Moving between English-speaking countries is always difficult. Moving to a small French town from west-end London is downright frightening. In spite of this, I have left my comfortable job as a vice-president of investment banking at BMO Capital Markets in Britain to bet on the trend of increased globalization and signed up to pursue an MBA at INSEAD. Why?
I graduated from Queen's University in 2002 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Classical Studies. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Calgary and took the first job I was offered, as an analyst in the corporate finance department of an oil and gas investment boutique. Seven years later, having worked in both Canada and Britain, I have come to realize the profound impact that Canada has within the global petroleum industry and how it will be a key player in working with other countries and cultures to shape the international landscape for decades to come.
This realization changed my plans for further education. Instead of applying to some of the well-respected North American schools, such as Stanford, Harvard, and Rotman, I began to look at the top-tier European Schools, such as IMD, INSEAD, and London Business School to ensure I found a school that would prepare me properly for the changing future. I quickly narrowed my choice down to INSEAD.
INSEAD (Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires) is on the outskirts of Fontainebleau, about 40 minutes south of Paris, and is regularly rated as one of the top one-year MBA programs globally. More importantly, INSEAD met my criteria:
1. Exposure to new people and ideas
One of INSEAD's distinguishing features is a focus on international diversity. When the INSEAD admissions committee is reviewing candidates, international experience is weighted very highly as part of the acceptance criteria. The school believes that the ability to work with other cultures is a key defining strength of the business leaders of the future. In fact, in order to even be considered for admittance, a potential student must speak a second language. Upon graduation, the same student must have a basic command of a third. Although the classes are taught in English, this is a "no-exceptions" policy. As a result of this, the demographics of the INSEAD applicants are quite different from the average MBA program and amongst my classmates there are 71 countries represented and well over 50 languages spoken.
2. Motivation to learn new languages
Even though I grew up in Ontario, my ability to speak French was nowhere near the level required by INSEAD to qualify as my entry language. This created the perfect opportunity to properly learn French and after a lot of hard work, I achieved the required fluency. This time I am getting more of a head start and, in order to meet the school's exit language requirement, I have already begun learning Spanish.
3. Price and opportunity cost
When considering a full-time MBA, I had to consider not only the sticker price of the program but also the lost income caused by taking a year or two out of the work force. When INSEAD was created 50 years ago, the founders took a traditional two-year program and crammed it all into an intense one-year format. A full-time MBA from most of the other schools to which I considered applying would be a two-year commitment. Tuition costs are approximately $50,000 (U.S.) a year ($100,000 all-in) at Harvard or Stanford, approximately $80,000 (Canadian) for the full program at LBS and approximately $67,000 for the full program at INSEAD.
I also seriously considered an Executive MBA in order to minimize the cost. Tuition for EMBA programs tends to be as expensive as a full-time MBA but the real expense is the time commitment and lifestyle sacrifice; an EMBA would have proven difficult to complete while working investment-banker hours.
The deciding factor was the advice offered to me by a mentor at BMO: "You can learn business fundamentals in a lot of places. The real value of an MBA is the network of people that you leave with, something you don't get in an EMBA."
Now that I am married, I needed a school in a place where my wife could be happy, too. I have come to accept the fact that my life as an undergrad is behind me and my priorities have changed significantly. INSEAD understands this and is a very family friendly and partner oriented school. The average age of my class at INSEAD is 29 and it seems that at least 50 per cent of my fellow students are married or in long-term relationships, and many of them have children.
5. Long-term strategy
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of INSEAD's second campus, located in Singapore. I believe that, like Canada, Asia is going to play a very large role in energy policy in both the near- and medium-term future. The opportunity to study in Asia and learn more about how to do business in the region will help me as the global economic and energy landscape begins to change.
6. Ultimate Value
Is an MBA actually worth it, especially in terms of the cost and time commitment? As I've said, I was very comfortable in my job; I was paid to travel around the world and advise companies on mergers and acquisitions, and financings. As the economy continues to pick up, my role would only have gotten better. In other words, what was my incentive for leaving?
Having regularly had transactions with executives of global companies, I have always been interested in the qualities and education of an "average" CEO. In today's world, with a few exceptions, an MBA or other business focused postgraduate degree seems like a pre-requisite. I feel that not having an MBA would hamper my career in the long run.
So: One week in - did I make the right choice? So far, INSEAD has lived up to my expectations. It has differentiated itself from other global and North American business schools through its policies, tuition costs and especially its focus on diversity and international students. Despite the fact that my focus was global, working for a Canadian bank meant that most of my day-to-day dealings were with Canadians. In my first week at INSEAD, I have met a unique group of people from all backgrounds and from all over the world. The common thread amongst us all is that we are eager to learn from each other and that we are not defined by whatever job, country or experiences we came from.
Although it's only the first week of classes, I can tell that INSEAD will be a challenge. I am curious to see if the school lives up to its promise: one year to challenge my thinking, change my outlook and choose my future.
Special to The Globe and Mail