As The Leaves Turn

How do you measure a year in an IMD MBA life?

In daylights,
In sunsets,
In midnights,
In cups of coffee … lots of them.

Graduation week is officially here.

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I would be lying if I said that I am totally cool with saying, “seeya later” to my 89 compadres. When I arrived in January, on a day as cold as today, but what feels like so long ago, I had a clear purpose for coming to IMD. I knew which job I wanted in which geography, and how it would fit into my planned career path. I had my “secure base” in Dubai with no real need or desire to form close friendships. It was simple in my mind; study, recruit, graduate, explore Switzerland, and move on.

My dormitory landlady in college once told me, “Man plans and God laughs”. Apparently, this applies to women as well. I definitely did not get time to explore Switzerland.

Nothing anyone could have told me would prepare me for the sheer exhaustion and exhilaration this year has brought into my life. What does the journey feel like? Have you seen Harry Potter? It feels like this (start at 0:40 if you are impatient) …

If I have to summarize each month here, it would be as follows.

January: I am so excited to be an IMD MBA student! This is going to change my life!
The arrival of “Magic 90” (as coined by Sebastiano :), laundry system culture shock, snow in Villars, dancing in Villars, accounting and finance, bullwhip

February: This is a lot of work for an MBA program, no?
Start-up groups, weekends of finance and accounting study where I look just as clueless as the person next to me, and the one next to him … and yet I live in hope that I have enough time to learn everything

March: My life sucks. I question every decision ever made that led me to this chaos.
Tears … I don’t have enough time to learn everything, start-up project drama really kicks in, integrative Exercise 1 i.e., sleep-deprived smiles … exams … so many tears
*My PDE ensured my survival this month. I love you, Natalia.

April: As shocked as everyone else that I did well in Accounting …
Celebrating the completion and passing of exams, jumping into Module 2, running home for Easter break to remind myself I have a life beyond the MBA bubble, running back to the bubble because in some masochistic way I actually missed it, more accounting, more finance, strategy … lots of lonely nights with case studies

May: Spirits rise with the weather, all smiles as recruiting begins
Packed my winter jacket away, sunshine all around, gorgeous edited CVs at the ready, brooding over cover letters, naive, happy hellos as on-campus company presentations begin, questioning my original goals, prodding new ideas and roles, the realization that what I planned may not be the best for me … so now what?

June: Discovery Expedition, where I discovered that I would prefer not to do extensive long-haul travel in the future
14 days, 3 cities in different continents, essentially giving Phileas Fogg major existential angst, all 90 of us breathing the same air and living the same existence, wonderful, fun, and ultimately so tiring that your bones are ready for summer break.

July: I’m going home and never coming back!
Arriving home so overwhelmed by the breakneck speed of the first half of 2019. Sulking initially on leaving a nice, warm, comfort zone. Realizing later that the magic lies beyond said comfort zone, binge-watch Netflix with cat, finalize cover letters, study, wonder if it would have made sense to stay in Europe and network, as some high achievers have done, decide break is good idea anyway, continue binge-watching Netflix

August: I came back.
Feeling refreshed. Amazing what a month of regular sleep and mental rest can do for the soul. Short-lived. Module 3 + recruiting = Module 1 on steroids. Tired. Worried. Tired. Scouring company presentation lists and highlighting those of interest. Interview practice. Pitch. Pitch. Pitch. Ice-cream truck arrives! My favorite is blueberry cheesecake.

September: Interview practice like your life depends on it
Early selection lists. Joy. Disappointment. Learning. Learning. Learning. PDEs in overdrive. Self-reflection. Pivoting the career search. Baptism under fire as we learn to be agile, accept failure, accept ambiguity, understand that while things don’t go our way externally, we exert control over our reactions and responses. Ice-cream truck leaves. The ICPs begin.

October: Like salmon swimming upstream
ICPs in full swing, job search angst at its peak, tensions flare, empathy grows. Major personal stretch goals. Flying to interviews. Prayers. Some good news. Some not-so-good news. Magic 90 fires on. It’s not the end till we say it is. Meeting alumni who say this is the best year of our lives. Staring at them wondering if the definition of “best” varies across cultures.

November: Time flies when you’re having fun (or drinking from a fire hose)
ICP wrap up. Satisfaction at another project well done. Electives begin. Sitting through “The Future of Marketing” with Professor Frédéric Dalsace and “The Displacement of Pioneer Companies by Scrappy Copycats” with Professor Howard Yu — courses so good they should be core curriculum. Final round interviews. Offers. Satisfaction. Relief. Suspense. Trade-offs. Decisions. Sometimes straightforward. Or holding out for something better. Emails from Regula and Gyopi about wrapping things up. It’s getting real. The end is nigh.

December: Mixed emotions, yet eager to take on the next adventure!
Expecting a whirlwind of tears, Kleenex, happy memories, emotions, and closure. Maybe more. I will miss my peers and the MBA team.

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Celebrating Taiwanese culture last week 🙂
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The last elective of the year with Professor Salvatore Cantale

At the end of this “bumpy ride”, I am not only choosing a career path and location I didn’t consider initially, but I leave this mountain-cuddled sleepy town with friendships you generally only make in school or college, the kind that is rare and thereby more precious in adulthood. I feel sad and elated, a strange sense of gratitude because I unexpectedly found something that will be difficult to walk away from.

So how will I measure this year?

I don’t think I can.

Not everything can, or should, be quantified. I know that I have changed, suffered, grown, triumphed, and all this is taking me towards a brand new chapter.

And this in itself, is priceless.

Wishing my class a fantastic week, and a wonderful visit for all the family and friends attending our graduation.

Chins up, this is just the beginning.

Surbhi

PS: Totally going to explore Switzerland now!

The IMD Restaurant: Food for the Soul

As temperatures dip, I find myself curled up with a bowl of hot soup at lunchtime at the IMD Restaurant. Some days ago we enjoyed an aromatic tagine and slices of thick walnut baklava on Morocco Day. And who can forget those glorious summer days of unlimited, and I mean, unlimited, Movenpick ice cream?! And as we hurtle towards graduation, it would be a mistake to not profile and thank the incredible novae team who keep us nourished and quite frankly, alive, during what may well be one of the most challenging years of our careers.

Anyone who has considered IMD, or made it to Assessment Day, or has given a lecture to students here, has heard of and likely dined at the IMD Restaurant. And then told friends and family of its multi culinary lore. It is literally that epic. I have personally overheard at an alumni reunion, a former IMD MBA in line for lunch saying, “Oh gosh, I’ve missed this so much!”

Nestled between the MBA buildings, the Executive Learning Center, Bignami, and a lush green park sits the Restaurant, appropriately at the heart of IMD social life. It is a large space with ground and first floors and an outdoor patio that opens up in the warmer months. Through the glass windows, you can see groups of people breaking bread, engrossed in conversation. On a given day when I walk across the hall, I can hear chatter on new business articles, potential projects, an upcoming lecture series, new parents aspiring for a good night’s sleep and my peers discussing Lacustre shenanigans from last evening.

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All smiles at lunchtime!

What we rarely see, or think about, is the effort behind the production house that feeds hundreds of people on a daily basis, including 90 MBAs with appetites as vast as their professional ambitions. I could imagine an accounting line item just for us, “MBA variable costs = 1.5*Regular diner variable costs” #mbahumor

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A tireless team

The novae team begins their day at 6AM. They spend the morning chopping, sauteing, and preparing all the dishes in the interconnected kitchens behind and above the dining areas. Olivier, who generously took all these fantastic pictures, and I took a sneak peek to prepare for this post and were amazed at this labyrinth of cooking stations where the team works in planned unison, churning out copious amounts of greek salad, daal, sweet potato fries, cannelloni, and grilled fish, so streamlined and efficient. No surprise then that when the cream puffs are almost over, we see a tray of freshly prepared plump cream-filled pastry goodness appear within minutes.

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Serving up delicacies with a greeting and a smile

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Stressed spelled backward is desserts, and the novae team has spoilt us for choice. International sweets aren’t uncommon. Seen below are the aforementioned cream puffs, and “basbousa”, an Egyptian sweet cake. For those healthy living days, there is a supply of fruit and yogurt 🙂

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Lunch is typically followed by an expresso at the Bignami cafe we know as Mireille’s. How she remembers our orders I will never know. It is an experience that makes IMD special to us and can brighten up even the dullest day.

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Summer days, drifting away 🙂
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Celebrating the lovely Mireille

I wish you all the opportunity to dine at the IMD Restaurant. It provides so much more than a meal. It is where you find some kindness and camaraderie, where we eat at the same table, regardless of our differences. In fact, between trying dishes from Tunisia and Sri Lanka, we’ve expanded our palates and even given vegetarian burgers a shot (for the record, they were pretty good)! The Restaurant also has made us think about not wasting food, where our food comes from, and you can sometimes see locally sourced labels at the lunch buffet. In a world that is becoming alarmingly polarized, food remains a common denominator of humanity, and in our tiny Alpine corner of the universe, this industrious establishment has all of us covered, and how.

On behalf of the Class of 2019, thank you, dear novae team: Frédéric, Arnaud, Nicolas, Jérome, Aloïs, Philippe, Malick, Cedric, Arno, Luis, Kumarasamy, Sébastien, José, Jean-Jacques, Carlos, Emanuel, Gatien, Guillaume, Mireille, Jorge, Antonio, Zahra, Maëwen

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Bon appétit!

Surbhi

Five Beautiful Minds and an ICP

If you look from a distance, we could not be more different. A marathoner from London, a young father from Zurich, a former auditor from Hong Kong, a football fiend from Japan with many years spent in sub-Saharan Africa, and, well, me.

Somehow, after our final client presentation for the International Consulting Project (ICP), seven weeks after we buckled down to achieve challenging targets in a nebulous space, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to dear friends who shared my life values.

“Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
–Patrick Lencioni

I suppose it began in our first meeting as a group. We set ground rules, and beyond the usual promises of timed meetings and work/life balance (though honestly the older I get the more the lines are blurred; work is life, life is work), we committed to supporting each other in the most testing of processes, the job search. I felt comfortable in the knowledge that we would have each others’ backs while juggling project tasks with impromptu interviews. Preparing for interviews is stressful enough. Within the first week, we generated trust with schedule transparency on a shared calendar. When one of us was not around, the rest would seamlessly work through other tasks and catch our colleagues up when they returned. We gradually opened up to each other, shared our concerns and aspirations, and soon enough, we felt vested in everyone’s success.

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Whizzing through a Retail Safari in Shenzhen, China

And then there was the project itself. We were tasked to create social media strategic recommendations for a medical aesthetics portfolio. While understanding the needs of the client in the initial days on-site in the UK, we were quickly given a second project because we as sharp, analytical MBA students should be able to churn through what felt like a data tsunami and generate meaningful insights for the firm. Bringing in a diverse group such as ours proved to be incredibly valuable to the client. It can bring a unique blend of optimism, can-do attitude, and external perspectives that are rarely possible for internal employees to provide, no matter how smart they are, simply because they have been at the company for many years.

We’ve had our tough moments. Not against each other, but with each other. I’ve heard of high-performing teams debating ideas and pushing each other to move beyond the obvious to the truly valuable insights. I’ve seen glimpses of this in previous teams, but more often than not, the balance of “care” and “dare” goes off quickly and risks descending into personal attacks. For the most part, our team kept discussions and disagreements centered around the benefit of the project and the client’s goals. Oftentimes we helped each other after finishing our own tasks. It wasn’t about getting individual credit. It was about making the team shine. And shine we did. Our client sponsor, a senior executive, commended our unity as a team in the final presentation. Each team member got time to showcase their work, how it fits into the overall solution and we supported each other through the Q&A session. “No one was pulling the attention towards him/herself. There was a flow within your team that is rare to see.” High praise, and so true, we just wanted to pull attention to the recommendations we had garnered over two months of painstaking research and analyses.

I thank my team for sharing their brilliance and rigor to make this project a success. It was a high point in my IMD MBA and will stay a fond memory, as we begin our dash to the finish line. I am always going to remember singing karaoke with you in a mall in Shenzhen, and our bowling night in London where Daniel was reigning champion.

Thank Yous

Professor Goutam Challagalla, for nudging us along the right digital marketing path, for aligning and reassuring us when things got disorienting. You’ve been an amazing mentor and coach. Angelina, for being stoic and persistent and always smiling despite taking on the daunting role of treasurer. Daniel, for your attention to detail, your kind nature and your willingness and flexibility in adding value to all parts of the project. Maisie, for always being calm under pressure, embracing evolving workstreams, and for bringing your UK expertise to the project. Satoshi, for steadfastly getting through to the core of any matter, for your sincerity to your work, your honesty, and openness.

It has been an honor, and I am so excited to see the amazing things we will accomplish in the years ahead. And for our fondue night next week 🙂

Yours in nostalgia,

Surbhi

An Odyssey of Challenges and Secure Bases

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“It is exactly what we expected from this project. On top of that, the practical action plans appended with the business models will help us to move forward with the pilot phase”, were the appreciative closing words from our ICP client during the final presentation.

Yet, the journey to get there was everything but an easy walk.

Mid-October, the project seemed to be as dismal as the rainy days in Lausanne. It is only during the first presentation, the client and we concurred on the final project scope.  To make things worse, our team dynamics were confidently entrenched in the so-called “storming” phase, which is, according to the theory, the much-needed step before reaching the “performing” phase of teamwork …. The five of us, totaling 43 years of cumulative work experience in various industries, got stuck for days. After designing a bunch of occult graphs (our NDA, but also our pride, prevent us to disclose those here), the most serious man of the team started self-mockery: “We’d better prepare some AEDs for next presentation. Either the client or our faculty may need them.”

However, thanks to the experiences acquired during this year, every one of us knew how to navigate this situation. Rounds of argument shaped our prototypes of new business models. Following the tradition of leadership streams, we took frequent feedback sessions which helped the team moving out of the storming stage. Meanwhile, continuous and subtle guidance from faculty coach, Professor Ralf Seifert, helped us to maintain ICP on the right track. Nemawashi, newly taught in the ICP preparing sessions, was applied to build consensus between clients and us (Yes, we avoided using AED during client meetings).

When looking back at the ICP journey, we think our team performed like the sailors of Odysseus, confronting a series of unknows and challenges. Everyone experienced frustration, confusion, and pressure. The support and specific expertise from each other made the team stronger, and hence we finally passed the whirlpool and sailed to the destination.

Soon, we will leave the IMD campus and re-enter into the real world – real jobs as well as real life. Like the ICP, the only certain thing in our future life is uncertainty. But we will not freak out. We have experienced ICP. And more importantly, we have ICP teammates who are friends and secure bases for the future.

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Finally, thank you to Vivekanand Pandey and Olivier De Liedekerke. Their commitment and optimism are the true inspiration for our ICP. The team’s success would not be possible without their contribution (as well as tolerance on my demand for MECE).

Chaoyi

 

International Consulting Projects: Bringing IMD MBA magic to the world

How is it the last weekend of September already? It feels like yesterday when we were navigating the snow drenched sidewalks of Villars, a memorable nine months ago!

And yet here we are, classes and startups and summer projects behind us, survivors of the intense and enriching Discovery Expedition. And, we made it through Digital Week!

When the International Consulting Projects (ICPs) were announced earlier this year, there was a lot going on with exams and travel, and we didn’t really grasp the impact that these projects could have on the host companies. I spent the last week with my team in the UK, where we began work on a digital marketing project for a large multinational. We realized very quickly that our work would not only be given high visibility, but it would also play an integral role in the company’s marketing strategy for key product portfolios. One beneficial aspect of the project is that it pulls us out of student mode and places us into work mode, except that now we have heightened awareness and business knowledge to make better decisions.

In essence, our class of 90 is divided into teams of five and staffed on real-world projects for the next seven weeks. The preparation for this has been year-round, with Professor James Henderson leading the charge. In the summer we submitted our project preferences and were soon informed of the team structures. No surprise, the companies hail from a wide range of industries, with ICPs that span the world. While my team doesn’t have extensive travel, our peers are happily trotting around the world, to Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, the United States, and then some.

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Adventurers bound for Bangladesh

In this sense, the ICPs are vastly different from our start-up projects. They are also a change from our class schedule, all of us in Lorange every morning at 8AM, some sleepier than others, poring over finance exercises and marketing cases. But then again, it couldn’t have gone on forever, enjoying the safety of the classroom. It was inevitable that we would have to step out and showcase what we have learned. We are, however, still guided by our faculty directors, who ensure that we stay on track and are able to navigate challenges as they arise. So we’re flying the coop, but with supervision.

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ICP city explorations

Personally, my hopes for this project are that my team delivers valuable contributions to our client, that we learn new and critical skills and concepts, and that we use this opportunity to inform our perspectives on the continuous career and job discussions that are currently are the forefront of our minds.

Over the next two months, we will share our ICP stories, surprises, learnings, hurdles, and successes. And at the end, we will have our deliverables, of course, but also the satisfaction of overcoming our personal fears and biases, expanding our cultural and culinary palates, and applying lessons learned in the classroom to companies and their customers.

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Having some fun amid ICP seriousness 🙂
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All smiles in Morocco

Wishing all of us many spectacular ICP experiences, amazing (and safe) travels, and memories of a lifetime.

Surbhi

The Many Faces of Digital Week!

It’s our last week as a class, in class, working on the same projects. I’m not emotional, yet, mostly because of a ton of ICP and recruiting work that envelopes all of us. But Digital Week, led by Professor Amit Joshi, has promised us plenty of “Code-ak” moments that have kept us entertained and motivated as we delve into programming and data analyses. Enjoy!

Step 1 (Confidence, poise, smiles): We’re a team! We can do this. It’s just Python. And Anaconda. How tough can programming languages named after lethal serpents be? We are IMD MBA champions! 🙂

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Step 2 (Apprehensive yet confident): Okay, this is going to take some more effort than I realized. But still, I can figure it out. We’re going to be fine. We have coaches and we’ve done the Codeacademy course on Python. All good, I hope.

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Step 3 (The realization that there is much to learn sets in): Why is Python not listening to me?! We invented it to make life easier, no?

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Step 4 (Surrender to the inevitable): I’m going to go look for the coaches in the dungeons. And maybe grab a snack. And remember the calming tips my PDE gave me.

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Step 5 (Innovate, observe competitors, get back into the MBA “never-say-die” frame of mind): What are you guys doing? #sharedknowledge

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We are heading into the semi-finals in 15 minutes! Wish us luck 🙂

Yours in code,

Surbhi

Keep Calm, and Embrace the Chaos

What happens when you hurtle ahead from January through June at breakneck speed, and then suddenly pull those screeching brakes?

You catch up on your “do-absolutely-nothing” debt.

During glorious July, the much-needed month off in the IMD MBA program, I, and most of the class, purposefully did nothing of obvious value, unless you consider puttering around the house and meandering through glistening malls, frigid with air conditioning, in the middle of a desert nation, productive. I do. My best ideas arise in sloth.

IMG_0389.JPGSea view from the Arabian Gulf on a hot, lazy day in Dubai

And now we are back in lovely, sunkissed Lausanne. Whizzing through Finance, Negotiations, Structured Thinking, and most recently, Leadership sessions on distinguishing between truth and lies. With my peers, Takashi and Jia, I’ll be doing project work with IMD alumni looking to bring precision agriculture to East Africa. Plus, International Consulting Project (ICP) prep is underway. Also, recruiting is officially ramping up! In just two weeks!

I blocked this weekend for quiet time, hoping that if nothing else, I can assimilate in my mind the learnings of early August. And yes, we learned loads about valuation from Professor Arturo Bris, honed our negotiation skills with Professor Sam Abadir, pushed our logic and structuring capabilities with Professor Arnaud Chevallier, discussed culture and strategy with Professor Ina Toegel, and took on the beast that is “difficult conversations” with Professor Jennifer Jordan.

This immense trove of knowledge is valuable when we are in the right state to use it. An overarching lesson is the acceptance of uncontrollable factors. You can read and test as many frameworks as you like, test a million scenarios and have all manner of analytics and research at your disposal. The outcome of it all, our efforts, the risks we take, remains unknown. And maybe being at peace with darkness is an answer. Maybe as we cross the chasm, from being frantic about output versus serene and focused on the process, we evolve from our former selves to impactful leaders. So, there is power in just this, being okay with the unknown.

IMG_9654.jpegLac Léman tranquility

Whether we look at the time value of money, understanding our position versus who we are negotiating with, grasping the emotions behind the misgivings of a disgruntled colleague, or structuring options to approach an abstract problem, the present moment is all that matters. The past can cloud judgment, in finance and feelings, and the future sits on so many variables beyond our influence. Suddenly the concept of mindfulness doesn’t seem as restricted to yoga-studio, crunchy granola stereotypes as it previously did. It applies to our everyday dealings, especially in business.

I am grateful to our wonderful Sports Committee for organizing yoga classes. Simple things like deep breathing and self-awareness are gold when navigating the rest of this program, which has made a marked shift from the first academically focused half, to now, when we’re practicing cases and feverishly writing cover letters.

One thing is for sure, I will schedule “aimless time” on a weekly basis, even if for a few minutes. Because when the world is still and your calendar isn’t pinging in nagging anticipation for your next commitment, you can reconnect with the person who brought you here in the first place, “pre-IMD you”. You can remember her dreams, recharge, and redirect your efforts, so that, in spite of the unpredictable nature of all things external, you can be sure of one thing, your sense of self.

Signing off with this tribute to Toni Morrison, the first African-American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, who passed on last week.

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Surbhi