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

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!


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

Other perspectives on the IMD MBA

Anthony: I reached out to my fellow classmates for their experiences of getting in touch with their inner MBA, the choices they made and their feelings toward it.

The MBA is all about collaboration. At IMD, I have heard that 40% of our mark is based on the ability to take other people’s opinions and feedback.

Fellow classmates attending the admissions day at IMD

Stefano Agosta, a future classmate, gave me the following analysis:

“I decided to pursue an MBA last year. Italian engineer, 7 years’ experience with an international organisation in Geneva, I felt like switching to a managerial position in the Swiss industry.

First things first, I started preparing for the GMAT. Once sentence correction and percentiles had become just a (bad) memory, I focused on the school choice. Scanning rankings and reading blogs, aiming at a top-tier school with a 1-year program starting in January, I selected four schools and applied to two.

Because of its strong network in Switzerland – where I’d like to settle in the long term, the limited class size of 90, the 1:2 faculty-to-MBA ratio, and the well-known leadership stream, my first choice was obviously IMD.

The second was another extraordinary b-school. I had a chance to meet and talk to many alumni of both schools, and although they all were brilliant, I felt a stronger affinity with the IMD crowd, because they sounded enthusiastic yet reasonable. Another reason for choosing IMD was the care with which the school selects applicants in person, to understand their personality and best tailor the class. After all, they don’t claim to be a boutique business school for nothing.

However, surprisingly, when time came to pick a school, I chose the other one. Seduced by its fame and biased by the opinion of popular rankings, I felt less sure of my own analysis and dreamed of being part of the fancy experience they advertise well.

I e-mailed IMD to decline their offer and soon after I got a call from my admission officer. She didn’t try to talk me out of it, but was rather interested in understanding my choice. It was a pleasant chat; I could feel her warmth through the phone, along with the care that the school invests in each student when addressing their specific needs and preferences with all available means. It sounded like they were looking for people, not numbers. I just smiled, hung up the phone and accepted the IMD offer. The program start is four weeks away and I couldn’t be more excited to begin!”

Another of my future classmates sent me the following exerpt which I really appreciated:

“When I was evaluating different business schools, I chose IMD because I knew they cared. Everyone from the dean to an intern knew my name and my story. They demonstrated, even before I accepted the offer, that the team and peer group would help me transform. The rest, making my dreams a reality, will follow. I am excited to begin the journey.”

The above two experiences from my fellow IMD candidates in many ways matches my experiences and shows the turmoil of emotions that run around one’s head when making a decision such as this. All I would like to reiterate and add is the amazing attention to detail IMD showed with each and everyone of us! They treated us like candidates and part of their flock even before we had accepted offers or made it onto their hallowed acceptance lists.

Thank you IMD for making even the acceptance and admissions process invigorating and special.

Anthony Wilson

And so it begins, the next chapter of my career and life

Today is the first of the 2020 MBA Class blog posts – start following their journey now as they prepare for their January arrival on campus!

The beginning of the journey of why I wanted to do an MBA and why I chose IMD.

As we come into the last few weeks of 2019 and I start to look back on my last 30 years, I see what has brought me to the place I now am and will guide me through the next year and the decades to come. The foundations of this is family, friends, experiences and my next year as an IMD MBA candidate.

This is me, as African as they come, getting ready for the rugby world cup final

My name is Anthony Wilson and I will be part of the IMD MightyNinety for 2020. Although very few of us have actually met, we have started to form a cohesive group – communicating mainly through whatsapp and starting to share our excitement, interests and fears. Our group have formed under the banner of the hashtag MightNinety; so Millennial I know ;-D

I was born in South Africa and you will struggle to find a more passionate person about my beautiful country. It has allowed me to grow into the person I am today and to have the honor to represent my country as an IMD scholarship winner for African and Middle Eastern Diversity. It has been a bit of a running joke in my family and friendship group that I am the diversity student for Africa as I am a white male. However it does show us that sometimes we get stuck in our little bubble: South Africa is becoming ever more polarised along lines of race, but if you look at it all on a more global scale it is what you can add to a group that makes it more diverse and not simply the colour of your skin. I am as African as they come and am determined to give the world the best of what we are and teach the world to avoid making the mistakes that we are still learning from to this day.

Let’s get back to the topic at hand. Where to start? At the very beginning seems prudent:

Why an MBA:

I studied Mechatronic Engineering at the University of Cape Town, but very quickly realised that I wanted to develop and grow businesses instead of simply products or concepts. I wanted to lead people and share my passion with the world. I also wanted to de-risk my career by developing a multi-faceted educational scope and an MBA was the next crucial step. I have worked as an engineer throughout Africa for a global company installing robotic systems on oil rigs. I have also worked for international management consultants assisting major telecoms companies, and even ran a startup in the beverage space for a private equity. All these experiences have created my career, and life, story. This story will help me educate those around me and be a foundation to learn from others’ experiences. That, I believe, is what an MBA is all about, learning from one another’s stories and strengthening your own.

Why IMD:

Even though the decision to choose IMD in the beginning was based on what I had read, actions show greater than words. IMD blew me away during their assessment day, the tour around campus and general communication with each employee guiding me along the way.

  1. How long can I afford to be away?
    2 years is simply too long for me at 31 with a new fiancé and the opportunity costs and funding implications that come with a 2 year MBA = Scratch out U.S. schools
  2. What do I want to achieve once I am done with my MBA?
    I want to use my business acumen and engineering mind to develop tangible outcomes in the world = Focus on the MBA schools that are not just banker and consultant producing machines…
  3. Which school can provide me with the personal touch that I enjoy?
    IMD, IMD, IMD! The day I met Antonio (one of the IMD recruiters) on a skype call, then through the assesment day and on campus, I could see this was a school that focuses on the personal touch. The guidance of a school who limits their intake to 90 to preserve that touch instead of going after massive profits is exceptional. That ~45% of their participants receive additional funding in Scholarships was a huge draw card as someone who was funding this endeavor myself.
  4. Which MBA is consistently rated among institutions (Bloomberg, FT, Forbes) as a standout top in the world?

With all of the above taken into account IMD was the one and only choice.

Next week we will focus on others’ experiences of making the decision to become an IMD 2020 candidate.

Kind Regards,

Anthony Wilson

It’s wrap-up time…

I can vividly recall the beginning of the IMD journey for both of us. It was a luck of the draw, in all senses of the phrase, that determined the IMD journey for us over our comfortable life back home.

Now over a year past that decision, we still can’t believe the roller coaster ride we have been through. From being fearful of moving out of our home country, to both of us moving to two different continents and following our hearts. While my partner spent most of his time at IMD (and as I heard, asking a lot questions in class 😊), I moved to Canada to explore my career option internationally. It was an amazing adventure which words could never do justice to.

It wasn’t our first long distance period, so at least we were prepared for that part. We managed to meet and plan vacations during the year. But what actually changed for us were the topics of conversation during our calls that mostly revolved around giving each other tips on networking and interviewing. I feel I got some good IMD learnings along the way too!

And now it’s time to celebrate our successes. Our separate journeys will merge into our next destination. I can’t wait to plan 2020 and to celebrate graduation week with the beautiful people we have met through IMD.

Sheena (MBA partner, 2019)