Francisco Veloso has had a long day, and it’s not over yet.
The new dean of INSEAD is sitting in a conference room on the second floor of the school’s San Francisco Hub during a brief respite from his demanding schedule. It’s the second week of November and he has just arrived from Paris for INSEAD’s Americas Conference — Sustainable Resilience: Catalyzing Innovations, a three-day event that welcomed hundreds of the school’s alumni and faculty to the Hub to mingle, network, and hear a series of speakers discuss new business ideas and organizational models for how companies can integrate environmental, social, and financial factors into their decision-making. Subjects that have long been among Veloso’s professional interests.
“That intersection — sustainability and innovation — is something that speaks a lot to me as an academic in innovation, because I think that if we look historically at the great challenges that humanity has faced, they’ve always been addressed and overcome through innovation,” says Veloso, the author of dozens of highly regarded articles on innovation, tech, and entrepreneurship. “And so the idea of hosting the conference here — one of the global pulses of innovation in entrepreneurship which is Silicon Valley — seems to be a really great interface between all these things that we’re talking about.”
‘EVERYBODY’S CURIOUS’ TO GET TO KNOW THE NEW DEAN
It was a long journey for the new dean, whose term started September 1. He left Paris the day before the conference at 6:30 a.m. local time, and arrived in San Francisco halfway around the world at 10:30 p.m. The next day, Thursday, was a “pre-conference” which ended with an alumni mixer in the evening, where Veloso had a chance to meet for the first time many of INSEAD’s prominent graduates.
Early the next day, Friday — Veloso’s 71st day on the job — the new dean formally opened the conference, then spoke at the Gala Awards ceremony that evening.
“I was very excited to be here,” he tells Poets&Quants during a brief break in his schedule Friday. “On top of getting to know the community, engaging, et cetera — the topic, the motivation, the intersection, the place, all make a lot of sense and made me very excited about being here and part of the initiative.
“A good reason why it’s been so hectic is because we have had a lot of interesting engagements, conversations, discussions, learning about the vibrancy of the community here, all these things are happening. And of course the conference itself. In general, these conferences, these focal points, are always a wonderful opportunity to get the community together. And when you overlap that with the fact that there’s a new dean, everybody’s curious to get to know me, in this case. But also the reverse: I’m also very curious. When you arrive as a new person to a community, of course, you can do a lot by reading documents, but the cultural part of the institutions you cannot get unless by talking to people.”
THE INDUCTION PERIOD
There is much to discuss. INSEAD is about to make a major change in the way it teaches business, launching a fully overhauled curriculum n January that embeds sustainability principles into all 14 of its core courses. It’s a groundbreaking undertaking that earned the school P&Q‘s MBA Program of the Year honors for 2023.
Though INSEAD committed to the makeover a year ago under Dean Ilian Mihov, there is perhaps no better person to have at the helm than Veloso, who comes to the school from the deanship of Imperial College Business School in London, which he helped establish as a top global business school, and before that, Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics in his native Portugal. Equally comfortable in the classroom and on the research side, Veloso has spent thousands of hours teaching while authoring several dozen publications in leading academic journals that garnered international plaudits. His most recent teaching experience, in July, was an elective MBA class at Imperial on strategy, leadership, and digital transformation; his most recent research had him studying Silicon Valley and the development of the semiconductor industry.
At his new school, Veloso has spent the first months of his deanship learning the ropes — an “induction period,” he says, that has involved “taking stock and reflecting precisely on what will be future priorities.” It was always the plan, he says, that through the end of 2023 he would “learn about the people, learn about the state of development of the school, understand opportunities, understand constraints, and then come up with a set of prioritizations on the back of that.”
‘A SCHOOL THAT IS & WANTS TO BE AT THE FRONTIER OF LEARNING’
Then, in January, it’s off to the races — a new term, a new curriculum, and a new mission with a new dean. Exciting times at INSEAD.
“INSEAD is in a wonderful development trajectory,” Veloso says. “It’s not at all in this situation that you arrive and say, ‘Oh, I need to make an assessment to understand because we need to change course, otherwise something bad is going to come.’ That’s not it at all. One comes with a term and needs to understand much more about the prioritization process, on one hand, and that is because of two things: the organization has its own dynamics, but the world also has dynamics around it.”
He points to AI — not a new development, but one that has captured the public imagination and has major implications for the future of graduate business education — and higher education in general. And INSEAD in particular.
“As a school that is and wants to be at the frontier of learning and the frontier of education, we need to take the use of these tools across a variety of sectors, including education, very seriously,” Veloso says. “And I take it in the most positive of ways. I mean, of course when these tools first appeared, people were thinking about, ‘But what about cheating?’ And yes, of course we have to deal with those things. But it’s much more about what it enables, what it allows, how it changes the way that we engage with students, how we think about developing their skills and capabilities that I find the most interesting.
“And then the other part that connects even to the theme of the conference is the fact that we’ve just made a very significant change into the curriculum of the MBA around our commitment to sustainability. And this is taking place now, right? It’s the first year, and so therefore it’s going to be quite important that we then take feedback from the students: ‘How is it going? How does it make a difference? What are the things that you really felt that were really valuable and you want to perhaps expand? What are the things that you perhaps thought were not as meaningful?'”
A DEMANDING SCHEDULE
On Saturday, the last day of the Americas Conference, Veloso takes part in a fireside chat with Vic Woo, director of INSEAD’s San Francisco Hub. Then he heads straight to the airport and boards a plane back to France.
But he won’t be staying long at INSEAD’s Fontainebleau campus. Over the following week he travels around Europe, and the week after that visits the school’s Abu Dhabi campus. Requirements of the job: travel, meet people, hear ideas, and learn.
“These opportunities are very important,” Veloso says. “I feel it’s very important to maximize these opportunities precisely because that’s how I get to understand better the culture, concerns, the opportunities, the drivers, and get ideas, get support, get challenges, all of those. They’re very important in general for a dean, but particularly, I guess, for somebody that just started a few weeks ago.
“It’s very tiring of course. Yesterday at dinner somebody was saying, ‘Oh, 71 days and counting.’ I didn’t count. I just came to have dinner!”
See the next page for a Q&A with INSEAD Dean Francisco Veloso, edited for length and clarity.
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