Alliance that builds global ambitions

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A partnership formed in 2001 to establish academic ties between two prestigious business schools, Wharton and Insead, is to continue for another four years.

The renewed alliance between Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania in the US and Insead, with campuses in both Fontaine-bleau, France and Singapore, will have an increased emphasis on collaborative faculty research and alumni networking initiatives.

The coalition, reaffirmed by Frank Brown, dean of Insead (left), and Tom Robertson, dean of Wharton – both relatively new to their posts – involves an MBA student and faculty exchange, as well as joint executive education courses.

“At the time, the respective deans – Gabriel Hawawini at Insead and Patrick Harker at Wharton – were interested in expanding the global footprint of their schools in ways that did not necessarily involve bricks and mortar,” says John Kimberly, executive director of the alliance and professor of entrepreneurial studies at Wharton. “There was no template and we had to develop everything from scratch.”

Today the Wharton-Insead agreement is the “broadest, deepest alliance bet­ween any two business schools,” he says.

Taking a cue from the increasingly globalised corporate world, many US business schools have partnered institutions overseas, creating exchange programmes, opportunities for joint research and combined curriculums. These alliances are intended to boost the global status and reputation of the schools, as well as attract a new generation of MBA students eager for international work and educational experiences.

Perhaps the most successful component of the partnership is the exchange. Each year about 100 to 150 MBA students spend two months at one of Wharton’s two US campuses in Philadelphia and San Francisco, or at one of Insead’s campuses. Since the partnership began, more than 800 MBAs have participated in the exchange.

“The next generation of business leaders must be able to seamlessly operate across cultures,” says Mr Brown. “They must have the experience and sense to arrive in a new place and not expect it to be like home. It helps students be more adaptable; helps them understand what it is to be a global manager.”

Professor Robertson (right) says the exchange gives students the perfect “opportunity to study within a multinational framework”.

Another boon for students who participate in the exchange is access to the partner school’s career services.

Bjorn Gravsholt, a 32-year-old Dane who graduated from Wharton in 2005, spent his last semester at Insead. “The stay prepared me ideally for my return to Europe,” says Mr Gravsholt, who worked for Bain & Company as a consultant after Wharton and recently joined the group strategy team of Virgin Media in London. “Many Insead grads with job offers in the US chose an exchange at Wharton to strengthen their networks in New York City and San Francisco.”

Cynthia Schweer, a 2007 Insead graduate, says her “network basically doubled” by spending two months in Philadelphia and two months in Singapore. But Ms Schweer, who works in New York City for an international development charity, says the exchange also “gave me a holistic view of management education”.

Wharton and Insead plan to expand opportunities to connect the large alumni communities of both schools, says Prof Kimberly. (Wharton boasts 82,000 alumni in 148 countries and Insead has 37,000 alumni in 160 countries.)

The alliance has broadened research opportunities for faculty from both schools through the creation of the Center for Global Research and Education. Under the direction of Laurence Capron, associate professor of strategy at Insead, the centre supports large global research projects, with 10 active joint research teams. The alliance has also designed customised company-specific executive education programmes for multinational clients.

Mr Brown is intent on a more visible role for the centre in the future, specifically involving faculty collaboration. “People drive academic institutions,” he says. “The challenge for the future of the centre is to create more opportunities for the professors at both institutions to make connections among common research interests.”

One of the centre’s main initiatives is developing staff visits to share best practice. It also promotes faculty ex­change. Staff are able to teach at any of the four campuses without it counting as sabbatical or scholarly leave. Since 2001, more than 60 have visited or taught at the partner school.

“Your faculty in the classroom cannot be domestic,” says Prof Robertson. “They must be thinking about the 193 countries in the world, and know how to relate to students from all over the world.”

He admits there is a natural, unavoidable strain in the transatlantic alliance as the two schools are both working together and competing for the brightest students and the most illustrious faculty. The schools, for instance, are more likely to compete than co-
operate in non-degree executive development programmes.

“Within the corporate world, there are all sorts of interesting relationships where you have companies that are co-operating but then become competitors. In the academic world, the same is true,” says Prof Robertson.

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