Midsummer reflections..

It has been quite some time since I’ve written as our classmates have been churning out some world-class blog entries over the past few weeks. As you can tell from previous entries, we are now in the midst of our Company Engagement Projects (CEP) scattered across the world. From Azerbaijan to Zanzibar, the 90 of us have impressively managed to pretty much cover the globe. In my case, I’m working on a project with Amazon UK alongside my fellow blogger Sathappan to expand Amazon’s startup accelerator arm across Europe. At the same time, I’m working with a real estate crowdfunding startup in London on a project to expand its client-base internationally.

Over the past month, the program has shifted gears quite a bit. The academics have completely wound down and our focus has shifted towards completing our CEPs and lining up our dream jobs. Accordingly, the iron-clad structure from the first half of the year has given way to a more flexible schedule where we have to create our own sense of urgency. For most of us, this means balancing our CEPs while practicing for consulting case interviews, writing cover letters, updating CVs, and reaching out to the incredibly tight IMD alumni network. And since about half of us are doing our CEPs primarily from beautiful Lausanne, the tight class feel has become even more intimate at a more IMD “lite” level.

In prior blog entries, I mentioned that the program is very much front-loaded leaving very little time for personal reflection or early career search efforts. I still stand by this assertion, but I also now see the merit in this kind of structure. Now that we actually have the time and flexibility to reflect, I realize that this is best done in the absence of an academic workload and in the presence of our CEPs and career search. This allows us to reflect fully in the context of what we want to do after the MBA. After all, many of us (myself included) are looking for the trifecta of changing function, industry, and geography, which requires a fair bit of introspection and soul searching. Personally, I’m glad we have already completed the core academics as we figure all of this out. The various networking events, Navigating the Future conferences, and inspirational guest speakers only helped set the scene that much more. I am reminded of a quote by Confucius, “Study without reflection is a waste of time, reflection without study is dangerous.”

Next up, I am looking forward to having the class reunited back from our CEPs before we embark on our Discovery Expeditions in Dubai/Singapore, San Francisco/Monterey, and Tokyo/Shanghai. After taking these much needed 5 weeks to recharge and triangulate on our paths by way of our CEPs and some personal reflection, I’m sure we will all have a lot to talk about!

Til next time!


A Tribute to Mount Kilimanjaro

Today’s guest entry is by Linda Chang, who is sharing her experience on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro


At the Uhuru peak, I paused, breathed in deeply and looked around. The Southern Ice Field loomed in the distance, extending far into the firmament. Still, in the dark sky spreading wide and high, the waning moon pinned halfway and the stars shined in full glimmer.

“You moved too fast Linda; sunrise in another hour or so”, said my guide Freddie with a grin.

The journey had been long and tiring, but well-worthy. In the end, I didn’t manage to decipher the mystery of Hemingway’s frozen leopard, but I saw things far more beautiful. Surrendering myself to the sublime beauty of nature, I also heard the inner voice from my heart becoming more audible. My tears welled up while sighting the skyline tinged by the first shaft of rosy sunshine.


The last day of Kilimanjaro trekking started at midnight, from Barafu camp at 4700m altitude. Barafu is named after the Swahili word “ice”. It is barren and bleak, with the ever-present gales blustering around the tent. Freddie helped me with a final check of the equipment and passed me his warm gloves, as I kept rubbing my hands for warmth. Undeterred by the altitude sickness, I packed light and departed gleefully. It was not long before my optimism began to fade away. Every breath turned shorter, and every climb became more like a toil. I had been losing appetite for almost two days and only munched chocolate bars for replenishment. Neither could I rehydrate above 5000m, as water had become solid ice. Long rests along the way were impossible, since no one could endure the gusty and frigid cold in stillness. When nausea and dizziness blurred my vision, self-doubt reigned.

Why am I here?

Is this what I always wanted?

I had traveled far to get here and just spent four days walking up to this altitude.

Should I give up now?

What am I trying to achieve at the end of the day?

Am I still far away from my final destination?

Bombarded with a myriad of questions, I almost faltered at the narrow and rocky ridge.

After a big sigh, I turned to Freddie and asked:

“Where is the summit, Fred? Could you please point it out to me?”

He walked over in silence, tidied up my hair over the forehead and rubbed my hands warm. I was confused. With a deep fatigue setting in, I could not bear the painful ambiguity further.

“Fred, tell me, I need to know where I am heading so that I can allocate the remaining energy…I don’t have much left”, I panted out.

Still a radio silence.

Freddie gave me a lift onto the stable ground and gestured me towards the trail, just like what he did near the Shira camp three days ago.


Yes, three days ago, I proposed a secret race against other trekkers and we had a landslide victory, leading other groups by 3 hours and arriving at Shira around noon. As a winning prize, Freddie took me to the nearby hillcrest for a small hike. The moorland laid below us, speckled by the traveler tents and trimmed by marshmallow-like clouds.

“You see the big mountain at the back? We go to the Uhuru peak from there.”

I looked afar at the snow-covered top and mused.

“I know, there is not much snow now, global warming… it was very different twenty years ago”, he murmured to himself.

Suddenly, the wind swept over the plain, and the mountain vanished in the shrouding fog. Close-by, my search for butterflies and pigeons, those brave lives at 4000m above sea level, also ended in vain. The rapid changes in weather caught me off-guard, resembling the vicissitude in life. At times, we steel ourselves so as to stand firm amid turbulence and tribulation.


My restless mind finally came back.

I decided to give one last try.


My voice was low, but my determination was intact.

“Linda, don’t ask again, you won’t know where the summit is until you get there.”

Freddie set off again but his words resonated in the air. I was about to respond, but no better language could be found to express myself. With a final gaze at the horizon, I was back on the trail as well.

“Where I am, I don’t know, I will never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I will go on.”

Samuel Beckett


Usiku Mwema, Kilimanjaro, Lala Salama. (Good night and rest well.)  You completed my speck-like and transient existence with immensity and infinitude.


P.S. Officially speaking, this is a CEP month, so I feel obliged to add some of my “real life, real learning” experience. I recharged well and returned to Nairobi, Kenya for my project. Working with the GM, I have exposure to all the business units in a local credit referencing bureau (CRB). I picked up R programming and Python on the side and got involved in account management, business process improvement and IT infrastructure development. Africa is an exciting place, and I have had interesting encounters here. Also, Jack Ma was in town yesterday and gave a speech at the University of Nairobi. I may save this story for a more serious post in weeks to come.



From city of Nespresso to city of Starbucks

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Today’s guest entry is by Wayne Su, who is sharing his thoughts on his company engagement project from Seattle, US

Never did I think that I would have the opportunity to work in Seattle Washington for 5 full weeks while still pursuing my MBA at IMD, not to mention to have the chance to devise go-to-market strategies for a project that encompasses all the fields I have always been eager to explore, including IoT, e-commerce and digital marketing. When I saw the shimmering Space Needle soaring from the stunning skyline in Seattle, I knew this was not a dream and couldn’t help putting on my face an Amazon logo smile that is ubiquitous in this city.

Every July, IMD MBA students have 5-week full-time Company Engagement Project (CEP) to showcase what we have learned during the past 6 months and put those skills into practice. The projects, either individual or group projects are based in every corner of the world, displaying the international exposure of IMD. You might be able to work for a startup company in Madagascar, an established software company in Dubai, an up-and-coming electric vehicles firm in Netherlands, a search engine giant in India, an incubator of a conglomerate in Germany, or use your entrepreneurial skills to devise and implement your business plan.

The partner companies for CEP could be either facilitated by the MBA Career Services or initiated by students themselves through their networks and the help of alumni. Mine is the latter case. Initially, a supportive IMD MBA alumnus working in a leading chemical company offered me a CEP opportunity to work for his company in Europe. However, after a few conversations, he found that there’s actually another opportunity, from a company they invested in Seattle, that aligns better with my interests and the skills I wish to build. So, he worked tirelessly to connect me with the partnership company, and eventually helped me to land my CEP here at Seattle.

The first week of the project was challenging for me as I was still jet-lagged and had to adjust my well-trained ears for international accents (European, India, Asia…) at IMD to purely American accents as well as the swift speaking rates. Fortunately, all my American colleagues are very nice and family-like. They took me out for lunches and made sure my accommodation was perfect here. The second week I started navigating through tons of materials and data, from sales data to consumer research reports, to get myself acquainted quickly. With the solid business training at IMD, I found many of the cases discussed in the class became useful reference points when I try to synthesize and digest the information in the reports, serving as a good framework for the problem in hand. In addition, I was thrilled to be involved in a real-life project where I could contribute in the meaningful way and to get my hands dirty by applying some fancy-sounding business models or strategy concepts into real business situation and make recommendations. Now I am halfway through my project and have rotated from marketing department to customer service department, experiencing firsthand the day-to-day operations in different functions.

Of course, I know I have to make the best of my time while staying in this amazing city in the most pleasant weather. Besides some must-go tourist attractions like Space Needle and Pike Place Market, I also visited Mount Rainier National Park, the iconic landscape in Washington. Pretty much every other day, I got to meet friends or alumni working here (mostly from Amazon or Microsoft as you can imagine). It might sound cliché, but I want to highlight here again how responsive and supportive IMD alumni are. In fact, next week I am going to meet a senior alumnus who graduated in the same year of my birth year!

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Seattle is generally a very laid-back city. People bike, sip coffee, eat healthy foods from organic supermarkets like Whole Foods, habitually exercise at fitness or Yoga centers you find everywhere. But at the same time, it’s also a thriving city where you meet hard-working people at Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft or other big-name companies recently moved here. In many ways, it’s like Lausanne. People bike, jog and wander along the lac Léman; but at the same time, you know there are MBA students working hard at IMD.

Wayne Su

It is all about people!

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Today’s guest entry is by Jonas Jafari, who is sharing his thoughts on his company engagement project with a leading Tech company in Dubai.

The local café is filled with wonderful scents of fruits with Arabic speaking people smoking Shisha (waterpipe) in the middle of Dubai’s technology hub – it is time for lunch and networking. My name is Jonas Jafari and I am doing my Company Engagement Project for a technology company in Dubai Internet City.

You often hear that people are saying they are having their time of their life, but for me, having the opportunity to experience Dubai in the way I have done – really, I am having the time of my life!

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I love the work I am doing, but even more, I am overwhelmed with all the people I have got to know. Honestly, I might be a little strange, since I talk to everyone I meet and I love getting to know strangers, but Dubai is perfect for that – it is filled with amazing people from around the world. I believe this mindset of mine is something that has been strengthened through my first six months at IMD: open mindedness. We focus a lot on that at IMD. Open mindedness is important for me and I see the same mentality in our strong alumni network. I have had the pleasure of visiting several IMD alums in impressive positions at their offices. These professionals also take time out of their schedule to welcome me to Dubai. I meet with people for dinner every night and people have taken me out fishing, I have been invited to a local farm to ride horses, and I have met with a local Emirati, who will lend me his private tailor – so that I can get my own tailor made Kandura!

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I have learned that as long as you show interest in people and have some guts to reach out to people they will most often meet with you.

I am humble and happy of having the opportunity, through IMD MBA’s Company Engagement Program, to experience all this.

Thank you to all you open-minded people who have warmly welcomed me to Dubai. I look forward to coming back!

Maʿ al-salāmah,

Jonas Jafari

CEP C-Engagement project

Today’s guest entry is by Victor Rumay who is sharing his thoughts on his company engagement project. 

At the beginning of the year when this acronym was introduced to the class, I was skeptical about the benefits that I could  get from a short period of work in interesting companies. I am writing this post after 2 weeks of intense work and tons of fun and learning.

My name is Victor Rumay, Peruvian, passionate for digital and innovation and currently staying in Lausanne for the summer.

For me, CEP has a different meaning: Community Engagement Period. During these weeks, I have had the chance to be involved in activities with the Company that I chose, UBS, and with Classmates and Community of this beautiful Country.

During these days, I have not only built knowledge of a business and market that I find fascinating but also fostered my relationship with classmates and community by being part of local activities such as entrepreneurship forums and French classes at the shore of the amazing lake Léman.

Furthermore, after a productive week, I get together with classmates and go to the summer jazz festival and open-air movies which coincide perfectly with the indescribable sunsets of Switzerland.

Despite being in touch remotely with my classmates who are now pursuing their dreams around the world, I am looking forward to a get together in August and fruitful exchange of our experiences in person.

I am about to start my second half of CEP with a lot of enthusiasm.


F1 Leadership

Today’s guest entry is by Stefano Piantoni who is sharing his thoughts post the OWP session wherein Mika Hakkinen and Allan McNish revealed their approach to high performance: focus, wellness and secure base leadership

As a child, I have always fantasized about driving a race car. In my mind, pilots were heroes, the human embodiment of a perfect integration between man and machine. I craved to live their fast-paced lifestyle, experiencing an adrenaline rush during acceleration after every curve. Continue reading “F1 Leadership”