From 8 to 11 September 2016, the Romanian capital Bucharest provided the backdrop, stage and script for a very special INSEAD alumni conference. For the first time ever, the Boards of the INSEAD Alumni Association (IAA) in Germany and in Romania decided to plan and implement a joint event for their members. Considering the historic ties between the two countries, the good relationship between the associations and the fact that Romania is a hugely interesting case of change management (the core theme of the conference), Bucharest proved the right city to host this highly intense weekend of learning and leisure.
Enriched by the presence of great friends and ambassadors such as INSEAD Chairman Andreas Jacobs MBA’90D, INSEAD Foundation Chairman Francois Hériard Dubreuil MBA’75 as well as INSEAD Alumni Fund Chairman Leonidas Los MBA’75, the four-day conference offered the 160 international alumni and friends, which included sixteen from the MBA 1975 promotion, a programme that will be hard to repeat.
Following a private reception for the early arrivers, on Thursday evening the group enjoyed a night of music with highly acclaimed concert pianist Nicolai Dumitru, who took them on a musical journey through time. Dumitru combined musical masterpieces with personal anecdotes about the composers and their management learnings that still hold true today. He showed the audience how transformation is produced from within, through energy and focus change – which he argued has also been a pillar of Romania’s transformation over the past 25 years.
Friday morning began with a personal reception at the Cotroceni palace, hosted by the advisors of President Klaus Johannis. The President of Romania – who that morning had to be in Berlin for a short-notice meeting with German Chancellor Merkel – had kindly invited the international INSEAD delegation for a private reception and visit of the President’s Palace.
The programme was followed by a Business Leaders’ Lunch that gave the alumni a chance to connect with outstanding Romanian entrepreneurs, who have built innovative and international companies from scratch. Florin Talpes, CEO of Bitdefender, a global player in IT security networks, talked about the changes his company has undergone to date and the transformations that are still required from Bucharest to Silicon Valley to continue this international success story. Alex Lapusan, CEO of Zitec, a specialist provider of online products and applications development, gave a very entertaining insight of the lessons learned to date and the challenges that lie ahead.
The afternoon programme included a roundtable session with Dragoş Nicolae Pîslaru, Minister of Labour, Family, Social Protection and the Elderly. The core take-away of this session was that Romania has made considerable progress in reducing bureaucracy and simplifying the tax system, which has made the country more attractive country for investment. This has been recognised by large European and East Asian companies, who have grown their commitments in the automotive and IT industry, and who are also attracted by the availability of qualified young engineers and IT specialists.
At the same time, a group of international alumni was invited to visit the production facilities of frufru, yet another exciting Romanian start-up with an INSEAD connection. Investor and backer Sergiu Negut explained to the delegation how the company managed to stay authentic to its mission: to bring fresh, natural, tasty and healthy food to young professionals, young creatives and health-conscious people in the best way. It was interesting to hear that while the core business was so different than the IT firms that presented earlier, many of the challenges such as staff growth, partner selection, quality control and reputation management were identical.
One of the highlights on Saturday was a panel discussion on “Change” with Valentin Lazea, Chief Economist of the National Bank of Romania; Costin Borc, Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, Romania; Theodor Paleologu, diplomat and political philosopher; and Prof Henri-Claude de Bettignies, the Aviva Chair Eremitus Professor of Leadership and Responsibility at INSEAD. The panelists had a very frank, interesting and at times highly entertaining exchange on the state of affairs in Romania and its relationship with select nations and international institutions. Professor de Bettignies, who has spent a large part of his career living in Japan, China and Silicon Valley, to study the transformation of nations and regions, was perhaps best able to formulate a conclusion. He recommended the political leadership in Romania to not try to copy one specific model, but instead pick and choose from international best practice – no matter whether these come from the US, the EU, China or anywhere else in the world. Finally, he urged the business leaders in the room to always think and act in a manner that is not only sustainable for one’s company but also for all its stakeholders and the world itself.
This positive momentum was transported to the gala where the alumni group celebrated Global INSEAD Day in the fantastic setting of the National Bank‘s Marble Hall. In his keynote speech, INSEAD Chairman Andreas Jacobs gave first-hand information on the very positive developments in Fontainebleau, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
The final speech of the evening was by NBR board member Daniel Daianu, who underscored the importance of using the momentum and positive energy from the conference to counterbalance negative developments that are undermining the stability and general wellbeing of Europe and the world. With these words and with this conference, a seed was planted that will help forge ties between alumni on both sides of the border. As such, at least for the German alumni, the biggest change of the weekend may well have been the growth of their knowledge of and passion for this fascinating country, this cool city and its great people.