"The Sky's the Limit" at INSEAD

With new projects under way and a possible Americas campus, Dean Gabriel Hawawini envisions INSEAD as a business school for the world

With campuses in France and Singapore, students from more than 70 countries, and an international faculty, INSEAD has long trumpeted itself as the only B-school that's truly global. INSEAD, ranked the No. 1 full-time non-U.S. MBA program in BusinessWeek's biennial rankings, says such diversity is key to lively class discussions. Dean Gabriel Hawawini also believes INSEAD's international edge is its best asset -- helping to ensure that graduates perform well in the real world.

Hawawini became dean of INSEAD in September, 2000. Later this year, he plans to kick off a capital campaign to raise $248.7 million (200 million euro) for the school by 2008. If he succeeds, the campaign would be among Europe's largest yet for a B-school. On Jan. 8, Hawawini spoke via phone from Singapore with Mica Schneider, BusinessWeek Online's management education reporter. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:

Q: INSEAD has two big projects under way at the moment, including a ground-breaking last month to double the size of INSEAD's Singapore campus and ongoing construction at its campus in Fontainebleau, France. INSEAD also hopes to raise 200 million euro in late 2004 in a capital campaign. What would the school do with these funds?


There are three dimensions to the [capital] campaign. Part of it is funding research and intellectual capital, for instance, hiring faculty and creating research centers. Within that, there are four themes: international entrepreneurship and family business, understanding high-performance organizations, understanding world markets and institutions, and the role of business in society.

The second dimension is infrastructure and facilities, which is what is happening on the ground in Fontainebleau. We're waiting for the new building to be ready so that we've got the space to move people and to start renovating the older part of the campus. That also includes what we're doing in Singapore, where we're increasing capacity by 50%. Part of that is also for infrastructure, making sure we have the technology that will allow us to run our dual campus structure.

The third piece is scholarships. Our aim is to create an endowed fund from which income would be generated to increase the percentage of our students who attend on scholarships. As this school reaches out to attract high-caliber people from around the world, we need to provide increasing financial support to people from disadvantaged countries or backgrounds. Right now, about 10% to 15% of our participants come to INSEAD on a partial scholarship. Most U.S. schools have percentages that are significantly higher than that.

Q: A lot of growth is in the works. Are you still comfortable with INSEAD's current reach into Asia, its position in Europe, and its alliance with The Wharton Schoolof the University of Pennsylvania (ranked No. 5 in BusinessWeek's rankings of full-time U.S. programs)?


Yes we are. But there's an ongoing question that we're asking ourselves: Once we've fully achieved what we want to in Asia and reach the level of productivity we want at our Fontainebleau campus, what's next? There's an ongoing discussion about possibly having a third campus west of Fontainebleau. For instance, in the Americas.

Increasingly, as we see things in our Global Learning Network, our "business school for the world," the Europe campus should act as a hub for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The campus in Singapore should be the hub for Asia. The third hub would cover the Americas. And ultimately from those hubs we might have satellite activities.

For example, we're also thinking about what we're going to do in China. We're not going to build a full-fledged campus in China, we know this. But we have the faculty in Singapore to deploy into China, but we may need some sort of a small research facility or a place where we can deliver some executive courses.

Q: What's your timeline?


Five to seven years.

Q: So you're considering opening the doors to a new campus?


We would do something gradually with the third campus or hub. We'd probably start with some executive education and then build up maybe to an executive MBA, and then when we're comfortable, bring the full-time MBA program to the campus. That's assuming we get the green light from the faculty and the board. This is a project that's being discussed. Nothing has been approved yet.

Q: What role would Wharton have in this third, Americas-based hub?


We have signed an additional three-year agreement with Wharton for our partnership. It was a three-year agreement that we signed in March, 2001. Given the time span with the other project, if it ever takes place, this [partnership] fits into that timetable. So there's no issue right now with respect to our lines with Wharton.

Q: At the moment, Europe is getting a taste of America's Enron scandal as Parmalat's financial discrepancies come to light. What's INSEAD's role in the financial health of Europe, given that the school graduates 830 to 840 new managers annually?


The contribution that INSEAD could make is very much at the essence of what we stand for, which is diversity. At the risk of stretching this a little bit, I would argue that if you ask yourself, "Is there a similarity between the Enron-type companies and the Parmalat fiasco?" and as I said, this is maybe a little bit of a stretch, then the common denominator is the lack of diversity of views within these organizations. Everyone is thinking the same way. If you look at Parmalat, it was very Italian, very closed. There wasn't much in the way of debate or alternative views. There was one system. In the U.S., there was a bit of the herd effect.

I have a theory that one of the ways to protect ourselves in the business world from scandals is by encouraging and fostering diversity of opinion and of views. Every time you have a standard model for doing things and you bring together people who think in the same fashion, you increase the chance of ending up with a situation such as the one we're talking about. One of the best protections against those sorts of extreme behavior is to foster diversity, to accept diversity, and to respect other views -- not to subscribe to a single model.

Q: Some would make the case that MBAs, as diverse as they are when they walk through the doors of B-schools, leave more similar to one another. They end up using many of the same analytical tools, for instance.


I disagree. We don't see it at INSEAD. It's true that people spend a year, and people are provided with tools, techniques, and discussion models, but they come from somewhere. They have a background. They have a culture. They have ideas. And we at INSEAD encourage them to think across a variety of approaches. We have a course that would deal with shareholder value, and there is another course that would deal with the stakeholder approach, which would to some extent argue against what was taught in the other class.

We're trying to assemble faculty that have certain views, faculty that do not necessarily agree. They offer very popular courses, and our students take both. And we don't tell them, "That is that model." We're not selling anything to our students. We're exposing them to as many sound models as possible. We put experts in front of them. But we never sell to our students a template to run a business.

Our group of MBAs is just terrific. Once you master MBA teaching, the level of intelligence in the MBA classroom is phenomenal. You can teach a case at INSEAD, and you never have the same discussion. Diversity can lead to positive things. When 60% to 80% of a class is made up of the same nationality, you get the same questions.

This criticism of the MBA approach isn't of the MBA as such. Underlying the criticism is the single-minded view of the world.

Q: Where do you see such evidence?


In many schools, particularly in the U.S. where there's typically an underlying view of the world that is taught and how things should be conducted. That's a different view than one will get in Europe. We teach stakeholder [value] and social responsibility. We don't take an institutional position. We have grown-ups in the room.

Q: What does your experience as dean of a B-school lend to media giant Vivendi, whose new board you joined in June, 2003?


Well, it's also about me learning something. It's an opportunity to be on a board of a large company with an interesting history that's trying to reinvent itself. So as an academic, it's a great laboratory. I'm also on the audit committee, which [builds on] my finance background, so there are a lot of technical issues to learn about. And it gives you more credibility when you're talking about corporate governance.

Q: What's wrong at INSEAD?


Nothing's wrong at INSEAD. The sky's the limit. We control our own destiny. We're the only school that's a stand-alone institution. We don't have to answer to anybody. Most schools can't establish a campus in Singapore in three years' time. Look around -- other schools are part of a university.

We can't hide anywhere. We can't screw up. If we do, we only have ourselves to blame. That's what keeps us going. There's nothing we can't do if I can rally the faculty. No dean of another school in a university system is going to stop me. I don't have to compete with anyone. I can focus.

The correlative advice to governments around the world is to "let your educational institutions loose." We're delivering world-class education at no cost to the general public. There's no cost to set it up, the taxpayers don't fund it.

Q: Are you sure there's no cost to the general public, perhaps indirectly through a small minority of graduates' mismanagement of companies?


We need talent at a certain level, and it doesn't have to be an MBA, it could be a management degree. If you don't have management education, you're not going to get the best out of your infrastructure, education, and entrepreneurship.

There isn't one model to deal with the world. That's the problem. We say, "Listen to opposing views, don't think you have the answer."

In the last two to three years, the world of business has been going through difficult times. But I feel very optimistic that there's always going to be a demand for business education. And for those of us with a global outlook, the sky's the limit.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.