Countless INSEAD alumni have sat in Emeritus Professor Michael Brimm’s Organisational Behaviour and Management courses throughout the 40 years he’s taught the subject in Fontainebleau. The beloved teacher and mentor to many was recently honoured with the 2018 Dominique Héau Award for Inspiring Educational Excellence.
Named after respected INSEAD Professor Dominique Héau, the award recognises professors who demonstrate exceptional dedication to the school’s educational mission. The award is unique. It does not just recognise teaching effectiveness or research productivity, it also celebrates INSEAD faculty who help the school live up to its ambition to transform lives and organisations with ideas and skills to make a positive difference in the world.
“Professor Brimm has done just that,” says Dean Ilian Mihov. “He embodies a passion for learning—the kind of learning that changes a person and matters as much for MBA students as for CEOs. He has worked very successfully with both of those groups for decades. He has also worked relentlessly to make sure that passion for this kind of learning stays alive at the school.”
Brimm is the third person to receive the award, after Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change Manfred Kets de Vries and L’Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing—Innovation and Creativity Pierre Chandon. INSEAD staff and faculty nominate professors who embody and advance Héau’s legacy of educational excellence.
“When I arrived at INSEAD, Dominique was already a booming voice for teaching and learning, so it is a particular honour to receive this award in his memory as a reminder to us all of the central place of teaching and learning in the mission of our academic institution,” says Brimm. “It’s why we’re here—to learn and to pass on our learnings through written materials or pedagogical processes, whether they come from experience, research or the classroom.”
Working with companies, as well as in consortium programmes at INSEAD and the University of Michigan, Brimm pioneered the introduction of action learning in executive education and other new pedagogical methods. A passionate and insightful member of the INSEAD community, he has spent decades advocating for, fostering and demonstrating the unique combination of science and art that makes education transformational. His efforts have enriched the work and lives of many generations of INSEAD students and professors and earned him numerous awards.
A lifelong learner
Born in the United States, Brimm earned a PhD from Harvard in business and social relations. He has taught at Harvard Business School, University of Bordeaux, Northeastern University and was a founding faculty member at the Jerusalem Institute of Management.
With a wide and varied background of both work and life experience, Brimm joined INSEAD in 1978. Prior to that, he served as a general manager in a large, global organization, where he first discovered his interest in organisational behavior. He also completed a tour as a training officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. The desire to become a French chef de cuisine is what brought him to the south of France, where he spent three years. That desire soon gave way to a passion for researching the leadership of French chefs in Michelin-starred restaurants, leading to a career in teaching.
When discussing concepts with students and the alumni he mentors, Brimm often finds himself learning as much as he teaches.
“For me, teaching has been a great learning experience,” he shares. “One of the attractions that kept me at INSEAD all these years is the rich resource we have in the people who come into our programmes. It’s a remarkable group, with multiple nationalities and multiple work experiences, so teaching them is a learning process as well.”
The relationship continues after students leave Brimm’s classroom, with many alumni staying in contact with him. He’s advised, mentored and coached many INSEAD alumni in the design of major organisational change and their personal approach to leadership.
“I enjoy hearing what they took away from my course and seeing what they’ve done with it,” he says. “The alumni are the outcomes of INSEAD, but more than that, they’re my collaborators. They’re the people who’ve taught me a lot of what then becomes part of my courses as time moves along.”
The ultimate goal
“INSEAD students are a special group, which Linda describes as ‘Global Cosmopolitans’—they can see things from multiple perspectives,” he says. “Their experiences help them to become leaders who can make business successful and a better force for good. I think it’s a powerful concept, but we still have a long way to go.”
In his interactions with individuals and groups, Brimm has the simple goal to enhance their understanding of the role of people and organisations in their personal and organisational lives. He says there is no single theory or approach that is “the answer” or critical to their success.
What is most important is that they are able to recognise and refine their own implicit theories and continuously test them against what they read, hear or experience, he explains. “Hopefully, if this can assist them to achieve more success in their chosen endeavours and greater personal satisfaction in their lives, my own learning journey will not simply be a self-serving voyage, but a contribution to others as well.”