Fernando Samaha

What and when did you study at INSEAD?

I spent my entire MBA (07’J) in glorious Fontainebleau, together with my wife and 1.5-year-old son (who is now in first-year uni).

What has been your involvement with the National Alumni Association? Why did you get involved?

On my return to Australia following my graduation, I joined some of the events as a participant. As I’m pretty sure I was the only one of my promotion in Australia for a long time, I was keen to maintain that connection to INSEAD, the spirit, the discussion and debates, and the camaraderie.  After some years, I felt that I wanted to do more and develop deeper connections with the INSEAD community. I then started supporting Jonathan Reeve (the rock of the Melbourne NAA for a long time) informally organising events for the association.  In 2018, I nominated to join the NAA Board, formalising my role as the Vic / Tas Liaison for the NAA.  A year or so later, I was successfully elected to the position of Treasurer, a position I have held since 2019, having been re-elected to a second term, commencing in 2022.

What are your aims for the Alumni Association?

My aims for the association are two-fold.  Firstly, to develop a strong ‘local’ INSEAD community that captures the hearts and minds of our alumni, in a similar manner to that experienced during our MBA years.  Despite a relatively large (1,600+ and counting!) community of alumni, we’re spread over a vast geography, on the Australian mainland and across the ditch in NZ.  Together with a diverse alumni base (including graduates from the MBA and Executive Education programs) this creates its own challenges of having both critical mass in the main cities, while also needing to create a compelling proposition for our alumni community.  Secondly, I would love for the NAA to make its mark by establishing some signature initiatives, for example, these could be annual or biennial events to bring together our Alumni community, or perhaps even some form of scholarship support to encourage and support greater participation in the INSEAD experience from our region.

How did INSEAD transform your life?

I find answering this question extremely difficult, especially to someone who hasn’t had the INSEAD MBA experience. Australia is a multicultural country – and having grown up here, the exposure to people from other cultures was not new.  However, at INSEAD it was taken to another level: working, socialising, and living with people from other cultures, with different perspectives and points of view on topics, meaningfully shared and respectfully debated. Personally, I would not have been able to undertake my MBA at INSEAD without the support of my wife, who joined me for the full year in Fontainebleau with our 1.5-year-old son (we since have three!).  I talk about our INSEAD experience – the challenges of living in a new country where you didn’t speak the language, with the added responsibility of a family, the absence of a support network – and yet the friends we made, the places we explored, the experience we had was more than worth it.  For both Sandra and I, INSEAD (and France / Fontainebleau) is an inalienable part of us now.

How did you end up in this part of the world?

My parents migrated to Australia from Lebanon in the early 1970s.  While I was born in Sydney, I didn’t speak a word of English until I entered primary school.  Having completed my schooling and tertiary studies in Sydney, I moved to Melbourne in 1999, which has since been home.  Given the diversity of the INSEAD community, more often than not, I often seem to be one of the few ‘Australians’ at NAA events.

Have you got any hidden talents?

If you ask people who know me, they’d say I’m a green thumb.  I have a ‘productive’ garden at home, with a range of fruit trees, vines, a veggie patch, and a herb garden.  I love sharing this produce with family, friends and our neighbours.