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Celebrating 50 years of action

Shellie Karabell |

“Are you actually planning to turn a national palace into a private business school?” a shocked French official asked of Olivier Giscard d’Estaing some 50 years ago when one of the key founders of INSEAD asked permission to use the Chateau of Fontainebleau as a home base for the school.

“No,” replied Giscard d’Estaing. “We are talking about the art of management, which will attract Europe’s business elites to France.”

Despite INSEAD being granted a one-year, non-renewable lease to use the chateau at the last moment, Giscard d’Estaing managed to stay at his post in Napoleon III’s former office overlooking the English Garden for seven years.

Fifty years later, the founders and the first MBA class came back to INSEAD and the chateau to celebrate the school’s success and recollect.

Three of the key founders were present: Olivier Giscard d’Estaing, founding Director of INSEAD and today Chairman of the INSEAD Foundation; Claude Janssen, Chairman of the INSEAD Board (1982-2004) and currently Honorary Chairman of the Board; and Roger Godino, one of the school’s original professors and Dean of Faculty.

Other key figures from INSEAD’s early days included Claude Rameau (MBA ’62), a former Dean of INSEAD and founder of the school’s Executive Education department, presently vice-chairman of the INSEAD Board; Jean-Marie d’Arjuzon (MBA ’60 – the first class), founding President of the Alumni Association, and Michel Gauthier (MBA ’61), founding Chairman of the INSEAD Alumni Fund.

Present in spirit at the ceremonies: the late Georges Doriot, who, as early as 1955, had the idea of creating a French business school to train future leaders of private companies – a counterbalance to France’s “Ecole Nationale d’Administration,” which focused on state-run enterprises, and which attracted most of the country’s business talent at the time. Doriot’s vision was a case method of study as used at Harvard, where Doriot himself had taken a degree.

He approached the Paris Chamber of Commerce (CCP), received lukewarm initial support, and, undaunted, went to the Strasbourg Chamber of Commerce, where he received support and the impetus for a broader dimension to the school which would become INSEAD, the ‘Institut European d’Administration des Affaires,’ or ‘European Institute of Business Administration.’

Initially, in 1958, the school had a budget of five million francs for one year of preparation and another 10 million for the first year of operations. These small budgets gave the school its first test of ingenuity. Harvard and IMEDE offered INSEAD the use of its case studies and teaching materials free of charge; companies such as Pecheney, Saint Gobain, the three French national banks, IBM and the Ford Foundation became corporate sponsors; and professors (all part-time, as the school couldn’t afford full-time faculty) designed their own case-based curriculum.

Roger Godino was among them. Today, he says, “INSEAD can help re-shape capitalism, as the economy of the world changes. We must not forget our European roots.”

Those roots today stretch into Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Israel, and New York. The Asia campus in Singapore opened when Gabriel Hawawini was Dean of INSEAD. “The major concern was … would the students come?” he says. “But of course they did and now we also have our campus centre in Abu Dhabi. And this is not like other universities where you have a main campus and then satellites.”

“I chose INSEAD because of the quality of education, the diversity of staff and student body,” says Lebanese scholarship recipient Anna Germanos (MBA ’09), who spoke at the ceremony. Germanos holds a degree in electrical engineering from the American University of Beirut; she intends to return to her native land to work in business upon graduation in December.

One of the highlights of the Founders’ Day event was an exhibition in the chateau itself, documenting the school’s 50 years in photos, film and artefacts – including the recreation of Olivier Giscard d’Estaing’s office (his desk had to be hauled out of storage), and of the original classroom.

Each founder was presented with a 50th anniversary plaque commemorating their contribution and dedication to the school. “We would like to thank the founders for setting the bar so high,” said INSEAD’s current Dean, Frank Brown. “Long live INSEAD.”

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