INSEAD’s innovative, two-week intensive business programme for talented teenagers is going from strength to strength… and has become very much an alumni affair.
It’s the first law of alumni life: the older you get, the younger today’s students look. So you’d have been in for a big shock if you happened to be on the Europe Campus this summer – when INSEAD opened its doors to some of the world’s brightest high-school students.
The Summer@INSEAD programme was originally the brainchild of Deputy Dean and Professor of Strategy, Peter Zemsky. “The idea is to provide a starter pack for success,” he explains. “We offer 80 outstanding 15–17-year-olds two weeks of action-learning, self-reflection, team-building and career-counselling – and try to give them a real passion for business.”
Outstanding faculty for an outstanding intake
The intensive and highly interactive curriculum is delivered by some of INSEAD’s most acclaimed professors, including Peter himself. Subi Rangan teaches societal progress and Miguel Lobo decision-making, while Erin Meyer and Antoine Duvauchelle run hands-on sessions about multicultural teams and negotiation respectively. They’re all careful to adapt their MBA teaching for a much younger audience – “but with surprisingly little need for adjustment!” admits Professor Adrian Johnson MBA’ 90J, who took over as director of the programme this year. In addition to being the academic leader, he masterminds the famous “Your First Hundred Days” MBA simulation (or YFCD for short), which has been tailored and condensed to frame the business bootcamp for teenagers.
“But my first connection with Summer@INSEAD was back in 2015 – as a parent,” says Adrian. “It turned me into an instant fan!” In fact, the programme was launched that year as a joint venture with the Abu Dhabi Education Council, and INSEAD was looking for international students to learn alongside the initial intake of young Emiratis. Adrian’s son, now studying at Imperial College London, was accepted and positively transformed by the experience. “I’d never realised that a strategy course could be so inspirational!” says his proud father.
An alumni-driven initiative
Over the subsequent years, the programme has turned into an alumni-powered initiative. In addition to the alumnus/programme director, most of the 2017 students are children of INSEAD graduates. Those who aren’t tend to be recommended by alumni or, in the case of a growing number of sponsored students from less privileged backgrounds, kindly funded by alumni donors.
Among this year’s outstanding intake was Carl Schoeller from Munich, Germany. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” he says. “I was in awe just from the pre-reading. But the experience turned out to be incredible. Business had always been at the back of my mind. But now it’s at the forefront.”
“It exceeded all of my expectations,” agrees his father, Philipp Schoeller MBA’85J. “Carl came back a different person with a new sensitivity to business. I’d love his four younger siblings to go as well. The company visits to BlaBlaCar and Google, the way they worked on bonding in the forest, the quality of the faculty… it was all very impressive. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether or not they’re already connected with the school.”
Stories from the class of 2017
One member of the class of 2017 with no previous connection to INSEAD is Abhijeet Sharma. He lost his place at India’s most elite military high school when his eyesight deteriorated, but an alumnus neighbour heard his story and encouraged him to apply to the INSEAD summer school. Abhijeet obtained a place with no difficulty, but was only able to attend thanks to the generosity of a second alumnus, who acted as his sponsor.
“I’m so grateful to my sponsor for investing in my future. You can’t put a value on the knowledge that the programme will always yield,” says Abhijeet. “My ambition is still to go into robotics and artificial intelligence, but now that I understand the manager’s perspective, I hope to be able to contribute much more.”
The other immeasurable benefit of the programme, according to Abhijeet, is the network of friends that he has gained from all over the world. One is Delfina Moresco from Argentina (via France, Chile, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Australia), now studying at UCL in the UK and about to meet up with a group of other Summer@INSEAD students who live in the London area.
“Even at our age, the networking is excellent,” she says. “But the highlight for me was the YFCD simulation. A lot of us are quite competitive and it brought out the best in us!” She adds, “Maybe one day, I’ll return to do YFCD as an MBA student – or before that as a Summer@INSEAD counsellor.”
Opportunities for older offspring of alumni
The counsellors add another alumni dimension to the success story that is Summer@INSEAD. Nearly all of the 11-strong team this year were children of MBA graduates, recruited by INSEAD as “interns” for part of their summer break from university. Their role was to supervise the teenagers, facilitate the teamwork and generally provide pastoral and organisational support. In return, they were able to attend all of the sessions and have lunch with some of the world’s best business professors. “It’s a 24/7 job,” explains Pascale Balze, an INSEAD researcher who is also the administrative brains behind the programme. “But they get a lot out of it. In fact the competition is even greater for the internships than for the places on the programme.”
For alumni whose children have already passed the programme’s age limit of 17, it’s an excellent way to reap the benefits of Summer@INSEAD – as vouched for by Jacob Lauritzen, one of the 2017 counsellors. “When my father sent me the link to the website, I thought he didn’t know my age!” he laughs. “Then I saw the information about the internships and didn’t hesitate to apply.”
As a budding Internet entrepreneur, one of Jacob’s main motivations was to learn some technical business skills. “But I hadn’t counted on the way it also developed my people skills,” he says. “I’m super-glad I got through the rigorous selection process… and someday, if I can, I might just return as an MBA student. I understand much better now why my dad talks about his time at INSEAD so fondly.”
Indeed, one final, unexpected lesson from Summer@INSEAD is about the power of the alumni network. As Abhijeet Sharma says, “The alumni circle at INSEAD is incredibly tight. It’s great to see how people from all over the world who have never known each other can become so close.” Or as Adrian Johnson puts it, wearing his parental rather than professorial hat, “My message to other alumni is that it’s a chance for our kids to have a version of the great memories that we all share.”