“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” – Nelson Mandela
Madiba had foreseen, perhaps, that those who aspire to shape the world need a reminder, that in the pursuit of intellectual and economic success, we should take our hearts along for the ride.
After Module 1’s rigorous training on frameworks and discounted cash flows, I daresay we felt pretty good about our knowledge on the essential MBA toolkit. But is there value in using tools without a burning mission, or a vision that sees beyond profit?
Enter Professor Knut Haanaes, Professor of Strategy at IMD and Dean of the Global Leadership Institute at the World Economic Forum (WEF). Since the first lecture of our Business and Society course, Professor Knut asked us to evaluate cases and ideas through three lenses; systemic change, corporate contribution, and individual responsibility. With this in mind, we dived into the tough conversations about maintaining performance while protecting the environment, ending inequality, and driving accountability for ethical behavior. For me, the striking thing is that despite our cultural and personality differences, and even if we disagree on how to proceed, as a class we have been united in our concern for society at large, and are seeking ways to make a fast and effective impact.
“Magic 90” with Professor Knut Haanaes at the World Economic Forum
A fresh perspective on vision and intent: Stories are incredibly powerful in their ability to change minds. We benefited from many through a range of guest speakers during the course. Our session on the WWF goals reminded us how much in peril our natural world is. Yves Daccord, Director-General of the Red Cross (ICRC) wowed us with his adventures and learnings in overwhelmingly high-stress and often unfamiliar situations. He is one of our most memorable speakers in the program thus far, and believe me, the bar is set high. He achieved this without slides, his stories so visceral and relatable that we hung onto every word. Our President at IMD, Professor Jean-Francois Manzoni, also did a session with us on navigating corporate culture and even redefining it as we progress in our careers.
Challenging companies to do better: This is where it gets trickier. During a class discussion on palm oil, the narrative drove me to question consumer choices. Do we really need palm oil to be in everything? Can we be weaned off of it? Do the orangutans really need to die because we like Nutella on toast? And the corporate argument against ending palm oil use is that livelihoods of farmers are then being taken away. The “aha” moment here is that even if my heart is in the right place, my mind needs to have a business plan. It is more convincing to show that we can transition farmers to other crops such that a manufacturer can still realize profits, just in a new and different, perhaps even more lucrative way, without causing harm to the planet.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): SDGs are a call to action, comprising of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for completion in the year 2030. Professor Knut assigned each group to a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). For each SDG we needed to state the current status, challenges, and the role of business in generating solutions. My team worked on SDG 3, Good health and well being, with a focus on Mental Health in the Workplace. Presentations were conducted yesterday, the last day of the course.
We began early with the sunrise to drive over to Geneva. We met with Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF who reminded us that the future will not just be hinging on technology, but also on talent and trust. Furthermore, he urged us to pursue our goals using brain, soul, heart, muscle, and nerves, all our faculties, to make the best decisions for all stakeholders.
After a fascinating afternoon at the United Nations, we arrived at the SDG space. While listening to my peers’ presentations, I realized these issues aren’t unsolvable. As consultants, bankers, and executives, problem-solving is part of our ammo. “Fix it! Create it! Figure a way around it!” The challenge is really the scale of the issues that plague sustainability. And they are of our own making, our miserable track record of individual focus and ignorance of widespread consequences.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela
Professor Knut asked us if we felt optimistic or pessimistic. When I think of the Great Pacific garbage patch or gender equality being 200 years away, my heart sinks. But my friend and colleague, Mirko, shared a message of hope as evening approached and it was time to head home to Lausanne: “I am more positive about the world’s outlook, because all of us in this room are leaders of tomorrow and this course showed us the importance and urgency to act and bring back the balance between profits society and the environment. My wish is that every one of us will take the big responsibility to take these learnings into the real world by adapting our lifestyles and leadership for a better future on our planet.”
Professor Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum
I remain an optimist, with good reason.
And I end this post with words of wisdom from Professor Knut. When I asked him about sustainable goal setting and his aspirations for our class, he shared the following …
“Good business is about balancing the short and long-term. If we take a long-term perspective it is clear that sustainability needs to be a top issue for all companies. If we take a short-term perspective, it may look less important, but only until you are attacked in social media. So today any smart company needs to address sustainability for the short and the long-term. That, to me, is great news!
The MBA class will be better leaders that we have seen thus far. In part, because the future will demand more leadership, even put a premium on it. And I think you have it in you. I know you will set higher targets on yourself than even I would have!”
The course has ended, but our contribution to the change has just begun. May we do good, and do well. May we find our greatest glory.
(special thanks to Olivier for the incredible photos!)