we are very careful to have a very diverse mix of cultures so that we have no dominant mindset. It is our diversity approach. In 2007, because of our two campuses, more than 67% of the class chose to exchange campuses. European and Asian cultures also add variety to the MBA year.

 

UK@W.: What are INSEAD’s plans in the short and long term?

 

F.B.:   INSEAD already has an alliance with Wharton based in Philadelphia, Pa., which further extends the reach of INSEAD business education and research across three continents. INSEAD faculty conduct leading-edge research projects with the support of 17 Centers of Excellence. INSEAD recently developed electives like Environmental Management and Corporate Responsibility, Hedge Funds and Alternative Investments, Power and Politics, and The Art of Communication. INSEAD also offers study tours to China, India and Silicon Valley in the U.S. The school doesn’t intend to open another campus but rather extend the existing ones and leverage its programmes on corporate Social Responsibility and Entrepreneurship and develop its activities among the INSEAD Social Innovation Center.

 

UK@W.: What about the Spanish market? Do you intend to expand across the country? Does INSEAD have an alliance with any Spanish school? How many Spanish students take your courses every year?

 

F.B.: INSEAD has more than 70 nationalities for each MBA intake. Among them, Spain is an important country and we notice a constant increase in Spanish applications. In the last January 2007 intake, Spaniards were the third largest nationality. In 2007, 43 Spaniards received an MBA from INSEAD. Many keep the spirit of the school by enrolling into an active alumni association that has over 300 active members. We hold good relations with the most important domestic business schools but have no formal alliance.

 

UK@W.: Is INSEAD interested in the Latin American market as a way to recruit more students?  Do you intend to open any schools in Latin American countries?

 

F.B.: Different research projects are currently being conducted by INSEAD professor Lourdes Casanova and Soumittra Dutta on these markets: Emerging multinationals from Latin America funded by INSEAD and the Inter-American Development Bank and Creating an Innovation Index for Latin American countries (funded by the Fundación Telefónica). INSEAD hosts various events with Latin American alumni associations each year. Today, we have 39 Latin Americans in our full time MBA program. INSEAD participates in different MBA fairs in Mexico City, Lima, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Santiago, Quito and Bogotá. The school organizes master classes and information sessions throughout different countries in Latin America.

 

INSEAD’s major Latin American clients are Petrobras (INSEAD’s third biggest client in Open Enrollment programs); Cemex (Executive Education Programs since 2004 in partnership with Stanford and Tec de Monterrey); Bancomer/BBVA and Telefónica.We also organize executive education programs with [Latin American business schools such as] FDC from Brazil, INCAE from Costa Rica, IAE from Venezuela.INSEAD also participates in major regional events like the Mexican Business Forum in Monterrey, the Latin American Summit of the World Economic Forum in Santiago de Chile, CNI Innovation Forum and IT Media Event in São Paulo and Inter-American Development Bank General Assembly in Belo Horizonte in Brazil. INSEAD created a Latin American Council in 2005 with CEOs of major companies from the region but it has no intention to invest in an INSEAD South American campus.

 

UK@W.: What is the role of American and European schools in Latin America?

 

F.B.: Latin American companies are going through a major internationalization process. The profile and skills of managers those companies need is changing and business schools like INSEAD can help companies in this transformation process.

 

UK@W.: Which Latin American countries are more interested in business school programs and why?

 

F.B.: All countries are interested. Mexico and Brazil, given their size, are definitely the biggest markets.

 

UK@W.: In general and regarding programs for managers, which regions demand more courses and why?

 

F.B.: Places like Russia are moving fast in their demand for business education as well as India and China. In the EMBA for instance, we are seeing our diversity expanded as we attract more people from these regions.

 

UK@W.: In your new book, The Global Business Leader, you speak about the skills that leaders need to develop. What sort of skills? Are business schools prepared to face new educational challenges or do they need to change their strategies?

 

F.B.: In an increasingly connected world, the ability to operate in a multicultural environment represents one of the greatest challenges facing leaders in business and beyond. However, there are skills and techniques that can be honed in order for leaders to successfully work in and across different geographies. As I describe it in my book, the type of leader required to operate in today’s evolving global economy – the transcultural leader – is a leader who needs to have the ability to work in and across different cultures. Drawing upon my 26 years of business experience at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I use examples in The Global Business Leader to show how to develop these transcultural leadership skills that are necessary to usher companies into new markets, drive growth and responsibility and sustain a culture of excellence. The most critical elements and key skills for becoming a more effective global leader are communications, networking, team building, mentoring, executive presence, setting goals, decision making, innovation, crisis management and work/life balance.     

 

UK@W.: What, according to you, is the professional profile of a “global manager”?

 

F.B.: Because of today’s global business environment, managers have to be what I like to call Transcultural Leaders in order to run a company or a team that stretches across national borders. It combines the best practices of traditional business leadership with the understanding that the world is composed of many cultures whose values and customs vary dramatically. To do business globally, we need to be sensitive to these differences. Global perspective and ability to operate across geographies strongly contribute to a company’s overall success in building its business anywhere in the world. I think openness is the key to success, both in business and in life.

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