The First Threat Against the Student’s Degree

The First Threat Against the Student’s Degree

On April 22nd 2019 the student informed Mr Vincent Dominé, the organizer of one of the required components of his course, the Leadership Development Programme, that he would be unable to attend a coaching session on May 8th. On May 6th the student received a curt response from Mr Dominé informing him that the only acceptable reason for missing a coaching session would be a “force majeure (e.g. death in the family)” and that his degree would not be awarded if he missed coaching sessions. In addition, Mr Dominé suggested the student arrange for an additional coaching session and pay the costs of the coach and other participants. The student was shocked by the timing, content, and tone of the email. Although he agreed that it was appropriate for him to cover the others’ costs for the extra coaching session, he did not feel comfortable paying this in cash, as was suggested, but asked for an invoice – a request that was refused. The dean in charge of the student’s degree programme, Professor Urs Peyer, did apologize to the student for the use of a “death in the family” as a “culturally insensitive” example; however, the student was dissatisfied with how the fundamental issues – not receiving any response from Mr Dominé for two weeks and then being threatened with the loss of his degree as well as being asked to make additional payments without an invoice – were ignored. The student could not believe that an individual who had sent such an email was tasked with teaching EMBA students about leadership and effective communication. It was too convenient for INSEAD® to just dismiss the incident as a cultural misunderstanding when someone from any background would have been offended by Mr Dominé’s response. INSEAD’s attempt to downplay the severity of the incident and its failure to take any action to address the real issues is a theme that pervades every aspect of its handling of the student’s HOUYI investigation.

Force for Good – Case Study 2019/11 [DOWNLOAD]

What is the INSEAD® Leadership Development Programme?

The Leadership Development programme is one of the selling points of the EMBA programme of INSEAD®. On the webpage of INSEAD®, the LDP is advertised as follow:

“This transformational and enriching component is based on the pioneering group coaching work of INSEAD’s Global Leadership Centre. The objective is to help you develop your own authentic leadership style. At the beginning of the programme, you will join a group of about four people – selected for diversity of backgrounds – and embark on a journey of self-discovery and growth with a professional coach. Supporting, encouraging and challenging each other all the way, you will be taken on a series of intensive and structured activities, including: Team-building and simulations; 360-degree and progress feedback; Leadership labs with live cases; Communication workshops; Peer exchange and circles; Individual, peer and group coaching; Meet inspirational leaders.”.

The adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour of INSEAD®, Mr Vincent H. Dominé[1] is also the founding partner of the consulting company DOMINÉ & PARTNERS in Switzerland. Mr Dominé is the Practicing Director for the Leadership Development Programme and manages the coaches for each LDP group of the EMBA programme of the student.

Like other EMBA programmes, this Dual-Degree EMBA programme is also a part-time programme. The students might need to handle unexpected and urgent cases in their private lives. Therefore, requests for absence are sometimes unavoidable. For this purpose, the school provides a process to manage absences in its participant guidelines.

The Absence Request and Shocking Reply

On April 22nd, the student received a very urgent case to address. He sent an email to his LDP coach and Mr Dominé on April 22nd at 11:38 a.m.:

“Dear {NAME OF THE COACH}, Dear Vincent,

I wish you all a late Happy Easter.

Unfortunately, I got an extremely significant invitation which is impossible for me to decline. I have to travel to another city in China from May 7th noon and will be back in Beijing in the morning on May 9th.

I am unfortunately not able to join the LDP Coaching Day planned on May 8th.

I do not know how to find an alternative solution to solve the negative impact of my absent. Therefore, I have copied {NAME OF THE PROGRAMME COORDINATOR OF INSEAD®} in CC. (@{NAME OF THE PROGRAMME COORDINATOR OF INSEAD®}, your suggestion and help will be very much appreciated.)

Alternatively, I would love to have a face to face meeting with the {NAME OF THE COACH} later – her schedule and location permitting.”

It is important to note that this was the first time that the student requested to be absent during his entire EMBA studies and there were no activities planned for the afternoon of May 7th. A delivery receipt confirmed that the above email was received by Mr Dominé on April 22nd at 11:39 AM. The coach replied to the student and Mr Dominé on April 24th at 19:36 p.m.

“Thank you for your best wishes. I’m off this week with very limited access to e-mails which is making me responding only now. I imagine you have no other options but to miss our coaching day and knowing the powerful dynamics of our LDP group I sense that you will be really missed in our coaching group on May 8. I hope you will share with the group the reasons for your absence.

I can of course only comment on the coaching dynamic and will let Vincent share, if appropriate, his perspective on the academic curriculum aspect.”

On April 25th at 17:25, the student replied to the coach and Mr Dominé.

“I appreciate your reply and your suggestions very much. I will follow your advice to inform my LDP mates on May 5th in person accordingly. During the entire coming module 8 in Beijing, I will surely try to spend more time to talk to my LDP mates each individually to provide my feedback and asking their inputs of our LDP journey.

I would also appreciate if Vincent could share his perspective on the academic curriculum aspect.”

A delivery receipt confirms that this email was received by Mr Dominé on April 25th at 19:16 PM.

Two weeks after the student’s initial email, on May 6th at 09:01 AM Beijing Time, Mr Dominé replied as follows:

“I am just now catching up with the email trail of your request.

LDP is a requirement and integral part of the XXEMBA programme. It cannot be missed unless there is “force majeure” (eg. death in the family). INSEAD® will not give a Degree if too much of the coaching is missed.

Life is about making trade offs. You can of course try to arrange and pay for your coach’s fees in addition to her and your groupmates’ traveling expenses in order to make up for this LDP coaching day. It could potentially be in Fontainebleau prior to/after the electives, provided that COACH is willing to do so and is available, and that your group mates are willing to invest an additional day as well. This would probably be the least costly option.

Please let me know how you decide to proceed.”[2]

On May 6th at 22:09, the coach sent the student (privately) an email after she received the reply from Mr Dominé.

“Please be sure that I will do everything in my power to facilitate your graduation, we will find out the best way to go about it.

We will be missed in our group coaching day,

Warm regards”

It seems that the coach had also interpreted Mr Dominé’s response as a threat to withhold the degree and was trying to provide her/his help to ensure that this did not happen. As discussed, and mentioned in the email, the student informed his LDP teammates in person about his planned absence on May 6th and 7th.

The Art of Ignoring

From Mr Dominé’s point of view, the use of the term “Force majeure (e.g. death in the family) ” emphasised the importance of his course. However, from the student’s point of view, even if there was no dead family member, he was missing the course, as he had already mentioned, due to an “extremely significant” request. The student considered “death in the family” to be a very inappropriate example. Furthermore, the EMBA Programme’s Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct state:

“ … Any absence – even for a small portion of a module – will only be accepted by the Deans of the XXEMBA programme under exceptional circumstances (such as illness or natural disaster) … ”

Furthermore, the Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct clearly state that the consequence for absence is being required to retake the missed class and there is no risk of the participant losing their degree unless this is not done within two years:

“In order to graduate, participants must retake any missed or deferred classes with the subsequent 2 promotions within 2 years, subject to the approval of the ADC. After this point, the degree candidacy is lost. ” (see Appendix 12: XXEMBA 2020 – Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct – Page 8)

It does not take a significant stretch of the imagination to speculate that Mr Dominé had not actually read the Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct himself. Considering the context in which this incident was unfolding – with the student raising serious concerns about INSEAD’s partnership with HOUYI – it is understandable that he would have interpreted this as an overly harsh reaction to his absence request prompted by a desire on INSEAD’s part to find any excuse to take punitive action against the student.

Moreover, the absence request was sent on April 22nd and Mr Dominé replied on May 6th – one day before the expected absence. The “just-in-time” and unconstructive response, asking for additional payments and threatening to withhold the student’s degree, ultimately exposed Mr Dominé’s deficiencies with respect to communication and leadership skills. Most importantly, Mr Dominé’s response contradicted the programme’s Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct.

The student felt this kind of written communication was not acceptable, especially since Mr Dominé is an adjunct Professor and practice director who is teaching students how to communicate and how to improve their leadership skills. Therefore, the student decided to report his unprofessional behaviour to the school. The student shared the above concerns and opinions. Furthermore, he asked the school to provide feedback in written form – which he never received.

“At the personal level, I could tolerate using “death in the family” as an example or be asked to pay fees. I don’t know whether you could tolerate this kind of behaviour in the professional level.

All of my thoughts are my personal opinions. Please take them only for reference.

Please kindly inform me about the conclusion of the school as soon as possible in written form.”

On May 8th Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo replied as below:

“Thank you for sharing your concern with us. We value feedback from our loyal alumni such as you. I will call you in the coming days to better understand your concern.”

On May 11th Dean Prof. Ilian Mihov replied:

“Thank you for reaching out. Having reviewed your email with Prof Urs Peyer, Dean of Degree Progammes, I am asking Rose Luo to connect with you to discuss.

Obviously, the LDP journey is central to the learning experience of our participants. As such your attendance is important for yourself and others in your group.”

The Art of Pacification

Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo called the student and tried to make a complaint about Mr Dominé’s unprofessional behaviour go away. Subsequently, on May 16th the student asked the school to provide the standard procedure regarding absences because he had gotten a percentage from the partner university in China, rather than from INSEAD®, that he had missed 33% of his LDP Course. He continued to ask the school to provide an official conclusion in written form about Mr Dominé’s behaviour.

“Please kindly inform me what the standard procedure of INSEAD® to manage the impact of my absent of LDP is.”

On May 17th Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo replied.

“Per your request, I am writing to explain the procedures, and I can call you to answer any questions.

As you know, we outline in the code of conduct that the max allowed for missing is 25%. This means that since DP has two coaching days – missing one constitutes a fail. When there is a force majeure, the participants and coach meet to make up for the missed day.

In your case, you will need to organize and enable your teammates and coach to attend. Please keep in mind that your LDP group will have to take the extra time because of your earlier decision. I would personally suggest that you consider the make-up in July, when all are here on Fonty campus for the elective module. ”

The student asked per email how to manage the fees which were mentioned in the reply of Mr Dominé. Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo replied on May 17th.

“As I discussed with you, to clarify regarding your question below, you will need to make up by arranging a half day of coaching with your teammates and the coach at a minimum (4 hours).

The fee is referring to the cost of getting your teammates and coach together for the coaching. If this will be arranged in July, there may not be any cost for your teammates. So you will just need to discuss with your coach for the payment for her time and travel. You do not pay INSEAD® but will pay the coach directly.

The student appreciated that INSEAD® could explain the standard procedures to make up the absence. However, the student was shocked to be asked to pay the coach directly, since he did not have any contract with the company DOMINÉ & PARTNERS or the coach. There is no contractual relationship between the student and the coach. Therefore, after discussion with his lawyer, the student asked INSEAD® to provide an invoice.

The student replied to Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo on May 18th:

“…As discussed with my lawyer, I am a registered student of INSEAD®, and the LDP course is a part of the INSEAD® XXEMBA degree programme; Following the suggestion of my lawyer, I will not discuss any additional fee/payment directly or pay an external subcontracted coach directly. Therefore, I kindly ask INSEAD® to provide me with an invoice for this 4-hour coaching season in advance with details cost items, e.g. the hourly rate and travel expenses of the coach to the below address.

Moreover, as discussed with my lawyer, my request for absent was send on April 22nd, and I got the response from Mr Dominé just one day before my absent on May 6th. As a result of this, hereby I keep all rights to claim compensation…”

The student then sent an invitation to the LDP coach and classmates.

“Dear {NAME OF THE COACH}, My Dear LDP mates,

Following the suggestion of INSEAD®, due to my absent on May 8th, I was asked to cross check with you whether you would like to join an additional 4-hour LDP coaching season during Module 9 in July in Fontainebleau.

I would like to suggest to host an 4-hour LDP coaching season combined with dinner and invite {NAME OF THE COACH} (if her and your time permitting) to join.

Please kindly let me know your thoughts and suggestions.


Please kindly inform INSEAD® about your hourly rate and travel expense. Following the suggestion of my lawyer, I am not allowed to discuss fees or paying you directly.

Thank you and best regards,”

On May 19th the coach replied.

“…I will be happy to offer my private/family/time so let’s forget about the fees/travel etc and just look forward to a great opportunity to work and be together again…”

The student very much appreciated the efforts of his coach to resolve the situation. Then the student made a restaurant reservation and offered to book a hotel and shuttle service to pick up the coach from Paris. The coach said there was no need to provide accommodation or transport.

On May 19th Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo and the student had a conversation over the phone. Instead of talking about Mr Dominé’s behaviour she complained that the student’s reference to his discussion with his lawyer was a strong reaction. The student kept asking the school to provide feedback about Mr Dominé’s behaviour. In the call, the student said, “If I am the Dean, I have already sent an email and apologised for this matter at the very beginning.”.

The Art of Apology

A few minutes later after the call, the student suddenly received an unsolicited email with the title “Apology” from the Dean Prof. Urs Peyer[3].

“I am writing to apologise for the the culturally insensitive example of ‘force majeure’ in Vincent’s email. In our discussion with Rose and Vincent it has become clear why you reacted strongly and I wanted to sincerely apologize and convey that Vincent had not meant any disrespect. Thank you Rose for helping us understand the cultural misunderstanding.

I wish you a good week and look forward to seeing you in Fontainebleau for the electives.”

Nobody answered the question from the student “Whether you could tolerate this kind of behaviour at the professional level?”. The student had never talked about a cultural misunderstanding with Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo because the student could not understand the behaviour of Mr Dominé from a different cultural perspective. Although the student is originally from China, he has spent his entire academic and professional life in Europe and is a naturalized German citizen. He had never encountered any “cultural misunderstanding” in his career and was not prepared to accept this excuse. Furthermore, the Dean was clearly treating him as a Chinese student rather than a German student. The Dean would never dream of suggesting a “cultural misunderstanding” had taken place between a white German student and a Swiss professor. Nevertheless, the Dean of the degree programme had already apologised, so the student was willing to let it go, although still shocked by the impropriety of Mr Dominé response to his absence request and INSEAD’s subsequent failure to acknowledge that impropriety.

Dean Prof. Urs Peyer, also from Switzerland, sent the above “Apology” email on May 19th. No one questioned the propriety of the student’s written communications or his compliance with INSEAD’s code of conduct between May 19th and July 3rd. There was no communication between the student and the Dean Prof. Urs Peyer during this 7-week period.

On July 3rd, Dean Prof. Urs Peyer sent another unsolicited email to the student.

“I would like to take advantage of you being in Fontainebleau for the electives to meet with you and Anne Bresman, please, for 30min. I wanted on the one hand personal apologies again and on the other hand share feedback from my colleagues about your written communication and the way you have investigated and communicated around our Executive Education client.”

The Art of Unconscious Incompetence

Dean Prof. Urs Peyer apologised solely for the wording used by Mr Vincent Dominé in his response to the absence request and ignored entirely the fundamental issue: the response to the student’s absence request failed to comply with the Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct for his programme.

Assuming the best in Dean Prof. Urs Peyer, this was an act of unconscious incompetence – perhaps he had never read or had forgotten the policy on absences outlined in the Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct, which are as follows:

The XXEMBA Programme’s Participant Guidelines and Code of Conduct (Page 8):


Attendance is a requirement for the completion of each course. Therefore, participants may not be allowed to sit for an exam if they have missed more than 25% of the course.

Any absence – even for a small portion of a module – will only be accepted by the Deans of the XXEMBA programme under exceptional circumstances (such as illness or natural disaster) and will not be granted for business obligations. Please think ahead and schedule carefully, in coordination with the employer. Obviously, in order to grant the degree, we must ensure that participants fully take part in the curriculum. In case of absence, the EMBA office will decide upon actions to be taken. In some cases, this could mean re-taking the course with the following XXEMBA class and graduate accordingly.

Thus, the rules of absence:

  • Avoid as much as possible, so that graduation is not delayed.
  • A written request must be submitted through the EMBA office to the Directors of both schools, well in advance of the expected absence.
  • In order to graduate, participants must retake any missed or deferred classes with the subsequent 2 promotions within 2 years, subject to the approval of the ADC. After this point, the degree candidacy is lost.
  • Teaching fees are not refundable.
  • Making up missed classes with other EMBA courses in both schools is not permitted.

In light of the above, Mr Vincent Dominé’s statement that “INSEAD® will not give a Degree if too much of the coaching is missed” was inaccurate, inappropriate and unprofessional. Furthermore, the guidelines indicate that it is the Deans of BOTH schools that authorize an absence. Mr Vincent Dominé had neither the knowledge nor the authority to make any kind of decision about the student’s absence request. In accordance with the guidelines, the student had sent a written absence request by email to the programme coordinators of the EMBA office more than two weeks before the expected absence. Judging from the responses he received, it can be concluded that the senior administrators of his programme, including Dean Prof. Urs Peyer and the other member of the diploma committee, Prof. Xiaowei Rose Luo, had not read their own guidelines.

Questions & Answers

Are the coaches of the Leadership Development Programme not staff members of INSEAD®?

Yes. The coaches are subcontracted. They are not staff of INSEAD®.

Are they subcontracted by INSEAD® or Mr Dominé’s company?

Perhaps not subcontracted by INSEAD®. If they are subcontracted by INSEAD® directly, there is no legitimate reason for refusing to provide an invoice.

Why did INSEAD® refuse to provide an invoice if you have to pay additional fees to make up the absence?

Good question. I asked the same questions to INSEAD® without receiving any response. In the Participate Guidelines, there is no reference to the possibility of additional fees. I have not only talked to my lawyer but also to a tax advisor about the payment. As my tax advisor observed, even when buying potatoes in Germany or France directly from farms, if you require an invoice, they will give it to you without hesitation.

In your view, why didn’t INSEAD® provide you with any feedback or comments about Mr Dominé’s late reply?

 Acknowledging a mistake requires subsequent actions to solve the issue. Ignoring the problem does not require any action.

Cultural misunderstanding? I could not understand this kind of behaviour at the professional level from my Chinese and German cultural background. Especially not threatening to withhold my degree and being asked to pay additional fees without providing an invoice. Which accounting method should I use in this case? IFRS or GAAP?




Force for Good – Case Study 2019/11 [DOWNLOAD]