The demands of the IMD Business School are legendary. The admissions team doesn’t hide it. It’s a selling point to students. Tucked away along Lake Geneva, IMD is a throwback to a distant time, one that elevated mental acuity and content mastery. The program is a boot camp for setting priorities and managing time. Here, grades matter and workloads leave little time for idle minds.
André Garcia had heard these legends in his native Brazil. After six months at IMD, he can honestly say the intensity goes “even beyond” what he’d heard. “I still remember one week when we had one essay, a 27-question finance quiz, and a country analysis to do – plus cases to read. We slept like 3-4 hours a night, every night. I think, in the end, that is what we wanted, to get overwhelmed and learn from it.”
SLEEP, STUDY, OR PARTY: PICK ANY TWO
The program has been equally intense for Siddharth Katti, a business development head at Tata Technologies. He cites the “fast-paced coursework,” which is supplemented by hands-on leadership programming, a startup project, and group exercises to “test one’s mettle.” Perhaps the most difficult part, adds Haichen Liu, is Module One, which is run during the early months of the program. For Liu, a financier from China, academic rigor is only one hurdle.
“Readings and assignments, meetings, school activities, student activities and parties…you name it. It is not only about academic pressures, but also the pressures of influencing others, creating impact, and building connections while trying to figure out the true value of ourselves. The only way you can survive and have a meaningful MBA is to have your priorities clear as soon as possible. Sleep, study or party – you can never have all three of them. The key to trade-offs is prioritization.”
Even the study rooms at IMD are referred to as “The Dungeons,” mainly because they are lodged in the basement in a more ancient part of the school. Sure enough, it is a place where MBA students spent a lot of time – though the area comes with plenty of sunlight and fresh fruit, says Cosima Suter, a 2019 grad and Poets&Quants MBA To Watch. In fact, the Class of 2020 has found the programming and culture to be more refreshing than rigid. Katti, for one, touted the easy access to coaching at IMD. The rigor, writes Garcia, fostered togetherness and support. Over time, the class discovered ways to lessen the load.
SUPPORTIVE ALL THE WAY
“I settled into a good rhythm of waking up early to do the pre-reading and did quite a bit of catching up on weekends,” explains South Africa’s Stephanie Hurry. “Leveraging official groups and informal study partners also helped me to really engage with the material.”
Quid pro quo has also acted as currency in the early months of the program, writes Dr. Ruchi Senthil. “I got support from experienced classmates to understand subjects like finance and returned the favour in subjects like strategy.”
The program boasts another secret weapon too, adds Swati Dalal, another 2019 MBA and Poets&Quants MBA To Watch. “I found that with a clear focus and good time management, it is possible to achieve a balance, particularly with the help of the fantastic family support program run by IMD. Hence, I encourage young parents to apply for the program and not be intimidated by the myths.”
AN UNDERRATED GEM
What makes the IMD experience so special? The Class of 2020 was hard-pressed to limit their responses to just one feature.
“The campus experience is amazing, with a top-notch infrastructure that enables you to have the best group and studying experiences,” observes Garcia. “It also offers a distinguished leadership experience, with coach, mentor and psychoanalyst. On top of that, it is located in Switzerland and recognized through Europe, which matched my geography criteria.”
“The small class size means that the candidates can have much stronger bonds than large programs,” adds Liu. “It also means that IMD can be much more agile and resilient during turbulent times. IMD also has a very good reputation and strong alumni network in my dream industry and company, so I feel that studying at IMD will leverage my past experience the most. Finally, IMD is located on the lakeside of Lausanne, which is an incredibly beautiful location.”
Andrea Teja, a 2019 Poets&Quants Best & Brightest MBA, also touts the program’s global atmosphere, digital prowess, and entrepreneurial mindset. At its heart, Teja asserts, IMD is a “personalized leadership development program,” whose intimate size amplifies its opportunities.
“This is possible only because there are 90 people for each batch. There is space to develop individually; each participant counts and each participantʼs issue is heard. So the program increases your leadership skills alongside a deep personal development path that at the end will make you a better business leader.”
BILLION DOLLAR PORTFOLIOS AND IPOs
Each IMD class is fond of calling itself the “Mighty 90” since the program only admits 90 students per year. And the Class of 2020 certainly lives up to the “Mighty” moniker. Elaine Shi, for one, was supervising over $7 billion dollars in over-the-counter customized derivatives deals annually before moving to Lausanne. In contrast, Haichen Liu co-founded a Fintech startup in China. Four years later, she took it public.
“After the IPO, I lead the digitalization project in a cross-country company, and designed and implemented a backbone operation system for two thousand financial consultants across 33 cities in China,” Liu writes.
Speaking of builders, Siddharth Katti helped develop a business plan at Tata Technologies from scratch for a promising new line of service. At the same time, Shweta Mukesh built her company’s biggest revenue generators from scratch. These two divisions now account for 80% of the firm’s revenue! That’s not the only eye-catcher on Mukesh’s resume.
“Personally, my biggest accomplishment is creating and scaling a nonprofit organization called KidsWhoKode. Currently, we teach 35,000+ students in India how to code.”
HOW TO BUILD A SUBMARINE
Dr. Ruchi Senthil earned her MD in Microbiology before working for the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis in India. If you think IMD’s curriculum is daunting, just ask her what it takes to gain accreditation for a laboratory.
“I convinced my department head and the director of the institute to go for laboratory accreditation from the national authority, standardizing our procedures and allowing our patient reports to be valid across the country-saving costs in repeated testing. I underwent training in internal quality controls for the same. After working grueling hours for almost a year, revamping systems and protocols and training our staff, we finally got accredited in December 2019 – the first government tuberculosis laboratory in India to get this accolade.”
If you think that sounds intimidating, meet Daniel Skirton, an officer in the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy who led the engineering department during the construction of a nuclear submarine.
“Seeing how my actions positively impacted schedule and costs on a multi-billion-dollar program was incredibly satisfying. Being out at the front of over 130 men and women and leading by example was an extraordinary responsibility but I find that I thrive in the pressure of expectation.”
SKYDIVERS AND MARATHONERS
This run of achievements hasn’t stopped since the Class of 2020 stepped onto campus either, writes Olabisi Ayodeji, who comes from equity research. “Earlier in the year, I was part of a team of six MBAs who worked with a startup to plan the launch of a new product line within its existing business. Using our analyses and research, the startup was able to raise EUR1.0mn from investors to further the project.”
Outside work and class, you could say the Class of 2020 consists of adventurers and adrenaline junkies. Despite a fear of heights, Agathe Keim loves skydiving. So does Daniel Skirton, who has made one of the world’s highest dives. Stephanie Hurry has competed in 45 marathon and ultramarathon races, while Shweta Mukesh has backpacked across 35 countries. And then there is Philip Svendsen, an investment advisor from Norway.
“I have a strong passion for marine wildlife and am particularly fascinated by whales. In 2018 I snorkeled with Orcas (Killer Whales) for the first time and next on the list is to observe humpback whales in the same way. And if by any chance I get to be in the water with a blue whale, the list would be complete.”
That doesn’t mean every class member is looking to test their limits. “I am studying for my MBA with my dog, a black labrador I adopted 8 years ago in New York,” writes Haichen Liu. “He has now lived in 3 continents, joined me on a 2-month road trip from New York to San Francisco, and is currently enjoying swimming with me in the Geneva Lake (Lac Léman) whenever the weather is nice!”
For 12 in-depth profiles of MBAs in the Class of 2020, go to Page 3.
To read an exclusive interview with IMD’s Admissions Director, go to Page 2.