In one of our early entrepreneurship classes, Professor Benoit Leleux claimed that companies shouldn’t have separate sustainability strategies, but rather tenets of sustainability should be ingrained within their core business plan. This statement resonated with me, and last week, I sat down with Professor Leleux to discuss the topics of sustainability in business, and the value of an IMD MBA. Below are some highlights from that conversation:
How do we get to a point where sustainability is built into the core of the business strategy as opposed to a secondary element?
BL: It all starts with making sure people are aware of what the issues are. Until very recently we really had a hard time just explaining to people why they should care. I mean if it wasn’t connected directly to their financials, shareholders didn’t see the point. Things have changed, so everybody, all of a sudden now scrambles to understand what it’s all about and what they should do about it. The problem though with sustainability is that it’s extremely broad in definition.
When you look at the kind of sustainability topics that you could possibly address as a company you end up with a list of 1000. This is where realism comes in, you’re going to have to be very choosy among the thousands of initiatives that you can undergo to decide which ones you’re going to support.
Thus, in terms of the business case for sustainability, it has to return back to profitability.
BL: Which is where I see convergence between your sustainability strategy and your business strategy. This is where the debate is happening today. People still see it as disconnected, but as a company, you need to be more responsible. I think it’s more effective if you have a deep commitment, because then you go back to the issues of purpose of a company. You get more out of your people if they have the feeling that they are working for something that’s really important to them and society. This is where sustainability makes a hell of a difference; you are able to attract the right talent and the right talent wants to join.
I’d like to transition to the purpose of an MBA and specifically IMD, in terms of developing and growing leaders that are going to have sustainable and ethical business practices.
BL: The product, in our case, is you. We want to make sure that you have been exposed to those situations where others have strayed or failed so that you are better able to address them as a responsible leader in the future. I don’t have an individual session on sustainability, but one third of my session covers sustainability topics in that three-week program at the beginning of the term. We’re not doing MBAs in sustainability; we’re trying to form general managers that are fully aware and able to integrate sustainability issues into their business protocols.
What separates IMD from other top business schools?
BL: Our model is very specific. It’s the pressure cooker, as I call it. The one-year MBA is not for everybody, and that’s perfectly fine. We start with people who are 27-31 on average, and have plenty of experience and leadership commitment. The leadership skills we teach are the skills you’re going to use for the rest of your life. They aren’t relevant when you’re 20, but they are extremely relevant when you’re 32. We have entrepreneurship and leadership as longitudinal streams in the in the program because for us that’s what we really want to equip you with.
My conversation with Professor Leleux further confirmed my satisfaction with choosing IMD – something that is refreshing amidst the stress of the impending end of term exams. The broad and holistic approach IMD takes to developing better and more conscionable leaders is one that resonates with me significantly. I am extremely proud to be in a class with 96 of tomorrow’s mindful and compassionate leaders.