Discovery Expedition Part 2 – China

After a 14 Hour hop over the Pacific the class touched down in Hong Kong, en route to Shenzhen, for the second and much anticipated part of the MBA Discovery Expedition 2019!

For many of the class this was our first visit to China and came against the backdrop of increasing trade tensions between the US and our new hosts… An interesting moment to discuss and learn more about the rapid rise of the private sector here in China!

First and foremost, the efforts made by the Chinese members of the 2019 class cannot go without mention. Whether it was organising evenings out in great local restaurants, helping with on-the-fly translations or organising Karaoke for the entire class, their contributions made our experience of Shenzhen an incredible one. They were always extremely generous with their time and as a class we are extremely grateful to all of them for the welcome we received and the experiences we shared as a result of their help and organisation! It was a great example of the value such a diverse group brings to this year and they should be extremely proud!

Of course, there was also the small matter of our intensive 5-day back-to-back schedule. Professors Bill Fisher and Mark Greeven had clearly invested months of work into this trip and it showed. The class was also very grateful to the Haier Group and James Wang for their insight into the local market and start-up community.

During our first day we were sent out into the sprawling metropolis of Shenzhen to complete a number of day-to-day tasks ranging from ordering a DiDi taxi purchasing something at Hema Supermarket or enjoying some daytime Mini-Karaoke TV, naturally… Needless to say, if you don’t have WeChat or AliPay or your Mandarin is rusty, these tasks can prove far more challenging than you could imagine… but in the oppressive 35°C heat we managed it, eventually, and the trip was off to a great start!

The next few days went by in a matter of seconds. Company visits to Tencent, Huawei, Ping An, UBTECH and others demonstrated more than could be satisfactorily recorded here. These companies are operating at a scale only possible in China and they are unafraid of the risks and scepticism surrounding new applications of AI, Machine Learning and Facial Recognition. They scale fast or they fail fast.

On top of this, a few common themes prevailed throughout our visits to local companies – a 6-day work week for many start-ups pursuing market domination, a government willing to go to great lengths to support technological development locally and a national obsession to educate the next generation in STEM & Computer Programming subjects.

Last but not least an unexpected detour! After meeting a French E-Bike start-up at one of the sessions, 10 members of the class took a spontaneous trip out to Huizou 惠州. We wanted to understand what it was really like to setup and scale a manufacturing operation in China, away from the bright lights and skyscrapers of the city. After a supposedly short ride, that turned into a 3 hour marathon of traffic and rain, we made it to the Carbo Factory. There we saw first-hand the challenges of going local here – finding a partner, setting up a JV, raising funds, getting the right shipping in place, protecting your IP from the competition – and it was truly impressive to see how founders Lynne and Lauryn have managed to overcome these. One of the many highlights of the trip.

As we headed to Hong Kong Airport the following day it was clear that even though we had experienced so much, this was only just a tiny perspective of this complex and vibrant market. But, most importantly, it had given many of us a unique perspective to build on for the future…

Alex Berry

Discovery Expedition, Part 1: Magic 90 in Silicon Valley!

I am on the flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, 12 hours of occasional turbulence ahead of me, with 89 other IMD MBA participants and our program team. Two observations of note; first, if you travel quickly enough and have a packed schedule that would put some presidential candidates to shame, jet lag may have a tough time catching up with you. Second, regular passengers are a bit freaked out when they see 90 loud people who all know each other. Haha, I kid. Partially.

26aaf6fd-5475-4dce-98fa-56e1c4dcd3ea.JPGAt Stanford University, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design

So, we wrapped up the first leg of the infamous Discovery Expedition. In these reflections, I will not go through the entire list of people met and visits made because some suspense is good for the incoming class and honestly, I would have to list the entire itinerary because they were all incredible experiences. Professor Jim Pulcrano asked us to share three learnings from our time in Silicon Valley. Where to find the best burrito and the secret behind Peet’s delicious coffee do not count.

Here are mine:

Tech will always need a human touch: We spoke a lot about AI during this trip. We discussed extensively on the Future of Healthcare and the Future of Food. We learned about technologies and products that perhaps only the Jetsons envisioned. And yet here they are, things considered the stuff of science fiction, just a few years away from launch. A common thread regarding the development and success of tech was the importance of empathy, and human connection. Peter Schwartz, futurist extraordinaire, spoke to us on how worrying about robots taking away human jobs is not as much of a concern as we, and Hollywood, are making it out to be. The robots will take on mundane, detail oriented, and repetitive tasks. Humans will have the bandwidth to focus on what really crafts our reality, the human experience, managing change, and understanding what customers want by spending time with them. This resonated with me since I cannot imagine industries such as healthcare or hospitality without in-person connections.

Silicon Valley is a mentality: Growing up in the 90s I heard much Silicon Valley lore. The best and brightest go there to create the impossible and make bank. This is true, even today, though this means that San Francisco as a city is raging its own war with astronomical rents and demographic change. But what has changed is the localization of innovation. Ideas influencing humanity are mushrooming everywhere, in Zurich, Bangalore, and Shanghai. Silicon Valley, then, is a mindset, as Professor Pulcrano reminded us. A mindset to embrace experimentation, learn from failure, and move rapidly towards improved products and services. Wherever we end up in the world, we can create this mental ecosystem for ourselves.

b51b3044-90c4-48ff-911d-5863a250157c.JPGDesign Thinking workshop at Stanford

Do not ask for permission: My personal favorite. A lot of moon-shot ideas get lost in social niceties. I absolutely loved that so many of our entrepreneurs, such as the creator of GYANT, Pascal Zuta, and corporate leaders, such as Bask Iyer, CIO of VMware, and our very own IMD alumni encouraged us to walk on the edge and to not ask for approval for doing so. It really is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. I suppose the only caveat here is that we ask ourselves if what we are trying to achieve benefits the planet and everyone on it. With power, and borderline rebellion, comes responsibility.

beca062f-235a-4ef3-a427-4ed072fadca3.JPGGary Bradski, on the Future of Computer Vision

I am feeling so grateful for these three and a half days in the Valley. As my colleague, friend and flight neighbor Mischa just said to me, “The first leg of the Discovery Expedition blew my expectations. It was spectacularly well organized. The speakers and the level of seniority they had were mind-blowing. My favorite was the session with the futurist, Peter Schwartz, and Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech. I’m leaving with this incredible feeling that there are almost endless opportunities out there. We need to keep thinking about what customers need and being creative while attracting the best talent. It was a new and rewarding perspective.”

unnamed.jpgIMD MBA participants in San Francisco

Suffice to say we are feeling quite chuffed. Time to browse United’s movie selection. Onward to Shenzhen.

Surbhi

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 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