Of Ambition, Belonging, Clarity, Direction, Encouragement and Fear

Looking back at a life changing year – this is the final post of the three part series by Abhijat Chahal.


I write this part inspired by a knock on my door last night from a classmate. He felt I had not been myself the last couple of days and wanted to check on me. It was a touching moment indicative of the strong bonds that have developed over the year and takes me to probably the most memorable part of my MBA journey. In January 2017, we all arrived in shiny armours, ready to showcase our best side. With passing weeks, those defences started dropping as we were confronted with chinks in our armours, not least the behavioural traits that were detrimental to the groups we worked in. There is an incredible transformation that took place in how relationships evolved, akin to having been in the trenches together. The IMD MBA took control of our lives and my 89 classmates became the all-consuming universe this year.

Through the year, we found moments of joy together in between working for our start-ups, studying Finance and Accounting, and all the cases that needed preparation. Paintball, bowling, laser tag, rafting on the Aare, celebrating Holi, go-karting, curling, gathering for huge meals, Lausanne 20km and Lausanne marathon, Red Bull 400… in retrospect, it is remarkable that we squeezed in time to do all of this. White Horse, Lacustre and Etoile Blanche became a part of our daily lives as we found comfort in familiarity to let off steam!


No matter the amount of pressure or the long hours of work, a good laugh was just a matter of taking a minute to have a fun conversation. It is amazing how we calibrated our sense of humour, our work ethic and largely, learnt to disagree without being disagreeable. Discussing and debating a host of topics under the sun, within the first weeks I found myself connecting deeply to people I didn’t know before this year. Soon we were discussing our hopes and fears. The armours were off, and the exposed vulnerability built connections that can be hard to fathom while looking from the outside.

Many of us found the courage to confront our demons and speak about it openly to new found confidants or even in the larger group of the class. I take away two great lessons – 1) We all have our stories and the baggage we carry, and 2) we are not alone, it’s just a matter of reaching out. Moments when I mustered the courage to talk about my challenges chipped away at the burden, piece by piece.

I saw this class cry at learning about the pain of some of our classmates, as we dealt with the frailty of our humanness. In the Leadership stream, we learnt that the group behaves like an organism and takes a life of its own. That some of us laid bare our emotions in front of the class speaks of the character and trust in this group. Any exposed vulnerability was nurtured in a sea of empathy, support and most importantly, encouragement.

Whether it was help in studying finance, preparing cases to crack consulting interviews, practicing behavioural questions, or connecting classmates with contacts – finding someone backing you to take that step to improve wasn’t hard. Preparing for Navigating the Future (NTF) conference was an aspirational moment as despite the absence of authority, many in the class volunteered their time and effort to take our show to the next level. The Class of 2017 came together to put together an NTF par excellence and the joy and togetherness of success was a moment to cherish.

abijat 2

If there’s one word that adds to the ambition we all came in with that defines what the year is encouragement – to try new things, to face our fears and dare to explore who we wanted to be.

Remove the broken parts you know were wrong
And feel the calm when the problem’s all gone
Part of Me (1999)


For all that I may have learnt about the world of business, living the experience in all its softer elements has made the decision of coming to IMD worth it. It is now the last week and time is racing. With job offers rolling in for some and working their way to others, there’s an eager anticipation in getting absolute clarity on our next steps.

I also feel a nervous uneasiness and I ask myself if I am ready to acknowledge what I feel.

Am I ready to admit the fear that’s gripping me?

I feel a desperation in wanting to hold on and live this experience a moment longer. I don’t want it to be over. Leaving the safety of our IMD bubble feels daunting. These strangers from a few months ago now feel like people I have known all my life, and the thought of them stepping away into their own lives in a week is disorienting. I don’t feel ready to let go yet.

We are all running away from something, or towards something. It is just the nature of ambitious individuals. I want to make sure in madness, I take the time to pause, reflect and acknowledge this incredible year of my life.

“There are things that we can have but can’t keep.”
One More Light (2017)

To my classmates, my friends…

I take the liberty of using the words that were used for Chester – your powerful voice and generous spirit is what I will take with me as I leave on the 8th December 2017, grateful for what we shared and hopeful of better times to come, pulling down the curtains on an extraordinary year in my life.

As a shipping man, I wish you fair weather and smooth sailing – remember, we can not direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. Look at the person next to you, and remind yourself of the difference they made to your life.

For the late-night knock on my door, for listening to my fears, for keeping me calm in moments of distress, for laughing at my jokes, for challenging my ideas, for sharing this journey… of Ambition, Belonging, Clarity, Direction, Encouragement and Fear, merci beaucoup!

This concludes my three part blog post.



Of Ambition, Belonging, Clarity, Direction, Encouragement and Fear

Looking back at a life changing year – Part Two


Life changing moments may come in conversations, experiences or reflection.

Sport has the ability of impacting the psyche of followers, or in some cases the collective conscience of a nation. The well chronicled tale of Nelson Mandela fostering unity in South Africa with the Rugby World Cup in 1995 is as remarkable a story as may be told. For the millennials in a cricket crazy India, Sachin Tendulkar was a man who impacted my generation by showing us not just the will to win, but to dominate and raise the bar. In this commercial, Adidas captured the mood of an entire nation when Tendulkar took the field in national colours.


Most summer afternoons, I found myself at Jetée de la Compagnie, swimming in the lake and having a few drinks with mates from school. The death of Chester Bennington soured the mood.

A day later, I was at the Paléo Festival in Nyon. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were the headline act. Fifty thousand people sang with them as they used the stage to comment on bringing people together instead of dividing them. Through rain and mud, the voices sang in support of a connected and accepting world, including their popular song on Donald Trump. A lifting moment after Chester’s death and amidst all the negative sentiment of hardening borders and creeping mistrust all around us.


Sports and music aren’t just entertainment, they are a reflection of the times we live in; being platforms for commentary on social and political developments.

Prof. Anand Narasimhan, in the last Leadership session, mentioned, “You as a group are, at a subconscious level, aware of the mortality of the group, and therefore, a lot of your actions in the last weeks will be driven by sheer weight of this realisation.”

With passing years, I need to take the opportunity to fully appreciate the significance of aspects that touch my life, not taking it for granted. The leadership journey and the days at the monastery in Oropa helped me gain clarity on facing up to the mortality of moments, experiences, time together and life in general and makes me conscious of living the experience and not staring at it through the screen of my smart phone.

“Give me reason, To fill this hole
Connect the space between
Let it be enough to reach the truth that lies
Across this new divide”
-New Divide, (2009)


“The fact that you are all here, means you all need help” – Prof. Nuno Fernandes

An extremely humbling statement to hear early in the year. Yes, we all did need help – amongst other aspects, most importantly, at being better versions of ourselves. We needed help with giving direction to our ambition. The initiation was a hard process, suddenly, I was not in control anymore – couldn’t be late for class, couldn’t decide when and where I wanted to work, and couldn’t choose the people I wanted to work with. There were no answers served on a platter, but there was an opportunity to know myself better, know the ones around me better and make sense of so many things happening around me – recognising the behavioural data and making conscious choices, not just be driven subconsciously by circumstances.

Ambition without direction is meaningless. It is a case of unrealised potential; built up energy with no way to channel it. Being in the intense IMD MBA pulls you into a bubble, and this bubble creates a mini universe of its own. Whether it was the inspirational speakers, my raised self-awareness, the Discovery Expeditions, or Navigating the Future conference – opportunities for learning and discovering were aplenty. Make no mistake, learning isn’t always a positive experience, just like life isn’t. It is usually the outcome that makes the learning process, albeit painful sometimes, worth it. Diversity isn’t just a nice statistic, it is the reality of learning how different individuals are, and how these differences provide perspectives but also generate friction. Within this protected universe, we witnessed a plethora of situations:

  • Jokes that led to laughter vs those that led to arguments.
  • Meaningful conversations that led to deep friendships vs ones that lacked spark.
  • Using information to share vs using information to manipulate.
  • Teaching styles that were liked vs others who would have preferred something different.
  • Teams that got along well vs others that laboured through the process.
  • Ultra-social/party-goers vs those who maxed out time on cases and assignments.
  • Ones who owned up responsibility vs some who were eager lay blame elsewhere.


This year-long bubble provided enough opportunity to test, choose and move forward with who we want to be, and who we did not want to be.

“I don’t know why I instigate
And say what I don’t mean
I don’t know how we got this way
I know it’s not alright
I’m breaking the habit, tonight”
-Breaking the Habit (2003)



Looking back at a life changing year

My first memory of Linkin Park was reading lyrics of Crawling carved out on a piece of wood in my Engineering School workshop. Linkin Park’s music occupied significant headspace in my group of friends as we went through university. I was intrigued by the lyrics that seemed to convey pain that I never really made an effort to understand. On July 20th this year, I woke up to the news of Chester Bennington’s death. It is hard to see your icons as merely human, and his death left me shaken. Based on public records, I spent hours trying to understand who he was as a person. I found out he was sexually abused as a child and later of his battle with alcohol and drug addiction. With his music, he had fought through his pain and touched lives world over.

There are many moments, big and small, that shape our destiny. I resolved then to take the time to pause and reflect on my year at IMD and the many feelings I had and would experience during the year. As a tribute to Chester, I take the liberty of punctuating my thoughts with Linkin Park lyrics.



Of Ambition, Belonging, Clarity, Direction, Encouragement and Fear

(This is the first of a series of three posts, written by Abhijat Chahal, from this year’s class)


What is it about an MBA that convinces so many across the world to make a huge investment in terms of time and money? Is it a desire for a higher salary? Or opportunities? Or just to break out? It was a question that baffled me for years until I decided to take this leap of faith myself. One aspect that was consistent, amongst all I met, was an ambition – to reach newer places, get better jobs and achieve loftier goals. Did I know what exactly I wanted out of an MBA year? Not really. I wanted more for myself and in the absence of truly inspirational ideas, decided to trust so much of what I had heard about the IMD MBA to help get to the next stage in my life.

Ambition will likely be the most commonly found trait at all top B-Schools. I sit and think today about what we came with and what became of it, as I witness the first snow flakes of this season, days before leaving Lausanne. The IMD MBA has proven to be an experiential abyss, with depths hard to fathom sometimes. The more I embraced it, the deeper it went.

“I have a dream of a scene between the green hills
Clouds pull away and the sunlight’s revealed”
-Dedicated (2002)


I had a colleague ask me if I was unhappy with our company, the Maersk Group, and if that had driven me to seek out opportunities with an MBA rather than make that next move within the company. It was a question that I needed to answer for myself more than him. At the age of 23, I took my first international flight for work. Ten years later, I had travelled to 48 countries and lived in six – work took me places. Maersk had empowered my life and the fact that my ambition stood tall was on a foundation built on my years in the company. No, I wasn’t unhappy at all. In fact, I was grateful – for all the opportunities and friends through the years. My time at Maersk is as much a part of my identity as my nationality. The sense of belonging is as much a liberating feeling as it is a grounding influence in shaping our identities.

The time at IMD pales in terms of the number of years, but makes up in intensity. The year has transformed us all, sometimes in ways that we didn’t expect. Lausanne became a part of who we will be forever. Earlier in the year, I witnessed my first ever ice hockey game. We went to support Lausanne Hockey Club in a historic game – the last one in the Malley stadium. It felt like all of Lausanne had gathered in the stadium. It was loud, energetic and memorable as the town celebrated the end of an era. A whole group of IMD MBAs added to the din at Malley.


In 2017, IMD and Lausanne is who we became. It is where we belong, and a part of us will continue to. Brushing aside the cynic, I learnt to be grateful for these moments of experiencing the positively binding emotion of belonging, shaping who I will grow to be.

“I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along, Somewhere I belong.”
-Somewhere I Belong (2003)



Truth and Lies at IMD

Half way through the electives, Isfandyar Z. Khan – Partner IMD 2017, shares his experience as well as insights into the benefits of opening this part of the program to the partners.

You may think that typical courses in this one year intensive MBA program would only focus on hard skills, taking over the world one excel sheet at a time, however the truth is far from it. This fall, the program provided the opportunity for the partners of MBA students to participate in electives. This opened up a secret chamber by which partners could not only see, but live through, part of the MBA experience.

partner elective

Given that I myself am a bit weary of the ethical practices of the business world, I decided to take the popular elective on Truth, Lies and Trust taught by Professor Jennifer Jordan, who is a part of the leadership faculty. I wish an elective like this had been offered earlier in the year as finally I could empathize with my wife’s motivation for getting up at 6:30 am, downing a coffee and braving the cold to be on time for morning classes.

partner elective 3

The elective was great – one learned, one challenged, one laughed and one pondered. It also gave us some lie detection skills which could have come in handy earlier in the year (were you actually studying or were you at the White Horse bar?!) Yet, more than just the course, I really appreciated IMD opening up the electives to others. For a program which emphasizes personal leadership and prioritizes relationships, it is necessary to acknowledge that there are certain factors that ensure some relations endure and strengthen over time. Post MBA, the graduates will not operate in a bilateral world but one with many nodes, and thus having partners more exposed to classmates will help carry relationships forward.

As the year draws to a close, I do feel we have come together as a family. There is warmth, there is affection and just like any family there will be conflict and a need to nurture relationships. I think taking an elective makes us all know each other better and just for that, I hope IMD keeps up with the tradition.


2018 Scholarship winners announced!

The MBA scholarship deadline was 30th September, and by midnight an impressive number of thought-provoking essays had reached us.

It is always inspiring to see the amount of effort that people put into writing their scholarship essays. They offer a clear insight into business trends of the time, combined with personal anecdotes, new angles and even the occasional bit of humour!

Each year, the scholarship committee faces the challenge of going through all the applications, reading and assessing the essays, discussing and arguing for our favorites, selecting finalists to be sent to external juries, and then waiting for the definitive selection to know who has actually been nominated as the winners of the various scholarships.

This year, we are proud to announce that 34 IMD Scholarships were awarded, meaning that we have been able to help 38% of the 2018 class.

The 34 winners have been informed and announced to the class, but we would like to thank everyone who submitted an application for their time and effort. We would also like to thank our external sponsors and juries for helping us to increase the number of scholarships we were able to offer this year, and for their help in the tough selection process.

Here are a couple of responses we received from winners:

André Cepêda, Brazil/Portugal

“The Emerging Markets scholarship goes beyond enabling the pursuit of world-class executive education; it sets a moral commitment for me to retribute by helping people to reach their full potential along my career after MBA.”

Sara Jamil, France/Morocco

“I am honoured to have been selected for the IMD MBA Merit Scholarship. It means a great deal to me…This gesture simply confirmed my initial intuition about IMD: an authentic MBA program that first and foremost fosters merit and diversity.”

We look forward to welcoming the new candidates to campus in January!







My affair with IMD

Neharika Agarwal from next year’s class looks back to her introduction to IMD and shares impressions from her assessment day.

It all started one Saturday afternoon when I was discussing my MBA plans with a friend. He introduced me to IMD saying it is one of the best general management MBA programs in the world and it would be a great fit for me given my background and experience! Only problem is that it is quite difficult to crack given the class size, student accomplishments and a very rigorous admission procedure. This really piqued my interest and I poured all my energy into getting to know the school more.

After months of hard work, I finally got a chance to meet my interest first hand when I got an invite for the assessment day. IMD is situated on the banks of Lake Geneva and that sight itself took my breath away!

Lake view

The Assessment day started sharp at 7:50 AM with a tour of the lovely campus. During the tour, I realized the importance of time when Antonio told us that if you are late by even a minute, you’re not allowed to enter the class! Talk about Swiss precision! We also got a chance to peek into the class, celebrating a birthday over Salsa and what we saw made us realize that it is not all work but some play too.

At the end of the day we were taken to a class to see for ourselves what a lecture is like at IMD. It was an entrepreneurship class by Professor Benoit Leleux. What made it more special was that the person who started the company that was being discussed in the case was attending the lecture and gave her inputs and made notes of some of the suggestions provided by the students on the next stage of her venture. Attending that class, seeing the potential tangible impact live, suddenly made it all so real for me and instantly made me realize that IMD was really the place where I wanted to be if I got through.  I was glad I got a chance to visit the school in person to see what I could expect and was totally blown away. Despite eight strenuous hours and a previous night of sleeplessness I was still fully charged and was absolutely ready for more.

Now that my interest has been reciprocated, I’m looking forward to spending a year getting to know it deeply and developing a lifelong relationship.


The last lap

Exactly one month and one hour to graduation!

This was the message posted by one of my batch mates on our whatsapp group last week! I cannot believe this year has to come an end. The only stark reminder of the end has probably been the onset of winter cause the pace of activity in the last few months has not changed all that much. The last weeks had been all about travelling and working on our ICP Project, job search and contemplating about real life outside the IMD bubble. Continue reading “The last lap”