A mid-year overview of a leadership journey

Ombudsman and Ombudswoman

Sebastiano Pizzinelli and Camila Scaranelo

February 2019: the 90 IMD MBA participants had worked shoulder to shoulder for approximately one month. IMD decided it was time for the class to have two representatives: a male and a female.

IMD took an innovative approach. Our class was simply asked to choose, in an anonymous poll, the people we saw as good class representatives: no popularity contest, no advertisements, no speeches, just true community spirit. The results came shortly after and we had been chosen.

Now, in June, almost half of the program is over and … it was tough! “He who learns must suffer” as Aeschylus would say, but the amazing part has been bonding with our fellow participants and the support we feel.

Here we share what this journey has meant for us so far, and the challenges we have faced.

“Camila, what was the hardest moment for you?”

I believe it was right before the module one exams, when we had so much going on at the same time: meetings with our “start-up” clients, studying for the exam week, and representing all of our class requests. In hindsight, it was a great learning and we could see a clear difference in module two.

“Sebastiano, what was the feeling right after the announcement we had been chosen?”

I was flattered and concerned: representing 88 future leaders is an honor and I knew it would be hard to stand up to their high expectations. I realized not only how much our batch deeply cared about inclusion and bonding, but also how much I cared about it. However, it was all very fast, we immediately had things to do for the class. It has been an amazing journey and a chance to know many of these extraordinary individuals better. I do everything in my power to deserve the trust and responsibilities that were imparted to me.

“Camila, what is the class feeling at the moment?”

I believe the class has come together with its own identity. We are no longer 90 individuals, we actually became the Magic 90. For many, there was this strange sense of relief after the pressure of module one and even when exams were imminent, things were smoother. There’s a lot of excitement for the discovery expedition and the summer break, and we’re using all our spare time to network and investigate the companies we believe will be the best fit for our future.

“Sebastiano, how do you think the class would describe these two modules?”

In the first module, classes are just part of the typical day: a chance to learn and start living the IMD journey together. Then group projects, essays, assignments, presentations, and tons of deadlines drop from everywhere building considerable pressure. But it also creates a tight bond within the groups as a survival response. In Module two the pressure is perceived differently: we are all stretching our limits and comfort zones, and being in groups is an additional push to raise the performance bar. In a way, module two is also about reflection and retrospection, with peaks in the negotiations course and innovation week.

“Camila any final words?”

Overall the experience has been great and the support of our classmates was crucial for this to happen. It’s a better learning opportunity than I could have imagined, and as such, it is presented with many challenges as well. “Learning to lead without hierarchy” seems to be a recurrent motto around here and it is no different for being an ombuds.

Camila and Sebastiano

The IMD MBA Assessment Day, New Delhi

Ruchi Senthil shares her experience of the IMD MBA Assessment Day in New Delhi.

“I attended the IMD Assessment day in New Delhi, India on 14 March 2019 and what an amazing experience it was! Prior to my application to IMD, I had read numerous blog posts and spoken to IMD alumni who could not stop gushing over the Assessment Day. So it was not like I wasn’t prepared for it. But what I saw…. and what I experienced, far exceeded my expectations. While the day was challenging both mentally and physically – it was by far the most inclusive, tailored and personalised approach to MBA participant selection I have witnessed since I started my own MBA journey.

Since IMD was always amongst my top schools to pursue an MBA, travelling to Lausanne for the Assessment Day was something I expected and accepted because it would give me a shot at studying at such a prestigious school. However, I was mildly surprised, and to some extent disappointed, when I realised that IMD was pulling no stops at enrolling the crème de la crème for their MBA program by expanding their interview process to places outside of Lausanne – New Delhi being one of them.

While it saved me quite a lot of money, I wondered if they would be able to replicate the same atmosphere that I would have experienced in Lausanne. Overall, I did miss the whole ‘sit in class and eat lunch with current participants’ bit, and it would have been nice to experience the atmosphere at IMD before actually starting my course, but I guess you can’t have it all. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did they bring the flavour of Lausanne to my literal doorstep, they did so with panache! 

The Assessment Day was brilliantly organised in a 5 star hotel in the heart of Delhi city. IMD reserved the entire floor for just 10 of us, giving us enough space and privacy if we needed it. The order of the day was well organised, each of us got customised folders outlining exactly when we were expected to do what and the day moved more or less exactly on that itinerary. Both Anna Farrus and Paola Eicher were professional yet friendly, putting all of us at ease and trying to bring out the best in each of us. The attention to detail was phenomenal and it reiterated all I had heard. Each task that we were asked to perform that day had a specific function – to highlight qualities of leadership, team work and general competence to successfully undertake a gruelling MBA course.

All in all, I think the IMD Assessment Day at New Delhi worked like a well-oiled machine – no glitches!

Ruchi

The IMD MBA Assessment Day, Lausanne

Tyler Lewis shares his experience of the IMD MBA Assessment Day in Lausanne.

“It was definitely a risk traveling to Lausanne for my assessment day, not just because of the time and money spent that might not have resulted in an acceptance, but also because my wife was 37 weeks pregnant and I ran the risk of missing the birth of our second child! But ultimately the risk paid off. I got to know 8 other fabulous candidates from around the world, got to see inside the campus and how the school works, got a feel for Lausanne, and got a good sense of what my year at IMD would look like. And I didn’t miss the birth of my daughter!

Investing a year of my family’s life, moving to a new city (and in this case, continent), and spending a large amount of money warranted that I visit every school to which I applied or was even thinking about applying to. I visited eight schools in my MBA search. Every single visit was a valuable use of time and money, because in the end I felt confident in all the schools that I applied to.

Of all the school visits, none was as insightful as my assessment day at IMD. The experience actually started a few weeks before, when the school put me in touch with other candidates that were going to be attending the same assessment. We started a group chat and ended up making plans to meet for dinner in Lausanne the night before the assessment. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually get to make dinner reservations with a group of strangers in a foreign country. The dinner was great, and we all got to know each other. It made the next day flow more smoothly, as there was a general sense of camaraderie and amiability that might not have been there otherwise.

The day showed us all about the character of IMD: intense, intentional, and intimate. Naturally, the tasks were complex and high-stakes, but rather than intimidating, the whole day was energizing. The busy schedule gave us a taste for the expectation of future participants. The fact that the school set aside a whole day to interview candidates shows that it has an eye for detail and an intentionality that goes into everything it does. Finally, the group-work nature of the challenges was very personal. IMD was the only school that I walked away from with the feeling that I’d made new friends.

And of course, traveling to Lausanne gave me the opportunity to see the city firsthand. What really sealed the deal for me was the breathtaking view on a gorgeous, sunny day while we all shared a post-assessment beer by the lake. You just can’t beat Lausanne for beauty. I wish I could have spent more time exploring the city, but every moment away increased the chances that I’d miss my daughter’s birth! It’s ok, because I now have a whole year to get to know Lausanne, which we are thrilled, anxious, and excited about.

Tyler with his wife, son and new baby daughter!

Tyler

Global Assessment Impressions

Anna Farrus, Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at IMD, shares her impressions of the new global approach to our Assessment Days:

“Assessment Days are designed to get to know our candidates better, and for candidates to get to know IMD better. Besides the admissions interview, candidates are asked to participate in a number of individual and group activities. It is an intense day, for both candidates and Admissions! It also allows candidates to start developing their network. They spend the whole day with other candidates, and many of them already create friendships during the event.

For the first time, the MBA Recruitment and Admissions team have travelled all over the world to carry out our famous assessment days. We have visited Dubai, Sao Paulo, Mexico DF, New Delhi and Singapore, and assessed more than 40 candidates during these international assessment days.

I personally travelled to three of those cities, and it was a great experience. And yet, not very different from the assessment days in Lausanne. Everyone is nervous, with a look of anticipation in their faces. Most of the candidates meet before the event, and so there is always a sense of camaraderie amongst them.

While the groups that we met at the international events were less diverse, we were still able to see some of the same behaviours: the candidate(s) who would try to take the lead, the candidate who tried to involve everyone in the discussion, the one who remained quiet for most of the time yet had great insights,… Discussions were lively and interesting and, in some cases, quite loud!!

By the end of the day, we were all exhausted but happy. For us, the difficult part started a few days later, when the Admissions Committee had to make some difficult decisions!

For more insights into these days, read the posts later this week from Tyler, who took part in an Assessment day in Lausanne, and Ruchi, who did hers in New Delhi.

Anna Farrus

The Greatest Glory

DSC_9217

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” – Nelson Mandela

Madiba had foreseen, perhaps, that those who aspire to shape the world need a reminder, that in the pursuit of intellectual and economic success, we should take our hearts along for the ride.

After Module 1’s rigorous training on frameworks and discounted cash flows, I daresay we felt pretty good about our knowledge on the essential MBA toolkit. But is there value in using tools without a burning mission, or a vision that sees beyond profit?

Nope.

Enter Professor Knut Haanaes, Professor of Strategy at IMD and Dean of the Global Leadership Institute at the World Economic Forum (WEF). Since the first lecture of our Business and Society course, Professor Knut asked us to evaluate cases and ideas through three lenses; systemic change, corporate contribution, and individual responsibility. With this in mind, we dived into the tough conversations about maintaining performance while protecting the environment, ending inequality, and driving accountability for ethical behavior. For me, the striking thing is that despite our cultural and personality differences, and even if we disagree on how to proceed, as a class we have been united in our concern for society at large, and are seeking ways to make a fast and effective impact.

DSC_9135.jpg“Magic 90” with Professor Knut Haanaes at the World Economic Forum

A fresh perspective on vision and intent: Stories are incredibly powerful in their ability to change minds. We benefited from many through a range of guest speakers during the course. Our session on the WWF goals reminded us how much in peril our natural world is. Yves Daccord, Director-General of the Red Cross (ICRC) wowed us with his adventures and learnings in overwhelmingly high-stress and often unfamiliar situations. He is one of our most memorable speakers in the program thus far, and believe me, the bar is set high. He achieved this without slides, his stories so visceral and relatable that we hung onto every word. Our President at IMD, Professor Jean-Francois Manzoni, also did a session with us on navigating corporate culture and even redefining it as we progress in our careers.

Challenging companies to do better: This is where it gets trickier. During a class discussion on palm oil, the narrative drove me to question consumer choices. Do we really need palm oil to be in everything? Can we be weaned off of it? Do the orangutans really need to die because we like Nutella on toast? And the corporate argument against ending palm oil use is that livelihoods of farmers are then being taken away. The “aha” moment here is that even if my heart is in the right place, my mind needs to have a business plan. It is more convincing to show that we can transition farmers to other crops such that a manufacturer can still realize profits, just in a new and different, perhaps even more lucrative way, without causing harm to the planet.

SDGs-GlobalGoalsForSustainableDevelopment-05.jpgSustainable Development Goals (SDG): SDGs are a call to action, comprising of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for completion in the year 2030. Professor Knut assigned each group to a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). For each SDG we needed to state the current status, challenges, and the role of business in generating solutions. My team worked on SDG 3, Good health and well being, with a focus on Mental Health in the Workplace. Presentations were conducted yesterday, the last day of the course.

We began early with the sunrise to drive over to Geneva. We met with Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF who reminded us that the future will not just be hinging on technology, but also on talent and trust. Furthermore, he urged us to pursue our goals using brain, soul, heart, muscle, and nerves, all our faculties, to make the best decisions for all stakeholders.

After a fascinating afternoon at the United Nations, we arrived at the SDG space. While listening to my peers’ presentations, I realized these issues aren’t unsolvable. As consultants, bankers, and executives, problem-solving is part of our ammo. “Fix it! Create it! Figure a way around it!” The challenge is really the scale of the issues that plague sustainability. And they are of our own making, our miserable track record of individual focus and ignorance of widespread consequences.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

Professor Knut asked us if we felt optimistic or pessimistic. When I think of the Great Pacific garbage patch or gender equality being 200 years away, my heart sinks. But my friend and colleague, Mirko, shared a message of hope as evening approached and it was time to head home to Lausanne: “I am more positive about the world’s outlook, because all of us in this room are leaders of tomorrow and this course showed us the importance and urgency to act and bring back the balance between profits society and the environment. My wish is that every one of us will take the big responsibility to take these learnings into the real world by adapting our lifestyles and leadership for a better future on our planet.”

DSC_9189.jpgProfessor Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum

I remain an optimist, with good reason.

And I end this post with words of wisdom from Professor Knut. When I asked him about sustainable goal setting and his aspirations for our class, he shared the following …

“Good business is about balancing the short and long-term. If we take a long-term perspective it is clear that sustainability needs to be a top issue for all companies. If we take a short-term perspective, it may look less important, but only until you are attacked in social media. So today any smart company needs to address sustainability for the short and the long-term. That, to me, is great news!

The MBA class will be better leaders that we have seen thus far. In part, because the future will demand more leadership, even put a premium on it. And I think you have it in you. I know you will set higher targets on yourself than even I would have!”

The course has ended, but our contribution to the change has just begun. May we do good, and do well. May we find our greatest glory.

Sustainably yours,

Surbhi

(special thanks to Olivier for the incredible photos!)

Practice makes Perfect at IMD

When I started my company to scale early-stage tech projects, I was convinced that my exposure to Europe and my tech background would be sufficient to take me through my career. Dealing with ambiguity head on, I realised that there are so many other pieces to the puzzle. While I knew that technology was my forte, I wanted to know how everything fits together to drive positive impact. It was then that I decided to aim for a leadership program that would not only help me go outward, but really help me understand what makes me tick. That’s when I joined the IMD MBA.

Me with Professor Knut Haanaes

Having lived and worked in 9 countries in Europe and Asia, I was very happy when I met my class for the first time. It was a great feeling to join a bunch of diverse people, who were in the same boat as me, pushing their boundaries to understand what drives them. I was very curious about how we would work as a group. And that’s where I have been having the most fun.

In my start up project, we helped a day-care center build a corporate sales channel from scratch in 8 weeks. Before this, I had no idea how powerful surveys could be! In our innovation challenge, we built a prototype in the form of a gift box in one week to help UEFA bring more fans to the Euro 2024 fan festival. We were placed top 2 out of a group of 18 and got featured in CNN Switzerland.

There is a different kind of energy here in Lausanne and the learning itself, it’s multi-layered. After every IMD Project, we are prompted to look within, as individuals and as groups. And that’s where I feel I get my biggest learning from. I had always struggled with being able to provide early feedback but, with practice, I am slowly learning how to do so properly. This gives me confidence.  

I am looking forward to translating this confidence into action in our upcoming International Consulting Project, where my team and I will be looking to add value to a really innovative Cyber-security company with a legacy in Media.

Warmly,

Arjun
IMD MBA European Diversity Scholarship Winner

The MBA alumni network: a glimpse of an inspirational and effective community

One of the reasons I chose the IMD MBA was its strong, active, and supportive alumni network. I am convinced that such a network will be invaluable both for my career and for my private life, providing an open platform to exchange challenges, experiences and ideas in an informal way. Therefore, I was looking forward to the on-campus reunion last Friday, when our class met MBA alumni from the last few years here in Lausanne.

Let me first share a few words about the IMD alumni community, which is structured around three axis: clubs (50 clubs with 230+ events per year), program communities (e.g. the MBA community), and expert communities (8 chapters with 37+ events per year). Expert communities include the Alumni Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE), which organizes events to connect IMD MBAs with entrepreneurs. A number of my MBA colleagues have already participated in these events this year.

Last Friday was one of the yearly reunions of the MBA community. Not only a chance for the recent graduates, who have spent an intense and possibly life-changing year together, to reconnect, but also an opportunity for the 2019 class to interact with a large crowd of MBA alumni in an informal and friendly atmosphere. I was impressed by the number of people who came to Lausanne and attended the event, which proved that the spirit of sharing and networking from the MBA is alive far beyond this one year.

I personally enjoyed many insightful and fun conversations with alumni from all kinds of industries. Whether they are currently in senior roles at Nestlé, Roche, or Honeywell, all of them were curious about our year as well as enthusiastic to offer their support and share their experiences with me. For instance, I got to know Georg from 2017, who directly introduced me to one of the alumnae of 2016, who works in an area that is highly interesting to me.

Similarly, my classmate Tamil spoke to Roy from 2016 who, after he understood her background and interests, introduced her to various relevant people from the MBA alumni network. She was extremely glad the event took place at this point in time, as it helps us prepare for the job search by understanding companies’ challenges better and what they may be looking for.

I only regret that I did not manage to talk with all the people I really wanted to. One of my classmates suggested VR-enabled networking, so I’d be able to better navigate the crowd – in the sea of alumni it was not always easy to quickly find out who is who.

Overall, the first encounter with the IMD MBA community exceeded my expectations; the people’s curiosity, openness, and support, was outstanding. I am proud that our Magic 90 will be part of this powerful community by the end of this year, and I already look forward to meeting the IMD MBA class of 2020 in one year’s time 🙂

Daniel Leutenegger