Meeting the new INSEAD Dean

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This evening, we gathered at Amphi Mork in the Singapore campus to meet our new Dean, Dipak Jain. I’m listing out what I remembered from his speech to give you an idea of what he’s like, beyond the formal CV and press release. Fellow alums who were present - do chip in and let me know if I missed anything out, or recorded anything mistakenly.

Overall, Dipak came across as an unassuming man - thoughtful and perceptive. He is also a great storyteller. He told us of how, along the way, various people mentored and shaped his future to what he has become today. He had a strong mathematics background and was advised to apply for a teaching position at Kellogg. He didn’t think he had much chance of getting in, but managed to impress marketing guru Philip Kotler during his ‘test’ lecture, and was hired on the spot!

His own students proved to be another group of mentors, when they gave him suggestions to improve his lecturing style. I found this remarkable because it isn’t something you hear top professors talking about candidly. Yet, by listening to feedback from his students and peers, Dipak improved and became a consistently top-rated professor at Kellogg - and in marketing, at that.

His first stint as Dean of Kellogg came during a difficult period - September 11. Halfway through the students’ welcome reception he was informed of the tragedy that struck the twin towers, and the event had to be cut short. Some students lost the financial assistance/job assurances from their companies (?), and Dipak decided to ask the community for help, despite a peer believing he would tarnish his reputation by doing so. Dipak’s response was that he had not yet developed a reputation as a dean, and so had nothing to lose! :) His actions led to a surplus of jobs being offered to the affected students. His point was that relationships with his students were important to him. My sense: This is a leader who will take care of INSEAD.

Dipak mentioned his vision of the 4 pillars of INSEAD - I didn’t take notes, so am relying entirely on slightly dubious memory - but I recall his emphasis on the following:

Continuing the global heritage of INSEAD. He was proud that we had 80 nationalities in one cohort; it’s something that US schools cannot compare with. In fact, big US companies have realised that their staff need global experience, and this is an opportunity for us.

The Executive MBA programme is important and will be pursued more aggressively. These alums are in a better position to contribute back to INSEAD readily. Dipak noted that the top EMBA programmes are mainly from alliances of various schools and Kellogg came in tops. Our new Dean of Research, Ilian Mihov (whom many of us remember fondly as an outstanding macroecons professor and Bulgarian hero), threw in a comment that we can now test whether it was due to Dipak that Kellog became number one… we shall now wait and see if INSEAD takes top spot, with Dipak’s leadership!

Alliances will also be strengthened and new ones will be formed. How about a Wharton-INSEAD joint programme, not just an exchange? Recently, we paired up with Johns-Hopkins as well. He shared that other Ivy League schools are keen to partner with INSEAD. However, we must choose our partners wisely. Allying with one top MNC to provide them with a special EMBA programme may alienate our relationship with their rivals, who also send their staff to INSEAD for training.

Dipak firmly believes that research and teaching go together. When you teach, you also learn. So research will be beefed up. Thought leadership will be strengthened. One alum asked how would we measure thought leadership, and Dipak listed out some indicators: The strength of the faculty, whom he believes in continuously nurturing, our publications and the growing number of INSEAD alums in top management positions throughout the world. He cited the composition of the current INSEAD Board as an example.

Business school rankings were also another indicator, although he noted this was subject to the scoring criteria of the publication doing the ranking. Some schools fared more poorly simply because they had more social entrepreneurs than bankers. One alum was concerned about the poor rankings we had in the Economist, but Dipak said that this particular ranking should be read from bottom up :) Now it makes sense!

Given the risk-averse nature of business school faculty (who are used to calculating risks and usually prefer not to embark on new ventures), Dipak admires INSEAD’s bold move to open the Asia Campus in Singapore a decade ago. Not many schools can do it well in such a short space of time. The question that an alum had, were whether having classes on the third campus in Abu Dhabi would affect the relationship-building among the student body. Dipak believes that the students in the third campus can be limited to very small numbers, and they will test this out. The plans for this are very much a work in progress.

Dipak has a vision to move beyond the ‘cold, hard’ business world, and do good. He is planning to open a university for women in Bangladesh, teaching them entrepreneurship and other useful skills. Other universities in Angola and South America are possible as well. He feels that women will play a bigger influence on their children, and this is an area with greater room for impact. INDEVOR will be involved. I think this is a noble move and will definitely find support among many of us.

Another comment, sparked off by feedback from my classmate (our first Mongolian!), was made by a former Alumni club president: We should identify high-potential people in developing countries who would otherwise not afford to take the GMAT and apply to INSEAD. Dipak said he and his team are open to feedback; they would take suggestions from alums seriously.

So what’s the new org structure going to be like? Altogether there will be 3 deans under Dipak (MBA programme and other programmes; Research; and something else…). The new programme and research deans were present with us.

All in all, the session went well. It felt like we were part of the club; our opinions mattered and that’s why some of us get to interview applicants - to see if they belong with us. My sense was that people were satisfied with what they heard and saw.

Early into his speech, the power supply in Amphi Mork went off and we sat in darkness. Dipak continued talking to us, and technicians came in bringing coloured containers with candles in them. Dipak picked one of these containers up, and told us that this was what he was named after. His father was blind, and so when Dipak was born, he was named as such, to give ‘light’ to his father.

I certainly hope that Dipak will help shine a new, bright light onto INSEAD, and that we ourselves can use our talents and world-class education to be a shining light to the rest of the world.

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