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Entrepreneurship

INSEAD at 50: The defining years

Shellie Karabell |

The enduring idea on which INSEAD was founded came from the man considered to be one of the founders of the venture capital industry, Georges Doriot, a French-born, naturalised American who had both studied and taught at Harvard Business School.

At the end of the Second World War, Doriot saw two clear but separate paths before him: an opportunity to raise capital for entrepreneurial ventures from public (that is, non-familial) sources; and two, that France needed a business school like Harvard in order to contribute to a rapidly-unifying Europe. He managed to follow both paths successfully: founding American Research and Development Corp, one of the first venture capital firms (a $70,000 investment in Digital Equipment Corp in 1957 yielded a $355 million dollar return in 1968 after DEC’s IPO); and on the other hand, founding, with three of his former (French) students from HBS the “Institut European d’Administration des Affaires” (the European Institute of Business Administration), which today, 50 years on, is known as INSEAD, the Business School for the World.

Gathering at the INSEAD Europe campus in Fontainebleau this September for a Founders’ Day event to launch INSEAD’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the school’s founders, early faculty and students from the first promotion shared their recollections with INSEAD Knowledge.

“When we started we were all young, except Doriot” remembers Claude Janssen, one of the original founders who served as Chairman of INSEAD’s Board of Directors from 1982 and is presently Honorary Chairman of the Board. “We all had gone through the Harvard Business School, so we had that as a model. I was convinced, after going to Harvard, that we needed something similar in Europe and in France in particular … and all the three or four of us who were interested in the project all had the same conviction.”

The Treaty of Rome had just been signed in 1957, making cross-border business a reality in Europe and creating an even greater need for management training. “Europe needed a special management education that did not exist (at that time) and that was the idea of Professor Doriot,” explains Roger Godino, one of INSEAD’s original professors and the first Dean of Faculty. “So INSEAD was established as a school for Europe, according to more or less American standards … but the American way of managing is one thing; it is not the only thing.”

It was enough to attract a first class of some 50 young men. “Harvard was for us a kind of American dream,” recalls Jean-Marie d’Arjuzon, who started the school’s Alumni Association. “We wanted to create a link between us and the second promotion, because we hoped very much that there would be a second promotion.”

The founders realised very quickly that INSEAD had to have a different approach - and that there was no time to waste. “We are a European institution; we cannot lose that,” points out Claude Rameau (MBA ‘62J), a former Dean and founder of the school’s Executive Education department. “But at the same time, we had to be open to the world and to absorb all the phenomena from around the world, and so from the beginning, the INSEAD culture was to cope with the whole world and not with a particular part of the world.”

“It was not the original plan,” Godino remembers. “Europe needed a special management education that didn’t exist (at that time), so instead of going to the US, people from Europe would come to the school – a school in Europe for Europeans, which makes sense. We had three languages at the start: French, English and German - then we dropped the German. Today we are a world business school speaking English. I’m not against changing plans, but this was not the original plan.”

Clearly, there was a lot of creative thinking going on right at the start. “Our professors came from business,” remembers Olivier Giscard-d’Estaing, founding Director of INSEAD and today Chairman of the INSEAD Foundation. “We avoided having more than one-third of the students and professors from any one country, so French was not dominant right at the beginning. We chose our students according to an interview process, not solely on the basis of past grades. We wanted to assess character, ability to communicate. Today this is normal, but I can assure you that 50 years ago it was quite innovative.”

Creating a campus outside Paris was also innovative. “The Chamber of Commerce of Paris, which provided the seed money for the founding of INSEAD, said: ‘You will use some of our classrooms in Paris, yes?’ and I said ‘No, we need a campus.’ And we looked around and found Fontainebleau.”

The debut of the school’s curriculum was equally unorthodox in Europe at the time. “We had the case method; not traditional courses,” says Giscard d’Estaing. In the classroom, professors were facilitators rather than teachers. “The important thing was what was happening between the participants; the professor was just helping the discussion,” says Godino.

“We were pushing to develop very quickly,” adds Claude Rameau, referring to the school’s desire to keep pace with European integration. “We started with something like an MBA – we didn’t call it an MBA at that time – it was called a post-graduate programme. The only thing we could do was to ensure that we could be credible as an institution. Then suddenly the period between 1968 and 1973 was a fabulous period when we creatively defined the overall INSEAD strategy.”

Godino was Dean of Faculty between 1964 and 1970, with a very clear agenda: “First of all, I set out to make the school more difficult than it was,” he says. “Second, I wanted full-time professors who had graduated with PhDs in the US. Third, I wanted to develop research; fourth, to develop new courses like the AMP (Executive Education’s Advanced Management Programme). And fifth, I wanted the school to take part in the European development which was taking place at that time.”

This was the period in which Executive Education came into being, and INSEAD found itself “helping companies internationally to create a critical mass of educated managers inside the same corporations,” says Rameau. A few years later, the Alumni Fund  - which allowed alumni to support the school financially - came into being, thanks to Michel Gauthier (MBA ’61) and the Alumni Fund’s Founding Chairman. “It was a very modest start in 1976-77: 200,000 francs for the first year (approximately $40,000). So I’m very impressed when I see the present results after 33 years. My successors have done a very good job of continuing the Alumni Fund initiative.”

At about this time, the school took its first big risk: the move into Asia. “We started going into Asia in the late 1970s," remembers Claude Janssen. “One of our professors, Henri-Claude Bettignies, was very keen and started to develop programmes, and as we were an entrepreneurial school we let him do it and we opened the Euro-Asia Centre on the campus in Fontainebleau. It was very successful, and we began to realise that the future of the world economy would be very much in the Pacific. And soon, INSEAD was the largest provider of Executive Education in Asia, without having a campus.”

That changed after 2000 with the inauguration of the Asia campus in Singapore – not a subsidiary, but a facility equal to the original campus in Fontainebleau. “This was probably the most important decision taken while I was chairman, the opening of the campus in Singapore,” remembers Janssen. “It means that the MBA given there would not be the Singapore MBA, it would be the INSEAD MBA. When students apply and are admitted; they can go to either campus, or to both, changing after four months. One school, two campuses.”

A third campus in Abu Dhabi is currently in the making, with a lot of local support. “The Abu Dhabi government has largely financed our implementation there,” notes Janssen.

For the future, “Asia is very interesting for us,” adds Janssen. “I think we will do more things in China, probably more things in India. But we’re not forgetting Latin America and we always think that North America is very important.”

“We have become successful in becoming multicultural,” Godino notes. “Next, I think that management and business faculty should put their noses into governmental problems … Business schools should be in a position to train public officers to be good public managers in their different sectors.”

Olivier Giscard d’Estaing takes a philosophical view of the role of business and of INSEAD in the next 50 years. “It’s not only a question of money and profit,” he opines. “It’s a question of adjusting the products to the needs of society; that means dealing with health, education and many other things than just industry. There is still research to be conducted to make the plant liveable.”

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