This weekend Grace and I went to France for her 5-year INSEAD MBA reunion. Time flies, it seems like a much shorter time ago that she spent a year on the INSEAD campuses in Fontainebleau and Singapore. But it’s really 5 years, I did not even blog yet at that time (I made a first attempt during SARS, which happened while she was in France). I visited her many times during that year, so I knew quite a lot of her classmates. And of course many of them now work in Asia, so we regularly meet with some of them. We decided to take Scott with us, at 5-month old it was his first intercontinental trip. Not sure if that was really such a good idea, the flight was certainly not as relaxed as the average flight to Europe, and we’ll probably wait a few months before we take him with us on another long flight.
The 5-year reunion was held at the Fontainebleau campus (less than one hour south of Paris) and was organized in the same weekend as the yearly INSEAD Summer Ball. It was a 3-day event (Fri-Sun), but we only joined around 9 PM on Friday night. Because we were quite tired due to traveling and jet lag we just had a glass of champagne at the cocktail party and joined part of the dinner (with among others an unlimited supply of my favorite food: foie gras!). The next morning we had breakfast at the INSEAD residence (where we were staying) with Scott and some former classmates, and then went to see a lecture on campus. We missed the first one (on Blue Ocean Strategy, which was developed at INSEAD) but joined the one about “INSEAD now and then”, comparing how INSEAD has developed over the years. The class was given by several students together with INSEAD dean Frank Brown.
Some interesting statistics: 25% of all INSEAD MBA graduates end up working in Asia, for example, and there are more than 25 countries with alumni networks with more than 100 members each. This really makes INSEAD the Business School of the World (INSEAD’s official slogan). Harvard and other US top schools are much more local, with most people still ending up working in the US. I think in an international world it could give INSEAD an advantage. And not only for students. Harvard professors have to live within 50 miles of Boston. INSEAD professors can live in either France, Singapore or Abu Dhabi (executive education campus), and some even live in the US and fly in for courses. Considering how difficult it is to get and retain top faculty, this may be another advantage of INSEAD over other schools. I know a couple of Harvard grads that read my blog, so just to clarify, I think Harvard is still a great education with excellent students and staff, but I think they may be too focused on the US. Feel free to let me know in the comments if I am wrong.
During the class a student from Zimbabwe who is at INSEAD on a scholarship gave a very moving speech. Basically the scholarship was the only way for him to go to INSEAD, and it also gives him the possibility to go back to Zimbabwe later on to help build up the country (he does not have to stay in Europe to get a high-paying position to pay back his loans). I thought about this for quite a while, and think there may be a business idea in here. In Europe paying EUR 50,000 to study for a year is not cheap, but for many people from third world countries it is totally impossible. If these people are very good (and they must be in order to enter a top B-school), why is there no mechanism for them to obtain funding? I think there could be some very creative solutions for this. I don’t have time to work on this idea, but maybe it can give one of my readers some inspiration for a new venture?
After the lectures a class picture was taken (with Scott and his proud mother on the front row), followed by an excellent lunch (buffet style to ensure I would gain some additional weight). In the afternoon there was a French market and a wine tasting, but after buying Scott some INSEAD baby clothes we decided to make a walk through Fontainebleau. It’s a beautiful old town that of course has not changed much over the past 5 years. Our lives are completely different from 5 years ago, but here there were still the same shops and restaurants as when Grace lived here. In a way that’s nice actually. My life always changes, and I have no idea what I will be doing in 5 years, but some parts of the world will remain basically the same.
At night we had dinner in a restaurant along the Seine river with my parents (who came along to baby-sit Scott. If you read this, thanks a lot for that!), and around 11 PM we went to the Chateau de Fontainebleau for the INSEAD Summer Ball. This ball is the biggest party of the year at INSEAD and a strictly black-tie affair. Most of the people at the ball are current students, and I suddenly realized how young they all seemed to be. Well, I suppose that was the same 5 years ago, but I am just getting older. The ball was a great party, and of course the location in one of the nicest castles in France made it even nicer. There were three separate parties going on: a big one in a transparent tent in the courtyard overlooking the pond, a smaller one with a jazz/lounge band in a big room on the second floor and one with a (at least) 2 live acts (one with oldies hits and a salsa band). At midnight there was a big fireworks spectacle combined with loud classical music, the combination made quite an impression on me actually. This was one of the highlights of the night for me. We came home around 3 AM, completely exhausted because of the party (and still a bit the jet lag).
Sunday morning we had breakfast and went back to the campus with Scott to takes some pictures. The weather was sunny and not too warm, and lots of former and current students were enjoying the sunshine on campus. Scott also enjoyed it and if we did not had to drive back to Holland we probably would have stayed longer (there was a big barbecue planned at 12). But because of our busy schedules we had to go back. It was a short but very nice weekend, and we’re thinking about coming back in 5 years for the 10-year reunion.