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António Borges, a former dean of Insead and one of Portugal’s most internationally successful economists, has died at the age of 63. Among many tributes following his death in Lisbon on Sunday, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, Portugal’s president, described him as “one of the most brilliant economists of his generation”.
Borges was chosen to head Insead’s MBA programme in 1986 after receiving a PhD in economics from Stanford in 1980 and returning there as a visiting professor. He served as dean of Insead from 1995 to 2000 after sharing the post with Ludo Van der Heyden from 1993 to 1995.
As dean, Borges spearheaded Insead’s push to become a world business school by setting up a second campus in Singapore, which opened in 1999. The campus was designed to attract students from across Asia, in the way that the Fontainebleau campus, just outside Paris, was a meeting place for students from across Europe.
In 1988, when he became the first and only Portuguese figure to have been featured on the cover of Fortune, the US magazine described him as a “brisk extravert” who was boldly expanding the teaching staff at Insead and putting more emphasis on research.
“It’s simple. Professors produce research or are fired.” His comment to Fortune was characteristic of his forthright style, but it had results. He was responsible for recruiting more than 80 research-active teaching staff to Insead in his seven years as dean.
One such professor was economist Ilian Mihov, now interim dean at Insead. At the time he was a freshly-minted PhD graduate from Princeton, who had Ben Bernanke as his adviser. “In economics departments it is anathema to move to a business school and at that time it was unheard of to go to Europe,” says Prof Mihov. “He (Borges) was the one who persuaded me to come to Insead.”
Borge’s drive also meant that during his tenure he raised €118m in donations, unheard of at that time for a European business school. But his plain speaking sometimes caused waves in Portugal, where public figures tend to be more guarded in expressing their views. Mr Cavaco Silva praised him for his “unshakeable resolve”.
In Portugal, Borges taught at the economics faculty of Universidade Nova, now the Nova School of Business and Economics, where he was credited with helping to nurture a new generation of young economists, business leaders and politicians.
In finance, he was deputy governor of the Bank of Portugal from 1990 to 1993, where he played an important role in the liberalisation of Portugal’s financial system. In 2000, he became vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International and in 2008 was appointed chairman of the Hedge Funds Standards Board.
In mid-2010, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then head of the International Monetary Fund, appointed him the Fund’s European director. It was about this time that Borges was diagnosed with cancer. He resigned from his IMF post in November 2011.
Despite his illness, he accepted an invitation last year from Pedro Passos Coelho, Portugal’s prime minister, to oversee the privatisations and renegotiation of public-private partnerships that Lisbon is undertaking as part of a €78bn bailout programme agreed with the EU and IMF. The prime minister praised Borges this week for his “lucidity and determination”.
Having contributed to the founding of Portugal’s governing centre-right Social Democrat party (PSD), Borges acknowledged considering the possibility of embarking on a political career. But he appears to have ruled himself out of running for not having the “common touch” he deemed necessary.
For his political opponents on the Portuguese left, he was one of the faces of “neoliberalism” and an uncompromising believer in the power of free markets. For his supporters, his goal was to help make Portugal a flourishing modern economy.
In his tribute, Mr Cavaco Silva said: “His ambition was to see Portugal become more prosperous and developed and he never stopped fighting for that ideal.” He leaves a wife and four children, two of whom studied on the Insead MBA programme that Borges once led.
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