“Do you remember when…”
That segue is part of every MBA alumni gathering. Looking back, they’ll howl at outlandish antics and cringe at uncomfortable lessons. All the while, they’ll marvel at the discoveries and achievements that transformed them. At IMD Business School, the Class of 2021 is busy making these memories today. Starting last fall, the class has bonded over breathtaking mountain treks as much as grueling academic demands. In the process, the “Magic 100” has built more than a cache of stories for cocktail hours. They have bonded for life: strangers who became partners and guests who became family.
For Caroline Burrus, that process started in the first week Welcome Dinner. A Swiss project manager, Burrus fretted over whether she truly belonged in such a famed business school. However, Burrus quickly realized that she may have misunderstood the most valuable part of the MBA experience.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE REGION
“During this dinner I met incredible classmates who made me realize that we are all in this together with our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities and our willingness to improve and support each other. For me, this dinner and the people I met shaped my whole IMD experience as I accepted to let go of my armor and show my true self and my vulnerabilities so that I could best tackle them with the help of great people.”
Meals have been one means for the Class of 2021 to connect. Nature is another. IMD MBAs have long taken full advantage of their breathtaking surroundings in Lausanne, Switzerland. Nestled along the banks of Lake Geneva, Lausanne is shadowed by the Jura Mountains and celebrated for its Olympic heritage and jazz and light festivals. Surrounded by the Swiss wine country, the city also boasts a metro system that can take students to over two dozen locations across Switzerland. For many, that means mountain climbing and skiing. That has been the highlight of David Roe’s IMD experience (so far). A UK engineer, Moe touts an overnight hiking and camping trip with four classmates to the Lac Bleu in Arolla, Valais, 2,090 meters high, as his best memory.
“A warm campfire, amazing food, wine, whiskey and some of the best company you could ask for provided an unforgettable experience out in the heart of the Alps,” he writes. “My only regret was perhaps indulging a little too much before making the descent down to catch the bus early the next morning!”
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
Alas, you won’t find the Class of 2021 just bumming around the Alps. What has been the high point — literally — of Jessica Roberts’ year at IMD? “1st Skydive,” she tells P&Q. “Jumping off a plane in Spain with some of my favorite classmates.”
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty for the class to do around campus. Nicolas de Toledo, a Swiss entrepreneur operating out of China, cites IMD’s Crisis Simulations as his defining MBA experience.
“Imagine yourself in a large, lake-view study room working on a project with your peers,” he writes. “You are suddenly exposed to an unexpected situation. You have no idea what’s going on, yet you are immediately put on the spot. Our Crisis Simulation lasted for 7 hours. We were filmed, interviewed, constantly challenged and we felt overwhelmed, tired and did pretty much everything wrong! If before getting into IMD we did not know what handling a crisis felt like, now we do. The next day was spent watching recordings and analyzing how we could have done better. This is one of the many remarkable moments I struggled through and learnt how to overcome. I will remember those for the rest of my life.”
Sound stressful? Yes, IMD MBAs endure heavy workloads — their underground study rooms are called “The Dungeon” after all. That doesn’t mean students can’t cut loose….with an added twist of humor. Take birthday celebrations. According to Setika Gupta, MBAs are required to perform a “dance ritual” for their classmates on their birthday. The Class of 2021 didn’t just build their bonds over class projects and case preparation, either. The IMD MBAT, an Olympics-style tournament between MBAs from various disciplines, also brought students closer together, says Simone Grancini.
“It was a lot of fun to meet with everyone outside of the traditional study and project settings, getting to know each other better and exploring new sports. I personally learned how to play cricket from my new Indian friends and a sport called “ultimate frisbee”.
THOSE “AH-HA” MOMENTS
Thirsty Thursday is another IMD tradition. Here. Students come together for drinks across bars in Lausanne. “It is the one time of the week where we know that we’ll meet everybody,” observes Caroline Burrus. “At first, with the pandemic, we were forced to mingle in small groups, which hindered our ability to have deeper conversations with everyone. Now, on Thursdays, we get out of the serious IMD bubble and discover more about classmates we haven’t had the chance to talk to before. People feel confident in the class and are willing to share. I particularly love my Ah-Ha! moments, when I finally get to understand a person a little better and can connect the dots between who he/she is, what he/she’s been through, and where he/she wants to go.”
What may the Class of 2021 have learned about each other on Thirsty Thursdays? In South Africa, Carla Venter appeared on a reality TV dating show. Four years ago, Harita Byluppala adopted a baby elephant and has raised it to the point where it is ready to re-enter the wild. Marly Levene has competed in showjumping for 20 years, a sport she took up when she was just seven. By the same token, Yukari Hayasaka is a certified tea master who holds Japanese tea ceremonies and tastings. Looking for musical talent? Simone Grancini plays six musical instruments…and composes on the side. And let’s just say David Roe should be pretty familiar with the bar scene.
“In my teens and early twenties, I grew my hair down to my shoulders and spent my evenings and weekends touring the local pubs and clubs as part of a Led Zeppelin tribute band,” he writes.
BIG RESULTS BEFORE IMD
What has Roe done since then? He led a startup that builds insect farms that combats climate change. “This was the first product of its kind in the world,” Roe explains. “Not only did I know nothing about this field when I started, but there was no expertise out there to draw on!…The machine takes in food waste, feeds it to insect larvae who then convert it into protein: it is essentially ‘upcycling’ food waste back into the food chain. One third of the world’s food is wasted and it is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions; feeling like I was contributing to something that was making the world a better place was a fantastic feeling.”
You can bet Santiago Restrepo enjoyed a similar feeling. At Roland Berger, during his last project, he led the integration of seven banking service companies — an effort that saved his client $10 million dollars. Simone Grancini earned a promotion to Global Product Manager of a $5 billion dollar firm…and promptly produced a double digital sales increase in his portfolio! Grancini wasn’t alone among IMD students in making a big impact.
“While I was working for the Virgin Group very early in my career, I had the chance to meet Board Members of various companies to advise them on Health and Wellbeing SaaS solutions to implement,” writes Caroline Burrus. “I always wondered when I would be able to step into such big shoes. Hence, my biggest accomplishment is to realize that in just six years I’ve inversed the roles and am now the youngest woman contributing to our family business’ boards.”
BRINGING SWITZERLAND AND CHINA TOGETHER
At Nestlé, Yukari Hayasaka built the SPECIAL.T brand in Japan, coordinating an array of marketing platforms to produce a customer base of 62,000 direct online subscribers. Harita Byluppala also made her mark at Nestlé. She launched a project from the shop floor that produced a road map for boosting automation levels to digital standard at over 400 factories worldwide.
“This project not only saved several million in costs, but also helped establish a business case for digitalization,” Byluppala explains. “Having moved the needle on digital transformation in the largest F&B company in the world made me feel good.”
Speaking of impact, Nicolas de Toledo made his difference by helping to bring two countries closer together. “I was hired by the State of Geneva to organize a 10-day strategic economic delegation to China, led by the Minister of Economy and President of the State and accompanied by 32 key stakeholders, entrepreneurs and executives. I organized, designed the agendas, and actively participated in their meetings with Alibaba, Tencent and DiDi’s VPs, as well as diplomatic events and media engagement. The stakes were high, and the execution of the project exceeded the exigent expectations of the delegation.”
EXCELLING IN CHALLENGES AND SIMULATIONS
The Class of 2021’s momentum hasn’t trailed off since they arrived at IMD, either. David Roe, for one, was thrilled that his team won the school’s “Markstrat” simulation. “An intense and in-depth product development and marketing simulation, Markstrat pits five teams of MBAs over several days in a bid to maximise company value in a dynamic ever-changing market, balancing marketing mix, R&D and production,” Roe writes. “We identified a position early in the simulation that gave us an advantage, developed a strategy, and then consistently executed through to the end.”
In contrast, Harita Byluppala cites the Innovation Challenge as her favorite school activity. A week-long event, her team helped a logistics firm integrate sustainability development goals into their day-to-day operations.
“As a team of five – a lawyer, trader, analyst, an entrepreneur, and an engineer – we delved deep in the conglomerate`s business, found related SDG goals, and looked at their current work in sustainability and future opportunities,” Byluppala notes. “In a week, we came up with an innovative idea for the corporate to help SMEs in West Africa while serving its business purpose. Our project was selected as one of the top and we are looking to pitch this to the corporation. In a week, we not only understood the complexities of incorporating sustainability in core business, but also used the intense group work to learn about power and influence in a high performing team in a practical manner.”
“REAL LEARNING, REAL IMPACT”
The Class of 2021 also lists the Startup Project as another popular staple of IMD programming. Lasting three months, the project enables student teams to support early stage startups in Lausanne. The benefit: MBAs can immediately apply what they learn in real businesses, says Setika Gupta.
“Real Learning. Real Impact” could not be embodied in a better way,” Gupta adds. “From day one, our team decided that the goal was to create value for our start-up, no matter how much effort it took. And we sure did! The start-up gave us exceptional positive feedback on our final presentation and were extremely excited about our findings and recommendations! I feel proud that we outperformed their expectations.”
All of this culminates in the infamous Integrative Exercise. Think of it as a culmination, a business case that pulls together the lessons of the core coursework. “We recommended the best entry option for a company that wants to launch a new product in a new market,” reminisces Simone Grancini. “It was a very demanding exercise with the team working until late at night to complete the final presentation to a jury of professors. It was very rewarding to see our hard work recognized as one of the best in the class.”
Page 2: Interview with the Admissions Director.
Page 3: Profiles of 12 IMD MBA Students.