When the clouds meet the ground

The parkour came to the end, the pitch day arrived. We headed to the UEFA Headquarters in the morning to present 18 unique and fantastic ideas to a jury conformed by @ECAL, @Thinksport, @UEFA and IMD experts. Six incredible ideas made it to the finals and just one got the final prize: autographed jerseys and exclusive tickets for UEFA tournaments.

The winning team

Being outside the business environment and working with ECAL students gave us a different perspective on approaching problem solving. This week we proved that there is never one way to do things and making some room for innovation ignites fantastic results.

The UEFA auditorium, where the final presentations took place

After working together for a week, Jawaher, our ECAL team member, observed: “you guys start thinking on the earth, we usually start from the clouds”. Design thinking and innovative ideas start there, happen up there. Experimenting and navigating them towards the ground makes those ideas tangible, transforming ideas into action. The end of the innovation week is here, today, where the clouds and the ground met.

Ezequiel Abachian

The comfort zone ends here

Being one half of two isn’t always easy. Sometimes it requires making huge sacrifices we aren’t always ready to make. That time came for me last June when we found out my husband had been accepted to IMD’s program. At the time we were living a dream life in Perth Australia. 265 sunny days a year, 7 gorgeous beaches within a 10 minutes drive, a fantastic job, incredible friends… it was pretty much the life I’d always hoped I’d live. Now I had to leave it.

Externally, I wanted to support his dreams, after all we were in paradise because he allowed me to chase mine, so how could I not support his? Internally, I was struggling to find a way to accept the impending move. I’d never moved to somewhere I hadn’t personally pursued. I had a million questions I couldn’t answer and that both terrified and excited me.

What I will say about a move this big, is that culture shock… she’s real. For me, it reared its head not long after my husband began school. I found myself alone in this strange suspended state of fear. I became afraid to go out because I didn’t know the language, afraid of not fitting in and offending the local Swiss, afraid of getting lost, of trying new things, of venturing out alone. This baffled me because I’d traveled hundreds of times on my own and I always loved it, but this time felt so different. I thought I’d have more time with my husband, but he became involved with a huge workload from the beginning. I didn’t know anyone here adding to the feeling of loneliness and isolation, and I hadn’t the faintest clue how to help myself out of it.

Thankfully the school has a partner program, and this became a light in the dark. It became a way to get out of the apartment I’d sought shelter in, and it forced me to meet men and women who were in similar situations.

The program held a few classes for the partners after their MBA program began, and through one class I learned about culture shock. Sure, I’d heard about culture shock before, but It never occurred to me It might be the answer to what I was experiencing. I learned not only were my emotions normal, but I wasn’t the only one going through them! Many of the partners were experiencing the same emotional roller coaster I was. This crazy common denominator became the very bridge that helped us through this time and brought us together.

I went home feeling like I had opened the closet doors I’d been afraid to look in, and befriended the boogie man inside. The fear I felt finally loosened its grip on me. I slowly became ok speaking my flawed french to others, I was trying, and most importantly I began to relax, enjoying the newfound time I had.

I won’t say that I don’t still struggle from time to time, because I have my moments, and I won’t say that it’s been comfortable because it hasn’t, but it gets easier. Now I’m no longer afraid, and I’m out enjoying the things that Switzerland has to offer! In the last two weeks alone I’ve had fondue in an igloo, I’ve skied one of the best mountains in the world, and I’ve picnicked by a beautiful lake after touring a castle.

I look back to this time last year and ask myself the question, If I knew then what I know now, would I still have pushed my husband to follow his dream and come to IMD? Yes, because his dreams are just as important as mine, and being able to support that means everything.

Every day here feels easier, and lessons get learnt. It’s such a different style of life to what we left, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. It’s an experience that I’ll look back on and be glad I took. It’s taken courage and tenacity to push through the initial settling period but I wouldn’t change a thing, and already feel stronger because of it.

Maddie Genest, 2019 MBA Partner

IMD – Dream for many, reality for 90 per year!

IMD’s MBA Assessment Challenge, Mumbai – May 2018

After submitting my application on 31st March 2018, all I did for the next 26 days was refresh my inbox. On 26th April, I entered an elevator with one of my colleagues. Mobile networks in India rarely work in elevators but that day was different. I read the most awaited email and had to hide my emotions when I saw that I had been accepted for the assessment challenge!

So as anyone would do, I kept reading the email multiple times to live the moment. It didn’t even take a day for a new WhatsApp group to connect most of the candidates. Everyone was proposing a thesis about how IMD was going to make the selection.

On 14th May we received the schedule and pointers about the process. One thing was clear: it was going to be creative and innovative. A day before the assessment challenge there was an alumni panel discussion/networking cocktail. The venue was amazing – 34th Floor, Trident, Mumbai. We all arrived early and started connecting with each other.

The AdCom members, Paola and Jennifer, greeted us and gave us our nametags. Prof. Sean Meehan introduced eight alumni who gave interesting and informative presentations depicting their IMD journey and post IMD career. During the cocktail, interacting with the alumni, I noticed that a few common traits were humility, empathy, and clarity of thought. And we were all impressed that the AdCom members knew everything about us. It takes a lot to know 60 candidates in detail. These things reassured me about my choice of B-School.

The Assessment Day

I could not sleep well. Who can sleep well after meeting 60 brilliant candidates and knowing that only a few would make it to the Magic 90? The facilitator of the assessment started with a snapshot of the day so we all understood what was expected of us. We were clubbed in 9 different teams. I had an amazing team – One Entrepreneur, One Consultant, One NGO activist, and one IT professional. We all thought that this was going to be a walk in the park with our diverse team. But the problem started in first few minutes. All of us had different backgrounds and hence different ways of approaching the same issues. So we stopped and set some ground rules. There were many stages of the assessment day and huge amount of learning involved at each stage. We were so engrossed in the discussion that we totally forgot about the other teams or the jurors. By lunch, we had all become good friends and started knowing the strength areas of each other. Together we were able to finish the assignment in time and we were happy with the results.

The hectic day ended suddenly and none of us wanted to leave. Even now, we are all still in contact. I can assure you that all 56 of us were winners. It must have been tough for the Admission Committee to select just a few of us from that pool.

The Result

I did not have to wait for long. Within 24 hours of the assessment I got a call from +41 number. I could not receive the call as I was in a meeting… I called back and the number was unreachable… I was extremely nervous! After half an hour, my mobile flashed +41 number again. This time I picked it up in seconds. It was Paola, IMD MBA Recruitment and Admissions Manager. She asked for my feedback about the process. She gave a detailed feedback about how I performed. Then within a fraction of a second she said, “We are offering you a seat at IMD”. I could not believe it. I started crying (yes, I literally cried!) I got admitted to the only B-school that I applied for.

The journey at IMD has started now. IMD has exceeded my expectations on all fronts.

All the best in your endeavors!

Vivekanand Pandey, Indian, MBA 2019

Eat Me: The World on Small Plates

Everybody in the class of 2019 knew that entrepreneurship forms a core part of the MBA programme here at IMD, but our first lecture on the subject wasted no time in revealing the reality of what today has become almost a mythologised pursuit.

The subject of our first case was Eat Me, a very popular restaurant here in Lausanne and winner of the coveted Best Swiss Gastro Award for 2018. This was the only time a restaurant from the French-speaking part of Switzerland had won the award. As it happens, I was already very familiar with Eat Me, having visited the restaurant numerous times over previous travels to Lausanne. Eat Me offers a novel concept, best described as international tapas. Guests choose multiple dishes to share, each coming from a different region of the world and country within that region. I can vouch that this format makes for a unique evening of exploring and discussing new tastes, with the added bonus that the food is delicious!

Despite Lausanne’s restaurant scene offering a lot more in the way of variety in recent years vs 7-10 years ago (so I’m told), I found myself going back to Eat Me again and again. So imagine my curiosity at learning how this amazing place came about and indeed who better to hear from than the founders themselves, Serena Shamash and her husband Mark Brownell, who put in a surprise visit towards the end of our lecture. To describe in full the many insights Serena and Mark shared with us would fail to do them justice, not to mention make this post a little lengthy, but some key messages resonated with us.

Do not live the Deferred Life Plan

The deferred life plan (all creative rights to Mr Randy Komissar) is simple and, not surprisingly, signs up not-so-enthusiastic participants everywhere. It goes:

Step 1 – do what you have to do
Step 2 – do what you want to do

…..or so they tell you. But Serena Shamash had no such intention after completing her MBA at IMD in 2007 and knew her real passion lay in building things. Specifically Serena had a passion for creating and developing concepts. She also had a passion for travel and food. During a stint at BCG in Zurich, Serena realised that those two passions could be united to address what she assessed to be a significant problem in Switzerland  – a lack of restaurant variety and uninteresting customer experience at most restaurants of that time. She decided to do something about it.

I think this message resonated with all of us. It is easy to fall into the trap, often neatly camouflaged by societal norms, of believing that in order to pursue our passions, we must first pay dues in the form of a reliable job that we may not like. We are here at IMD precisely because we do not intend to fall into that trap.

Do what you love, even if it’s not quite where you expected

Serena admitted that opening a restaurant was not the exact entrepreneurial endeavour she had imagined when thinking where to apply her passion for concept development, but the landscape of the Swiss restaurant market offered a problem that needed solving. This was also a major lesson for us in understanding entrepreneurship: Opportunities may present themselves in forms and places that you never expect, but you nevertheless have the ability to recognise and take advantage of them. Serena believed that her love of travel and international upbringing placed her perfectly for designing small international plates that would allow her customers not simply to consume food, but to discover it. She had gathered evidence from her network in Switzerland that there was a real desire and need for a restaurant format like this and she decided to make it a reality. I, for one, am glad she did…

Starting a business is not hard work, it’s really hard work

After finalising her concept and developing a working financial model for Eat Me, it took Serena two years to find a location. Rather a long time. Over the period Serena learned to become a hardened negotiator and not to let emotion get the better of her logic in pressured situations. Any would-be entrepreneurs would be wise to heed that lesson, for it is in the most highly charged emotional situations that the biggest mistakes are made.

It took two years to find a location, because it took that long to find a price that made sense. Serena might easily have succumbed to a desire to get going and have paid whatever, but I suspect we wouldn’t have heard from her during our lecture if she had. The dedication required to keep going and stay committed to her vision, despite setback after setback, is awe inspiring.

Serena also shared that, after finding a location in Lausanne and successfully opening Eat Me, she worked 9am to 4am, 7 days a week for a year or so. Creating something is difficult, very difficult, and it requires courage and unparalleled work ethic. Anyone who might have believed in the popular portrayal of entrepreneurship as a teenager creating an app in his bedroom and selling it to Google for $30m a couple of months later would have been rudely awoken by the reality described by Serena that entrepreneurship is about being all-in all of the time and taking knocks on the chin as they come…and they will come.

You need support

Everyone needs the support of those close to them, especially entrepreneurs! Eat Me was the creation of both Serena and Mark. Indeed Mark has now joined Eat Me full-time, having supported Serena and helped build the business hitherto while working a demanding job as an executive. This part of the story of Eat Me resonated strongly, for arguably without Mark’s support over the years, Serena would not have been able to become the entrepreneur she has and we wouldn’t have Eat Me. I think the wider point is that people around entrepreneurs and the support networks entrepreneurs have are often overlooked in popular accounts. We all need support to have courage. Mark and Serena now run Eat Me together, which is in itself an admirable feat for a married couple (I’m not sure I could work with my wife…!).

We are deeply grateful to Serena and Mark for sharing their story with us and imparting just some of the passion and dedication required to create a business. This was a fascinating introduction to entrepreneurship and, looking ahead, our start-up projects will be kicking off imminently. The 90 of us are looking forward to getting stuck in.

Mark, Serena and Professor Benoit Leleux

For anyone in Lausanne or Geneva, my advice would be try out this place called Eat Me.

Richard Pickering, British, MBA Candidate 2019

Talking about a generation

Making generalizations about an entire generation is a perilous exercise. Stereotypes are not helpful! That being said, for employers, cracking the Millenial code is essential to recruiting – and retaining – new talent.

This week, a panel of five MBAs had a lively dialogue with the participants of the IMD Transformation Summit, an event for Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs). What better way to dispel stereotypes than to bring generations together in the same room?

Here were some of the hot button topics in this week’s discussion of Millenials in the workplace: Bosses, job offers, patience, purpose, ambition and loyalty.

What is your idea of a good boss?

  • Someone who creates a mentoring and coaching relationship. Someone who explains the “why.”
  • Authentic, honest about the pros and cons of the company and the role I am being recruited for. During the job interview process, it’s important to create trust. It should be a dual exchange and not just being evaluated on a checklist.

What would make you reject an employment proposal?

  • A lack of transparency in terms of where and when decisions get made in the company.
    There has to be fairness and also recognition.
  • It’s about mindset. I love to challenge the status quo. I like smaller brands, not a big, successful company.
  • It’s essential to have responsibility and room to manoeuvre. I need space and safety to develop ideas.
  • I need to feel a passion for what I do, passion for the product.

How long are you willing to wait until you get to the leadership role you’re aiming for (whatever your ambition is in terms of the level of leadership role)?

  • I’m flexible, as long as I can keep growing. It’s about assembling building blocks for the future. I’m looking for a role where I’m completely utilized, where my talents are used.

What big thing would you change in the business world?

  • Short-termism. When you have profit targets, going quarter to quarter limits your options.

Millenials are perceived as being less loyal to the companies they work for and more likely to move around a lot. Is this true? How do you see loyalty?

  • I’m loyal to my co-workers and my boss, but with the company it’s a contract.

What are you looking for in terms of work-life balance and job evolution?

  • A more fluid and flexible schedule: if my task, output and time frame are clear, it makes sense for me to organize myself in the way that suits me best to deliver.
  • I’d like the possibility to move in 3D (industry, geography, function) and to have transversal roles.

Imagine we are a company undergoing a transformation from a traditional and hierarchical organization to a new model. How do we retain you though this process? Inspire you?

  • Show me that there is light at the end of the tunnel: create a career plan for me, map the steps clearly.
  • Be honest and open about the realities of the transformation.
  • Seeing progress is important – even small progress. Show the plan for change. Demonstrate that you’re implementing feedback.
  • The company has to make sure the flame is still there!

Chairing the discussion was Jennifer Jordan, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour. To frame the discussion, Professor Jordan gave an overview of the unique characteristics of Millenials (see Cracking the Millenial Code). For example, Millenials are the first generation brought up with a child-focussed and emotional style that arose from 1960s counter-culture. They are also the first to grow up in a rich media environment offering complex and non-linear computer games. Values also differ: when asked to choose an object that represents freedom to them, Baby Boomers choose the car whereas Millenials choose the mobile phone, closely followed by sneakers!

Anouk Lavoie
IMD Research Associate

“It was very beneficial to be part of the panel as I had the opportunity to debate what the main challenges are that companies have attracting Millennial talent. I felt that companies have this matter on the top of their agenda, and are striving to create environments where Millennials can have a meaningful career.”

David Ruiz
IMD MBA 2018 Candidate

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”