Five Beautiful Minds and an ICP

If you look from a distance, we could not be more different. A marathoner from London, a young father from Zurich, a former auditor from Hong Kong, a football fiend from Japan with many years spent in sub-Saharan Africa, and, well, me.

Somehow, after our final client presentation for the International Consulting Project (ICP), seven weeks after we buckled down to achieve challenging targets in a nebulous space, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to dear friends who shared my life values.

“Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
–Patrick Lencioni

I suppose it began in our first meeting as a group. We set ground rules, and beyond the usual promises of timed meetings and work/life balance (though honestly the older I get the more the lines are blurred; work is life, life is work), we committed to supporting each other in the most testing of processes, the job search. I felt comfortable in the knowledge that we would have each others’ backs while juggling project tasks with impromptu interviews. Preparing for interviews is stressful enough. Within the first week, we generated trust with schedule transparency on a shared calendar. When one of us was not around, the rest would seamlessly work through other tasks and catch our colleagues up when they returned. We gradually opened up to each other, shared our concerns and aspirations, and soon enough, we felt vested in everyone’s success.

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Whizzing through a Retail Safari in Shenzhen, China

And then there was the project itself. We were tasked to create social media strategic recommendations for a medical aesthetics portfolio. While understanding the needs of the client in the initial days on-site in the UK, we were quickly given a second project because we as sharp, analytical MBA students should be able to churn through what felt like a data tsunami and generate meaningful insights for the firm. Bringing in a diverse group such as ours proved to be incredibly valuable to the client. It can bring a unique blend of optimism, can-do attitude, and external perspectives that are rarely possible for internal employees to provide, no matter how smart they are, simply because they have been at the company for many years.

We’ve had our tough moments. Not against each other, but with each other. I’ve heard of high-performing teams debating ideas and pushing each other to move beyond the obvious to the truly valuable insights. I’ve seen glimpses of this in previous teams, but more often than not, the balance of “care” and “dare” goes off quickly and risks descending into personal attacks. For the most part, our team kept discussions and disagreements centered around the benefit of the project and the client’s goals. Oftentimes we helped each other after finishing our own tasks. It wasn’t about getting individual credit. It was about making the team shine. And shine we did. Our client sponsor, a senior executive, commended our unity as a team in the final presentation. Each team member got time to showcase their work, how it fits into the overall solution and we supported each other through the Q&A session. “No one was pulling the attention towards him/herself. There was a flow within your team that is rare to see.” High praise, and so true, we just wanted to pull attention to the recommendations we had garnered over two months of painstaking research and analyses.

I thank my team for sharing their brilliance and rigor to make this project a success. It was a high point in my IMD MBA and will stay a fond memory, as we begin our dash to the finish line. I am always going to remember singing karaoke with you in a mall in Shenzhen, and our bowling night in London where Daniel was reigning champion.

Thank Yous

Professor Goutam Challagalla, for nudging us along the right digital marketing path, for aligning and reassuring us when things got disorienting. You’ve been an amazing mentor and coach. Angelina, for being stoic and persistent and always smiling despite taking on the daunting role of treasurer. Daniel, for your attention to detail, your kind nature and your willingness and flexibility in adding value to all parts of the project. Maisie, for always being calm under pressure, embracing evolving workstreams, and for bringing your UK expertise to the project. Satoshi, for steadfastly getting through to the core of any matter, for your sincerity to your work, your honesty, and openness.

It has been an honor, and I am so excited to see the amazing things we will accomplish in the years ahead. And for our fondue night next week 🙂

Yours in nostalgia,

Surbhi

Work Hard, and Play Harder – A retrospect of our “fun” ICP

If you had told me last year that during the MBA I would be working on an international consulting project with a toy brand, and understanding how little kids play with their toys, I would not have believed you; I would not even have been able to imagine it. Yet, after 7 weeks of this fun experience, I am now a proud owner of two sets of our client’s product (Age 16+)!

Our ICP is exactly as advertised: learning through playing. With only a very high-level scope, we were given the maximum freedom to brainstorm innovative ideas from scratch, by talking with experts from different industries and fields, and also by leveraging our learnings from the MBA classes. In order to test our concepts, we went to Germany – the target market – to interview little kids and their mothers. At least for me, I had never imagined that I could have such an insightful dialogue with an 8-year-old. Also, to understand the history and culture of our client, we were invited to visit their establishments and their headquarters for a fully immersive ICP experience.

Learnings have not just been from the project work itself, but also from unexpected places during this playful journey. We were impressed by how innovative our client’s brand has been since its inception, how durable and well received their products are in German families, and how committed the brand is towards a sustainable future – with a constant focus on quality education of the next generations. Personally, I am delighted by the unique sense of humor showcased everywhere in the territory of the brand.

Of course, our ICP team has been just as playful as the client. During these seven weeks, we grew to learn about each other and more importantly, to learn how to perform and at the same time have fun as a team. We worked hard together, and we played hard together as well. We acknowledged every progress, and we celebrated every small success; we made fun of ourselves, and we laughed with each other. Sometimes there were heated discussions, but we were able to resolve them and became a better team. Just like playing with the products of our client, we built our team through exploring all the possible combinations of five different pieces, and we came up with one that may not be perfect, but is definitely fun and unique.

Junyi, Maki, Jesuad, Yizhe and Pedro

Seven weeks is not a lot of time, but we harvested great learning and joy. It was the perfect ending project for a year that has been full of exploration and adventures.

By Junyi

An Odyssey of Challenges and Secure Bases

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“It is exactly what we expected from this project. On top of that, the practical action plans appended with the business models will help us to move forward with the pilot phase”, were the appreciative closing words from our ICP client during the final presentation.

Yet, the journey to get there was everything but an easy walk.

Mid-October, the project seemed to be as dismal as the rainy days in Lausanne. It is only during the first presentation, the client and we concurred on the final project scope.  To make things worse, our team dynamics were confidently entrenched in the so-called “storming” phase, which is, according to the theory, the much-needed step before reaching the “performing” phase of teamwork …. The five of us, totaling 43 years of cumulative work experience in various industries, got stuck for days. After designing a bunch of occult graphs (our NDA, but also our pride, prevent us to disclose those here), the most serious man of the team started self-mockery: “We’d better prepare some AEDs for next presentation. Either the client or our faculty may need them.”

However, thanks to the experiences acquired during this year, every one of us knew how to navigate this situation. Rounds of argument shaped our prototypes of new business models. Following the tradition of leadership streams, we took frequent feedback sessions which helped the team moving out of the storming stage. Meanwhile, continuous and subtle guidance from faculty coach, Professor Ralf Seifert, helped us to maintain ICP on the right track. Nemawashi, newly taught in the ICP preparing sessions, was applied to build consensus between clients and us (Yes, we avoided using AED during client meetings).

When looking back at the ICP journey, we think our team performed like the sailors of Odysseus, confronting a series of unknows and challenges. Everyone experienced frustration, confusion, and pressure. The support and specific expertise from each other made the team stronger, and hence we finally passed the whirlpool and sailed to the destination.

Soon, we will leave the IMD campus and re-enter into the real world – real jobs as well as real life. Like the ICP, the only certain thing in our future life is uncertainty. But we will not freak out. We have experienced ICP. And more importantly, we have ICP teammates who are friends and secure bases for the future.

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Finally, thank you to Vivekanand Pandey and Olivier De Liedekerke. Their commitment and optimism are the true inspiration for our ICP. The team’s success would not be possible without their contribution (as well as tolerance on my demand for MECE).

Chaoyi

 

The ICP Experience

Everyone claims their ICP is special. But ours actually is. I say this half-jokingly with trademark IMD-self-awareness, half-serious. And this is because, we set out to “provoke the CEO”. When we chose our project, this was our scope description and at the same time – if you ask a set of MBAs-in-the-making – it was no scope at all. This left us with the beauty and pain to systematically identify which mountain to climb from a number of peaks surrounding us. 

The team that got together to work on this feat consists out of 5 people who have in total 7 nationalities. Clearly this is only one of many indicators of the diversity of our team, but I can truly say that the mix of people, mindsets and personalities has made the project challenging, exciting and successful at the same time.

Mirko, Carl, Hameed, Diego, Da Eun

Our main stakeholder was the CEO of a globally acting company as well as the executive team. It has been quite an experience to work on such a high profile project and discussing strategic options that will help the company to gain a competitive advantage. What was especially impressive for us was to deliver a fresh perspective on the business and bring in opportunities that would have never been considered otherwise.

During the course of the project we’ve experienced it all: spending 3 weeks plus weekends at the client site, travelling 10h per leg; working late nights; presenting to our faculty directors on the weekend per teleconference out of our hotel rooms; visiting a heavy industry production plant; client dinners (and drinks); and much more.

It was a fun journey which culminated this week in our final presentation of our recommendations. Our client is excited about the result, we learnt a ton and grew close as a team. Who could ever ask for more?

Mirko

What lovely days – from Lausanne to the UAE

What lovely days…

“What lovely days we had, walking to school, chatting with classmates every morning in Lausanne!” said Peter. I didn’t think about that until he said so, but yes, I also feel a little homesick. We are now in Abu Dhabi and commute by car from our hotel to the office because it is still too hot and sticky here to walk outside, even in October. Maybe that’s the reason we miss our beautiful walk to IMD.

Our team is in the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) for the full seven weeks of our International Consulting Project (ICP), engaging in retail strategy in a financial industry. The ICP is comprehensive learning opportunity where we leverage what we have learned over the year to contribute to the client project.

Impactful Classes

Structured Thinking helped us to analyze the company issues using a logic tree, taking care of MECEness: what was the issue, why we needed to think of it, how we would solve it, etc.

Change Management, taught us how to transform an organization. Of particular help, was the simulation exercise we did, where we had to recognise the different perspectives of each stakeholder in the company. We’ve had a lot of interviews with internal stakeholders to map the current situation: heads of each product, Relationship Management, and functional teams such as Marketing or Digital. Once we could see the situation objectively, we followed the Scope of Work and listened to the opinion of the project owner, so that we could suggest a tangible plan for the final presentation.

High Performance Teams, classes that fell under the Leadership stream, helped our team to work collaboratively and deliver an innovative result from the multiple perspectives.

Fabulous team- Alex, Atsushi, Lukasz, Filipa, and Peter

Our team is diverse team of five: a South African from a start-up, a Polish from a consulting firm, a Portuguese from an investment bank, a Russian from a private equity fund, and a Japanese from a trading and investing company. Each colleague has different viewpoint, so every moment we discuss takes a certain amount of time and patience, before the long but constructive discussions help us to reach the best joint idea.

I need to add one more comment. We have also been enjoying some sight-seeing such as Louvre museum, Grand mosque, Burj Khalifa, etc. and playing squash with our teammates! I truly appreciate this precious experience and chance to learn more about the cultural difference and team dynamics. If I had not had this opportunity, I might not have had the chance to come to the Middle East. In the future, I’ll be thinking “What lovely days we had working in the UAE” …

Dinner with our Faculty supervisor: Professor Omar.

Atsushi

A Moroccan ICP Adventure

“Shukraan”, I told my driver, as he warmly said goodbye from Casablanca Airport. ‘Shukran’ translates to thank you in English.  As the plane gained altitude, I settled into my seat reminiscing about my experiences – the intensity of the cobra as it swayed to the snake charmer’s flute in Jemaa el Fna, the sweet smell of mint tea drifting in the bazaars of Marrakesh and the broad smile of street vendors serving sweetmeats and tea in Chefchaohen. Morocco had amazed and sometimes overwhelmed me by its sights and smells and the kindness of its people. The country in one word is “eclectic” in terms of its people, languages and terrain but these eclecticisms make it a whole.

Very much like my consulting project team members – a Romanian, a Japanese, an American, a South African and an Indian. Each having his own quirkiness and experience of around ten years to base it on. Brought together in May, to consult for a large Moroccan company, our ICP project goal is simple – analyze the market opportunity and define an entry strategy for a byproduct of current operations. Six months later, even after spending numerous hours in the dungeons we are still struggling. We must balance client and stakeholder expectations, deal with changing priorities and learn to work with each other. Combine this with job search and personal commitments and the task seems overwhelming.

However, like most experiences this year, the ICP experience has taught me to persist and prioritize. My team is a support system, each member filling in for the other and helping to manage failures with banter. Over the course of this year, I have transitioned from having to take time off after a failure to planning weekend trips right after I have received a rejection phone call. This year at IMD has taught me to “get knocked off and stand right back up, ready for the next punch.” Having a peer group which, like you, is constantly setting stretch goals despite failures, motivates you.

Setting stretch goals is a theme that resonates with my client as well. A national company quickly diversifying its products and geographical focus. Our client team is young, with many folks educated outside the country but returning to serve in their country of origin. It’s fun learning that their lives are just like mine even though spent on another continent. The support from our faculty coaches has been outstanding. For all these experiences – working with a Rockstar team on a challenging problem in a new continent and getting a chance to experience the hospitality of its people, I say “Shukraan”.

Moroccan Mining Team – Adrian, Takashi, Peter, Jaco and Perwez

Perwez

Implementing a B2C digital retail strategy, with an international mindset

In my opinion, an ‘International’ MBA program has as much to do with having a diverse cohort, as it does with enhancing a student’s ability to appreciate the nuances at play when interacting with people from different cultures. Furthermore, leveraging this understanding to forge meaningful rapports in both a personal and professional context is imperative.

The robust team dynamics of my International Consulting Project group was testament to the fact that IMD was successfully able to instil a high degree of cultural awareness and emotional quotient in its participants over the course of the year. Given that our ICP is positioned at the latter stages of this intensive program, this gave us an opportunity to showcase the aforementioned capabilities.

Our group comprised of individuals from four countries; China, Brazil, Monaco and India. Throughout the course of the project, we had our fair share of disagreements, arguments, differences and scenarios where I recall the tension in the room being palpable for days on end. A lot of these issues could be attributed to an eclectic set of beliefs and expectations, as a function of group diversity.

Alexis, Isabella, Gavin, Marcelo, Shaunak

What resonated with me most was each individual’s willingness to take critical feedback in their stride and make a relentless effort to work on areas of improvement. I was pleased to observe the tangible progress in the quality of our cooperation, mutual respect and interdependence, amongst other facets of team dynamics. This was validated by our ICP mentor. We also made a conscious decision to give every member an opportunity to lead the team through different phases of the project and this turned out to be an enriching experience for us all.

We had the privilege of traveling to France and the Netherlands for our client interactions and primary consumer research. The subtle variation in the work cultures in these two regions was eye-opening. For most of our team members, elements such as the travel, the primary and secondary research and the client presentations were a unique preview into the world of consulting. Moreover, the scope our project entailed implementing a B2C digital retail strategy; a topic that had us engrossed right at the outset.

We also developed a strong sense of camaraderie outside of the dungeons, courtesy of our very own in-house five-star multi-cuisine Chef Alexis, who took the initiative to get our group to bond over exquisite risotto and wine dinners. I also have a vivid memory of the seventeen-hour Sunday, a day before our second client presentation and the jovial spirit with which we supported each other, given the exigent circumstances, was heart-warming.

To my Professor Stephane Girod, thank you for the tremendous support, the attention to detail, wholesome feedback and for ensuring that the learning was fruitful for us as participants. And to the rest of my teammates, Gavin, Isabella, Alexis and Marcelo, “as always, it’s been an absolute pleasure!”

The full team – including Professor Girod!

Shaunak Grover