Alumni Profiles: Charles MacKinnon (MBA’85J)

The journey from Fontainebleau

I hated my first job, and doing an MBA seemed to be a fun way of restarting my career, but I truly had no idea as to how wide ranging and far reaching that re-start would be, nor how durable the impact would be over time.

After leaving INSEAD I, fairly conventionally, went to work for Goldman Sachs in London. What was unusual was that I was able to last there for 15 years, and did not become a partner, which in truth was a blessing. The blessing was that I retained a life, and a family, and having not become a gad zillionaire, a sense of reality. This reality control eventually took over, and in spring of 2000 I left Goldman and enrolled as a student of Garden Design in London. It was tough being an old student, but wonderful to be able to watch the Tech bubble burst from the side-lines. I also became a fellow of my college at Oxford.

The next bit is where INSEAD and the MBA come to the fore. Following my course, I became a part owner of a garden design and landscaping company. Suddenly I had to do the books, understand HR, plan projects, and have a creative vision. The real world was very different to the text books we had used, and also different from Goldman. People don’t do what they say they will do. People don’t pay on time. People don’t show up. People don’t care about my “Vision”.  It didn’t work out; I wasn’t a very good designer, and my business partner wasn’t very good at business, so I left, and was back on the street (significantly poorer) looking for work.

Luckily, work came looking for me, and with my next door neighbour we set up an investment management company called Thurleigh. Everything we did was textbook INSEAD. Process, vision, targets, KPI and so forth. The Key was that we wanted to do it right, again a message from endless cases on successful companies. Luckily it worked out, and as we both approached and passed our 60th birthdays, we sold the company.

Its now, my current reality, that the true value of INSEAD comes out. I’m an employee of the company that bought the company that bought my company, and am a living witness to the truth that growth by acquisition is a difficult strategy. Value is destroyed in a time honoured manner; nobody takes responsibility for their actions, there are fiefdoms, fudges and power struggles. While our core product is good, and most people are trying to do the right thing for the clients, the institution has got to re-find its client focus out of the detritus of implementation and integration.

The balance to this is that I am deeply involved in a number of start-ups in Fintech, Art, Green Energy, which once again is right back to the INSEAD basics; the gift that keeps on giving.

Morals of the story are quite banal; be good to people on your way up, as you will need them on the way down. Always strive to do what is right, even if it feels like economic suicide, and overwhelmingly keep an open and flexible mind and don’t let your work define you.

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August 2018