Lionel Sauvage has made a $5.5 million endowed pledge to INSEAD for a specific reason: to change the world
On the subject of philanthropy, Lionel Sauvage MBA’87J has a distinct point of view. “I give because it’s a duty,” he says. “Philanthropy is not an option. If you’ve received, you give. End of story.”
Now retired as senior vice president of Capital Group, Lionel has had time to reflect not only on whether to give back but where to give back—and why. He observes that, over the years, his goals for giving have evolved and changed.
“When you’re younger, you give to ‘save the world’ or you give to support your community,” he says. “When you get to the grand old age that I am, you give to change the world. You start looking for an institution that you believe is going to have a long-term impact on the world.”
For Lionel, that institution is INSEAD. Earlier this year, he and his family made a $5.5 million endowed pledge to the school. With this pledge, the Sauvage family joins INSEAD’s most generous donors. The Sauvage family gift includes a cash component and a legacy component.
“Legacy gifts—in the American sense of the word—are very important,” affirms Lionel. “When you get to a certain age, you realise that what you leave behind matters. There is no better way to do that than through your will.”
In recognition of the Sauvage family’s gift, INSEAD will establish “The Sauvage Family Endowed Chair for Academic Excellence.” This gesture affirms Lionel’s core belief that academic excellence is key to sustaining INSEAD’s reputation and capacity to impact the world. The gift will fund the dean of faculty’s position and work to advance research and faculty development. Professor Timothy Van Zandt will be the first chair holder.
With this gift, Lionel is squarely focused on supporting future generations through education. “We sometimes forget that we, as human beings, are the sum of all of the knowledge that has been discovered since the dawn of humanity,” he says. “To change the world, you need to change the mind. And to change the mind, you need education.”
A history of generosity
This endowment continues a close relationship between the Sauvage family and INSEAD that began more than 50 years ago. For decades, the family has played an instrumental role in the growth and development of the school.
In 1960, Gilbert Sauvage—Lionel’s father—joined INSEAD as its first full-time professor, and he and his wife Francoise were major contributors to the school’s early development. Decades later, Lionel enrolled in INSEAD’s MBA programme and, post-graduation, became a founding donor of the Singapore campus in 2000. He also generously funded research projects in finance, decision making and risk analysis, and European competitiveness.
Lionel looks back fondly on his time as an INSEAD student, noting that his MBA helped ignite his intellectual curiosity while providing practical tools for his career. However, he says that being around classmates from around the world had the most profound impact on him.
He recalls a specific moment, in the spring of 1987, when he and three of his classmates—one Dutch, one English and one Greek—took a holiday in England. While hiking with his friends, Lionel started thinking about how he was due to return to France after graduation and take a job with his old company.
He knew then that he had to change his plans. “I thought, ‘I cannot go back to my country,’” he remembers. “It was so obvious to me that I had to work abroad.” So he started a new job search and eventually found his way to London, landing a job as an investment analyst at Capital Group. He remained with the firm for the next 28 years and played a key role in its international expansion.
“That is really what is unique about INSEAD,” he says. “You come in with well-set plans, and all your plans are wrecked. Suddenly, there are opportunities.”
Giving without remembering
What makes Lionel believe that INSEAD can change the world? In part, he says, because of its mission of using business as a force for good.
“In the same way that philanthropy is not an option, ethics is not an option,” he says. “Ethical behaviour is so much easier to manage than unethical behaviour. If you have to answer the question, ‘should I do this or that?’ then you should choose the more ethical way. Ethical businesses just do better than unethical businesses. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.”
To recognise Lionel’s generous contributions to INSEAD, the school has honoured him with the Diamond Salamander award and membership with the Circle of Patrons. However, Lionel emphasises that his gifts come without expectations for recognition.
“Give without remembering,” he says. “Don’t remember who you gave to; just give. And then, don’t forget what you have received—from INSEAD, from your company, from your partners. You were given those gifts. You have to give back.”