The Greatest Glory

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“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?

Nope.

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.

DSC_9135.jpg“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.

SDGs-GlobalGoalsForSustainableDevelopment-05.jpgSustainable 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.”

DSC_9189.jpgProfessor 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.

Sustainably yours,

Surbhi

(special thanks to Olivier for the incredible photos!)

The mind of a strategist

March. This was a very special month of my IMD MBA journey for multiple reasons: International Women’s Day program with a fascinating panel of three female business leaders; the last miles of Module 1, wrapping up all the knowledge taught so far; and the famous integrative exercise, a 48 hour case study marathon in our teams of six. Last but not least, this was the month when we had our strategy course with Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski (‘Misiek’ as he calls himself).

I was very curious about this course a long time before I started the MBA in January. After several years of professional experience at BCG I was wondering how I would find this part of the program. Would it still be eye opening? Would I learn much or rather refresh the long-known concepts I used to apply in my consulting career? I remembered well some of my older colleagues who claimed strategy is what we practice in strategy consulting, not what we learn at business school.

Finally, I was curious about the professor too. Misiek spent the majority of his professional career teaching strategy at Harvard, well known for its strength in this field. My expectations were high.

Misiek took us on an absolute intellectual roller coaster. Although the majority of the concepts were not new (who has not heard about Porter’s Five Forces?), the way we applied and discussed them was a masterpiece. The professor made sure we all went much below the surface and challenged the way we used to think of the companies we know. Personally, I will never look at Walmart the same way as I used to … 🙂

Some of you may wonder what exactly we have done, what exactly we have learnt but… I will not tell you. Not that I do not want to. I do agree with my colleagues that strategy is something you have to practice. But contrary to their view this is exactly what you do at IMD – you practice strategy, not read about it. Apply to IMD MBA, do it yourself and I can assure you it will be a fascinating endeavor and a time well spent.

Thank you, Professor, for this inspiring journey!

The changing place of International Women’s Day in the modern world

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.

Professor Jennifer Jordan

Looking back

The  2018 class have dispersed to different parts of the world to enjoy their much deserved vacation! Hopefully, one or two of them will share their adventures with us over this month. But in the meantime, below is an entry posted this time 10 years ago. The Stewart Hamilton Scholarship for Women was created in memory of this great professor, who taught our MBAs for many years. Continue reading “Looking back”

The spirit of the IMD MBA

As we prepare to welcome in the next MBA Program Dean, Seán Meehan, here are some final words from Professor Ralf Boscheck, who has been running the ship for the past four years.

IMD’s year is ending and so is my fourth and last term as MBA Program Director. Time to thank you for your support and to sum up what we tried to do.

For the last four years, we aimed to put the program into the centre of the school. The idea was to combine its small size and the benefit of attention with the scale of one of the largest executive development operations in the world. In the process, we broke up silos and dismantled hierarchies. We changed our recruiting procedures, adjusted our marketing efforts and strengthened key elements of the program. We improved some rankings and even managed to change some rating methodologies. We also publicly challenged those appraisals where – even when results improved – we questioned the integrity of the statistics that had been applied. Some praised us for it – others clearly did not. And boy – did they not praise us.

Over the years, the MBA office transformed into a successful and truly collaborative team that generated a range of new and valuable initiatives. At the end, we hope to have made some improvements to what has always been a solid and unique program. For the last four years, our tag line has been – “the skills to know, the confidence to act and the humility to lead.”  Even if these words were to change in the future – I think we would be well advised to recall them as the spirit of what we stand for.

Personally, I am very thankful for the opportunity that the MBA assignment has given me – I learned things about others and myself that I would have not realized otherwise. I learned to trust, gained confidence and a bit of humility.

Let me end with a question that a former colleague of ours, the late Professor Stewart Hamilton, asked me a long time back – and I know I have asked this question to some of you before: “How many years are between 30 & 40?”

The answer is “Less than you think … may be three … So as you pursue your career don’t forget to live!

On that note, all the best to you and your families.

Ralf