After Rony Kahan and Paul Forster (both MBA’94D) sold Indeed, the world’s leading job site, they knew it made sense to do something for INSEAD. The result is a €1 million scholarship fund with far-reaching impact for the school, as well as its future recipients.
Back in 1994, the world looked very different. The Internet itself was still a start-up. Few MBA students had cell phones. And INSEAD had only one campus – in Fontainebleau. It was there that American, Rony Kahan, and Brit, Paul Forster first met, forging a firm friendship… but, surprisingly, no business plan.
“I think there was only one entrepreneurship class offered at the time,” says Rony. “And I ended up working on a classmate’s windmill project!” Meanwhile, Paul missed out entirely. “I didn’t get my act together in time,” he admits, “although I did do some case studies of early-stage ventures.”
But a few years later, when the two alumni reconnected in Washington DC, they found themselves drawn to brainstorming new business ideas together. “We were both keen to start a company. And it was clear the Internet was opening up huge opportunities,” recalls Paul. Finally, about four years after graduation they started their first business, jobsinthemoney, a job site for financial professionals.
By 2012, the two entrepreneurs’ second venture, Indeed, was the most visited recruitment site on the planet, covering all industries and geographies – the Google of jobs! As Rony told the business press when the company was sold, “We became the world’s leading job site by putting job seekers’ interests first and providing the best possible job search experience in every market.”
So why exactly were the pair so keen to give some of their new wealth to INSEAD? And why, in particular, a scholarship for would-be entrepreneurs, creative types or those from “unconventional” MBA backgrounds?
The motivation for giving
To start with, the two entrepreneurs wanted to do something for the institution that helped them achieve their success. In particular, Paul highlights the impact of INSEAD’s famous group work on his entrepreneurial career: “I think the team exercises are a good proxy for the start-up environment – small, diverse groups working together under pressure.”
He also singles out Professor Theo Vermaelen’s finance class, while Rony says he still reflects on Professor Henri-Claude de Bettignies ethics course. “I think the Salamanders bring all kinds of luck too,” adds Paul, pointing to his INSEAD donor award. “I keep mine on display in my office!”
Just as important is the desire to help a new generation of entrepreneurs – hence the special focus of the Indeed scholarship on creativity. “We want to help other MBA students realise their own entrepreneurial dreams,” says Paul.
Their ideal recipient is also someone who is driven to be successful but may not have followed the traditional route to business school through consulting, banking or corporate life. “I think part of being unconventional is that you don’t see the barriers or traditional frameworks that may limit others,” explains Rony. And, as Paul adds, “People from atypical backgrounds often don’t have the resources to fund a full-time MBA and may not even realise they are suitable candidates. We hope our scholarship will encourage and help them.”
The motivation that comes from receiving
However, the real benefit of financial aid is usually felt after graduation. This is the time when many aspiring entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs are forced to take well-paid jobs simply to pay back their MBA loans… and then lose sight of their ambitions.
With the lower debt burden that scholarships enable, students have more options after INSEAD, as Paul and Rony are keen to stress. They are also well aware that scholarships can be a powerful motivator – a view that is confirmed by Dmitry Linkov, MBA’15D. He was the recipient of the INSEAD Marguerre Scholarship for Entrepreneurial Talent, which is similar to the Indeed award but focused specifically on Eastern Europe.
“After getting a scholarship, I’m actually more keen to go on with my own business,” he says. “It was great that Mr Marguerre and the people from the scholarship committee acknowledged my entrepreneurial spirit. Doing something by yourself is hard and usually lonely. When acknowledgement comes, it feels really good.” He hopes to become a scholarship donor himself one day and is already dreaming up creative ways of providing financial aid for the next generation. A scholarship, it seems, really is the gift that keeps on giving.
The INSEAD perspective
Fulfilled donors, motivated recipients… but what about INSEAD itself? How exactly does the school benefit from a scholarship donation? After all, there is no difficulty filling places with people who can afford to pay – or at least to borrow. “As the Dean of Degree Programmes”, says Professor Urs Peyer, “I see the power of scholarships in action every day. They raise standards and increase diversity. Everyone in the class benefits and the entire school’s reputation is enhanced.”
“We are very grateful for this wonderful support,” said Dean Ilian Mihov. “In a highly competitive business school environment, a robust scholarship programme is the most powerful means to attracting and retaining the best candidates. Scholarships, such as the one from Indeed, continue to make a tremendous impact at INSEAD, allowing students from all over the world and diverse backgrounds to join the school. Each scholarship gives the message that INSEAD stands for true diversity, and talent before means.”
In the end, scholarships – like successful start-ups – have a snowball effect that brings many wide-ranging benefits. “I’d encourage everyone to look at where they are today in their career and life,” says Paul. “If they feel INSEAD played a part in getting them there, it makes a lot of sense to give, especially towards a scholarship.” Or, as Dmitry puts it, “A scholarship can literally change someone’s life, so just go for it!”
To find out more about the Indeed Endowed Scholarship, click here.