Alumni Profiles: Francisco van Zeller (MBA’08D)

The Unconventional Background
Looking for an international experience for my young family and I, my alumni friends in Portugal insisted that the best fit for me would be, by far, INSEAD, due to its incredible diversity of students and the seamless two-campus experience. Indeed, my background did not include any of the conventional ‘consulting’, ‘industry’ or ‘banking’. It was a mix of right-after-college start-up, followed by a few years in politics. And although both incredible experiences, I felt something was missing. So I applied, believing that I could fill the quota of ‘unconventional background’. And when I got the call from the admissions team, I knew my life would change forever.

So off we went a few months later to Singapore, Maria, 3-year Luis and me. We had never lived outside of Portugal and quite suddenly engaged with cultures that were very different from what we were used to, both in the city and at campus. The impact of the first weeks was massive, and something I will never forget. I obviously underestimated how different and brilliant all my classmates were, but at the same time – and this is critical – how open they were to learn from others and keen to hear more from each other. And that is where lies INSEAD’s uniqueness – above being ambitious, intelligent, successful, the students’ DNA is one of curiosity, eagerness to find out more and establish lifelong relationships. During that year there were a lot of meaningful conversations, travelling, group work and case discussions. It was intense, and afterwards you are not the same person anymore. Regardless if you went to INSEAD in the 1970s, 1990s or 2010s, it’s remarkable how consistent the experience is – just ask an alumnus at any event.

A different life
I graduated in December 2008 and received a fantastic offer to join Samsung in their new HQs in Seoul. I was joined by eight more INSEADers(!) from my class and spent another 3 years in Asia, had another child and learned Korean, before moving to London and eventually joining the fintech world. It’s very clear to me that none of these opportunities would be available if I had not joined INSEAD. After 10 years, I have good friends from all over the world whom I see regularly either in London, or in their own cities. It’s amazing to see their lives and careers evolving and how much they, like me, benefited from that extraordinary year.

December 2019