It is one thing to write about transformation. It is a completely different keg of wasps to experience it.
March is here. Temperatures have risen but the forecast says a spell of cold rain is headed our way. I hope not! As we proceed into what legend says the most intense month of the IMD MBA program, we need sunshine to keep our spirits and Vitamin D levels up.
Last week we had a guest speaker session in our Operations class with Erik Winberg, Vice President of Strategic Planning at Tetra Pak. We spent the day learning about Tetra Pak’s Digitally-Enabled Supply Chain transformation project. It stemmed from visible unmet needs in a demanding market. As the team designed and implemented their strategy, they had to overcome challenges to achieve a strong, reliable, and effective structure. We discussed Industry 4.0 and how digital tools can be applied to the supply chain, and the dynamic and critical nature of operations became all too clear. This is reflected in the process we’re going through at IMD, through supply chain simulations and peer CV reviews. In iterative motions, we’re learning, improving, and accepting the discomfort that precedes a better version of ourselves.
Erik Winberg and Professor Seifert in discussion with IMD MBA students on digital transformation in the corporate world
If inner transformation is difficult then it is good that we begin work with our Personal Development Elective (PDE) analysts in the coming days. The PDE optional stream is one of the reasons IMD was my school of choice for an MBA program. Of course, I wanted to develop an understanding of the subjects that make up business fundamentals. But all programs offer this at the very least. PDE work stems from the idea that while managing a challenging course load and life transition, students would (and should) have dedicated time for individual reflection with a qualified professional. We may all have different pain points and issues to work on, but the goal is common, to get comfortable with ourselves, and thrive while we are at it.
During the Leadership Experiential almost a month ago (has it really been that long?!) I said “Everything is going to be fine” to my start-up group each time a new challenge arose. We had a good laugh and the line stuck. Yesterday, in the dungeons, I was not smiling as much as I usually do, preoccupied with swirling thoughts of assignments and my python-like to-do list. My teammate and fellow blogger, Lukasz @lukaszkaczynski13, took a second out of his workload and said, “Surbhi! Everything is going to be fine!”
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.
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.
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.
For anyone in Lausanne or Geneva, my advice would be try out this place called Eat Me.
ICP’s are up and running and all my classmates have been traveling around the world or into the dungeons to deliver their projects. My teammates and I have been tasked with helping a pharma company bring business model innovation to the market.
During the last 5 weeks we have been located at our clients headquarters, discovering pharmaceutical industry from the inside and learning about the peculiarities of our clients business and company culture.
Like most consulting projects ours started with tons of research and interviews, and developed through the delineation of the deliverables. Through this project we’ve had the opportunity of not only addressing a real business issue but also applying and seeing why all the concepts we learned this year such as scoping and stakeholder management matter so much. We’ve had a lot of fun together, supported each other through difficult times (try delivering a project while searching for a job) and kept developing our team working and leadership skills.
All in all this is a great learning opportunity and experience, that can only be rivaled by the happiness we have when we get to work from IMD every once in while and see again our classmates (and have wonderful IMD food).
Recipe for innovating healthcare: Mix 90 MBAs with 18 ECAL design students. Add a dash of EPFL engineers and a splash of creativity! Cook up some ideas and let it simmer day and night for a week! See the results for yourself!
Featured image: Team Misfits (Georg, Oriane, Muhammad Atif, Joyce, Rafa, Mohamed Jerad and I)
Innovation week was one of the unique elements that had attracted me to IMD last year. Building a prototype and bringing small innovations to healthcare is a very exciting idea on paper. What actually transpired was something so much more impactful. I will count this as one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in the program so far. Of course, the way the week was structured, the gravity of the challenge and the competitiveness in the MBA group were all essential elements for meaningful impact. But what actually made this week so special was the team that I was working with. Theoretically, diverse teams lie on either extremes of the bell curve in terms of outcome. Luckily for us, we were on the right side of the curve and by the end of week had converted a viable solution into one of the best prototypes in the challenge.
We started the week on a high note by winning the Innovation video challenge. Our prize was to be filmed by dedicated camera crew for the entire week. This easy win brought the team together well and we also welcomed two new team mates- Georg from ecal and Mohamed Jerad from EPFL. We spent the early part of the week gathering information from the field and tapping into as many sources of ideas as possible. And then we began a rather efficient process of elimination and aggregation ending up with one narrow problem in the healthcare universe to concentrate upon.
Stage 2 was all about prototypes. We again did some efficient brainstorming on various mechanisms to build a device that can help the elderly stand up. Some of the ideas were out of the ordinary and some were straight up DIY level. Considering the time constraints involved in building such a product, we chose the simplest mechanism of all, a combination of a spring mechanism and inflation by air to build a cushion that could support the elderly to sit and standup.
Stage 3 was the pitch. We went for an emotional pitch to state the problem that we had intended to solve. Not surprisingly, almost all of the teams went for the same structure in their pitches. There were some brilliant ideas and brilliant prototypes all around and it was impressive to see what the class of 90 could bring to the table in one week of madness. In the end my team was satisfied with our clarity of storytelling and the strength of our product.
There have been some major learnings from the week. Especially as to how teams need to function to deliver innovation. The obvious ingredient for success is the diversity in a team. We were able to throw up different ideas and solutions only because of the diversity of thinking that we had in the room. The other ingredient that we were fortunate to have in the team was a sense of shared leadership. Everyone led in various dimensions either pushing ad campaigns or finishing the prototype or pitching the product or building the deck or creating defining videos. We had an extremely enjoyable experience and thanks to IMD, Cyril Bouquet and Peter Vogel for creating this fantastic one week experience. This taught us more than we could ever have gained from classroom lectures.
Until next time….
My very own personalized lego: souvenirs from the innovation week
The entrepreneurial rollercoaster is on, and we start to enjoy the ride. It is day five in the IMD Innovation Challenge and our master coach made it clear that we are passing through the informed optimism phase, an excellent place to be. This week has been a constant spin of ups and downs, it started with the great excitement of an idea, it passed from the hard crisis of a reality check, to when we critically readdressed our project towards a new and unexpected dimension. Continue reading “Day 5 – Innovation Challenge”→