Ordinary. Generic. Traditional. Routine.
You won’t find those words on any ad copy. They convey rules and pre-ordained results. That’s not what education is about. Learning is driven by questions and surprise answers – a collision of ideas and a union of disparate elements. That may be one reason why IE Business School labels itself as “An MBA Out of the Ordinary.” It pursues a mission to probe, invent, and disrupt. As a result, it attracts a different type of business student…
Mavericks. Innovators. Insurgents. Doers.
Those labels would certainly describe Ripple Wu, a tech product manager from Taiwan who joined IE last year. Long-term, he plans to move into an intrapreneurial role, using strategy to integrate new technologies. Looking at his Class of 2020 classmates, he finds they are anything but ordinary. In fact, the only quality they share, he says, is a “boldness to make a change.”
“GENUINE AGENTS OF CHANGE”
“For example, one of my classmates, an international FMCG factory manager, is now seeking to start his own social business for the poor in his country,” he observes. “Students often come to IE because they are unsatisfied – in whatever way – with their previous career, even if it is already a successful one. With so many soul seekers in the class, my classmates are truly different from other MBAs in that they are genuine agents of change with an eagerness to define and achieve their own version of success.”
Sverre Magnus Hagen, a Norwegian M&A attorney-turned-entrepreneur, was equally struck by the diversity of nationalities, industry backgrounds, and expertise possessed by his Class of 2020 peers. These differences were humbling to Hagen at first – with the class boasting everyone from “rock stars to CEOs” in his words. At the same time, they also sparked a “genuine curiosity” – not to mention “stimulating classroom conversations.”
“There is an emphasis on what I would describe as our “blind spots as leaders” and this is one of the areas that sets IE Business School’s curriculum apart,” Hagen adds. “How do you deal with the things you do not know, not knowing them? We must learn, as leaders, to be comfortable not being the expert on any particular topic, but instead being able to see the larger picture and supporting everyone around the table. IE builds our confidence for these kinds of situations.”
AN UNCONVENTIONAL EXTENSION OF STARTUP VALUES
That takes a different approach. Not surprisingly, IE was founded in the 1970s by entrepreneurs who valued action – transformation, really. They created a curriculum that catered to students who were proactive and driven, whose competitive streak ran parallel with a sense of welcoming. Central to entrepreneurship is the commitment to continuous improvement. At IE, ideas are explored, tested, refined, and launched – repeatedly.
“The IE MBA is out of the ordinary because at the school you can start anything and change (almost) everything as long as you have the motivation, dedication, and a good rationale for it. Meaning, you can bring your entrepreneurial spirit to life, but also experience it during the “normal” study program,” writes Ann Kathrin Landgraf, a regional product manager from Bayer. “Flexibility, spontaneity, and open-mindedness are key not only for entrepreneurs but also for all of us students looking to enjoy and make the most of the MBA experience.”
The IE curriculum heavily integrates liberal arts applications alongside design thinking and experiential learning. Here, the driving force is harnessing student talent so it can serve the larger community. That means creating opportunities, solutions, and organizations – a demand that the Class of 2020 has wholeheartedly embraced.
FINDING YOUR CO-FOUNDER
“People come to campus looking to meet their future co-founders or are, for example, already juggling a family business from afar,“ adds Sverre Magnus Hagen. “Entrepreneurship is part of our core curriculum, and I‘ve had plenty of opportunities to practice putting together a business plan and fine-tuning my pitch. It’s been a great experience even though I intend on pursuing intrapreneurship from the angle of a corporate career.“
Hagen himself has also enjoyed a successful run as an entrepreneur. He launched and ran Norways’s first independent online grocer. His company was awarded for having the best customer service in the industry, award based on customer experience scores. More impressive, the startup was recognized as one of the most innovative retail startups in the world by Retail Insider’s Digital Retail Innovations Report.
“Grocery isn’t like any other retail category,” he admits. “If I knew what I know now, I would have done many things differently in my business. Do you know how quickly bananas turn bad?! You’d be surprised. It’s easy to get caught up in strategy plans and innovative features, but it’s important to know your product inside and out because that’s ultimately what will drive profits.”
A 23-YEAR-OLD WUNDERKIND
Hagen isn’t the only entrepreneur in the Class of 2020. Amélie Leuchtenberger co-founded Foursource, which has emerged as a major textile sourcing network. Heading up the marketing and media relations end, Leuchtenberger landed one of the firm’s top clients, along with helping to foster a company culture founded on transparency and feedback.
“I am extremely proud to have established the world’s largest digital apparel sourcing network in the fashion industry,” she writes. “As part of the founders’ team, I have positioned Foursource in 95 countries, scaled business to 30.000 verified & qualified company profiles as well as +$50 billion dollar buyer volume in 2-5 years.”
Entrepreneurs are often outliers, people who challenge practices and deviate from norms…the kind of people who re-shape industry models and consumer expectations. Ann Kathrin Landgraf considers herself to be the class outlier. After all, she is just 23 years old when the class average is 29. However, Landgraf isn’t some doe-eyed naif fresh from undergrad. Before joining the Class of 2020, she worked as a regional product manager for Bayer AG in Poland. Here, she handled one of the biggest challenges for any manager: launching a new business technology platform and business model. And she rolled it out across Central and Eastern Europe, no less.
“The launch was really successful and resulted in more than €1 Million turnover in second year of sales.”
A RITE OF PASSAGE
John O’Brien also shouldered big responsibilities at a young age. At 24, he was promoted to sales director at a large Mercedes Benz dealer in the Washington, DC area. His predecessor possessed over a decade of experience at his departure, leaving O’Brien to take the reins after he had just completed his management training program. It was a temporary battlefield promotion, one where O’Brien had barely any time to prepare.
“The following 46 days were among the hardest I had ever worked in my life. It was like drinking from a fire hose. As a 24-year-old with limited experience and an array of new responsibilities, I was leading a twenty-person team of salespeople, porters, technicians, and detailers – most of whom were more than twice my age. I remember calling a trusted mentor to ask for his thoughts and before getting off of the phone he gave me some advice I will never forget: ‘Look at the people above you, around you, and below you. Most of them work hard, and some of them work smart. You need all of them to run a successful department and to put together a good finish for the year – and just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean that they can’t teach you a thing or two.’”
Sure enough, O’Brien’s story came with a happy ending. He earned his promotion…after setting a dealership sales record with higher profitability than previous years.