Interview with Isabelle Finger – Director San Francisco hub

Can you share about your personal and professional background, and how you became Director of the San Francisco Hub? 

Isabelle Finger: When I first heard about the opportunity to build the INSEAD San Francisco Hub for Business Innovation, I couldn’t stop smiling and thinking about how life finds ways to connect dots. Before moving to California, I engaged in several intrapreneurship ventures, opening and leading new operations and teams for technology and retail companies in different regions of Europe, such as the Eastern part of Germany and Romania. One of those initiatives even included designing the space and the operations for a coffee shop.

Around the time when my children started school, I became more and more passionate about Education and opted for a career change to move from consulting and strategy into this field. As an INSEAD Alumna who changed industries, functions and geographies a few times, I feel very fortunate to enjoy a sense of freedom regarding my career choices. I’m also very much aware of the need for me and for everyone to invest in lifelong learning to feed and sustain this kind of freedom. By providing top-quality executive education programs, facilitating interactions among our diverse global community members and supporting research, the INSEAD San Francisco Hub illustrates the school’s commitment to lifelong learning.

The facility will exist to provide degree students, program participants, and alumni with the tools and the opportunities to thrive and have a positive impact on business and society.

What are INSEAD’s goals of the San Francisco hub? What does success look like?

IF: INSEAD has been a pioneer in international business education. It was the first Western business school to adopt a multi-campus model with the establishment of two full-fledged campuses in Asia and the Middle East, creating a truly global community of Alumni and faculty. INSEAD’s Europe, Asia and Middle East facilities are very highly regarded and well entrenched in their local regions, driven by a desire to learn from but also to create a positive impact in their surrounding environment.

The same desire drives INSEAD’s push into North America, where the school is well respected among its peers, but less known in the local market. Offering a physical presence in North America is a key element to build brand awareness and brand recognition in this market.

At the same time, INSEAD has become a well-regarded thought-leader in Digital Transformation. Being closer to Silicon Valley, innovation, and technology will both boost research and enrich the learning experiences for our students and program participants.

And last but not least, INSEAD as a school has always been about people. Diverse, engaged, curious people. The INSEAD San Francisco Hub is a platform for the Alumni in the Americas to meet, discuss, exchange, create, and innovate. We want this place to be as vibrant as a bee house!

When is the hub planned to open? How will it function, and what type of activity can we expect?

IF: The INSEAD San Francisco hub will be inaugurated in February 2020. From the very beginning, we’ll have diverse activities running at the Hub. Open Enrollment Programs will offer individuals the opportunity to develop their skills in Leadership, Innovation, Strategy, and Technology. The Hub will also host Company Specific Programmes here our Faculty members will design specific curricula to support senior leaders to tackle the challenges of their industries. For Alumni, we will organize several Lifelong Learning experiences as well as networking activities. We will sometimes partner with selected local organizations to develop this program.

The San Francisco Hub will also be a place where people can meet and work. Alumni will be able to book a room for a specific period of time for meetings or to work for a few hours. As we speak, we are still defining the detailed process and we will inform the community shortly about the specifics.

What’s in it for Canadian entrepreneurs?

IF: The INSEAD San Francisco Hub is a platform for all Alumni in the Americas, and in the World! We would be delighted to welcome groups of Alumni visiting Silicon Valley and let them leverage the partnerships we are building on the ground. If Alumni from different regions have a specific idea about a program or if they want to brainstorm, we are always open to see how we can create an inspiring experience.

Will the San Francisco hub be a first step of a longer project in the USA?

IF: Building a physical presence in San Francisco represents a strong and long-term commitment of INSEAD toward the development of our activities, of our community and of our thought-leadership in North America. Beyond the Hub itself, INSEAD has already deployed team members in North America. Mary Carey, based in New York, and Julien Yarker, based in Sunnyvale, CA, are in charge of Business Development for our executive education programs in the Americas. Maria Reis drive our MBA recruitment efforts in North America. On the faculty side, Stewart Black and Renée Mauborgne are regularly leading executive programs for our top partners. As our brand becomes more and more recognized and as the number of programs and students increases, INSEAD will continue to invest in local teams.

Beyond the present commitment of the school to become stronger in North America, the San Francisco Hub represents an experiment to develop and innovate around the concept of a school satellite. Our goal is to learn how to leverage a local ecosystem to have an impact on our community, globally. The future will tell us if and when we will be able to define a replicable model in other parts of the world.

What most excites you about the hub? And what do you believe will be the main challenge?

IF: From the very beginning of the project, I’ve observed and experienced an incredible enthusiasm around this project.  The local Alumni were key in the school’s decision to create a new facility in San Francisco. This kind of interest is echoed among the global community as well. I participated in the Europe Alumni Forum in June in Geneva and had promising discussions with different National Alumni Associations (NAAs) about potential projects and initiatives that could run at the INSEAD San Francisco Hub.

Beyond our Alumni, the local ecosystem is also very welcoming and keen to engage with INSEAD. We are already in discussions with several well-established organizations regarding potential partnerships.

The main challenge right now is to make sure we harvest the opportunities and transform them into concrete initiatives that will serve the alumni, students, program participants and INSEAD’s own research. For that, we count on the Alumni Community and everyone should feel free to contact me with any ideas or feedback about the INSEAD San Francisco Hub (isabelle.finger@insead.edu).