My interest has been in leadership and how I develop other leaders. Understanding how to do that in a multicultural, global environment has been a fascination for me, and something I've tried to be vocal about.
J. Frank Brown '78 had no academic experience when he took over as dean of INSEAD, one of the world's largest graduate business schools. But he reasoned that his 26 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and his experience running the advisory arm of its business was all the preparation he needed to preside over executive education training.
"Turns out I was right," says Brown, who took over as the institution's chief administrative officer in 2006. "The beauty of it was that I was able to run and operate it like the CEO of a business."
As dean, he was nominally based at the school's campus in Fontainebleau, France. But with additional campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi (which opened under his watch) and alumni and stakeholders literally all over the world, Brown rarely spent much time in any one location. "We had substantial numbers of alumni in virtually every country. I was travelling somewhere every week."
The themes of his tenure were the same he'd been stressing for decades - leadership and operating with cultural sensitivity across the global stage - to which he added a healthy dose of skepticism.
"I started saying in 2005 or 2006, one of the responsibilities you have as future business leaders is to recognize that if it looks too good to be true, it is," he says. "I was trying to let people know that the good times weren't going to roll on forever." That point was driven home rather forcefully in 2008, when the economic downturn challenged business leaders in the U.S. and abroad.
Brown's interest in leadership development stretches back to his days at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he founded Genesis Park, a residential training program for global leaders. The program was so successful that when he began his transition to INSEAD, PwC executives asked him to put his thoughts and philosophies on paper for future generations. The result, The Global Business Leader, was picked up by INSEAD and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2007.
"My interest has been in leadership and how I develop other leaders. Understanding how to do that in a multicultural, global environment has been a fascination for me, and something I've tried to be vocal about."
Brown took the helm of another large international conglomerate in 2011 when he was named managing director and chief operating officer of General Atlantic, an investment firm which operates 12 offices in nine countries around the world. The firm invests in about a dozen companies each year, pumping anywhere from $75 million to $400 million into each in exchange for a minority interest.
"I try to attract people who have something to offer and who are, hopefully, a heckuva lot smarter than I am in areas that I need help," Brown says. "I've observed and experienced so many leaders who are overly protective of their own positions to the detriment of those around them, and I made up my mind that that would never be me."
Posted October 2014