Last Tango in Singapore

Tommy Mehl

I’ve always felt that the vibe at INSEAD is like a rapidly growing, brilliant startup. That it’s one year, that it’s unattached to a larger university, that there are three campuses and expanding into America, that the operations feel very lean. Innovation is in our core, and it’s no small coincidence that the founder of our school is also the founder of venture capitalism. The energy is frenetic, everyone is flush with optimism, and seemingly every day is a scramble.

INSEAD is such a bustle, that the idea of planning your trips and life more than a week in advance can feel so inconceivable. Every day breeds new opportunities and shenanigans. Every week breeds new life experiences and friendships. And every period break breeds an exotic vacation of a lifetime.

It’s business as usual, where the extraordinary normalises into the ordinary.

Our 18D class has made it to the finish line, and we are less than 10 days from graduation. Come December 21st, our talented cohort will springboard into every corner of Earth. I always find it fun to think, where exactly does everybody go? Sure, there are strong alumni bases in Singapore, London, Dubai, and many other cities, but INSEAD hardly feels dominant anywhere.

INSEAD seems to just pop its head up in some random city, where you can be at a Mexican conglomerate, or investing in Kenya, or stopping over in Seoul and looking to grab a drink, and by the way, she’s an INSEADer.

In that regard, I feel like INSEAD holds a swagger that I haven’t seen with any other programme. That following our year-long magic carpet ride around the world, we don’t just have an MBA degree from a leading school, but a tribal brand of internationalism and cool that I hope stays with us for life.

I was out with my cohort at Kilo Lounge last night in Singapore, and naturally someone cheered to the final merry days together at INSEAD. But I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s more likely that this is still just the beginning. That my cohort will continue to inspire me in the most random of places, working on the most ambitious of projects, that we’re going to be partying for years, that there’s still boundless time to learn and feel and experience in INSEAD fashion, everywhere.

It’s sobering to accept that most of us will settle into routine and in one place (save for the consultants), that the grind starts again. That’s obviously not a bad thing, as the whirlwind of INSEAD is indeed taxing. The challenge then becomes how to carry that INSEAD magic into our careers, that famous je ne sais quoi that is exuberated in our classrooms. Our school hammers down the ethos it wants us to embody strongly and consistently, to use business as a force for good, to connect people and to transcend politics and to embrace diversity without fetishising it.

But when I go back to New York, no one’s going to know what INSEAD means. There are more famous and more lucrative business schools stateside, with no shortage of talent and big ideas. And their alumni will be just as starry-eyed about their programmes as I am. But having visited (and been rejected from) some of these American MBA programmes, I couldn’t be more certain that I learned more from INSEAD than I could have anywhere stateside.

The amount of traveling, the different cultures, nationalities, stories, it all simply opens up worlds and riches that I wouldn’t have had access to nearly as elegantly in the States. Which is why it’s so important to reflect on it, because otherwise we get lost in the daily shuffle without even realising how utterly epic our year is.

And it started from the very first days of Welcome Week, a tragically lost tradition that I am confident future classes will figure out how to replicate and hopefully improve. When we were pranked into being taught what INSEAD is not about, that it is not a place of exclusivity, of unequal opportunity and sycophants, that we are teammates and not competitors, it made the air in our hallways that much lighter. And again, I just don’t know if that accessibility exists in the American MBA programmes.

From my experience doing a transfer period at Wharton, the vibe on campus wasn’t nearly as familial, and the classrooms were definitely more uptight.

INSEAD also feels like a startup because it still very much has its work cut out for it. Our brand equity in the States is minimal, and there needs to be stronger recruiting opportunities outside of consulting. Additionally, it’s a travesty that INSEAD does not have further influence with the Singaporean government to allow easy access to Singaporean student visas for our African students.

But these are surmountable challenges that will solve more easily as long as we distill the INSEAD spirit into our careers, in order to carry the INSEAD badge beyond the boardroom, into a distinguishable brand accessible to all faculties of business and community.

If our INSEAD experience is still just in the beginning stages, if INSEAD will last a lifetime for all of us, then we need to live in the spirit of our programme, to be on the cutting edge, to be mobile, to innovate, to radically include, to discourse, to be cultured, to be cool, to be global, to use business as a force for good. Our time on campus is coming to a close, but I can’t wait to reunite with my cohort in the future, in routinely exotic locales, to dip into the well of knowledge and inspiration that INSEAD has provided me thus far, to use INSEAD to make a maximal impact in all of my future endeavours.