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Variety is the spice of life, they say. This could well be the motto when Insead, the international business school, chooses a new dean.

This summer athletic American accountant Frank Brown took over the reins from Gabriel Hawawini (amiable French academic) who in 2000 succeeded Antonio Borges (pugnacious Portuguese banker). The biggest difference, though, is that Mr Brown is a businessman, not a professor.

Not only does he not have the doctoral degree beloved of the academic world, he does not have an MBA either. Indeed, with only one language, English, to his credit – he is currently learning French – he would not get a place on his own MBA programme.

What he does have is 26 years working in the commercial sector, most latterly as head of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ $3.5bn Advisory Services operating unit. He believes he can use his corporate expertise to improve the organisation and the process within the school – “connecting the dots”, as he puts it. This would be pertinent to Insead, which, because it operates in France and Singapore and in two time zones, is far more complex to run than the average business school.

Moreover he has a real “full steam ahead” attitude and a strong view of what he wants Insead to be. “I’m really smitten with the place itself, the enthusiasm, the entrepreneurial spirit. You get the impression there is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it.

“What do I want this place to be known for? The one that screams to me is leadership.”

Mr Brown’s approach to the subject of leadership may have a different focus to the esoteric academic theories; for him, leadership is placed fairly and squarely in a practical corporate setting.

“To me it [leadership] means developing other people, leading by example . . . [It’s about] how you share authority, accept responsibility. One of the biggest misnomers in leadership is that it is given. It isn’t, it’s earned.”

Mr Brown believes there is a real job to be done in promoting two different brands: the MBA degree itself and the Insead brand. “If you look at the MBA, what does it qualify you for? What happened over the past decade is that it has become less of a requirement. What we have to demonstrate is that it develops the next generation of leaders.”

As to promoting Insead, one of Mr Brown’s great strengths is that he will be able to promote the school in the US, where he believes the qualities of this internationally focused school are largely unknown. American corporates do not know of Insead’s diversity, he says, nor that 900 MBAs graduate a year, the same number as the US’s two big hitters – Harvard Business School and the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Promotion, he says, will not be through a $50m advertising campaign but through word of mouth. “We have to talk to people, the right people. It’s hard work. But we’ve not had a person with broad business experience trying to do that. It happens to be something I enjoy doing. I don’t know a better way; we’ve just to focus on doing more of the same.”

It is not just the MBA degree that Mr Brown wants to promote. Companies planning to enter the Chinese market should see Insead’s deep expertise in Asian economies as a continuing resource, for example. Promoting the executive education programmes at Insead is particularly significant as these short non-degree programmes account for up to 45 per cent of the business school’s revenues.

Mr Brown is open about academic concerns over his appointment. “There was certainly some apprehension among the faculty,” he says. The two things they worried about most were whether he was the “sort of American who took no prisoners” and whether he knew anything about Insead.

On the latter count he was well-prepared. Although Mr Brown had never been a student at Insead – he studied on an advanced management programme at Wharton – he joined the Insead US advisory council in 2000 and became a member of the main Insead board in 2005. “From mid-September [2005] I spent a lot of time here [at Insead]. By the time I said yes to the job I felt I really had a handle on things.”

Mr Brown, 50, has already re-organised the top management team at Insead. Now he is embarking on fund-raising. He acknowledges that this is a different proposition in Europe from the US. “We have a lot of alumni in Europe who have been very generous, but the difference between Europe and the US is that it [giving] is not habitual in Europe.”

At the moment, Insead has just €70m (£47m) endowment principal in the bank, which gives an annual income of under €3m. Mr Brown believes the way to raise money is to “appeal to the heart strings”. One plan he has is to introduce scholarships for people of colour, for example, in Africa.

The big question for any Insead dean is whether he plans to build on the dual-campus model and develop further campuses around the world – Prof Hawawini, Mr Brown’s predecessor, had hoped to open a US campus.

Mr Brown is pragmatic. “You build another campus when you fill up the two campuses you already have.”

As to the US, for the moment he is content to establish an office there for alumni relations. Only time will tell if he is the man to build an Insead campus on US soil.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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