10 Business Schools To Watch In 2020

MBA students working out a challenge in an IMD classroom


What is the best MBA investment you can make? By the numbers, it’d be hard to argue with IMD’s return.

In the 2019 Forbes MBA rankings, IMD graduates again netted the biggest returns. Over five years, they enjoyed a net gain of $194,700 in pay – $44,300 better than INSEAD. On top of that, IMD grads were cashing in the biggest checks after five years: $200,000 in median pay.

Why IMD? It doesn’t hurt that the program lasts 11 months, slashing the opportunity cost that dogs most two-year programs. Perhaps the program’s biggest draw is its small size. The classes aren’t called the “Magic 90” for nothing. They are seasoned, high-performing dynamos, with fewer than one-in-three applicants being accepted into the program. Once in Switzerland, they endure some of the most demanding MBA programming anywhere. In fact, the alumni joke that there is an inscription above the study room entrance that reads, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” At the same time, IMD’s classes could be considered among the most diverse, with the 2019 cohort boasting 43 nationalities from 32 countries.

“I loved the idea of a small class,” explains Ana Du, a 2019 P&Q MBA To Watch. “Now, after graduation, I truly feel like I gained family members all around the world. As soon as one of us is traveling, we always post it in our chat, asking if someone is around – “Mi casa es tu casa”!”

The classes may be 90 strong, but that doesn’t mean IMD is a well-kept secret. The program also traditionally ranks among the world’s best in executive education according to the Financial Times. Last year, full-time applications surged by 63%, with seven of ten accepted candidates ultimately joining the class. The class also tends to be older than peer schools: the average age being 30 and three-quarters of students ranging from 28-32. However, it’s not necessarily experience that IMD seeks in candidates as much as real leadership.

“We’re looking for people who have demonstrated that they have the appetite to take responsibility,” explains Sean Meehan, dean of IMD’s one-year MBA program, in a 2019 interview. “Leadership is about taking a lot of responsibility. And it’s not about having the big job and the big car, it’s really about taking responsibility for moving organizations, for moving people, for caring for them and bringing that organization or that team to a new position and readying them for in most cases uncertain futures. And we need to find people who can deal with those situations, deal with ambiguity, deal with pressure, and have demonstrated some of that. So we look for that experience before we admit them. It’s not a question of age or maturity, it’s a question of miles on the road. Have you seen enough to realize why what we’re doing is important?”

Leadership also requires openness. At IMD, that means feedback – and lots of it. Every student is assigned a coach, par for the course at any small school like IMD that values personal attention (There is a 2:1 student-to-faculty ratio, after all). Of course, not every program devotes a week to teach students how to code. Better yet, IMD offers an elective where students can meet with a psychoanalyst to spur their professional development. By ‘meet,’ IMD means 20-25 sessions lasting 45 minutes. Let’s just say these sessions aren’t exactly designed to make the id fall in line.

“In business, your behavior is rooted deeply somewhere,” Meehan notes. “Biases have been created, routines have been created, reactions have been created, tendencies exist for reasons and unless you can understand where these come from, it’s hard to deal with situations and see them coming.”

IMD is coming too. Small, distinct, and mighty, the program could soon exercise an outsized influence as graduates continue their climb into key roles.

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