The mind of a strategist

March. This was a very special month of my IMD MBA journey for multiple reasons: International Women’s Day program with a fascinating panel of three female business leaders; the last miles of Module 1, wrapping up all the knowledge taught so far; and the famous integrative exercise, a 48 hour case study marathon in our teams of six. Last but not least, this was the month when we had our strategy course with Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski (‘Misiek’ as he calls himself).

I was very curious about this course a long time before I started the MBA in January. After several years of professional experience at BCG I was wondering how I would find this part of the program. Would it still be eye opening? Would I learn much or rather refresh the long-known concepts I used to apply in my consulting career? I remembered well some of my older colleagues who claimed strategy is what we practice in strategy consulting, not what we learn at business school.

Finally, I was curious about the professor too. Misiek spent the majority of his professional career teaching strategy at Harvard, well known for its strength in this field. My expectations were high.

Misiek took us on an absolute intellectual roller coaster. Although the majority of the concepts were not new (who has not heard about Porter’s Five Forces?), the way we applied and discussed them was a masterpiece. The professor made sure we all went much below the surface and challenged the way we used to think of the companies we know. Personally, I will never look at Walmart the same way as I used to … 🙂

Some of you may wonder what exactly we have done, what exactly we have learnt but… I will not tell you. Not that I do not want to. I do agree with my colleagues that strategy is something you have to practice. But contrary to their view this is exactly what you do at IMD – you practice strategy, not read about it. Apply to IMD MBA, do it yourself and I can assure you it will be a fascinating endeavor and a time well spent.

Thank you, Professor, for this inspiring journey!

Another building block in our MBA journey

Our first integrative exercise is done! And even though exams are looming in the horizon we literally saw the light on Saturday after our second presentations were done and we were freed from the dungeons.

I knew the basics of the exercise before coming here: we will be given 48 hours for an assignment that will require using all the knowledge of our module 1 classes. I knew we will need to present and defend our proposal in front of a jury. I knew it would test our team dynamics and really take us to the next level. But I also knew that knowing all of the above was not going to help prepare for it, so I chose to follow Sean wise words at the beginning of the program and just “trust the process”.

The experience was different for everyone so I can only speak for myself when I say that the exercise as a whole was so enriching that it will be a memorable moment of this year. It is one of those things that you can only understand once you live through it and if I had to choose the best part, it was the way the feedback was given by the jury during both presentations.  It was then when it clicked in to place that this exercise was just preparation for the next part of the program, especially the start-up presentation and the ICPs during module 3.

I leave you with some really nice pictures shared by my classmates

The dungeons became home for two nights

After!

Notice the happy smiles because we know it is over! (for now!)

An Integrative State of Mind

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The sun is out and how.

As warmth pervades through this quirky city of Lausanne, the tranquility of birds chirping and the calm waters of Lac Lamon are a direct foil to the rollercoaster our class of 90 is riding as I write this.
Why?
Today we begin the famous IMD MBA Integrative Exercise. Once we survive (I remain optimistic) and emerge from the dungeons on Saturday, reading week begins, followed by examinations, culminating in startup project presentations. Just another wrap-up to Module 1 at the program that changes your life, but not without first relentlessly testing your acumen and spirit.
There is a lot going on in my mind, some nervousness, a little excitement, marginal homesickness (today is Holi, festival of colors), but mostly the awareness that I will rely on the knowledge given to us over the last two months to get through the next two days. I would relate this to the Hunger Games, except that the school keeps us exceptionally well fed. But you get my drift.
Good vibes and wishes of success to my team, my friends, and my class 🙂
See you on the other side!
Surbhi

International Women’s Assessment Day

International Women’s Day last Friday is hopefully indicative of a world that is ready to accept and adapt to ensure there are more women leaders in business and society. Not only will this deliver positive performance outcomes, it just doesn’t makes sense to do anything less than be fully inclusive.

But while this day sends out a clear signal, to really encourage a genuine future impact on society, education needs to play a key role. Here, we want to play our part in creating a future where equality and diversity is the norm.  The IMD MBA, with our successful history of delivering Leadership Development in an extremely collaborative and diverse program, has set ambitious goals with regard to gender balance. We seek parity. We think we can get there because our class, being one section with such a high faculty to student ratio, creates a powerful and supportive community. A great context: participants know one another well, respect and trust is high, and support is endless.

This year we have partnered with the Forté Foundation for women and added new scholarships specifically targeting female applicants. In honour of the International Women’s Day, we also hosted our first exclusive women’s MBA assessment day on Friday. Experienced women, from different countries, with diverse professional backgrounds, spent the day on the IMD campus meeting the admissions team, faculty and some members of the class of 2019, sampling class and, importantly, participating in our assessment routines. As I said to them, they would not have been invited to campus if we had any doubts about their ability to get through the course. The point of our assessments is not to test basic ability but rather to test for fit and help us identify who will thrive in our special environment. It isn’t for everyone. They should be testing us as much as we are testing them. 

It was a pleasure to spend a little time with such highly motivated and talented people. We wish them, and all women with the ambition to lead, the courage and determination to persevere. We are committed to working with them all to pave the way to a more balanced future.  

Professor Seán Meehan, Dean of MBA Program

IMD Conversations: International Women’s Day Special!

IMD Conversations is a new format to share peer conversations on topics relevant to business and social change. We will cover current implications, personal experiences, and how we aspire to make an impact through our future careers.

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No human is an island. As women make strides in professional and socio-political settings, I was curious to hear what my male MBA peers thought about existing issues and opportunities. I am thrilled to introduce our first IMD Conversations topic with Lukasz (Poland/Germany), Vivek (India), and Jaco (South Africa), in line with Women’s Day …

Female Inclusion in the Workplace, A Male Perspective

blog post.jpegJaco, Vivek, and Lukasz

Surbhi: I’d like to start off with hearing about the influential women in your life. In the spirit of Women’s Day, share their role in your lives and their impact on who you are today.

Vivek: My mother is the reason I am here, and her support has been invaluable especially in leaving home and coming to IMD. She stood against all the odds she faced over the years and she has taught me how to smile even in the worst possible situations. She really has inspired me throughout my life.

Lukasz: I would mention my wife and one of the key things I learned from her: how to better understand people’s emotions. Emotions are important in connecting and communicating with others. Whether in private life or in my consulting career – I can be more impactful and more myself when I clearly understand my own and other people emotional state. And with years I appreciate the value of emotional intelligence even more. In the end, our life is about people. 

Jaco: The lady I want to speak about is my sister. She is 12 years my senior and helped raise me. She was the first in our family to pursue a professional career and did her Masters in Engineering. At that time it was a very male-dominated industry. I remember her saying how challenging it is, how women aren’t taken seriously in that field. So, I came into the workforce being comfortable with women being capable but also conscious that women have a hard time in business. My sister was very successful at a petrochemical company and I followed in her footsteps and studied chemical engineering. 16 years down the line, as a manager at an engineering company, she observed a change; more women were entering the industry.

Surbhi: So, in your career, before IMD, what value have you seen diversity bring to the workplace, in specific, the inclusion of more women

Jaco: The key to diversity lies in being tolerant and embracing differentiation. If you have a whole bunch of the same type of person in the room you don’t have the same learning opportunities as you do if you have a diverse group. I don’t have the best way to do this figured out yet, but I do know that it’s hard if you’re in the minority.

Lukasz: I believe diversity is very important. Working with people who think differently is not always easy, but can lead to more innovative, better solutions. Having more women in the workplace is one of the powerful ways to add this diversity to the corporate environment. It becomes even more important when we look at the upper ranks, as there are still not enough women in top leadership positions. Personally, I was lucky to work with a few women leaders in my career and I have to say I was impressed by their capabilities, both on technical as well as on the more softer, leadership side. 

Vivek: I agree completely. I come from a manufacturing company with relatively few women. I hired two women for project management positions and it proved to be a very good decision. The perspectives and compassion they brought to the team resolved people-challenges that we never realized existed and were impacting our business. We were completely focused on the process and execution and they introduced a more empathetic approach to problem-solving. The success of the project is due to how they involved different stakeholders and made them comfortable with the work that we were doing.

Surbhi: While I think many more women are entering the workforce, boardrooms still have a long way to go before we see equal representation. As future senior executives and CEOs, what are actions and initiatives you would lead to improving female inclusion in the workplace?

Vivek: The question is how many of the women entering the workforce in starting positions will be able to sustain. Are they feeling safe at work? Do they feel they can grow to higher positions? Or is their only choice to leave after a certain point due to family obligations? I think flexible working hours, work safety, and professional development support will help smart, ambitious women climb up the ladder.

Lukasz: I share most of Vivek’s views on what the corporate world can do.  What I would add to that is the necessity to work here and now on cultural beliefs. I still see many women who don’t believe they can succeed despite their capabilities. Mentoring and showing women successful stories can help change their perspective. Additionally, I think that giving women opportunities and vocally trusting their abilities could also play an important role.

Jaco: Along with a conducive environment and long-term goals that Vivek and Lukasz mentioned, I can say in my experience when I have had to recruit, I saw a lack of female applicants, which limits my ability in a managerial capacity. Which makes me wonder why? Why is that? My starting point as a future executive will be to understand, what are the barriers women face when entering the workplace, from getting a job application in, to where women in the workplace have previously been excluded due to barriers, and then I could formulate a strategy to address these issues.

My heartfelt thanks to Jaco, Vivek, and Lukasz, for a meaningful discussion. While we have a long way to go, it is heartening to know that the next generation of senior management will foster greater inclusion and diversity.

With one of my favorite TED Talks by MacArthur Fellow and fabulously dressed feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  “We Should All Be Feminists”, I wish all the ladies, and all the men who care about and celebrate us, a Happy Women’s Day!!

Surbhi

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The changing place of International Women’s Day in the modern world

I was honored when the MBA office invited me to write a blog entry for International Women’s Day. Despite how far we’ve come in the last several decades, in both my work and personal life, I still see the many (many) ways in which women across the world are fighting for equal opportunities to be heard, acknowledged, and recognized as equal contributors to society.

However, in the last few years, I’ve started to question the importance that International Women’s Day, and other women-specific initiatives, continue to hold in society – especially for the next generation of women leaders.

As a professor of leadership, I regularly hold special gatherings or topical sessions for the women in the class (who are, more often than not, the minorities in the room). Five-plus years ago, these were always extremely popular and well attended. But in the last few years, a couple things happened.

  • First, more women expressed dissatisfaction at being part of such special programs – they felt that they were unnecessary, unproductive, and even, reverse discriminatory.
  • Second, more men requested to join these programs. I always allowed men to join and was initially delighted about their enthusiasm to be part of the conversation. But each time, having a mixed-sex group changed both the focus of the conversation and tenor of the sessions (even in sessions on women’s leadership, more often than not, the men ended up being the ones who talked more than the women).

I’m not sure to what these changes can be attributed. Perhaps it is the move to recognize more than two genders in society, and the accompanying attitude that people should be recognized for who they are rather than what gender they are. Perhaps it is the fear of being labeled as a “feminist” and the sometimes negative connotations that go with the label (e.g., that you prioritize women’s issues over other important issues of human rights). Perhaps it is a natural change across generations to see themselves as distinct from the needs and wants of the generations that precede them. Or maybe it is the new trend for more male-championed equality initiatives in organizations (e.g., see the latest women’s leadership program at the oil company, Chevon, which is led by the male, not female, leaders in the organization).

I’m also not quite certain how I feel about these changes. On one hand, I still see the huge distance that women across the world need to come in order to take their rightful place in society (e.g., as of 2016, only 14 of the 350 largest publicly-traded companies in Europe (the “S&P 350”) have female CEOs and according to UNESCO, worldwide, there are 4 million fewer boys than girls who are out of school before the end of primary school). But on the other hand, I also see the dangers of recognizing women as separate and unique from other genders and seeing their aim for equality as something that they are solely responsible for initiating. I also see the many ways in which men are discriminated against. Maybe not when it comes to getting to the top of the corporate ladder. But certainly in how they get to the top or in wanting something besides the corporate ladder to strive for; throughout the world, we still want our men to be strong, traditionally successful, and several pieces of research show us that we are far more likely to accept the arrogant man than we are to accept the vulnerable man.

Thus, if we have an International Women’s Day, should we also have an International Men’s Day?

But at the risk of seeming like a classic Generation Xer, I am still proud and delighted to see an International Women’s Day – and to see that IMD is taking a strong stand in recognizing it and supporting women to overcome barriers to leadership – both visible and invisible.

I come from three generations of strong women. My grandmother did not get an education past 13-years-old,and yet managed to ensure that her daughter went to university and then law school. And my mother struggled to be seen as legitimate in her profession as a lawyer in the mid-1970s US. I am extremely proud of the struggles that women have gone through to get where we are today, and think that these should be loudly celebrated. I am also aware of the journey left to go. In this push for continued change, I am open and curious to see how International Women’s Day will transform (and be transformed) in the years to come.

Professor Jennifer Jordan

Everything Is Going To Be Fine

It is one thing to write about transformation. It is a completely different keg of wasps to experience it.

March is here. Temperatures have risen but the forecast says a spell of cold rain is headed our way. I hope not! As we proceed into what legend says the most intense month of the IMD MBA program, we need sunshine to keep our spirits and Vitamin D levels up.

Last week we had a guest speaker session in our Operations class with Erik Winberg, Vice President of Strategic Planning at Tetra Pak. We spent the day learning about Tetra Pak’s Digitally-Enabled Supply Chain transformation project. It stemmed from visible unmet needs in a demanding market. As the team designed and implemented their strategy, they had to overcome challenges to achieve a strong, reliable, and effective structure. We discussed Industry 4.0 and how digital tools can be applied to the supply chain, and the dynamic and critical nature of operations became all too clear. This is reflected in the process we’re going through at IMD, through supply chain simulations and peer CV reviews. In iterative motions, we’re learning, improving, and accepting the discomfort that precedes a better version of ourselves.

thumbnail (1)Erik Winberg and Professor Seifert in discussion with IMD MBA students on digital transformation in the corporate world

If inner transformation is difficult then it is good that we begin work with our Personal Development Elective (PDE) analysts in the coming days. The PDE optional stream is one of the reasons IMD was my school of choice for an MBA program. Of course, I wanted to develop an understanding of the subjects that make up business fundamentals. But all programs offer this at the very least. PDE work stems from the idea that while managing a challenging course load and life transition, students would (and should) have dedicated time for individual reflection with a qualified professional. We may all have different pain points and issues to work on, but the goal is common, to get comfortable with ourselves, and thrive while we are at it.

During the Leadership Experiential almost a month ago (has it really been that long?!) I said “Everything is going to be fine” to my start-up group each time a new challenge arose. We had a good laugh and the line stuck. Yesterday, in the dungeons, I was not smiling as much as I usually do, preoccupied with swirling thoughts of assignments and my python-like to-do list. My teammate and fellow blogger, Lukasz @lukaszkaczynski13, took a second out of his workload and said, “Surbhi! Everything is going to be fine!”

I certainly hope so, for all of us 🙂

Surbhi