swiss-mountains-lucien

Narrating the journey

As one of the four official bloggers who will share their MBA experiences at IMD, using this space to highlight both highs and lows (after all, experiencing setbacks and learning how to navigate through murky waters is also an integral part of a transformative journey) over the next 12 months, I think it only makes sense to use this first post of mine to explain why I decided to come here, describe what I hope to achieve through this blog and briefly introduce my background in the process, before Priyanka, Sathappan and Mohammed do the same over the next few days.

I was an avid reader of the IMD blog in the months prior to applying to the program in the summer of 2016 and often found myself wondering about what it is exactly that drives people to come here for a year before diving again into corporate arenas or entrepreneurial endeavours. Scrolling through CVs and LinkedIn profiles will only tell you so much since these descriptions can often be characterized as “masks” people wear and prefer to reveal to others. What I was specifically interested in while doing my research on the program was not so much the possibility to shake up one, two or all three variables (industry, function, country) and completely redefine one’s professional trajectory, or the possibility to more quickly advance within a specific sector through the acquisition of that coveted credential, but the transformative side of it.

How does the program affect someone’s understanding of doing business?

What will a candidate do differently in terms of management and how will his or her business acumen have changed/evolved after 12 months of such an intensive bootcamp?

What kind of new perspectives can someone gain while studying here?

In short: I was looking for acquired skills – soft and hard – as well as newly gained vantage points.

And because I couldn’t find the information I was looking for on various forums or blogs that seem to curate sheer endless amounts of positive and flattering posts about different MBA programs around the world, clearly making a blatant use of superlatives, I decided to meet and talk to former MBA students. Some of their answers did help to convince me and get on with applying to a program (IMD is the only MBA program I ended up applying for), but it also became obvious that different people have very different reasons for doing an MBA on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Some candidates are here because of IMD’s strong focus on leadership and teachings on how to maneuver through dilemmas, others are primarily interested in diversifying their career prospects. The start-up competition was also mentioned as a major reason by two of my classmates, while others look forward to the International Consulting Projects. Switzerland, a politically and economically stable country in a world governed by uncertainties, is also one of the many reasons why students decide to come here.

In my case, after spending 6+ years in financial services in Zurich, I also realised that – from here on – things would only go faster and faster and that taking a step back to look at the big picture would likely become more and more difficult. As a former participant in a very rapidly changing industry – driven by continuously increasing regulatory pressure and the emergence of new technologies, particularly appealing to the needs of digital-savvy consumers – and constantly having to think about the next chapter while being busy writing the current one, catching some degree of routine-blindness (the Germans have a great word for that: “Betriebsblindheit” – literally, “blinded by the process of doing”) was easy. Taking a step back is – at times – absolutely vital in order to avoid getting wrapped up in the intricacies of the machinery.

And although I did consider various other options for taking that step back (a sabbatical was one option for example), I concluded that doing an MBA at IMD would be a unique challenge that could potentially alterate my understanding of doing business, but also highlight new areas of personal development. It’s hard to say no to that.

I must add though: yes, an MBA is a very costly investment and it took me some time to let go of the guilt that I used to associate with investing that much money into my own personal development. I also admit that various readings, such as Mark Albion’s “More Than Money”, triggered some doubts and made me question the idea of pursuing an MBA for weeks in a row. I am also fully aware that going for this MBA can be interpreted as a sign of conformism and that – now that the program has started and my investment is made – it is to be expected that I can no longer retain a healthy distance to the events of the next 12 months and will likely feel inclined to rave about my experiences here and paint them in the best possible light. Mariana Zanetti perfectly describes this logic in her book “Is the MBA a profitable investment?”. 

Revealing struggles and difficulties exposes vulnerabilities and we may thus appear less desirable. In the case of this blog, I think it is safe to assume that potential employers will – at some point – stumble upon it and possibly feel less interested in students who do not easily jump through all the hoops and explain what it is in particular that challenges them. Yes, that may be the case.

But on the other hand, Switzerland continues to distinguish itself because of its relentless focus on quality and transparency, not just when it comes to manufactured goods, but also education. The country prides itself on bringing up well-rounded professionals that have been tested and challenged, fully believing in something that was remarkably summed up by Frederick Douglass:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Albeit from very different corners of the world, the people I have met so far at IMD all seem to share similar values and I am looking forward to struggle with them, while making it easier for future applicants to understand and relate to what goes on in the mind of a candidate.

I will therefore aim at trying my best to retain a balanced stance regarding the events of the coming months and use this blog to provide a rounded picture of what doing an MBA at IMD is like.

Lucien