International Women’s Day last Friday is hopefully indicative of a world that is ready to accept and adapt to ensure there are more women leaders in business and society. Not only will this deliver positive performance outcomes, it just doesn’t makes sense to do anything less than be fully inclusive.
But while this day sends out a clear signal, to really encourage a genuine future impact on society, education needs to play a key role. Here, we want to play our part in creating a future where equality and diversity is the norm. The IMD MBA, with our successful history of delivering Leadership Development in an extremely collaborative and diverse program, has set ambitious goals with regard to gender balance. We seek parity. We think we can get there because our class, being one section with such a high faculty to student ratio, creates a powerful and supportive community. A great context: participants know one another well, respect and trust is high, and support is endless.
This year we have partnered with the Forté Foundation for women and added new scholarships specifically targeting female applicants. In honour of the International Women’s Day, we also hosted our first exclusive women’s MBA assessment day on Friday. Experienced women, from different countries, with diverse professional backgrounds, spent the day on the IMD campus meeting the admissions team, faculty and some members of the class of 2019, sampling class and, importantly, participating in our assessment routines. As I said to them, they would not have been invited to campus if we had any doubts about their ability to get through the course. The point of our assessments is not to test basic ability but rather to test for fit and help us identify who will thrive in our special environment. It isn’t for everyone. They should be testing us as much as we are testing them.
It was a pleasure to spend a little time with such highly motivated and talented people. We wish them, and all women with the ambition to lead, the courage and determination to persevere. We are committed to working with them all to pave the way to a more balanced future.
I was honored when the MBA office invited me to write a blog entry for International Women’s Day. Despite how far we’ve come in the last several decades, in both my work and personal life, I still see the many (many) ways in which women across the world are fighting for equal opportunities to be heard, acknowledged, and recognized as equal contributors to society.
However, in the last few years, I’ve started to question the importance that International Women’s Day, and other women-specific initiatives, continue to hold in society – especially for the next generation of women leaders.
As a professor of leadership, I regularly hold special gatherings or topical sessions for the women in the class (who are, more often than not, the minorities in the room). Five-plus years ago, these were always extremely popular and well attended. But in the last few years, a couple things happened.
First, more women expressed dissatisfaction at being part of such special programs – they felt that they were unnecessary, unproductive, and even, reverse discriminatory.
Second, more men requested to join these programs. I always allowed men to join and was initially delighted about their enthusiasm to be part of the conversation. But each time, having a mixed-sex group changed both the focus of the conversation and tenor of the sessions (even in sessions on women’s leadership, more often than not, the men ended up being the ones who talked more than the women).
I’m not sure to what these changes can be attributed. Perhaps it is the move to recognize more than two genders in society, and the accompanying attitude that people should be recognized for who they are rather than what gender they are. Perhaps it is the fear of being labeled as a “feminist” and the sometimes negative connotations that go with the label (e.g., that you prioritize women’s issues over other important issues of human rights). Perhaps it is a natural change across generations to see themselves as distinct from the needs and wants of the generations that precede them. Or maybe it is the new trend for more male-championed equality initiatives in organizations (e.g., see the latest women’s leadership program at the oil company, Chevon, which is led by the male, not female, leaders in the organization).
I’m also not quite certain how I feel about these changes. On one hand, I still see the huge distance that women across the world need to come in order to take their rightful place in society (e.g., as of 2016, only 14 of the 350 largest publicly-traded companies in Europe (the “S&P 350”) have female CEOs and according to UNESCO, worldwide, there are 4 million fewer boys than girls who are out of school before the end of primary school). But on the other hand, I also see the dangers of recognizing women as separate and unique from other genders and seeing their aim for equality as something that they are solely responsible for initiating. I also see the many ways in which men are discriminated against. Maybe not when it comes to getting to the top of the corporate ladder. But certainly in how they get to the top or in wanting something besides the corporate ladder to strive for; throughout the world, we still want our men to be strong, traditionally successful, and several pieces of research show us that we are far more likely to accept the arrogant man than we are to accept the vulnerable man.
Thus, if we have an International Women’s Day, should we also have an International Men’s Day?
But at the risk of seeming like a classic Generation Xer, I am still proud and delighted to see an International Women’s Day – and to see that IMD is taking a strong stand in recognizing it and supporting women to overcome barriers to leadership – both visible and invisible.
I come from three generations of strong women. My grandmother did not get an education past 13-years-old,and yet managed to ensure that her daughter went to university and then law school. And my mother struggled to be seen as legitimate in her profession as a lawyer in the mid-1970s US. I am extremely proud of the struggles that women have gone through to get where we are today, and think that these should be loudly celebrated. I am also aware of the journey left to go. In this push for continued change, I am open and curious to see how International Women’s Day will transform (and be transformed) in the years to come.
After submitting my application on 31st March 2018, all I did for the next 26 days was refresh my inbox. On 26th April, I entered an elevator with one of my colleagues. Mobile networks in India rarely work in elevators but that day was different. I read the most awaited email and had to hide my emotions when I saw that I had been accepted for the assessment challenge!
So as anyone would do, I kept reading the email multiple times to live the moment. It didn’t even take a day for a new WhatsApp group to connect most of the candidates. Everyone was proposing a thesis about how IMD was going to make the selection.
On 14th May we received the schedule and pointers about the process. One thing was clear: it was going to be creative and innovative. A day before the assessment challenge there was an alumni panel discussion/networking cocktail. The venue was amazing – 34th Floor, Trident, Mumbai. We all arrived early and started connecting with each other.
The AdCom members, Paola and Jennifer, greeted us and gave us our nametags. Prof. Sean Meehan introduced eight alumni who gave interesting and informative presentations depicting their IMD journey and post IMD career. During the cocktail, interacting with the alumni, I noticed that a few common traits were humility, empathy, and clarity of thought. And we were all impressed that the AdCom members knew everything about us. It takes a lot to know 60 candidates in detail. These things reassured me about my choice of B-School.
The Assessment Day
I could not sleep well. Who can sleep well after meeting 60 brilliant candidates and knowing that only a few would make it to the Magic 90? The facilitator of the assessment started with a snapshot of the day so we all understood what was expected of us. We were clubbed in 9 different teams. I had an amazing team – One Entrepreneur, One Consultant, One NGO activist, and one IT professional. We all thought that this was going to be a walk in the park with our diverse team. But the problem started in first few minutes. All of us had different backgrounds and hence different ways of approaching the same issues. So we stopped and set some ground rules. There were many stages of the assessment day and huge amount of learning involved at each stage. We were so engrossed in the discussion that we totally forgot about the other teams or the jurors. By lunch, we had all become good friends and started knowing the strength areas of each other. Together we were able to finish the assignment in time and we were happy with the results.
The hectic day ended suddenly and none of us wanted to leave. Even now, we are all still in contact. I can assure you that all 56 of us were winners. It must have been tough for the Admission Committee to select just a few of us from that pool.
I did not have to wait for long. Within 24 hours of the assessment I got a call from +41 number. I could not receive the call as I was in a meeting… I called back and the number was unreachable… I was extremely nervous! After half an hour, my mobile flashed +41 number again. This time I picked it up in seconds. It was Paola, IMD MBA Recruitment and Admissions Manager. She asked for my feedback about the process. She gave a detailed feedback about how I performed. Then within a fraction of a second she said, “We are offering you a seat at IMD”. I could not believe it. I started crying (yes, I literally cried!) I got admitted to the only B-school that I applied for.
The journey at
IMD has started now. IMD has exceeded my expectations on all fronts.
Everybody in the class of 2019 knew that entrepreneurship forms a core part of the MBA programme here at IMD, but our first lecture on the subject wasted no time in revealing the reality of what today has become almost a mythologised pursuit.
The subject of our first case was Eat Me, a very popular restaurant here in Lausanne and winner of the coveted Best Swiss Gastro Award for 2018. This was the only time a restaurant from the French-speaking part of Switzerland had won the award. As it happens, I was already very familiar with Eat Me, having visited the restaurant numerous times over previous travels to Lausanne. Eat Me offers a novel concept, best described as international tapas. Guests choose multiple dishes to share, each coming from a different region of the world and country within that region. I can vouch that this format makes for a unique evening of exploring and discussing new tastes, with the added bonus that the food is delicious!
Despite Lausanne’s restaurant scene offering a lot more in the way of variety in recent years vs 7-10 years ago (so I’m told), I found myself going back to Eat Me again and again. So imagine my curiosity at learning how this amazing place came about and indeed who better to hear from than the founders themselves, Serena Shamash and her husband Mark Brownell, who put in a surprise visit towards the end of our lecture. To describe in full the many insights Serena and Mark shared with us would fail to do them justice, not to mention make this post a little lengthy, but some key messages resonated with us.
Do not live the Deferred Life Plan
The deferred life plan (all creative rights to Mr Randy Komissar) is simple and, not surprisingly, signs up not-so-enthusiastic participants everywhere. It goes:
Step 1 – do what you have to do Step 2 – do what you want to do
…..or so they tell you. But Serena Shamash had no such intention after completing her MBA at IMD in 2007 and knew her real passion lay in building things. Specifically Serena had a passion for creating and developing concepts. She also had a passion for travel and food. During a stint at BCG in Zurich, Serena realised that those two passions could be united to address what she assessed to be a significant problem in Switzerland – a lack of restaurant variety and uninteresting customer experience at most restaurants of that time. She decided to do something about it.
I think this message resonated with all of us. It is easy to fall into the trap, often neatly camouflaged by societal norms, of believing that in order to pursue our passions, we must first pay dues in the form of a reliable job that we may not like. We are here at IMD precisely because we do not intend to fall into that trap.
Do what you love, even if it’s not quite where you expected
Serena admitted that opening a restaurant was not the exact entrepreneurial endeavour she had imagined when thinking where to apply her passion for concept development, but the landscape of the Swiss restaurant market offered a problem that needed solving. This was also a major lesson for us in understanding entrepreneurship: Opportunities may present themselves in forms and places that you never expect, but you nevertheless have the ability to recognise and take advantage of them. Serena believed that her love of travel and international upbringing placed her perfectly for designing small international plates that would allow her customers not simply to consume food, but to discover it. She had gathered evidence from her network in Switzerland that there was a real desire and need for a restaurant format like this and she decided to make it a reality. I, for one, am glad she did…
Starting a business is not hard work, it’s really hard work
After finalising her concept and developing a working financial model for Eat Me, it took Serena two years to find a location. Rather a long time. Over the period Serena learned to become a hardened negotiator and not to let emotion get the better of her logic in pressured situations. Any would-be entrepreneurs would be wise to heed that lesson, for it is in the most highly charged emotional situations that the biggest mistakes are made.
It took two years to find a location, because it took that long to find a price that made sense. Serena might easily have succumbed to a desire to get going and have paid whatever, but I suspect we wouldn’t have heard from her during our lecture if she had. The dedication required to keep going and stay committed to her vision, despite setback after setback, is awe inspiring.
Serena also shared that, after finding a location in Lausanne and successfully opening Eat Me, she worked 9am to 4am, 7 days a week for a year or so. Creating something is difficult, very difficult, and it requires courage and unparalleled work ethic. Anyone who might have believed in the popular portrayal of entrepreneurship as a teenager creating an app in his bedroom and selling it to Google for $30m a couple of months later would have been rudely awoken by the reality described by Serena that entrepreneurship is about being all-in all of the time and taking knocks on the chin as they come…and they will come.
You need support
Everyone needs the support of those close to them, especially entrepreneurs! Eat Me was the creation of both Serena and Mark. Indeed Mark has now joined Eat Me full-time, having supported Serena and helped build the business hitherto while working a demanding job as an executive. This part of the story of Eat Me resonated strongly, for arguably without Mark’s support over the years, Serena would not have been able to become the entrepreneur she has and we wouldn’t have Eat Me. I think the wider point is that people around entrepreneurs and the support networks entrepreneurs have are often overlooked in popular accounts. We all need support to have courage. Mark and Serena now run Eat Me together, which is in itself an admirable feat for a married couple (I’m not sure I could work with my wife…!).
We are deeply grateful to Serena and Mark for sharing their story with us and imparting just some of the passion and dedication required to create a business. This was a fascinating introduction to entrepreneurship and, looking ahead, our start-up projects will be kicking off imminently. The 90 of us are looking forward to getting stuck in.
For anyone in Lausanne or Geneva, my advice would be try out this place called Eat Me.
We’re looking forward to officially welcoming this year’s participants in just a few days. The program starts on Wednesday, but we already have a great team lined up to share their insights throughout the year. Surbhi will be our main blogger, with lots of support from fellow classmates. I’ll let her introduce herself next week, but here’s an insight into the start of her journey to IMD.
Transformation literally means going beyond your form.
As I marveled at the pristine perfection and organized calm that is Switzerland, it finally struck me. I was in Lausanne, a bit beleaguered after the journey, anxious and elated in equal measure. Tomorrow I would attend the fabled IMD MBA assessment day, the only admissions event across business schools where candidates are vetted for an entire day, on campus, to understand who they are as people.
My 72 hours in Lausanne forced me to pause, reflect, and walk away changed, with a stronger sense of my place in this world.
The IMD assessment is an extraordinary experience, unlike any I’ve seen for university interviews. As the day progressed I realized that this process went beyond being just a means to an admissions outcome. The behavioral interview, impromptu case, role play, lunch chat, case review with Dean Meehan (with much animated conversation), and attending Professor Seifert’s operations class; the entire experience is engineered such that, regardless of the final decision, you walk away with new thoughts, ideas, and questions bubbling in your brain that can carry you forward.
When Antonio called to share the invitation, he said that the assessment day would provide an accurate idea of what life at IMD is like. In my excitement I took a mental note but didn’t ponder on this statement much till I was in the thick of interviews. And what a transformative day it was! For those who are selected and choose to attend the program, I can only imagine the impact that a year of this experience can manifest.
Here are 3 mantras that I saw exemplified by the staff and participants of the IMD MBA program during our assessment day:
The magic lies beyond your comfort zone
In our cohort, we had all taken time off from our respective jobs and families to prepare for the assessment, and prepare to excel. This is no small feat. You know you are in esteemed company when you share a meal with individuals in their early thirties, an age when roots of routine and familiarity start taking form, and all of you have chosen to invest time and resources in discovering your greater potential. We are comfortable where we are, educated and gainfully employed. And yet the itch to do more, despite the demands it would place on our relationships and lives, is palpable and cannot be ignored. Stepping outside the comfort zone is preached and written about extensively. To practice it takes a higher level of faith in yourself and the program. This speaks volumes about the kind of people who choose the IMD MBA.
Global citizenship is the way forward
Most introductions during the day and with current participants over lunch went along the lines of, “I’m from Country A, studied in Country B, lived in Country C and D before moving to E.” The global reach represented in a relatively small group of individuals was astounding. Possibly because I have lived almost entirely in cities considered to be ethnic melting pots, the current class mix felt familiar, like home, except with cold winds and mountains as far as the eye could see. Our interview cohort represented both genders, five nationalities, and covered a range of professional roles, from pharmaceutical marketing to military service. As we worked through a case that must have been dissected by many before us, we could breathe new life into the discussion because of the unique experiences that we, quite literally, brought to the table.
The transformation (and struggle) is real
Armed with ten years of experience exclusively in healthcare, I was now required to discuss my views on an airline industry case and share astute insights on company finances. The exercise made me consider new aspects of business practices and evaluate unfamiliar data. After returning home and in the days that followed, as I flipped/swiped through the news I found myself thinking more critically of the sources I was looking at, and I explored topics beyond my usual biomedical interests. Not just because my worldview had expanded, but also because I felt confident that I could understand and question arguments on topics unfamiliar to me.
The change isn’t just cerebral, there was a sense of confidence and pride that stemmed from surviving the assessment, and the knowledge that we are made of tougher stuff than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. An early taste of the IMD program pushed me towards a better version of myself in less than three days. I speak for my peers when I say that we feel honored and excited to embrace the metamorphosis that the coming year will bring. We are ready, with coffee and chocolate on standby. Bring it on!
Martin Schmidt, German, is the author of today’s diary entry. He shares with us his experience and pleasure of having become a father whilst completing his MBA at IMD.
“What were you guys doing last January?“ This was the question that Benoit Leleux, our Program Director, asked after congratulating me on the birth of my son Leonard. With three “MBA babies” born in October, this was indeed a fair question to ask. So if next year’s MBA program gets even more demanding and stressful during its first month, I fear I might be partly to blame.
That said, the support we had from the IMD community was fantastic. Mareike, my partner, moved to Lausanne when she was already six months pregnant, and without the help of IMD staff, other participants and partners, things would have been a lot more difficult.
I know that some Diary readers are prospective MBAs who may be considering starting a family during their time at IMD. Having gone through the experience myself, I can wholeheartedly recommend it, so let me try to resolve some of your doubts*:
You think that becoming a father while doing an MBA adds more stress to an already stressful period of your life? Maybe so, but the joy that a baby can bring by far outweighs everything else. It also puts things into perspective: The company you’ve just applied to announces mass redundancies and experiences a 50% drop in its share price? Things like that do not seem to matter so much if you have a wonderful little baby son waiting for you at home.
You are worried about your wife giving birth in a foreign country? I had my doubts too, but as it turned out, hospital staff in Lausanne are very much used to catering to an international clientele. Also, language was much less of an issue than I expected: Most doctors and many midwives speak perfect English, and in any case, during birth language becomes secondary; in fact, if you understand the French verbs “pousser” [push] and “souffler” [breathe], you have already covered 90% of the required vocabulary.
You fear that you will be the odd one out as an IMD father? The following picture, showing only the parents with babies that were born during the year, should prove you wrong:
Looking at this picture now, I can’t believe how much Leonard [the one in the front, dressed in light blue] has grown already! But before I start boring my audience with stories about all the little miracles Leonard performs already [he just started smiling], I will stop writing and spend some more time with our son…
Good night to you all,
*I don’t want to be sexist, but I’m afraid my advice applies only to male participants – for obvious reasons, things would be a little different for female participants.
Making generalizations about an entire generation is a perilous exercise. Stereotypes are not helpful! That being said, for employers, cracking the Millenial code is essential to recruiting – and retaining – new talent.
This week, a panel of five MBAs had a lively dialogue with the participants of the IMD Transformation Summit, an event for Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs). What better way to dispel stereotypes than to bring generations together in the same room?
Here were some of the hot button topics in this week’s discussion of Millenials in the workplace: Bosses, job offers, patience, purpose, ambition and loyalty.
What is your idea of a good boss?
Someone who creates a mentoring and coaching relationship. Someone who explains the “why.”
Authentic, honest about the pros and cons of the company and the role I am being recruited for. During the job interview process, it’s important to create trust. It should be a dual exchange and not just being evaluated on a checklist.
What would make you reject an employment proposal?
A lack of transparency in terms of where and when decisions get made in the company.
There has to be fairness and also recognition.
It’s about mindset. I love to challenge the status quo. I like smaller brands, not a big, successful company.
It’s essential to have responsibility and room to manoeuvre. I need space and safety to develop ideas.
I need to feel a passion for what I do, passion for the product.
How long are you willing to wait until you get to the leadership role you’re aiming for (whatever your ambition is in terms of the level of leadership role)?
I’m flexible, as long as I can keep growing. It’s about assembling building blocks for the future. I’m looking for a role where I’m completely utilized, where my talents are used.
What big thing would you change in the business world?
Short-termism. When you have profit targets, going quarter to quarter limits your options.
Millenials are perceived as being less loyal to the companies they work for and more likely to move around a lot. Is this true? How do you see loyalty?
I’m loyal to my co-workers and my boss, but with the company it’s a contract.
What are you looking for in terms of work-life balance and job evolution?
A more fluid and flexible schedule: if my task, output and time frame are clear, it makes sense for me to organize myself in the way that suits me best to deliver.
I’d like the possibility to move in 3D (industry, geography, function) and to have transversal roles.
Imagine we are a company undergoing a transformation from a traditional and hierarchical organization to a new model. How do we retain you though this process? Inspire you?
Show me that there is light at the end of the tunnel: create a career plan for me, map the steps clearly.
Be honest and open about the realities of the transformation.
Seeing progress is important – even small progress. Show the plan for change. Demonstrate that you’re implementing feedback.
The company has to make sure the flame is still there!
Chairing the discussion was Jennifer Jordan, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour. To frame the discussion, Professor Jordan gave an overview of the unique characteristics of Millenials (see Cracking the Millenial Code). For example, Millenials are the first generation brought up with a child-focussed and emotional style that arose from 1960s counter-culture. They are also the first to grow up in a rich media environment offering complex and non-linear computer games. Values also differ: when asked to choose an object that represents freedom to them, Baby Boomers choose the car whereas Millenials choose the mobile phone, closely followed by sneakers!
IMD Research Associate
“It was very beneficial to be part of the panel as I had the opportunity to debate what the main challenges are that companies have attracting Millennial talent. I felt that companies have this matter on the top of their agenda, and are striving to create environments where Millennials can have a meaningful career.”