Henri-Claude de Bettignies & Arnoud De Meyer speak about their hopes for INSEAD in Asia
Source: Courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge , Author: Stuart Pallister
Posted: Tue December 7, 2010 1:38 am

INTERNATIONAL. INSEAD is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Asia campus in Singapore. At the recent Leadership Summit in Asia, the school paid tribute to the pioneers and visionaries who had championed the project.

After the session, Arnoud De Meyer, the founding dean of the Asia campus, and Henri-Claude de Bettignies, founder of the Euro-Asia Centre, spoke to INSEAD Knowledge editor Stuart Pallister about the development of the Asia campus and their hopes for INSEAD in Asia.

Knowledge : To talk about the 10th anniversary of the Asia campus in Singapore, we're joined by Henri-Claude de Bettignies and by Arnoud De Meyer. You were the founding dean of the Asiacampus, Arnoud, and Henri-Claude de Bettignies, you were the founder of the Euro-Asia Centre. Now it was the Euro-Asia Centre that was the precursor to the Asia campus. Can you tell us about the genesis of that?

de Bettignies : The genesis is that when I joined INSEAD, I realised that in Europe, there was a shortage of knowledge about Japan and about Asia. And as a leading business, we were building up this leadership, I realised that it was our responsibility to make sure that what we did, should reflect the world as it is.

And therefore, because I anticipated the development of Japan and Asia-Pacific and China eventually, I thought it was very important to try to build up progressively some excellence and competencethat we could share with those who come to study at INSEAD.

It took some years. It was hard work to convince the decisionmakingprocess within INSEAD but, eventually, thanks to Claude Janssen, who is now Honorary Chairman, thanks to Claude Rameau also, who gave much support to this, we were given the possibility to create this centre.

And progressively a team was built, which included Professor Philippe Lasserre and Professor Schütte and a third professor, and progressively through activities, we increased the volume.

And at that time, Professor De Meyer became very interested in what we were doing in Asia, and contributed very significantly to the enhancement of our activities. At that time, 1980 to 1988, we organised programmes in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region. At that time ASEAN was not as big as it is today, and in Indonesia, in Malaysia and obviously in Singapore.

Knowledge : But that was primarily executive education at that stage - in hotels?

de Bettignies : That's right. At that time we were doing all those programmes either with other institutions, but in most of the cases we were doing them in a hotel in the region.

And therefore when the volume increased, we realised that something needed to be done. And it was at that time that Arnoud, who had already spent a fair time in commuting between Europe and Asia, took the leadership to try with Gabriel Hawawini, who was my successor in the Euro-Asia Centre, to develop this feasibility study in the mid-‘90s and eventually to be the origin of this campus in Singapore, which he came to build and which he came to run.

Knowledge: But at what stage though did it become the notion of fully-fledged campus, with faculty (based) at the campus?

de Bettignies: When we realised that the development of the activities of the Euro-Asia Centre were so sizeable, obliging us to commute between Europe and Asia. And we also had more visibility, we had developed some case material and some teaching materials, we realised that we had to try to embody this and to make it easier for the faculty to have an institution locally. Now what kind of institution -- should it be a full campus and what would be the positioning as compared to Fontainebleau?

That was a very critical discussion and decision-making process. But at that time, Arnoud was in charge and he was the one to influence the faculty, manage the implementation of the feasibility study and then come here to try to erect the building and to achieve what we see today.

Knowledge : Arnoud, as the founding Dean of the Asia campus, how did you manage to convince the faculty, because presumably there was a great deal of resistance within the faculty for this particular project?

De Meyer : That was correct. But let me just go back for a second to where the idea originated. Henri-Claude had been great in actually getting me interested in Asia and offering me opportunities to understand what was going on in Asia, by first of all in the ‘80s giving me the opportunity to teach in the programmes, but also bringing me into contact with companies here, providing me opportunities for doing some applied research, etc.

And so I got very interested in what's going on in Asia and then it probably became natural that at some moment in time -- in 1985 -- I was asked to become the Director of the Euro-Asia Centre. And at that moment, the Euro-Asia Centre was doing very well, in terms of selling programmes and actually getting attention for its publications and its work throughout the world.

So this was the time that Asia-Pacific started becoming very popular, South-east Asia was doing very well. And we had programmes like Strategies for Asia Pacific, Human Resource Management in Asia, which were really unique programmes. Very few, if any other universities were offering this type of high-class research-based programme.

So there was a strong interest in it, up to the point that INSEAD said but ‘this has become so big, what do we with this?’ And that's where I was asked by the board to do a feasibility study of what was possible. We looked at, in the beginning, 11 cities. We looked at different formats as Henri-Claude was referring to -- joint ventures, partnerships with universities and a subsidiary, an independent campus. We looked at many different opportunities.

And then we found in the Singapore government, a good sparring partner. And I would say that the success of the project was actually that we both had our strategies, which were nicely aligned, but we were independent from each other. We did not come here because the Singapore government paid us a lot of money. The Singapore government did not work with INSEAD because we were the only one. It was simply that we found each other as real partners.

Now once we were there and we knew what we wanted to do, we had found a partner in the Singapore government, it was, as you say, important to convince the faculty. And for obvious reasons, it was a very big and risky project for INSEAD. First of all, no other university in the world -- of any significance -- had ever done a project like this, so there was no role model.

On top of that, while quite a few people, thanks to the work of the Euro-Asia Centre and Henri-Claude had gotten to know Asia, there was still a huge group of INSEAD faculty who had never been here, who had no clue what Asia was all about and for whom, Asia was perhaps associated with Communist China. And I go back to the mid-‘90s, with dictatorial regimes in Myanmar (Burma), riots in Indonesia, etc., so the idea of Asia was not necessarily that attractive.

And then thanks to support (from) Antonio Borges, who was Dean, we did something that probably was very instrumental in convincing the faculty. We took two groups of faculty to do a tour of the potential sites, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and here, and we actually exposed them to universities, business people, governments, etc. And this group of 20 people in total went back with the conviction that this was feasible, this was doable.

de Bettignies : It changed the mindset of the faculty. That was very instrumental.

De Meyer : And so at that moment there was a gradual support from the faculty. You can be sitting out here as a project manager and you can have people like Henri-Claude and Helmut Schütte, who are supportive, and saying ‘we're willing to help there,’ but what was really also important was to bring a number of other people who were not convinced, who were not seen to be convinced, (by) the campus here.

And I guess I was lucky that after lots of talking and lots of armtwisting and inducements and whatever, that we could convince six faculty members to take the plunge and come here in August 1999. Most of them (came) with trepidation, many of them with the idea like ‘we do this for two years and then we go back to Fontainebleau.’ I see that all of them are still here now after 10 years, so we must have done something right.

But it was really convincing by demonstration, convincing by showing people, convincing one by one by bringing people here.

Now once the campus was going, it proved itself.

de Bettignies : And it became very attractive. And now as you know very well, it's easy to have faculty coming and in fact we have now nearly about 50 professors full-time here. So this demonstrates that the difficulties and the challenge that Arnoud had initially, have in fact somewhat disappeared because it's become very attractive to come to Singapore.

Knowledge : (Arnoud), we met something like ten years ago. I was working at CNBC. You spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Association about setting up INSEAD in Singapore. Ten years on, do you think it's been an unqualified success?

De Meyer : I'm an academic so there will always be on the one hand and on the other hand. But I would say it's 99% an unqualified success. The fact that the faculty is willing to stay here and do research here, the fact that students vote with their feet and want to study on the Singapore campus …

de Bettignies : 400 of them …

De Meyer : The fact that meaningful research on Asia is coming out of the Singapore campus of INSEAD, the fact that we have a very successful series of executive programmes. And I would say the icing on the cake, or whatever, is the fact that we now have a PhD programme here, which was beyond the dreams we had in the beginning. All the other things were perhaps part of the business plan. The PhD programme seemed so far out for us that we had not put that in the original business plan.

The fact that all of that has come together and that the Asia campus of INSEAD has really become a force, makes it for me an unqualified success.

Knowledge : So what would you say is your hope for INSEAD in Asia?

de Bettignies : I think there are three dimensions, which we should try to enhance over the next 10 years. The first one is to deepen, strengthen and enlarge expertise, knowledge, accumulated experience in Asia, so that we become really one of the centres, or the centre, which has the best knowledge and where academics, government officials come to learn from us, particularly (about) China.

The second dimension is it seems to me, we had today through the presentation by the forthcoming Dean (Dipak Jain), this reflection about the criticism made to business schools, which over the last five and seven, eight years have been the object of a number of criticisms, some very justified, some less justified ... And I think that invites us to think about the kind of men and women that we contribute to produce. And that should invite us to re-think the role of the business school and to say that maybe the dominant paradigm that we have been teaching, needs to be challenged and we need maybe to replace it with the paradigms which integrate much more the sustainability dimensions, the multi-stakeholder, the willingness to become a more corporate citizen for the corporation and so forth.

So in a way to re-think the core of our education and the key message that we transfer and the skill that we develop.

And the third, I will hope that over the next 10 years, we don't lose this European dimension, because I think that's very much part of the history of INSEAD and to let it disappear to become global, but losing its roots from Europe, I think that would be detrimental to the long term of the institution. I think the Europeans and the Anglo-Saxons and the Asians have a cultural identity, which needs to be protected and preserved. And it is a fertilisation of this cultural identity, which can contribute to create these men and women that I'm referring to.

De Meyer : I can only agree with what Henri-Claude said and reinforce the point about keeping the European roots so that INSEAD can be a bridge between East and West. I fully agree with that because INSEAD actually has very unique assets that very few other ones
have and actually it should, can keep that differentiation.

The other thing that I hope is that it will remain a source of innovation for the business school world as it has been over the last 50 years. I wish it for the next 50 years, the dynamism and the energy to remain the innovator. And thirdly, I can only think that INSEAD in 10 years from now will be at least twice the size here in Singapore of what it is today.

This article is transcribed by Docapoint.com and republished courtesy of INSEAD Knowledge (http://knowledge.insead.edu)

Copyright INSEAD 2010.

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