An honest letter to the Class of 2020

An MBA alumnus from the class of 2019 shares his tips and advice as the current class starts their journey.

Dear Class of 2020,

Congratulations on getting the admit and beginning what I believe to be a “Transformative year”.

Now that you have dived into the rather interesting world of solving cases, storyboarding, T-accounts (No! I’m kidding here), and meeting humanity from different hemispheres. I thought of putting together a rather non-MECE (you will hear this A LOT!), and unstructured rambling of learnings and observations from my own experience. However I do hope that some of this will be useful to anyone who’s beginning their MBA program.

A General Rule:

A big learning that I have come to appreciate even more is the simple yet not obvious distinction between “Facts” and “Opinions”. What I’m saying below, in unequivocal terms, represent my “Opinions” based on my assessment. I speak on behalf of myself. Period! Over this year you might find yourself in situations where Facts and Opinions will be used with great elasticity and interchangeability. It’s an important skill to develop.

Nonetheless, Let’s truck on.

On Program

1. First & foremost, remember that you have come here for your own professional and personal development. A person once told me that every single day you get 86,400 seconds credited to your account. Use them wisely.

2. The total cost of program is ~120K CHF and duration is 11 months. Every day you enter the building, you amortize ~360CHF. Financial motivation for those “Bad days”.

3. There will be times when Copying & Pasting will appear to be a promising and time saving strategy for assignments and exams. Don’t DO IT! Remember Point 1

4. Normally, Accounting will feel difficult to significant many. Take full use of the resources at your disposal – E-learning (Khan Academy, YouTube), Batch mates, and extra classes.

5. I found “Strategy” class to be the most challenging and rewarding. If there is one class where you need at least 2 hours of pre-class prep to get the maximum out of the discussion, this is the one!

6. The program has a high academic workload frontloaded on Module-1 which begins to taper off progressively. Sometimes with so much work, it’s natural to feel like you’re going through the motions in module-1 but don’t forget Point-1: Find quiet time to think about your future!

7. Over this year, you’re going to get a lot of feedback from a lot of people both harsh and soft. You will also learn about your inherent biases. The program focuses not only on learning new things but unlearning old ones. 

8. You will be writing a lot of new material this year. From analysis of business situations to self-analysis. If you do it properly, you will develop some writing skills which will come in handy during the latter half when drafting your cover letters.

9. An important learning to target this year is being a better “Storyteller”. Make sure you get enough time to practice on the center-stage in front of an audience. The program gives more than enough opportunities and it’s up to you to make the most of it.

On Relationships

1. Initially your colleagues may get “Wow-ed” by your academic, professional, and personal achievements (Maybe you’re an Olympic finalist). However, you will be remembered for your personality, energy, class contributions, eccentricity (applicable to few) and most importantly how you treat others. 

2. You might not be able to make great friends with everyone because of various reasons but you can always maintain good relations. As Stephen Covey said friends are similar to “Emotional bank accounts” – The more you invest the more you can gain. This year you have limited time so choose your accounts well.

3. Having said that, if you maintain good relations with everyone you will have a known at basically every continent in the world (not sure if there are MBAs in Antarctica) when you graduate.

4. You might have few or many awkward conversations, because you don’t understand or can’t relate to the culture, the words and the accent of the other person. However, make the effort to engage and break the ice. These people will be your family for 2020.

On Jobs

1. Job Search is going to be easy, and uneventful for some while difficult, exhausting, and draining for others. You won’t know what category you belong to, so better start the efforts now and not wait until June or beyond.

2. One of the things that I wished I had done better was to talk to more people outside of my industry. Conducting informational interviews with people from different industries gives a chance to explore new things that might translate to future interests.

3. I used LinkedIn Premium A LOT! I got my job through LinkedIn. I recommend LinkedIn for InMails, job recommendations, and LinkedIn Learning Job Interview video series

4. The school network opens doors which were previously not accessible. Start early and talk to as many interesting people as possible. I understood what excites me or dulls me not from job descriptions or HR talks but simple conversations with different people.

5. Don’t forget that you have a previous professional and personal network. Make extensive use of everything at your disposal.

6. I favor taking the summers off unless you have an opportunity which can translate to a role in future. Sometimes interesting opportunities may only be open to work permit holders!

7. I found that the alumni to be quite responsive and helpful. I also learnt that it important to briefly introduce yourself and talk about your interests when connecting with them. What is a strict no-no is assuming that alum is obligated to help you!

On Extracurriculars

1. A lot of social bonding will happen over Friday night parties, house parties, MBAT, discovery expedition, and the spur-of-the-moment visits to Lacustre. Go for it!

2. Three books were always discussed in details on many occasions so might be useful to have a look:

  • “Thinking Fast & Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
  • “How will you measure your life” by Clayton Christensen
  • “Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies” by McKinsey

3. Some of you are likely to get addicted to staying in the dungeons after a few months., Make sure you get out of that comfort zone. You can take a walk by the lake, explore the markets or go for one of the hikes (Highly recommend the app Komoot)

As I said, this is by no means an exhaustive list and neither did I intend it to be. Over this year, you will have your own unique experiences and I hope you make the most out of your stay here!

Wish you all the best,

Class of 2019

PS- Feel free to connect with me if you think I’m not all bonkers.

And it hasn't even started yet …

The pace picks up for the second opening week of the MBA program, with the official start just a few days away.

“You have all been admitted to one of the most selective programs in the world. You have been hand picked among the best in your fields, because you are the best in your fields. Maybe nobody said that to you before, but we will. And we’ll make sure you remember. You’ll go through an intense and innovative program that will change you for life. It is pretty much like table tennis, no matter what they throw at you, you will return.”

Professor Seán Meehan, Dean of the MBA Program, welcoming our class

This is how it started. This is how we were received. And it is for real. You have the best facilities, you have support, you receive all the required tools, backpacks, material and … infinite coffee, tea, chocolate … you pick your preference – and amazing lunch. Did I mention the fruit?

It is almost like you are spoiled, yet, if IMD is composed by spoiling smiley parents, they manage to keep you aware of your reality with pre-program assignments, information, assignments, requirements … And they keep coming. In a speed that is unstoppable and overwhelming. Timing by the second, you miss something, and it is gone. Keep in mind: it has been three days of introduction classes. “Wonder if we can manage to keep our relations of outside the school” one of my colleagues said to me, seconds after I realized I had not yet responded to my mother’s message from Friday (this was on a Sunday).

You can see the smiles on the faces of the professors coming in for the first time, “It is always so nice to teach the first classes” they say, “It is always nice to see this stamina and energy” they say.

This is just the beginning; this is just the easy part. Shaking hands, hellos and where you come from. Hopes and fears. Scratching the surface of our personalities. The layers are yet to be pealed. The leaders are yet to manifest. Relationships will get deeper, probably stress out. And recover …

We have no idea how this is going to roll out. We have no idea how the year is really going to be. We don’t know, IMD doesn’t know. Each class of 90 has their own personality. We have ours, #IMDMighty90. We are different from the start, the class of 90 with 89. What we know for sure is: the balls will keep coming, with 178 arms to throw them back.

The Opening Dinner

André Garcia

Snowshoeing in the mountains

A weekend spent getting to know each other in the fresh air of the Swiss alps with fondue and snowshoeing on the menu of activities.

This weekend, was a chance for everyone to get to know each other better whilst exploring and experiencing some typical Swiss culture.

On Saturday, the whole class set of for Villars, along with the MBA Office team. Situated in the north of the Swiss Alps, this is one of the closest ski stations to Geneva and Lausanne, and is a truly beautiful location.

A free afternoon gave everyone the opportunity to explore the area a bit before taking a privatised train up to a secluded mountain fondue restaurant.

For those of you who have never tasted fondue, it is basically a dish of melted cheese, into which you dip pieces of bread, best accompanied by white wine or hot tea. Tastes a lot better than it sounds!

Cheese Fondue

The next morning, breakfast at the hotel was followed by some snowshoeing. For some, this was their first experience of snow, but no matter the level of experience, it was a lovely day to be in the mountains and a fun way to round off the first week.

MBA Recruitment and Admissions

Where a mouse click can take you

The start of the MBA program, from headhunting to headhunted.

The gospel famously proclaimed that “in the beginning was the Word”. In the very similar fashion, my MBA journey began with a click. Eight months ago, I clicked the “Submit” button. Today, I shook hands with some of the most impressive individuals I have ever met, as we were warmly welcomed to the IMD MBA program, Class of 2020. What started as an aspiration, became a reality. It is remarkable how easy it is to start moving towards your dream. Sometimes, you merely need to click the button…

My dream was to change the course and pace of my career. I was working in executive search, helping organizations identify and attract senior executive leadership. Right executive leadership is one of the most important (if not THE most important) assets any company can have. This lasted a few years, until one day I thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool if I were the one to receive a call? I, too, want to be called out of the blue and be presented with a “great career opportunity”! Instead of headhunting, I wanted to be headhunted. And the way to propel my career forward was to go to business school. The question was which one.

I have read about and interacted with enough senior executives to understand that technical and functional skills are not enough to be a great leader today. Attributes that distinguish great leaders are curiosity, agility, and team leadership. It was clear to me that I needed a business school that will not only teach me how to become a Case-cracker through the symphony of balance sheet music and Framework Orchestra. I needed a place where I will be challenged to reveal and develop my personal leadership qualities. Thus, IMD was a natural choice. The school was founded by executives to produce the next generation of leaders and has kept this ethos through the decades.

Eight months ago, I clicked “Submit” and asked IMD to help me get closer to my dream. Today, Dean Sean Meehan, the faculty, the staff, and 88 fellow MBA candidates replied in unison: “Welcome! You are now closer to your dream. Now let’s make it a reality”.

Yaroslav Ivanov

The day has arrived, the class is complete

Arriving in Lausanne, the first days, admin bonding and getting ready…

British writer Alan Watts once said,

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance!”

Bienvenue a Lausanne!

In true South African style, my fiance and I decided that it was not enough merely to move to Switzerland – we needed to make a holiday out of it as well. After spending a magical four days in Amsterdam, it was finally time to board the train for my ultimate destination and home for the next year to come – Lausanne. We arrived at Lausanne Gare on Monday, 6th January 2020, one of the later arrivals of the Mighty Ninety group. With the generous assistance of my new roommate, Dennis, we made our way through the pristine streets of Lausanne, my life packed into two enormous and heavy suitcases. As I pushed open the door to our new top-floor apartment, I breathed a sigh of relief (not least of all because I was finally rid of the 40 kg of luggage I had been hauling intercontinentally) – the time was finally here!

First things first – recycling. I am ashamed to say that in South Africa we fall entirely short in this regard. Although some people do recycle, it is far from being a national priority. The intricate Swiss system of strict separation and prompt disposal has truly impressed me. Since my arrival there have been a few occassions when I have stood haplessly in the middle of a room, trying to decide how to correctly dispose of my purple coloured semi-plastic sweet wrapper with its paper thin inner layer.

Another eye-opener was my trip to the grocery store. I guess it will be a high-vegetarian, low-carnivore diet for the next year, I thought as I glanced furtively at the unaffordable loin chops in the centre of the display cabinet. A visit to La Poste was next as I posted an urgent package to Zurich. Imagine my surprise when I was told that it would arrive early the following day (a feat unimaginable by South African post office standards).  All-in-all, a good first day in Switzerland.

With a mixture of excitement and trepidation I stepped onto campus on the morning of 7th January for our first day of orientation. What would it be like? Would I rise up to the challenges ahead of me? How would I remember everyone’s names? The day passed amidst a flurry of housing and insurance presentations, posing for professional photographs (tilt this way, smile, no teeth please, look serious, no not so much, move your face … no not like that). The university was abuzz with excited chatter – which “snowpants” to purchase for the weekend’s getaway, which cellphone company to choose, where the nearest Decathlon was situated …

A few hours later, as the sun streamed through the glass windows during our lunchbreak in the picturesque IMD canteen I marvelled at the sheer talent and expertise around me. How privileged am I to be sitting here, in this beautiful environment, surrounded by the most diverse group of professionals imaginable, all enjoying a delicious lunch with our loved ones by our side and ready to embark on the journey of our lives. I can’t wait! The bonding and fun has started and the WORK is about to start!

Can I just say another shoutout to the IMD team! The classroom is ready for us and here we go!


Happy New Year

Welcome to 2020! A new year, with new beginnings and another chance to make dreams come true.

This week, IMD will welcome our next group of MBA participants. Most of them have already begun to settle into their new appartments, and over the next few days will be setting up bank accounts and insurance, getting to know each other and the IMD community, and generally preparing for the year ahead.

Watch the Introduction Weeks video from last year, to get a feel for what’s in store for them:

We wish our participants, and all our readers, the very best for the year ahead and look forward to sharing the MBA 2020 journey with you.

MBA Recruitment and Admissions

Preparations begin for IMD

Uplifting your life and changing from your daily routine to something as daunting as an MBA takes a lot of organisation, relationship building and general trust in the fact that you have taken the right steps and can trust that you will use your past to figure out what is to come.

With the admissions and acceptance out the way, months of preparations were ahead of me to ensure that I was ready for a fast paced year. I had to start prioritising things in my life to ensure that everything was ready for my departure:

Prepare family and friends for my departure

An MBA is a huge undertaking and just as it is stressful on the person doing it, this extends to the families and friends around you. Coming together with one another as much as possible and being open to questions and concerns is extremely important. I was lucky in that my fiancé, family and friends have offered nothing but encouragement and support. Gather those around you be open and upfront and go through the varying emotions together. My parents have been a huge support, financially they have always gone above and beyond and I don’t think you will meet a prouder set of parents who are egging me on in every way!

Show the people in your life, your rocks and foundations, what they really mean to you

I have an incredible woman that stands behind me through everything I have had to go through. The MBA will put a huge strain on our relationship. My girlfriend and now, proud to say, my fiancé, unfortunately will be unable to join me for the year as she is a doctor and specialising in South Africa. We will live our lives apart but always together as we grow separately for our intertwined future.  We are both strong and know it will be hard, especially when stress sets in on both of us – but there isn’t a single thought in either of our minds that this is insurmountable.

I was given permission and advice to make this blog personal, so here is a picture of us on our engagement day 1 month and a few days before I am set to start at IMD on the 9th of January 😀

We have had incredibly good times with family and friends due to this life changing event which has brought us all closer. We have shared our dreams and fears for the year and have both agreed that 110% open communication will get us through this year! A parting note on this point. Alicia and I travelled to IMD for one night during the year to try and get some perspective on why I was doing it in Switzerland. I had obviously been focusing on this for 12 months, reading the articles, doing the analysis and conducting the recommended soul searching. Alicia, was incredibly supportive but also needed to understand. The tour and welcome we received at IMD was world class. It showed her the pure class and absolute attention to detail, we were blown away by the campus and staff, it cemented in her mind, as well as mine, that there was no other place for me next year.

Lastly, admin, admin and more administration

I took the personal decision to give my company 6 months notice from when I got into IMD. I felt being open about my dreams and next steps was the best thing. It worked and I had an incredibly productive 6 months with everyone understanding and open about my impending departure. The second major task was actually figuring out how to live in a new country such as Switzerland – This fear was easily wiped away with the IMD’s team of outstanding support staff. Everything from housing to insurance to where to buy a cellphone contract was given to us. Live check-ins were held whenever needed on any topic. All I can say is thank you IMD for putting the “fun” in administration.

The next steps left for me are to enjoy my last few days of African sun, have a joyful Christmas with friends and family and lastly to fly over to Europe where the journey really begins.

Merry Christmas all, and a happy New Year – See you early Jan for a running commentary of the real life IMD MBA!

Anthony Wilson