Yesterday, the MBAs had their last class together.
A moment of mixed emotions, as the elation at having completed the year combines with the wrench of realising that each classmate is about to embark on a new adventure, in all corners of the globe, and the close bonds formed over the past 11 months are about to be stretched to new limits.
But this is a time to celebrate. To acknowledge different achievements and contributions. So the day ended with champagne, with awards and recognitions, and with the MBA yearbook distribution.
I can vividly recall the beginning of the IMD journey for both of us. It was a luck of the draw, in all senses of the phrase, that determined the IMD journey for us over our comfortable life back home.
Now over a year past that decision, we still can’t believe the roller coaster ride we have been through. From being fearful of moving out of our home country, to both of us moving to two different continents and following our hearts. While my partner spent most of his time at IMD (and as I heard, asking a lot questions in class 😊), I moved to Canada to explore my career option internationally. It was an amazing adventure which words could never do justice to.
It wasn’t our first long distance period, so at least we were prepared for that part. We managed to meet and plan vacations during the year. But what actually changed for us were the topics of conversation during our calls that mostly revolved around giving each other tips on networking and interviewing. I feel I got some good IMD learnings along the way too!
And now it’s time to celebrate our successes. Our separate journeys will merge into our next destination. I can’t wait to plan 2020 and to celebrate graduation week with the beautiful people we have met through IMD.
In cups of coffee … lots of them.
Graduation week is officially here.
I would be lying if I said that I am totally cool with saying, “seeya later” to my 89 compadres. When I arrived in January, on a day as cold as today, but what feels like so long ago, I had a clear purpose for coming to IMD. I knew which job I wanted in which geography, and how it would fit into my planned career path. I had my “secure base” in Dubai with no real need or desire to form close friendships. It was simple in my mind; study, recruit, graduate, explore Switzerland, and move on.
My dormitory landlady in college once told me, “Man plans and God laughs”. Apparently, this applies to women as well. I definitely did not get time to explore Switzerland.
Nothing anyone could have told me would prepare me for the sheer exhaustion and exhilaration this year has brought into my life. What does the journey feel like? Have you seen Harry Potter? It feels like this (start at 0:40 if you are impatient) …
If I have to summarize each month here, it would be as follows.
January: I am so excited to be an IMD MBA student! This is going to change my life!
The arrival of “Magic 90” (as coined by Sebastiano :), laundry system culture shock, snow in Villars, dancing in Villars, accounting and finance, bullwhip
February: This is a lot of work for an MBA program, no? Start-up groups, weekends of finance and accounting study where I look just as clueless as the person next to me, and the one next to him … and yet I live in hope that I have enough time to learn everything
March: My life sucks. I question every decision ever made that led me to this chaos.
Tears … I don’t have enough time to learn everything, start-up project drama really kicks in, integrative Exercise 1 i.e., sleep-deprived smiles … exams … so many tears *My PDE ensured my survival this month. I love you, Natalia.
April: As shocked as everyone else that I did well in Accounting …
Celebrating the completion and passing of exams, jumping into Module 2, running home for Easter break to remind myself I have a life beyond the MBA bubble, running back to the bubble because in some masochistic way I actually missed it, more accounting, more finance, strategy … lots of lonely nights with case studies
May: Spirits rise with the weather, all smiles as recruiting begins Packed my winter jacket away, sunshine all around, gorgeous edited CVs at the ready, brooding over cover letters, naive, happy hellos as on-campus company presentations begin, questioning my original goals, prodding new ideas and roles, the realization that what I planned may not be the best for me … so now what?
June: Discovery Expedition, where I discovered that I would prefer not to do extensive long-haul travel in the future 14 days, 3 cities in different continents, essentially giving Phileas Fogg major existential angst, all 90 of us breathing the same air and living the same existence, wonderful, fun, and ultimately so tiring that your bones are ready for summer break.
July: I’m going home and never coming back! Arriving home so overwhelmed by the breakneck speed of the first half of 2019. Sulking initially on leaving a nice, warm, comfort zone. Realizing later that the magic lies beyond said comfort zone, binge-watch Netflix with cat, finalize cover letters, study, wonder if it would have made sense to stay in Europe and network, as some high achievers have done, decide break is good idea anyway, continue binge-watching Netflix
August: I came back. Feeling refreshed. Amazing what a month of regular sleep and mental rest can do for the soul. Short-lived. Module 3 + recruiting = Module 1 on steroids. Tired. Worried. Tired. Scouring company presentation lists and highlighting those of interest. Interview practice. Pitch. Pitch. Pitch. Ice-cream truck arrives! My favorite is blueberry cheesecake.
September: Interview practice like your life depends on it Early selection lists. Joy. Disappointment. Learning. Learning. Learning. PDEs in overdrive. Self-reflection. Pivoting the career search. Baptism under fire as we learn to be agile, accept failure, accept ambiguity, understand that while things don’t go our way externally, we exert control over our reactions and responses. Ice-cream truck leaves. The ICPs begin.
October: Like salmon swimming upstream ICPs in full swing, job search angst at its peak, tensions flare, empathy grows. Major personal stretch goals. Flying to interviews. Prayers. Some good news. Some not-so-good news. Magic 90 fires on. It’s not the end till we say it is. Meeting alumni who say this is the best year of our lives. Staring at them wondering if the definition of “best” varies across cultures.
November: Time flies when you’re having fun (or drinking from a fire hose) ICP wrap up. Satisfaction at another project well done. Electives begin. Sitting through “The Future of Marketing” with Professor Frédéric Dalsace and “The Displacement of Pioneer Companies by Scrappy Copycats” with Professor Howard Yu — courses so good they should be core curriculum. Final round interviews. Offers. Satisfaction. Relief. Suspense. Trade-offs. Decisions. Sometimes straightforward. Or holding out for something better. Emails from Regula and Gyopi about wrapping things up. It’s getting real. The end is nigh.
December: Mixed emotions, yet eager to take on the next adventure! Expecting a whirlwind of tears, Kleenex, happy memories, emotions, and closure. Maybe more. I will miss my peers and the MBA team.
At the end of this “bumpy ride”, I am not only choosing a career path and location I didn’t consider initially, but I leave this mountain-cuddled sleepy town with friendships you generally only make in school or college, the kind that is rare and thereby more precious in adulthood. I feel sad and elated, a strange sense of gratitude because I unexpectedly found something that will be difficult to walk away from.
So how will I measure this year?
I don’t think I can.
Not everything can, or should, be quantified. I know that I have changed, suffered, grown, triumphed, and all this is taking me towards a brand new chapter.
And this in itself, is priceless.
Wishing my class a fantastic week, and a wonderful visit for all the family and friends attending our graduation.
Our journey at IMD is almost at an end. Time really flies. I would like to use this opportunity to reflect on my experiences prior to, during, and after my MBA.
My interest in the “international world” first came about in Geneva. I spent 4 years there in my youth where I became interested in working for United Nations Humanitarian agencies in the developing world.
After university I went to Cameroon to work for the local Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. I spent two years living in the rural village, working on income generating activities for local farmers. Then, I had a chance to work for an NGO in South Sudan, where ethnic conflict was severe. I was running around, delivering emergency food supplies to internally displaced people and constructed health care facilities across the region.
However, when the battles between the ethnic groups in 2013 destroyed what we had constructed and we had to evacuate, leaving local people and our staff behind, I questioned myself. What could I do when international organizations can not intervene in ethnic conflicts? How could I provide effective support to this developing world?
I decided to move into the private sector which created value by bringing employment to the local African people. I joined a Japanese pharmaceutical company, and was dispatched to Kenya, from where I travelled to over 10 countries in Africa, creating employment by expanding business. But here, I questioned myself again. Was I good enough to be a general manager who could create more positive impact in the continent?
This is why I came to IMD – to grow as a business leader who can help an emerging market. IMD’s focus on leadership, its intense one-year program and strong exposure to Industry made it my number one choice.
Learning at IMD has been impressive, mainly because of the different aspects covered within the year. Not only were the core classes mostly exceptional but also the Innovation lab, Digital analtyics lab, Startup projects, Discovery expedition, ICP and business & society course (during which we visited the United Nations and the World Economic Forum), were all insightful. From guest speakers who were high executives from both private and public sectors, I learned about their serious commitments on sustainability, inclusion and diversity. It made me think a lot on how leaders should also be focusing on aspects outside of financial statements.
The IMD Leadership stream gave me a good chance to reflect on myself. Regular interaction with a psychoanalyst and leadership coaches, plus numerous feedback sessions with my classmates, clearly deepened my self awareness. Eventually, my passion and career goal became clearer and more sharpened: I want to create a sustainable, growing business in the emerging market and bring positive impact to the world.
Finally, I need to mention my classmates. These guys are great. Humble hardworking, friendly and helpful. I couldn’t have gone through this tough year without them.
With these great future alumni of 2019, I wish to create positive impact in the real world.
As temperatures dip, I find myself curled up with a bowl of hot soup at lunchtime at the IMD Restaurant. Some days ago we enjoyed an aromatic tagine and slices of thick walnut baklava on Morocco Day. And who can forget those glorious summer days of unlimited, and I mean, unlimited, Movenpick ice cream?! And as we hurtle towards graduation, it would be a mistake to not profile and thank the incredible novae team who keep us nourished and quite frankly, alive, during what may well be one of the most challenging years of our careers.
Anyone who has considered IMD, or made it to Assessment Day, or has given a lecture to students here, has heard of and likely dined at the IMD Restaurant. And then told friends and family of its multi culinary lore. It is literally that epic. I have personally overheard at an alumni reunion, a former IMD MBA in line for lunch saying, “Oh gosh, I’ve missed this so much!”
Nestled between the MBA buildings, the Executive Learning Center, Bignami, and a lush green park sits the Restaurant, appropriately at the heart of IMD social life. It is a large space with ground and first floors and an outdoor patio that opens up in the warmer months. Through the glass windows, you can see groups of people breaking bread, engrossed in conversation. On a given day when I walk across the hall, I can hear chatter on new business articles, potential projects, an upcoming lecture series, new parents aspiring for a good night’s sleep and my peers discussing Lacustre shenanigans from last evening.
What we rarely see, or think about, is the effort behind the production house that feeds hundreds of people on a daily basis, including 90 MBAs with appetites as vast as their professional ambitions. I could imagine an accounting line item just for us, “MBA variable costs = 1.5*Regular diner variable costs” #mbahumor
The novae team begins their day at 6AM. They spend the morning chopping, sauteing, and preparing all the dishes in the interconnected kitchens behind and above the dining areas. Olivier, who generously took all these fantastic pictures, and I took a sneak peek to prepare for this post and were amazed at this labyrinth of cooking stations where the team works in planned unison, churning out copious amounts of greek salad, daal, sweet potato fries, cannelloni, and grilled fish, so streamlined and efficient. No surprise then that when the cream puffs are almost over, we see a tray of freshly prepared plump cream-filled pastry goodness appear within minutes.
Stressed spelled backward is desserts, and the novae team has spoilt us for choice. International sweets aren’t uncommon. Seen below are the aforementioned cream puffs, and “basbousa”, an Egyptian sweet cake. For those healthy living days, there is a supply of fruit and yogurt 🙂
Lunch is typically followed by an expresso at the Bignami cafe we know as Mireille’s. How she remembers our orders I will never know. It is an experience that makes IMD special to us and can brighten up even the dullest day.
I wish you all the opportunity to dine at the IMD Restaurant. It provides so much more than a meal. It is where you find some kindness and camaraderie, where we eat at the same table, regardless of our differences. In fact, between trying dishes from Tunisia and Sri Lanka, we’ve expanded our palates and even given vegetarian burgers a shot (for the record, they were pretty good)! The Restaurant also has made us think about not wasting food, where our food comes from, and you can sometimes see locally sourced labels at the lunch buffet. In a world that is becoming alarmingly polarized, food remains a common denominator of humanity, and in our tiny Alpine corner of the universe, this industrious establishment has all of us covered, and how.
On behalf of the Class of 2019, thank you, dear novae team: Frédéric, Arnaud, Nicolas, Jérome, Aloïs, Philippe, Malick, Cedric, Arno, Luis, Kumarasamy, Sébastien, José, Jean-Jacques, Carlos, Emanuel, Gatien, Guillaume, Mireille, Jorge, Antonio, Zahra, Maëwen
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.