Real Impact. Real Learning

I have been asked many times, “What does ‘Real Impact. Real Learning’ mean?” during calls with prospective MBA applicants. Although I have multiple examples to share, I would like to share my experience during our Business and Society course.

We as a group (self-named Developing Developers) were scheduled to present a TED style talk on UN’s SDG#1: No Poverty. It was a marvellous day organized by our Professor Knut Haanaes where we went to United Nations, World Economic Forum and the Innovation center in Geneva.

Developing Developers at the World Economic Forum

Priscila and I presented our group’s work to the world. It was followed by a group hug by the “Developing developers” to celebrate our hard work in jotting down our experiences and solutions for tackling the problem of poverty.

So where is the “Real” learning here?

The day before the presentation: I was doing mock presentations in front of my group for feedback in our renowned ‘dungeons’ (study rooms!). The first mock was horrible, the second a little less horrible, you get the idea.

Although I have done numerous presentations, the thought of presenting in public still gets my palms sweaty. In comes my classmate, Joseph, the master of public speaking with his ever helping attitude.

We practiced in our auditorium with Jo providing valuable feedback and support. Understanding our public speaking misery, he uttered his three golden rules for public speaking:

  1. Speaking with a crutch: This phase is speaking while having the paper (the crutch) in front of you to have something to hold on to while getting familiar with the material.
  2. Speaking without the crutch: Just like learning to walk, you leave the paper behind and speak without it. It’s difficult, you feel the anxiety, but it gives you the much needed confidence. Jo also mentioned the importance of using simple words, easy to remember and easy for the audience.
  3. Connecting with the audience: After learning to walk without the crutch, you can now connect with the audience, look at them, feel their reactions.

I am really thankful to Joseph who was in the auditorium with me and Priscila until midnight! Helping us, perfecting us, supporting us!

This was not a learning I would ever find in a book or in a classroom, but only with the special bond we share at IMD!

Developing Developers with Georgii

Purnendu

Discovery Expedition, Part 1: Magic 90 in Silicon Valley!

I am on the flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, 12 hours of occasional turbulence ahead of me, with 89 other IMD MBA participants and our program team. Two observations of note; first, if you travel quickly enough and have a packed schedule that would put some presidential candidates to shame, jet lag may have a tough time catching up with you. Second, regular passengers are a bit freaked out when they see 90 loud people who all know each other. Haha, I kid. Partially.

26aaf6fd-5475-4dce-98fa-56e1c4dcd3ea.JPGAt Stanford University, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design

So, we wrapped up the first leg of the infamous Discovery Expedition. In these reflections, I will not go through the entire list of people met and visits made because some suspense is good for the incoming class and honestly, I would have to list the entire itinerary because they were all incredible experiences. Professor Jim Pulcrano asked us to share three learnings from our time in Silicon Valley. Where to find the best burrito and the secret behind Peet’s delicious coffee do not count.

Here are mine:

Tech will always need a human touch: We spoke a lot about AI during this trip. We discussed extensively on the Future of Healthcare and the Future of Food. We learned about technologies and products that perhaps only the Jetsons envisioned. And yet here they are, things considered the stuff of science fiction, just a few years away from launch. A common thread regarding the development and success of tech was the importance of empathy, and human connection. Peter Schwartz, futurist extraordinaire, spoke to us on how worrying about robots taking away human jobs is not as much of a concern as we, and Hollywood, are making it out to be. The robots will take on mundane, detail oriented, and repetitive tasks. Humans will have the bandwidth to focus on what really crafts our reality, the human experience, managing change, and understanding what customers want by spending time with them. This resonated with me since I cannot imagine industries such as healthcare or hospitality without in-person connections.

Silicon Valley is a mentality: Growing up in the 90s I heard much Silicon Valley lore. The best and brightest go there to create the impossible and make bank. This is true, even today, though this means that San Francisco as a city is raging its own war with astronomical rents and demographic change. But what has changed is the localization of innovation. Ideas influencing humanity are mushrooming everywhere, in Zurich, Bangalore, and Shanghai. Silicon Valley, then, is a mindset, as Professor Pulcrano reminded us. A mindset to embrace experimentation, learn from failure, and move rapidly towards improved products and services. Wherever we end up in the world, we can create this mental ecosystem for ourselves.

b51b3044-90c4-48ff-911d-5863a250157c.JPGDesign Thinking workshop at Stanford

Do not ask for permission: My personal favorite. A lot of moon-shot ideas get lost in social niceties. I absolutely loved that so many of our entrepreneurs, such as the creator of GYANT, Pascal Zuta, and corporate leaders, such as Bask Iyer, CIO of VMware, and our very own IMD alumni encouraged us to walk on the edge and to not ask for approval for doing so. It really is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. I suppose the only caveat here is that we ask ourselves if what we are trying to achieve benefits the planet and everyone on it. With power, and borderline rebellion, comes responsibility.

beca062f-235a-4ef3-a427-4ed072fadca3.JPGGary Bradski, on the Future of Computer Vision

I am feeling so grateful for these three and a half days in the Valley. As my colleague, friend and flight neighbor Mischa just said to me, “The first leg of the Discovery Expedition blew my expectations. It was spectacularly well organized. The speakers and the level of seniority they had were mind-blowing. My favorite was the session with the futurist, Peter Schwartz, and Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech. I’m leaving with this incredible feeling that there are almost endless opportunities out there. We need to keep thinking about what customers need and being creative while attracting the best talent. It was a new and rewarding perspective.”

unnamed.jpgIMD MBA participants in San Francisco

Suffice to say we are feeling quite chuffed. Time to browse United’s movie selection. Onward to Shenzhen.

Surbhi

The Greatest Glory

DSC_9217

“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!)

Mischa Riedo – Winner of IMD MBA Class of 1976 Merit Scholarship

I was born and raised in Berne, Switzerland but have been living and working in Zurich for the past 10 years. I’ve worked in the financial industry for most of my career. I started off in derivatives trading and then moved on to investment specialist roles for large institutional and wealthy private clients.

Prior to IMD, I co-founded and grew my own company for 3 years. We built a software application for businesses to modernize their performance review processes through real-time feedback and dynamic objectives. A lot of the learnings during these 3 years led me to apply at IMD with its focus on leadership in a very intimate and personalized setting.

I’m extremely grateful that the class of 1976 chose me as its candidate and I hope our class will set up a scholarship one day as well to support talents in the future.

Aside from work, I love exploring the world with my fiancé. Whether it’s through travelling or simply discovering new cooking or cocktail recipes, it’s always an adventure that I enjoy like none other.

In terms of IMD, my personal highlight thus far has been the strategy course with Professor Misiek Piskorski. It provided me with a myriad of insights into strategic analysis and decision-making while doing so in an entertaining and engaging manner. On the challenging side I’d note the intensity of the programme which makes it really hard to spend as much time with my fiancé as I’d like.”

Mischa Riedo
MBA 2019

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!

International Women’s Assessment Day

International Women’s Day last Friday is hopefully indicative of a world that is ready to accept and adapt to ensure there are more women leaders in business and society. Not only will this deliver positive performance outcomes, it just doesn’t makes sense to do anything less than be fully inclusive.

But while this day sends out a clear signal, to really encourage a genuine future impact on society, education needs to play a key role. Here, we want to play our part in creating a future where equality and diversity is the norm.  The IMD MBA, with our successful history of delivering Leadership Development in an extremely collaborative and diverse program, has set ambitious goals with regard to gender balance. We seek parity. We think we can get there because our class, being one section with such a high faculty to student ratio, creates a powerful and supportive community. A great context: participants know one another well, respect and trust is high, and support is endless.

This year we have partnered with the Forté Foundation for women and added new scholarships specifically targeting female applicants. In honour of the International Women’s Day, we also hosted our first exclusive women’s MBA assessment day on Friday. Experienced women, from different countries, with diverse professional backgrounds, spent the day on the IMD campus meeting the admissions team, faculty and some members of the class of 2019, sampling class and, importantly, participating in our assessment routines. As I said to them, they would not have been invited to campus if we had any doubts about their ability to get through the course. The point of our assessments is not to test basic ability but rather to test for fit and help us identify who will thrive in our special environment. It isn’t for everyone. They should be testing us as much as we are testing them. 

It was a pleasure to spend a little time with such highly motivated and talented people. We wish them, and all women with the ambition to lead, the courage and determination to persevere. We are committed to working with them all to pave the way to a more balanced future.  

Professor Seán Meehan, Dean of MBA Program

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