Tag Archives: INSEAD

Embrace Your Life and Career Inflection Points for MBA Admissions

In differential calculus an inflection (or inflexion) point is the point on a curve where the curvature changes sign and therefore shape.

Lives and careers have inflection points too: those moments where, due to events or new insight, suddenly everything is turned around or looks different.

Inflection points can be “achievements” but they don’t need to be. Often they are mixed, bitter-sweet moments of self-understanding and emotional arrival. Communicating these moments is key to convincing Adcom of your unique, personal, individual motivation for MBA study and beyond.

Sometimes when I talk to clients at the profiling stage of their application — when we sift through their past and present scouring for admissions value — they will blow right past an inflection point such as a change of college major, or death of a parent, or visit to the national gallery in Berlin (or whatever it may be) and I have to slow them down to fully explore and capture the value therein.

Due to confidentiality, I can’t tell their stories, but I did notice an example used recently on the Businessweek MBA Journal site where a now-current INSEAD student shares his “road-to-Damascus” moment:

“A favorable USD/GBP exchange rate and good salaries enabled us to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle in New York, which included fancy dining, live music and sporting events, and parties on most nights. Yet, during all of this, I witnessed an act of kindness that changed the way I view the world and my aspirations. This moment of humanity would ultimately drive me to pursue an MBA at INSEAD.

“Midway through my training in New York, my friends and I went to see a Yankees baseball game. We caught the subway to return home and sat down next to a homeless man named Sam. Two stops later, another homeless man, J, boarded and sat next to Sam. They proceeded to talk and we overheard parts of the conversation. It became apparent that Sam and J had never met before. Then, Sam asked J if he would like to share some dinner, and J gladly accepted. Sam pulled out a tin of Vienna sausages and some dry crackers, which they shared. We watched all this and lumps gathered in our throats. Sam had no wealth and bleak prospects, yet was willing to share his food with a complete stranger. Would we have shared something worth as much to us with another stranger?

“This act of generosity humbled my friends and me…. I was inspired to seek more in life than those parties and materialistic pursuits. I didn’t want to waste my precious time, and I wanted a challenge. I wanted to make my mark on the world.”

Powerful stuff. Note that you don’t need a bleeding heart story to have an inflection point, or to get into business school. But you do need to be sensitive to the real inflection points in your life, which by definition will be highly individual to you, and how they have shaped your aspirations. This is the key to being real and therefore being believed when you share your goals with the MBA Admissions Committee in your application essays or interview.


Top-3? Top-6? Among elite MBAs does it really matter where you go?

I found myself following a discussion on the Businessweek “Getting into B-School” forum. The thread is headed: “Does rank really matter among top 6?”

I select extracts to present here because the comments — before they descend into the flaming and slanging that bedevils these forums — deal with important (and corrective) thinking about what matters with rankings, and to whom, and helps understand how US program rankings are perceived internationally too. It finishes with common sense that I endorse.

Original question: “Does rank really matter among Top Business schools? With my European point of view, I consider that there are only 6 Top Schools (in descending order): HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Booth and Kellogg. Actually, I don’t really care about rankings here: my only criteria is prestige (which in my view is the only thing you can’t ignore when applying to business schools). In Europe, these schools are famous: if you say Stanford or Columbia, everybody knows what you’re talking about. [But]If you say Tuck business school (at random), very few people will have heard of it regardless of the quality of the school.

“So my question is: among this prestigious top, does is REALLY matter if you go to one or another? On this forum we can often read that if you go to HBS it is infinitely better that if you go to Wharton but Wharton will change your life so much more than Kellogg, and so on and so forth.”

Response: “In France [among] 100 person taken randomly in the street and educated in France, 100 will know about HEC, 90 about Harvard, 3 to 5 about Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, Columbia and 10 maybe will know about INSEAD. But I would say that 90 will know about Yale, Princeton, 100 about Oxford, Cambridge.”

Response: “As a Frenchman I feel the need to throw in my 2 cents on this one. INSEAD is hands down the strongest MBA brand in France. Does every random person on the street necessarily know the name? No, but who cares? The employers do.”

Response: “I would like also to add that the education at the top business institutions is quite the same. I highly doubt that you will learn better investment management in Chicago or Wharton than in Yale, Haas or Fuqua. If you visit those schools, you might get surprised by the background of the faculty. You might take a class at Berkeley taught by a Yale alumni or even receive Michael Porter at Tuck.”

Response: “Although I agree with the notion that the value of an MBA drops as the ranking drops, I do not agree that there is a substantial difference between similarly ranked programs. Every objective metric I can think of (starting salary, quality of recruiting companies, average salary of graduates after 20 years etc.) clusters most top 15 programs closely together. The main exception seem to be HBS and Stanford. Another objective metric are the GMAT and the GPA. Those two metrics are hardly distinguishable in the top 15 programs, including HBS and Stanford.”

Original: “I’ve reached my conclusion I believe: go where you think you belong regardless of what people say/think. I chose to apply to Wharton and CBS finally even if i totally agree HBS/GSB are more famous and Booth/Kellogg are great schools simply because i think it will teach me what i want to learn in my specific field…And education among them is NOT that different, apart from some specialties that should ultimately lead your choice.”

How Mr Swatch can take you past management consulting as an MBA admissions platform

The Economist recently ran an obituary of Swatch magnate Nicolas Hayek, and this offers me a concrete example to explain why management consulting is a weak long-term goal for MBA admissions.

(Yes, I’m always pushing clients to give clear examples or anecdotes to back up their MBA admissions claims. So this is me “practicing what I preach.”)

In 1982 Hayek was brought in as a management consultant by a group of banks to advise them on the sale of Switzerland’s last big watchmaking conglomerate which they had bailed out a few years earlier. But, rather than merely consult on sale-exit strategies, Hayek created and led a group of industrialists who bought the conglomerate from the bankers, and built it into the world’s largest watch company, with almost a quarter of the global market, with Swatch as the lead brand.

As the Economist says: “Mr Hayek’s strategy of making cheap watches more cheaply and expensive watches more desirable helped lift the rest of the Swiss watch industry, which is once again leading the world. Last year Swiss firms exported nearly 23m timepieces worth more than $12 billion, a figure that would undoubtedly have been far, far smaller had Mr Hayek stayed in management consulting.”

The point is: Hayek had two careers ahead of him in 1982. He could have stayed a management consultant, advising on deals, for a fairly prestigious, reasonably well-paid life. Or he could do what he did: turn the ailing consortium around through industry-innovative operations, cost restructuring, and marketing management, to totally renew the Swiss watch industry. He was a leader, innovator, decision-maker, and business-builder at the ultimate level.

If Hayek was to have presented his career options to Harvard or INSEAD or LBS, etc., which of the two routes do you think the b-school Adoms would have favored more?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to say you want to spend some time in MC in the short term, taking advantage of the rapid exposure to different industries and skills. But at the end of the day, management consultants are advisors, not doers. They are always the bridesmaid, never the bride. If Hayes had stayed a management consultant his value to everyone (including his MBA alma mater) would have been a fraction of what it became, and his obituary would never have been splashed across the world’s financial media.

When the admissions committee of a top MBA program is looking at you, they want to think that you may possibly one day be somebody like Hayes (in your own industry and in your own way.) If your career goal is consulting itself, you are telling them there is no chance of that.