Last Thursday, we brought an intensive seven-week project to an end with a three-hour final presentation to HBK CEO Ben Bryson and his global team. Though we ached with fatigue from hours of travel, a lack of sleep, and 48 hours spent glued to our laptop screens, it was evident that the five of us weren’t yet ready for it to finish.
Afterwards, we had a restrained celebration with pizza and beer in our dungeon/study room. We Googled each team member, danced to each of our cultural songs, laughed and joked, and reminisced about the last seven weeks. It was undeniable how close we had grown. It was also unanimous how much we would miss this company and our incredible sponsor, Peter Kalet.
Peter was our project sponsor and direct report. Under his guidance, it was a deep privilege to work with HBK, a merger of two renowned and pioneering brands, Hottinger Baldwin Messtechnik (HBM) and Brüel & Kjær (B&K). Our scope was to assist their overarching sustainability ambition by providing a plan based on financial analysis and market insights to accelerate HBK’s journey as a sustainable manufacturer of testing and measurement equipment for the industrial sector. This is based on a financial model considering environmental, social, and governance factors.
Peter used a unique management style – the Daily Management lean tool – which took us a little time to get used to. The tool alerted us daily on whether we were on track to meet our goals; instead of reporting, it focused on making the win. Twice a week, we reported our updates on one slide, and these short check-ins were instrumental in staying on course and remaining motivated.
On the group side, we were extremely fortunate to have the hallmarks of a high-performance team – commitment, curiosity, camaraderie, and, most importantly, the diversity paradox. This ICP team comprised an engineer with a background in the aerospace industry, (Soumya Mukherjee) two bankers, (Sohini Choudhuri and Juan Agustín Bossa), a philosopher with a sales background, (Litong Zhang) and myself, an entrepreneur (Tenzin Dickyi). The cognitive diversity was crucial as the project required extensive outreach efforts on three fronts. These were: 1) Their customers (current and potential), 2) the sales team and internal stakeholders, and 3) sustainability champions for benchmarking best practices.
The perfectionist bankers led the financial model and structuring of the presentation, while the team members with industrial backgrounds, Soumya and Litong challenged assumptions and educated us novices. As an entrepreneur with a tendency to procrastinate, I worked best under optimal anxiety. No matter how much we disagreed, we remained committed to our mission and promised psychological safety, drawing on our lessons from the last six months of leadership training and advice from our coaches who taught us to face conflict and disagreement.
On the night before the final presentation as we put the finishing touches on our slides, we were amazed that we had managed to gather inputs from companies in over 15 countries, gather research and analysis from 50 different firms, and, interview and survey over 70 experts. This wouldn’t have been remotely possible without the past half year of wisdom we learned at IMD from our patient faculty advisor Professor Salvatore Cantale, the support of the entire HBK team, not to mention our sheer determination and unique skillset.
We wish to thank everyone who shared their time, knowledge, and resources – our Dean, Professor Omar Toulan, the IMD MBA office, HBK staff, and the companies we interviewed, especially Neste and Danfoss, who generously educated us on their sustainability journeys. It wasn’t lost on the group that companies like Danfoss and Neste, which have survived the test of time, typically do one thing very well: they consistently stay on top of change. Sometimes, this means taking a leap of faith, not knowing where you’ll land. The wisdom is that an organization’s most expensive mistake is inaction.
Also worthy of special mention are the CEO and CTO of Xona Space Systems in Silicon Valley, the aerospace companies we visited at MRO Europe, Carla Schmid at EPFL, and Justin Jameson at General Atomics. You all played an essential role in our project competition and we offer our sincere thanks.
In conclusion, here are a few reflections we wanted to share. From a business standpoint, the previous experience of our team members with a sales background has been in a B2B sales context, where they factor predictability into their client needs. The high level of dynamism in a consulting environment kept them on their toes.
“The IMD ICP is an incredible opportunity, unlike any other business school,” said Juan. He’s right. It’s more than an internship: you get to work with a company of your choice, have a budget, and decide how to use it. He credited HBK for changing his life; HBK’s products have been used in his idol’s instruments to his favorite Formula One car racing.
Fellow banker, Sohini, said that no number of classroom lectures could teach this much. She recalled our first day at HBK Academy, when the Academy Director gave us an impeccable two-hour instruction on their products. That tour took her back to her 12th-grade physics class – the concept of torque and force. It’s fantastic to build that knowledge and connect it to her financial modeling.
The team was honored to present to the CEO and witness outstanding leadership. Imagine the experience of sending an email to the CEO the night before the presentation and receiving an encouraging reply within two hours, saying he looks forward to your presentation tomorrow. Well, that is exactly what happened. He stood up throughout our presentation and asked insightful questions without intimidation.
As a group, we were inspired and encouraged by the challenges and opportunities a niche industry champion faces in pivoting into future readiness while tackling the challenges of today, especially on sustainability. We were able to propose helpful recommendations on how to turn their sustainability ambition into action, such as striking a balance between mission and operationally driven sustainability strategy, and incorporating financial measurements of sustainability.
Tenzin, for the HBK team