On Exchange

One of INSEAD’s principal attractions is its dual campus infrastructure, which has now become three, what with the establishment of the Abu Dhabi location. However, the school also offers exchanges to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of John Hopkins University and to the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in China, which can be undertaken for one period in either P4 or P5.

The opportunity to spend some time at Wharton was one of the attractions when I applied to INSEAD and I was able to spend my P4 there after the summer break. I worked in New York and I wanted to return to Europe to study an MBA and continue working, so INSEAD ticked these boxes but I also had the desire to experience an American business school. I had a wonderful time in Philadelphia but the exchange reinforced my choice to study at INSEAD.

There are some characteristics of each MBA program which I liked and disliked but I will state vehemently that I do not feel that one program is better than the other. One’s preference boils down to what one wishes to get out of the respective program.

  • Wharton is a two year program vs. INSEAD’s one year. The academic content of both programs is very similar (this should be expected, given that professors spend time at the more established schools across the globe teaching their specific courses) but the volume is the same, hence the Wharton program spreads the course load over the entire duration. As a result, my timetable was quite empty in comparison to what I had become used to. At first, my fellow INSEAD exchangers and I found it odd to have so much free time but normality was (kind of) restored when the full-time recruitment cycle started.
  • The Wharton calendar does not have classes on Friday. To INSEAD students this means a long weekend trip but to Whartonites it is also for networking, extracurricular activities and personal reflection. The club scene is more prevalent; there are at least two hundred organisations that students can join. I reverted to type and joined the rugby club. There were at least sixty playing members, two/three training sessions a week and a match every fortnight. It was also – as all business school rugby clubs seem to be – one of the most social clubs on campus!
  • The clubs also provide a strong platform to foment friendships. Each academic cohort is comprised of 850 students. It is tough to get to know 250 classmates at INSEAD so imagine how tough it would be with three times as many students! I felt that the Wharton students were resigned to not know as many of their classmates as INSEAD students try to do but the club environment and programme length lend themselves better to deeper friendships.
  • The interpretation of diversity is different between the schools. There was an orientation event to kick off the exchange where the presenter indicated that 40% of Wharton students were considered as international. The INSEAD’ers chuckled at this statistic. Of course INSEAD cannot be matched by the number of nationalities associated with its students but then Wharton has a large contingent of students with a military or pharmaceutical background. Also, over time the age of the Wharton students was revealed to me: many were 25 or 26, which is definitely at the lower end of INSEAD’s age range.

All in all I had a great two months at Wharton. Being an urban jungle cat I thoroughly enjoyed being in Philadelphia (and spending most weekends in New York!) and getting away from the forest. I am fully aware that for D starters P4 is when full-time on-campus recruitment occurs but I did not feel like I missed out. In fact I feel that it was a shrewd move to avoid the stress that naturally accompanies this time period. However I would advise not to make recruitment the priority for exchanging to Wharton. There is probably a wider variety of opportunities than at INSEAD but many companies require immediate work authorisation.

Ode to Humanity – From the World with Love

I’m in Singapore for my last few weeks at INSEAD. I’m not over there, not on the ground. I can’t feel the emotion and local vibe. But it must be palpable. In this precise moment, I miss the outdoor patios or ‘terrasse’, French food and bistros, romantic atmosphere of a late night walk in Montmartre or the 19th century feeling of walking past the bookstores along the Seine River on a windy sunny day. I miss Paris.

There have been a few attacks in recent months and years. However, it’s the first time they strike straight to my heart. The first time I feel that my community, generation, values, way of life is jeopardized, taken for granted. In these times, remaining grounded is not a simple thing. Liberty, equality,  fraternity. Three simple words.

Even though I am halfway around the world, on Asia Campus, it becomes a topic of every moment’s discussion with colleagues. Each attack targets a precise population, a precise community, meant to divide people, create a gap amongst groups for each to isolate and hide back amongst their own.

In the midst of this chaos, I think about my friends. All over the world, many lived similar events in Bombay, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Algeria, Pakistan and countless other countries. Communities that have been living similar events many times a year, and continue doing so as these events have become a part of their lives.

Those who know me will confirm my usual optimism. I know life carries on. I refuse to live in nothing else than a world filled with fairy tales and unicorns. I refuse to let these fairy tales go and acknowledge that Santa Claus, when I was a child, was but an old bushy-eyebrowed grandpa. The events of Friday night, November 13th 2015 – these are the types of events that only reinforce my will to carry on walking with a spring in my step. I believe – I know that the world can be changed and that my generation will be a part of this change.

On the other hand, how do we reconcile with mounting criticism over the fact that barely any media covered Lebanon and Iraq, events that happened barely 24 hours before Paris? Some critics even state it sends the signal that “not all lives are equal” in the eyes of the West, and that we do not seem to care. Indeed, even for a well-articulated mind, it becomes difficult to argue otherwise. So where do we go from here?

A humanization must happen across cultures, religions and geographies. Across ethnicities, we must recognize and embrace our fellow humans that live normal lives, and go through just as much suffering, pain, love and joy as us. And this should start well before any conflict or tragedy erupts.

Unmistakeably, when pictures of attacks and grieving people from foreign countries make the headlines, I can’t bare the pain and flip to the next article. These images don’t register in my brain, because my brain doesn’t want them to. 15 000 km across the world, in a country I do not know, in a culture unknown to me where people speak a foreign language, hundreds of lives were lost. It just doesn’t register. Let’s just avoid the pain of internalizing these images.

On the other hand, we had Paris on a Friday night, in restaurants, cafés and at a football match. All the 129 names of the deceased will be made public, and many of them will have articles narrating their lives and last days. I could have been there. Friends of mine were not too far away, enjoying a nice Friday night on the town. This event, did register with eerie clarity when I woke up reading about it Saturday morning. It registered and got cemented in my mind.

Indeed, if we, as “developed countries”, can’t even show we care about events happening in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey…why should they do otherwise about us?

A humanization needs to happen across cultures, religions, geographies. We need to witness and learn how different people live all over the world. This would increase the “gray zone” of tolerance and reduce the absolute white and black. This must and this will happen as our lives in this global world are more connected than ever.

But for “them” to start caring about “our” sufferings, we should start caring about theirs as well. Pretending to do so is not going to cut it anymore. And we better start being aware of their reality not only in turbulent times, but also in times of peace. The planet must become a village where information flows both ways.

If, in the “Western World”, there were to be a greater attention, greater education to the way of life of foreign countries, perhaps Western countries would be more sensitized to lives lost there. Perhaps there would be a greater effort to save lives of civilians and avoid casualties. Perhaps then lives lost in the eyes of the West would be “just as equal”.

With the available mobile technology, internet, virtual reality, communities across geographies and within countries can be bridged, brought closer together. It has become increasingly easy to connect across the world. I have this vision where technology will be used for this purpose. It won’t be a question of us or them anymore. A vision where there won’t be many parts of the world, just one big planet, one united world where polarizing factions can’t find their place anymore. It won’t be black or white, but just a gray zone of tolerance, amongst yellow, brown, black and white.

Organizing the Latin America MBA Career Fair at INSEAD

The Welcome Banner

During the process of choosing an MBA, networking and the relevance of the school in our after-MBA target region are always taken into account. However, no matter how much research we do, there are always some activities, carried out by the school or students, that are relevant to increase the school presence in the region that we have never heard about. For me, this was the case for the Latin America MBA Career Fair. This is a very interesting initiative because it is, in fact, organized by INSEAD students in conjunction with MBA Candidates from IESE and London Business School. The fair was created three year ago and was designed to happen in such a way that it occurred at a different school campus each year using a rotation method.

INSEAD Lat Am career fair name badges

Identification Badges

The first time I came across the fair website was through a completely random online search back in March this year. A few days later I spoke to Michael Schott, about the site I had discovered. He mentioned that Juan Bustos and him had also seen the site and were also interested in running the Latin America Club at INSEAD and the Fair. Michael later became our treasurer for the fair and Juan Bustos handled the logistics and marketing for the fair. I immediately put myself forward to help in the organization team with the preparations for the fair. At that time no one was sure about what to do or how to distribute the roles amongst ourselves. Yet, we were truly amazed not only for the fact we were going to organize a relevant fair for Latin America on our campus, but also for organizing it with students from IESE and LBS.

In April, I moved to Singapore and we started to coordinate the tasks to host the fair with our counterparts at IESE and LBS. We all believed that working in a team spanning two continents should not be a problem for students of TOP global MBAs such as INSEAD, IESE and LBS – in fact it was not until summer, when we had people in our team in three continents, America, Europe and Asia, that we were tested by the time zone challenge. Students from both schools IESE and LBS were in the previous edition of the fair, and their support to organize and distribute the tasks among the 2015 team was very helpful.  At INSEAD, we had immense support from Vimi Emraz who works in the career development centre supporting students’ initiatives and who also joined the fair in the previous year at London Business School.

Part of the Students from the Three Schools Attending the Event

The teams were running different tasks simultaneously, from setting up interview rooms to inviting professor Felipe Monteiro to give an opening speech to aligning other logistical details.  The biggest challenge we were to face, however, was the process of securing companies to be present in the fair. While we had data and access – either through personal contacts or the schools’ relationships – to leading companies interested in Latin America, the current region’s landscape prevented many companies from coming to the fair. To make matters worse, even a few companies that had already confirmed to come, had to apologize and inform that they would not be able to come anymore.

The teams experienced a peak of adrenaline just 4 weeks before the event. Within a few days more than 30% of the companies that had already confirmed, suddenly told us that they were not coming anymore. We even had to have emergency meetings with students from the three schools, where we decided to continue to organize the fair. From that point on until the day we held the fair, the number of new companies more than doubled. To keep it exciting, some of the companies were cancelling or confirming their presence at the fair until as late as two days before the event.

Itaú Company Presentation

Despite all the turmoil, the fair went smoothly. Dozens of students travelled to Fontainebleau from London and Barcelona, respectively the home campuses of LBS and IESE. Important companies came to the fair from many places, from Brazil to Singapore. We were happy to even welcome a BRF representative coming all the way from Singapore. We invited other INSEAD students to join the organization committee to specifically support the companies with their needs during the event, which they did brilliantly. Companies’ presentations were very well attended and the interaction with companies and students happened constructively. And above all, we had loads of fun, as usual!

INSEAD Organization Team Having Fun – As usual

Please feel free to visit the fair website, to know more about the fair, the team and so on: http://www.latamcareerfair.com/


Getting to a Deeper Level When There’s No Time

Everyone who has been through an MBA knows that this is one of “the best years of your life” – from the academic education in the classroom to the social life outside of it and everything in between. I don’t think anyone would argue the thing that makes this so true by far, are the people. We spend every waking hour around each other – from the morning coffee chit-chatting about the day ahead followed by classroom time where we get to hear glimpses of each other’s past professional experiences. We then spend a further couple of hours in our study groups feverishly working through the week’s assignments after which we rush off our separate ways to what evening hours we still have left for the numerous additional activities we seem to think we have time for – an industry speaker event, soccer…er, I mean “football” club, organizing that upcoming PE event next week, filling out job applications, reading the 20-page case for tomorrow’s strategy class, or letting loose on the nightclub dance floor. Whatever it is, we are always doing something, which may seem great, but it always feels like we’re moving from one thing to the next, never getting a chance to breathe or even just stop and reflect about the world around us. And when you do manage to find yourself speaking with another breathing living human being, it’s difficult to get beyond the generalities of “how have you been” “what are you doing this weekend / what did you do last weekend” “it’s a busy week, isn’t it?” before one of you is rushing off to the next item slotted in the calendar.

So in this year that’s rushing by before our eyes, how do we find the time to get beyond the surface level “how’s it going” generalities and get to real substantiated conversations? In an increasingly digital world, we are already minimizing face-to-face time with those around us and in an environment where time is the most precious commodity of all, turning face-to-face time into real human connection is even tougher. One of our professors asked if students would be interested if he were to arrange weekly lunches where students would get together, sit down, and have an hour dedicated to getting to know one another better. Almost everyone raised their hands. His response was – “Well, why aren’t you doing this already?” It made me question the same thing – it seems we all want that deeper level of connection, yet I find myself often having the same conversations over and over with many of the same people complaining about how busy we are or what’s the next weekend getaway destination. It just seems we never have the time to sit down and naturally allow that superficial conversation to build into something more.

We spend so much time around each other, practically 24 hours every day, and yet how much do we really know about each other? Think about the person who sits next to you in class – how much do you really know about their favorite hobbies, what motivates them in life, their family, or even the amazing personal and professional experiences that brought them to INSEAD. Maybe you know what country they’re from, that they used to work in consulting, and even managed to climb a major mountain peak last year. But maybe what you don’t know is that back home they spend their free time volunteering at an orphanage or supporting a local children’s school because basic education access is not a given like it is in your home country. Or maybe that next mountain peak you can’t wait to tackle is their spiritual haven and has a significance beyond anything you’ve realized. Or maybe their parents were one of the thousands laid off in that business case we read in class the other day and was a major turning point in their lives. But you’ll never know because all you talk about is the Singapore haze, class schedules, travel plans to Bali, and class assignment details.
All of us have a story to tell and that’s why we got into INSEAD, but very few of us have been able to share our stories. So how do we do it when everyone is running around like loose chickens in a thunderstorm? While studies have shown that intense moments can bring people closer together and this year at INSEAD would definitely classify, I believe it’s not enough as so many of us are constantly being shuffled around. We are flying off to a new destination every weekend and then every two months, many of us will be uprooted and resettled to a different campus. While it’s an intense period nonetheless, the constant change makes it difficult to build those deeper connections as we don’t spend the entirety of the intense period with each other all the way through. So my recommendation to get to that deeper level: just make the conscious effort and time to do so.

It’s really that simple, but I know not as easy as it sounds. We are all extremely busy today and when we graduate from INSEAD, we’ll be just as busy tomorrow. But whether we’re in business school or back into the “real world”, the challenge of making deep real personal connections with those around us will always persist. The only solution I’ve come across so far is to just make time and be conscious about it. Get to school early before class starts and meet a colleague for coffee, or use the usual hour free during lunch or dinner. Sometimes the best times are those late night chats with your roommates while you’re just hanging out in the living room. Regardless of when it happens, it’s up to you to make it happen.

Instead of always talking about last week’s party or this afternoon’s class schedule, try talking about what’s going on in the world. Economies and governments are changing and with that so are the implications these external forces can have on all of our lives. Ask someone to explain how the political system works in their country. Learn from a classmate about the dynamics of an industry you may not be familiar with. Discuss a social issue – maybe it’s controversial, maybe it’s not, but I guarantee with all the diversity of students around, you’ll learn a thing or two about how differently people see the world (and maybe even question your own ideals). Ask someone about their childhood or previous life experiences – maybe you’ll bond with someone who also lost someone close to them or you’ll better understand certain aspects of that person due to their upbringing and expectations from family.

The matter of fact is, there are 500 very different perspectives of the world sitting next to you – take some time to hear out at least a few of them and your own life will only be the better for it.

Joining London VCs Trek

Arriving at Gare de Lyon in Paris to take the Eurostar to London, I met a couple of INSEAD MBA students and started to realize why the UK is the most popular destination after graduation. It was our P4/P5 Break, and while the school and students and have organized many field trips or treks to different places across the globe from Japan to Silicon Valley, nothing seemed to compare to the 5 treks there were about to take place in London. One of my colleagues was going to join the PE Trek, the other would be joining the Asset Management Trek, one more group of students was going to join the TMT Trek, another the INDEVOR Trek, and the last one the VCs Trek – which was the one I joined.

In P4, one of the electives I had enrolled in was Private Equity. Vikas Aggarwal, our professor for this course, not only managed to cover important principles about the VC industry, but also to bring relevant guests working in the industry both to share their experience and run dynamic exercises in class. I knew that the interaction with the guests from the VC industry was just a hint of what I could find in London. Therefore, eager for more knowledge, I followed all the necessary steps to make sure I would be able to join the group in the trek. The trek was organized in order to allow us to visit 9 firms in two days. Given the profile of the firms and the people we were going to see I had no doubt about how much I could learn from the interaction with them. That would be an amazing opportunity to learn about their processes, ask relevant questions, and construct bridges with relevant firms. What I had not thought, however, was how much I was going to learn from my peers in the group.

INSEAD MBA Candidates at the VC Trek

During the trip, the small team of eight people were revealed to have impressive achievements in the start-up area. Just to cite a few examples, one of the participants was responsible for the setup of the USA operation of a French patisserie start-up and had run the business for three years. Another one was a co-founder of a start-up which had raised a few millions dollars in London. Interacting with my peers, learning about how they struggled in their endeavours, how they managed to overcome their challenges, and so on, was remarkable.  Furthermore, the experience of bonding during those two intensive days is priceless. The group of students was accompanied by Ivy Kwan, a member of the INSEAD Career centre, who also had the opportunity to create the right connections with the firms. Doing so, the school might be able to place more students in the industry, which seems to be a growing target among MBA candidates.

On the first day, we were set to visit a few prominent funds, including Balderton and Index Ventures, and after the meetings with the VCs we were going to participate in an INSEAD UK Alumni event. Once we arrived for the last scheduled meeting, we discovered that Accel Partners was in the same building. Between this last meeting and the UK Alumni event, there was roughly two hours break. This was an excellent opportunity to try a meeting with Accel as well. But, how on earth could someone just show up and politely require a meeting with such an outstanding VC firm? I have no answer. Yet, to make a long story short, after calling her contacts, our colleague Virginie was able to secure a meeting with Accel Partners for that very afternoon. On the second day, we visited five more funds, almost all of them in the East of London, and with no happy surprises we finished up the trek at the iconic Second Home London in Shoreditch, where the last two meetings were scheduled to happen.

Interior of Second Home London in Shoreditch

P.s. A very special thanks to Ivy Kwan for taking the photos and Szabi Baranyi for having lead the efforts to organize the VCs Trek.

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