Meet IMD’s MBA Class Of 2019

Small, Short, and Swiss.

That’s the IMD Business School in a nutshell – on the surface at least. Historically, IMD MBAs have long been called the “Magic 90” – a compelling class of 90 go-getters, thought leaders, and difference makers – each bringing an indispensable element to the mix. You’ll find this same dynamic in IMD’s Class of 2019, a group that can command a room as easily as slipping into background roles as guides and champions.

In the process, these magical group brings out the best in each other, says Andrea Teja, who arrived in Lake Geneva this winter after serving as the head of combat and intelligence in the Italian Navy. “There is a high perceivable quality, there is space to develop individually each participant; each participant counts, each participant’s issue is heard.”


That isn’t the only benefit of a small class, adds Paola Eicher, IMD’s MBA recruitment manager. “The bonds created are much stronger and participants are surprised every year that they end up not just with 89 other classmates but with very close friends as well,” she tells P&Q. “Moreover, our 1:2 Faculty MBA ratio enables professors to get to know you personally, as well as your profile and future aspirations.”

This year’s version of the ‘Magic 90’ is on the fast track. As competitive as they are curious, the Class of 2019 is looking to act as much as reflect. Hence, IMD offers a one-year MBA program that caters specifically to students planning to return to work quickly. That’s exactly what IMD is geared to do, says Sean Meehan, the school’s dean, in a 2019 interview with P&Q.

“If you really want to lead, if you want to make an impact in life, then what are you doing spending another two years at a school for,” he asks. “You’ve done a four-year degree, you’ve gone into the workforce, you’ve learned some stuff, you’ve had experiences. I think the cost to the individual and the cost to society is too high.”

IMD teams working together on a project.


In response, IMD has created a fast-paced, workload heavy program. It is an MBA that condenses two years into 11 months – and one where students don’t get afternoons off. As a result, the program has developed a reputation for rigor. Alumni joke, for example, that there is an inscription above the study room entrance that reads, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Of course, IMD MBA candidates enter the program expecting to be “flooded” with work, says Valerie Cuevas, a 2018 grad and a P&Q MBA to Watch. Like classes before them, they quickly learned how to manage it.

In fact, these demands make great preparation for always-on careers where ruthlessly setting priorities separates the virtuosos from the also-rans. Employers have certainly taken note. In 2017, IMD alums boasted the highest return on investment of any non-US MBA program according to Forbes. You won’t hear students complaining (much) either. Last year, IMD ranked 3rd for Education Experience in The Economist’s annual survey.

High pay and loads of learning weren’t the only benefits to IMD’s distinctive approach, adds Zehra Ali, another 2018 P&Q MBA To Watch.

“Alumni had previously warned that the first six months of the program would be extremely rigorous and that it might feel like drinking from a fire hose,” she writes. “Social life and having time to think would be a luxury. While true, the intensive time spent with peers and also opportunities to engage with their families was key for building lasting relationships.”


In short, it is a program that “tick(s) all the boxes,” says Maisie Borrows, who joined the 2019 cohort as previously working in a UK think tank. “It is based in Switzerland, so it gave me the opportunity to live abroad, and builds an incredible diverse and international class (we have 39 different nationalities out of class of 90 this year!). It is an intense, immersive one-year program which certainly suits my personality. It has fantastic career statistics…I also fell in love with the school when I came for the assessment day. I instantly felt comfortable and happy here.”

This year’s ‘Magic 90’ hail from regions as different as Denmark, Romania, Russia, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates. As undergraduates (and graduates), they studied disciplines ranging from food science to animal science to computer science. Not surprisingly, the Class of 2019 comes with some great stories.

Looking for the ultimate PowerPoint deck? Talk to Mischa Riedo. He met his fiancé during a client pitch. Think that’s serendipity? Try Surbhi Puri. She submitted a Bollywood movie review to a children’s magazine when she was 14…that ended up on the desk of a leading newspaper editor. “I was hired to write reviews for the regular paper and was given a stipend, movie tickets, and a popularity boost in high school.”


The Class of 2019 also thrives on adventure. Anita Chia-Ling Lee, for one, has done everything from “paragliding in Nepal [to] diving in Palau to swim with sharks.” Her classmate, Alexander Broe, competes in events such as Ironman, Vasaloppet, and marathons. On top of that, Maisie Borrows has scaled Mount Kilimanjaro – an experience that has given her the “grit, determination and resilience” to push on during IMD’s rough early months.

“When I summited Kili, I was so cold and sick from altitude I only stayed up there for about one minute (just enough time to get a photo!),” she explains. “I could have been disappointed about this, but looking back I realized that the summit was only one tiny part of the whole experience. I learnt so much more about myself and my teammates on the journey up and down. I am trying to keep this in mind now as I work towards my MBA: the end goal is important but if you focus purely on that you will miss out on a lot of learning and development along the way.”

This ‘Magic 90’ is as equally accomplished as adventurous. Brazil’s Camila Scaranelo previously headed manufacturing for a $100 million dollar unit of Procter & Gamble, overseeing 158 people in the process. As a control engineer, Olivier De Liedekerke revamped his plant’s workflow, boosting efficiency and freed-up time by 50%. Think that’s a thankless job? Meet Vivekanand Pandey. At Tata Motors, he oversaw the sales dashboard for 10,000 sales execs in the firms’ medium-to-large commercial vehicles operation. He even developed a digital platform, e-Guru, to close the loop between sales and customers – a project that required him to gain the buy-in of 200 dealership CEOs!


He wasn’t alone in relying on being persuasive on the job. Maisie Borrows’ job at the Reform Research Trust required her to make speeches and media appearances, including ones on Sky News and the Houses of Parliament. That’s pressure, but not like what Andrea Teja faced. He served as the Italian Navy’s representative aboard a U.S. Destroyer, with 15 American officers reporting to him. His performance was so impressive that he earned a Navy and Marine Corp Achievement Medal – a designation almost unheard of for a foreign officer.

“What makes me proud of this award are the difficulties I met and the way I managed to overcome them,” he explains. “The first one was the cultural gap: the two navies have different operational procedures and traditions. Furthermore, I wore a different uniform and, at the beginning, I was even seen with a little bit of suspicion. Therefore, I had to gain the trust of all the crew and particularly of my team. My ability to build relationships and my character made me gain the confidence, appreciation and respect of all my sailors. Besides the work itself, I was able to build a cohesive and solid team, creating close relationships with my subordinates, without relying on my rank, but rather on respect, trust and personal charisma.”

Teja wasn’t alone in making a big impact. As a product manager, Anita Chia-Ling Lee discovered that there was little awareness of Tourette Syndrome in Taiwan. As a result, symptoms were missed and treatments never given. In response, Lee developed a public awareness campaign, to educate the public and reduce the condition’s stigma – an effort that produced an upswing in diagnoses and treatment.


Similarly, Surbhi Puri returned to Dubai to work for a leading pharmaceutical firm. Her first assignment: Create an app that linked asthma patients in physicians in the Gulf Region. Just one problem: there were no protocols in the public or private sectors for tracking medical adherence.

“This road was not just less travelled, it did not exist,” she points out.

IMD Business School. IMD photo

That didn’t stop Puri from swinging into action, balancing working with tech developers in San Francisco and health experts across the Gulf region. After six months, the app was launched, boosting outcomes and earning accolades along with the way. This rite of passage prepared Puri for even more impactful health projects to come.

“Within three years I had gone from launching programs in five markets to leading patient support strategy in 54 countries in Africa,” she adds. “The courage to take a risk and the belief in myself and my peers led us through a rewarding adventure. The best part was that we helped patients breathe easier along the way.”


This same “courage” is exactly what Puri found in her 2019 classmates at IMD. “It takes courage to make a major life change in your late twenties/early thirties,” she observes. “Joining an MBA program means taking time off work, moving away from family, and pushing yourself to learn about new subjects and ideas. Every single one of my 89 IMD MBA compatriots exude a willingness to challenge themselves, and I admire them for it.”

Bravery isn’t the only quality that sets this latest ‘Magic 90’ iteration apart. Helena Vargas Serrato cites “intellectual curiosity” – with the class being as interested in “not only what we see in class but also about each other.” At the same time, Adrian Safciuc, a project engineer, has been struck by the “positive energy” he has experienced over the first month of the program.

“I believe journalist Po Bronson captured it best with the quote “There is a powerful transformative effect when you surround yourself with like-minded people.”. For me there is a clear sense of an intangible element in the class which I can only describe as “energy” – most likely a combination of excitement, new ideas, and the feeling of a safe space to develop. It’s contagious.”

Go to next page for an in-depth look at a dozen members of the 2019 Class. 

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