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France: Training Europe’s Executives

3 minute read

Fontainebleau is a town 35 miles south of Paris, famous for its cheese, its forest, its historic chateau, and a 400-year-old monastery. Lately it has also become important to international business as the site of what is probably Europe’s best business school, the Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires. INSEAD, as it is known, has built a reputation as a sort of Harvard Business School of Europe by carefully winnowing applicants and training them so rigorously that they are eagerly courted by the headhunters of big international companies. This week INSEAD’s distinguished director general, Olivier Giscard d’Estaing, 37, younger brother of France’s finance minister, arrives in the U.S. to win increased support for the school from American businessmen.

Hand Screening. Started in 1959 by French-born Harvard Professor Georges Doriot, who noticed and decided to correct the lack of top-quality management training in Europe, INSEAD today has 120 students from 25 countries. Most of them are Europeans, but seven are from the U.S., and others come from Brazil, India, Japan and South Viet Nam. Students or their sponsoring firms pay $1,800 tuition and board for the one-year course; students can also draw scholarship loans, since INSEAD is financed in large part by donations from international corporations. Though the permanent faculty is small, guest lecturers come from all over Europe to help instruct the students. To consolidate facilities, now scattered over Fontainebleau, the school this year will start a $1.6 million central building for classrooms and administration.

Once they have passed the close screening that rejects more than half of the candidates (who are required to speak two languages and read a third), the students work for one year on a September-June, 51-day-a-week schedule. Their curriculum is built, like that of Harvard Business, around hundreds of case studies: how to launch a new product in a foreign market, how to reorganize an international combine, how to raise capital most advantageously. INSEAD lifts its students out of long-fixed European business habits by stressing practical problems, discouraging narrow specialization and insisting that they take a global view of every business opportunity.

Quick to Rise. Last year 50 firms interviewed students at INSEAD, and at least that many are expected this year, including such companies as IBM, Shell, Nestle, Air France, Du Pont, Phillips and Texas Instruments. Of INSEAD’s 400 graduates, 60% have achieved managerial positions within two years. Some 80% of the graduates land in international companies. INSEAD’s Giscard believes that “in less than ten years 600 or 700 of the largest international companies will achieve more than two-thirds of all world production.” When that time arrives, INSEAD hopes, the men on the top will include many of its graduates.

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