The Legacy of the MBA and the Importance of a Fit Mind.

Stefano Ceravolo

I am writing these lines sitting on a plane. I am flying back home for Christmas, and I look strange bringing a winter coat on top of my luggage in the humid, 30-degree Singaporean weather.

When the aircraft took off, I mentally reviewed the last 12 months.

What a year.

From the very beginning up until the end, it has been a rollercoaster of emotions, learning, and discovery that has profoundly and irreversibly changed myself and my vision of the world. It's been an incredible journey that has led me to explore two continents, more than 15 countries, and more than 30 cities; to meet almost 500 people from more than 70 nationalities, that are going to work in 98 different states

Some of these experiences have already been described on this blog, but it is truly impossible to narrate everything.

Nonetheless, I have been reflecting a lot lately on its legacy, and this is what I wanted to focus on in this post. After all, we all joined the MBA with a plan in mind, and with the intention to build something long term. I tried to classify this legacy in three main buckets: hard skills, networking, and soft skills. My personal weight of the three is 20%, 40%, and 40%.

Let me start with the hard skills.

I am genuinely curious of their application in my future career. The fact that I gave it 20% should not deceive the reader. At INSEAD there are no limits to your learning potential, especially with the electives.

Anyone at INSEAD can enrich their own personal lives depending on where they want to go. 

Personally, I loved taking courses from diverse areas to explore as much as possible, from technology to finance, strategy and social impact. 50% of the learning came from my classmates, and the best lectures were those where the professors were able to foster intense participation. Every topic we touched upon had at least one or two experts with deep, practical expertise of the industry and function. This had an incredible professional value, thanks to the possibility of leveraging on this “hive” of expertise in future challenges. By knowing who knew what in my class, and the exceptional bonds formed through these experiences, I was confident I could reach out to experts in every sector (I will explore this concept in the further paragraphs).

Second, networking.

Networking is a crucial legacy of the programme.

Some may argue it to be “the” legacy. During our graduation ceremony, our classmate Maureen was declared to be INSEAD's 60,000th graduate. The power of this network is incredible. Every industry, every geography, and every major organisation includes at least one INSEAD graduate.

INSEAD is the second MBA in terms of C-suite executives in S&P 500 companies; HBS is leading the rank, but it lags far behind if we remove American companies from the list. If we see things from the diversity perspective, INSEAD wins easily against any other programme in the world. This information can easily be found online.

What really surprised me is the response rate and collaborative spirit of the alumni community. Most of the alumni share their personal contacts with the network, and it's easy to reach out to them at their personal email or phone. Almost everyone replies, even the most senior members. I have personally experienced how useful it can be to discuss with alumni about jobs, career moves and even personal implications. Sharing such an intense experience like INSEAD immediately creates that click, that empathy with someone who has, some way or another, been in your shoes some time ago.

Last but definitely not least comes the growth in soft skills.

Before talking about the INSEAD legacy, I would like to make a small point about complexity. Volumes have been written about the rising complexity of the world we live in. New technologies, increased connection, artificial intelligence, are meant to change the shape of the world as we know it.

But significant challenges are in front of our generation: climate change, a new world order that is no longer Western-centric, rising nationalist and populist movements. In this context, the ability to deal with complexity is destined to become more important by the day.

The INSEAD experience gave me a better understanding of how big the world is.

It showed me how diverse people and cultures truly can be. It opened my eyes to how many industries, sectors and sub-sectors there are. It taught me to be humble. The ability to deal with people from the most disparate geographies, cultures, and industries is important now but will be soon priceless. Some people are born with this capability, others develop it throughout their professional and personal life. INSEAD has been a gigantic crash course, and I feel way more prepared than a year ago in working in an international environment.

However, this last point comes with a catch. I am sure it will be quite easy to maintain the legacy of hard skills and networking in the future, but it will require a greater effort to maintain the soft skills. At this point in time it's easy to formulate the proposition of keeping up the INSEAD spirit, but we all know it will be difficult. Soon, we will all return to our own worlds, probably dominated by a single culture, with high levels of stress, deadlines and peer pressures.

In a certain way, it reminds me of the resolutions we make on New Year’s Eve, when everybody formualtes healthy aspirations for the year to come. Well, I feel we are now in a similar position: as a class, on the brink of a metaphorical New Year’s Eve, with the ambition to maintain though a fit mind instead of a fit body.

I really hope all of us will be able to do that. It is going to be tough, but extremely rewarding in the long term. Because fit minds are happy, dedicated, and are going to save the world. We all have an entire year of experiences to prove us that.