My team worked with a Swiss couple, Knud and Ursula Nairz. They had developed a drink that prolongs life based on work the two had done – they are scientists – with plant extracts. They came to us with a project, a brand name, but with no marketing understanding. We gave it the business sense, financing, and strategic plan.
Knud is very scientific. This is his baby. He wanted to call the drink Sir Mount H, which refers to a small cabin of his in the Alps. We kept saying, ‘it’s not going to work with that name. It needs to be much more energetic and consumer friendly, so that they’ll take it from the bar.’ We proposed ‘BYoung’, and offered them three different logos and packaging. In the end, we produced 10,000 bottles: 5,000 with the BYoung name, and 5,000 with Sur Mount H. The bottling and fermentation process is done in partnership with the Appenzel Brewery, who had a stake in the company. We’re waiting for the results from our commercial marketing launch in September.
In June, we had vacation. Then the program became more practical. We had our South African consulting project – the Discovery Expedition ¬¬– in July. It’s a two-week, deep dive into a growing economy to understand it’s past present and future not through lectures or sterile visits, but through work. Teams of four-to-five MBA’s were each assigned a company. Some went to startups, like my group, and some to multinational organizations like MTN (Mobile Telephone Networks). The logic is that by working hand-in-hand with the local community, whether Africans, Colored or Black – and it’s okay to say black and white in South Africa – you get to really feel what South Africa is all about.
It was an overwhelming experience. My team was involved with two different black entrepreneurs. The first, Vuyani Ngoyi, was in the process of building his debt clearance firm, and was employing one guy. The second, Paul Kahyil, has his own insurance shop and was looking to grow it rapidly. Both were operating [with help from] the black-owned Shanduka Group’s entrepreneur incubator. We worked with them on a business plan, a growth strategy as well as an actual implementation plan. My takeaways are that you need to earn trust and not assume it – we spent many hours bonding, listening and sharing with our entrepreneurs. We were eventually able to better understand and assist their issues.
In August, we began our International Consulting Project. I did one with five guys for DuPont. So you start to be able to manage your time.
What are four adjectives I’d used to describe IMD? Overwhelming. Challenging. Inspiring. Real.
IMD, rightfully so, goes strong on leadership skills. It’s quite challenging for people, and puts them out of their comfort zone. It makes them deal with situations that I know happen on the outside. During the nine-week projects, you’ll feel that. It’s a lot about how you manage a team, how you manage within a team, and how you manage client and stake holder expectations. This is a tremendously good thing.
Because the year is so intense, there is less focus on the hard, basic stuff [of an MBA]. Today, more and more, MBAs should come with these hard skills to class. Class time shouldn’t be wasted on teaching basic accounting and finance. Advanced application on both? Yes. But the basics? There’s just too little time. IMD goes through the basics for people who have no knowledge of accounting and finance. But we’re in such a competitive world that you’ve got to move faster.
Funny enough, my most informative class was the finance course with Fernandes Nuno. It was the most challenging and inspiring class, having not come from that field at all. Just getting a glimpse of these financial activities… well, it’s not as dangerous as it looks. It’s happening all around.
My family … it was a sacrifice. My wife and daughter are here. You develop as a family under the demands of IMD. Not being at home. Not having a salary. It challenges the family.
My wife took a year off. It’s was nearly impossible for her to do anything else but take care of our daughter and enjoy Lausanne, because I was just not around and the Swiss day care system is not convenient or affordable. IMD tries to support the families. The partners go out together.
Each student goes through therapy as part of our personal development. The therapists try to analyze and understand what you’re going through. These are weekly, one-on-one meetings that last an hour or hour-and-a-half. Partners have the same ability to do so. In these sessions, I learned that seeing things through other people’s eyes is one of the biggest gifts one can have. I tried to look at situations from another perspective, and to understand what makes other people do what they do, and understand things you’re feeling not in a selfish way but in a situational way.
Career services is very active in IMD – there are about five people and 90 students. We each have our own career coach. In February, we started writing our CVs, and understanding our short-, medium-, and long-term goals. What’s driving us? What are our skills? In May, we started mock interviews, and strategically focusing ourselves toward recruiting. In July, we started on-campus recruiting. We apply to different companies through a school website, and also used our personal networks. Some MBAs focus too much on their career search, too early. They are not enjoying the ride. Everyone will find a job. That’s not going to be an issue.
I thought for sure that I’d go back to an agricultural company, but I found myself going to pharmaceuticals. Because of my age – I started IMD at the age of 32 – and the skills I know I have, I narrowed myself quite a bit early on. I didn’t go too broad. I knew what my strengths were.
I decided to take a role as Manager of Alternative channels – SFE CEMEA (Central Eastern Europe Middle East and Africa) – at AstraZeneca. I also had a written offer from DuPont and another from a world leader in agriculture machinery. Eventually, it was the role, the industry, as well as the ability to see myself using this experience back in Israel within four to five years. It was a very hard decision process since all the offers were very attractive.
I start on February 1, after spending six weeks back home. I’ll spend two years in Brussels, then two years in Western Europe, before hopefully returning to Israel.
For anyone who is about to join IMD, know that you have no life until June! Come ready for hard work and bring lots of clean shirts… laundry time is precious! Enjoy every minute of it. It’s a tremendous bonding experience. After that, Lausanne is just an unbelievable city with a great lake, restaurants, numerous sports activities…it’s really heaven. I got much more than I thought I’d get.