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

MBA Lorange Auditorium

I have always wanted to write a blog, but I haven’t so far. Stating petty reasons like, ‘I don’t have the time’ or ‘It’s not the right time for that thought’ or ‘I am not sure if I want my weird thoughts published’!

Today was different.

Like every other night, I was lying on my bed reminiscing about the interesting conversations I had and the interesting events that unfolded today. One train of thought led to another and I started wondering why every IMD alumni that I have spoken to has always exclaimed how life-changing their year at IMD has been and how much they treasure their IMD memories. What makes this experience so special? The place. The faculty. The sessions. The MBA program team. The food. The coffee.

Yes, all these factors and a special element that ties all these together – You – the people whom I share this year with. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am incredibly lucky to have had the pleasure of knowing you. And, it all started here in the Lorange auditorium!

As I mentioned earlier, today was different.

Today, I wanted to write my thoughts down because I simply couldn’t brush off the significance of this day. The last day we will be seated in the Lorange auditorium ‘together’ for a session. The place where we discovered each other, learnt from each other, critiqued each other and pushed each other to be better. A place where we shared tons of laughter, glances, pictures (of each other; often ending up as memes) and inside jokes!

A place we can proudly call ‘Our Safe Space’!

Our first day in the MBA Lorange Auditorium

I started wondering how Lorange got its name. It is a pity that this thought crossed my mind only now because my curiosity led me to discover Mr. Peter Lorange, former President of IMD. As I browsed through his work and his articles, I came across this thought that could have potentially gone into the design of Lorange:

Typically, all classrooms and study rooms should have high ceilings, with windows to allow natural light in. Even though it has not been scientifically proven, it seems plausible that good learning is associated with high ceilings, i.e.  no heavy structure from above “hanging in one’s face,” potentially cluttering one’s mind. Daylight, as well, is probably associated with good learning – we feel that light stimulates a positive mindset and prevents feelings of sluggishness after a day in the classroom.

History is fascinating, isn’t it.

Well, it is 2:30 am now. Too many thoughts are running in the back of my mind – career plan, presentation for the digital lab and the fact that I might regret it if I don’t go to sleep soon!

What is front and center is the amount of time (3 months!) that is remaining between today and graduation.

I am going to make every single day count! And today, I choose to simply enjoy our last day ‘together’ at Lorange.

Tamil Vardani

Digital Analytics Lab Photo Overview

The focus of this week has been Digital Analytics, with the MBAs learning and applying various analytical and programming skills, including Python. Since Monday, each team has been competing to crack the different elements of a case, using and fine tuning their newly acquired coding skills. By Friday, they have to present their final findings. Which group will succeed first? Who will get the most accurate results? With final presentations due tomorrow morning, the atmosphere in the study rooms is very intense!

Summertime is reflection time

Yes, summer break has finally arrived! In fact we have been enjoying the break for a week already, but it takes (or it took me) a few days to slow down and shift gears. Now, far away from Lausanne, I spend my days reconnecting with family, reading books, sleeping and … reflecting. Yes, summertime is a well-known IMD MBA reflection time too.

It is seven days since we came back from the discovery expedition and I sit down to think through what this experience means to me, what I have seen. But do not worry – my colleagues described the highlights so well already that I will not repeat it all over again! Instead, let me share few observations with you.

Key success factors. Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, Dublin – all three seem to be very different, yet I think there is a common foundation of their success – each location created its own, very favourable environment for innovation and the growth of the tech industry.

  • Silicon Valley profits from the availability of talent from top technical universities (Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA) along with a legal framework that does not allow anti-competitive clauses.
  • In Shenzhen, the friendly and supportive (also financially) local government created liberal conditions for tech investment.
  • Finally, Dublin benefits from the stable and long-term investment policy of the central government that keeps low and stable corporate taxation along with free technical education to encourage the flow of FDI into Ireland.

None of the tech hubs was born overnight. It took years to reach the current state of development, but their examples show how powerful and difficult to copy a solid, long-term strategy and development could be.

Key ‘failure’ factors. Interestingly, all three hubs are plagued with the same challenge – rapidly raising real estate prices and living costs. With costs of living comparable to the most expensive financial centres of the world, not only locals, but also incoming tech talents find it challenging to finance a decent living standard – a situation that can become a key threat to further growth if it is not resolved in time.

Culture and mindset. Thinking about differences among the tech hubs, culture and mindset came to my mind as the biggest, single difference among them, especially between Silicon Valley and Shenzhen. I am European – born and raised in the Western culture, I have seen and heard the Silicon Valley mantras of taking risks, trying things and failing fast, being ready for the next challenge. And these concepts equally apply to Shenzhen. What I found different, however, is the approach towards sharing ideas and taking real life application to the next level.

What I saw in the U.S. are people who speak about their ideas as loudly as possible, trying to validate their thinking before investing much time and effort into development. Having talked with entrepreneurs in China, I think the things work differently there – you keep your head low, work hard and fast to develop your idea, hoping to get ahead of the fierce competition that will put an enormous pressure on you the second you start getting attention. Limited IP protection and the general readiness to immediately copycat solutions can, at least partially, explain the different approach in China.

On the other hand, Chinese entrepreneurs are willing to, and can, put their ideas into action much faster and deeper than their colleagues in the West, especially in heavily regulated areas such as e.g. healthcare. Let’s take as an example the AI-supported decision tools that in the West are mainly in the testing stage. In China they are already applied across multiple large hospitals, allowing for collection of real world data and further development and adjustments of the solutions at a pace that more conservative legal frameworks of the West do not allow for.

The race to become the next technological leader of the world has already begun. Who will be the next leader? Or perhaps we will not have a clear leader anymore? I do not know the answer, yet I strongly believe that cultural and legal aspects will play a significant role in the game with East and West having its strengths and its weaknesses when it comes to technological advancement.

Luckily, I have a few more days of the summer break to reflect further on it before the next marathon starts…

Lukasz

Discovery Expedition Part 2 – China

After a 14 Hour hop over the Pacific the class touched down in Hong Kong, en route to Shenzhen, for the second and much anticipated part of the MBA Discovery Expedition 2019!

For many of the class this was our first visit to China and came against the backdrop of increasing trade tensions between the US and our new hosts… An interesting moment to discuss and learn more about the rapid rise of the private sector here in China!

First and foremost, the efforts made by the Chinese members of the 2019 class cannot go without mention. Whether it was organising evenings out in great local restaurants, helping with on-the-fly translations or organising Karaoke for the entire class, their contributions made our experience of Shenzhen an incredible one. They were always extremely generous with their time and as a class we are extremely grateful to all of them for the welcome we received and the experiences we shared as a result of their help and organisation! It was a great example of the value such a diverse group brings to this year and they should be extremely proud!

Of course, there was also the small matter of our intensive 5-day back-to-back schedule. Professors Bill Fisher and Mark Greeven had clearly invested months of work into this trip and it showed. The class was also very grateful to the Haier Group and James Wang for their insight into the local market and start-up community.

During our first day we were sent out into the sprawling metropolis of Shenzhen to complete a number of day-to-day tasks ranging from ordering a DiDi taxi purchasing something at Hema Supermarket or enjoying some daytime Mini-Karaoke TV, naturally… Needless to say, if you don’t have WeChat or AliPay or your Mandarin is rusty, these tasks can prove far more challenging than you could imagine… but in the oppressive 35°C heat we managed it, eventually, and the trip was off to a great start!

The next few days went by in a matter of seconds. Company visits to Tencent, Huawei, Ping An, UBTECH and others demonstrated more than could be satisfactorily recorded here. These companies are operating at a scale only possible in China and they are unafraid of the risks and scepticism surrounding new applications of AI, Machine Learning and Facial Recognition. They scale fast or they fail fast.

On top of this, a few common themes prevailed throughout our visits to local companies – a 6-day work week for many start-ups pursuing market domination, a government willing to go to great lengths to support technological development locally and a national obsession to educate the next generation in STEM & Computer Programming subjects.

Last but not least an unexpected detour! After meeting a French E-Bike start-up at one of the sessions, 10 members of the class took a spontaneous trip out to Huizou 惠州. We wanted to understand what it was really like to setup and scale a manufacturing operation in China, away from the bright lights and skyscrapers of the city. After a supposedly short ride, that turned into a 3 hour marathon of traffic and rain, we made it to the Carbo Factory. There we saw first-hand the challenges of going local here – finding a partner, setting up a JV, raising funds, getting the right shipping in place, protecting your IP from the competition – and it was truly impressive to see how founders Lynne and Lauryn have managed to overcome these. One of the many highlights of the trip.

As we headed to Hong Kong Airport the following day it was clear that even though we had experienced so much, this was only just a tiny perspective of this complex and vibrant market. But, most importantly, it had given many of us a unique perspective to build on for the future…

Alex Berry