Walk for five minutes from Marie Antoinette’s bed-chamber in the chateau Fontainebleu and there’s another room, peopled by a crowd as international as those that roam the giant halls and tapestried royal corridors with their audio-feeds. Here too, down a leafy street, notches are made on the bedposts: in this case above the fertile silky sheets of global finance.¨
This is INSEAD, The Fontainbleu of business finishing schools; to the Versailles of Harvard.
“It’s a brilliant idea, cool. My father’s already into this in a big way in the States – it’s so big in the States. You’ve just got to build them where you are, gate them, for all those guys – you know – grew up in the 60s and 70s, want to retreat now, safely.” [That’s not me, then: Tom is talking about retirement homes for the over-rich, though he wouldn’t use that phrase].
This “Tom” grew up in England, France and America. His father is Swiss-Iranian, his mother French. He’s in America now, “somewhere”; his mother London. “So here I am, and in three days time: Dubai. I’ll be 14 hours from “anything.” I don’t like the States, it isn’t hot, but I’ll have to work there. There is a trade-off: money for that attitude.”
Tom is 23. He dresses in blue button down, jeans and loafers; none of the students here dress: it is like a technology convention. From behind me, in Australian, to an Indian woman: “14 inch? Hmm, I don’t think so, see how mine has the highest resolution, I’ve reprogrammed this to get to the optimum. You have to customize…have to.”
The canteen soundtrack is music to be re-programmed by as well: a droney atonal Chinese (and The Future) lament that lasts half an hour. Through a tall square glass window a squash court with two sweaty students hard at play is a visual offering if the screens or the wi-fi don’t entice. Coffee and the “Financial Times” are free. Everything else is expenses. This campus is very quiet.
The headline on the front page of today’s European edition of the “Financial Times” is “Hedge Fund Managers go short on marriage with ‘postnups’”. It explains how “postnups” - signed after a marriage - safeguard the fortunes of wealthy hedge fund executives. (Who appear to all be men).
“At least one US hedge fund is refusing to take on new partners until they sign a postnup barring their spouses from making any claim on the fund says Ken Burrows, a New York attorney…”
Why the “wives” accept this, Bern Clair, “prominent” American divorce lawyer explains: “is because they want to preserve their marriages and their lifestyles.”
“The marital relationship has traditionally been the secret close bond,” said a partner at Fox Rothchild. “Now it’s the business partners, the hedge fund world, the drinking buddies – and the spouse is one circle out.
Tom has the flat, declarative (European) transatlantic accent down with his corporate collars. “Yeah, Dubai. Four of us are going, Mo too – that’s Mustafa. We’re getting a place together, it’s going to be sick: party time.” He goes to Paris at the weekends, his mother’s apartment in St Germaine, but he’s ready for the move. “The weather’s good and it’s all tax-free. The world’s small and all the same: four walls, a computer, and business to do.”
“What did I get from INSEAD? Connections. Confidence? No, I was pretty confident already. Hey! Let’s catch up later, hun?”
In the facing block a three day conference is being held on “Emotional Capabilities in Organizations: the influence of Context and Culture.” On Wednesdays there is an evening class held by the INDEVOR society. One of the issues it addressed last week was: “What are the business rewards for companies with the resources and persistence to compete at the bottom of the World’s Pyramid?”
Tom is nowhere with the answer to this question – he’s gone to another four walls and a computer. And it doesn’t take a “Blue Ocean” thinker (of whom there are many here) to work out there are a few years of “party-time” before Tom’s “postnup” needs to be adressed.
He’s one circle out from that.