Meet IMD Business School’s MBA Class Of 2021

Sunset in Lausanne


Jessica Roberts takes pride in being able to balance academics with a social life, but adds a caveat — “It has come at the expense of sleep.” Yes, IMD comes with a reputation. Haichen Liu, a 2020 grad, characterizes the program as “unrelenting.” Truth is, she tells P&Q, that reputation is warranted — and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Before I joined IMD, every alumnus I met was talking about how intense the program is. Unfortunately, and luckily, it is. The first module at IMD was tough by design: new relationships, new dynamics, new tasks, new knowledge were poured on us. Not to mention, we were continually finding the balance between reading the endless cases and attending parties.”

For Liu, IMD teaches MBAs how to prioritize. Even more, she adds, it instills a certain grit that she has found invaluable in her career. “We acquired a solid foundation of economics and corporate finance. We quickly developed a common language to discuss business strategy and valuation. We exposed our true selves to our teammates under pressure and started gathering data points on ourselves unconsciously. I feel grateful for the toughness and what I learned.”

That learning is only amplified by IMD’s class size. Nicolas de Toledo frames it as 39 nationalities and 97 candidates, adding the program’s small class size enabled the Class of 2021 to come together in-person amid COVID. That’s not the only advantage, adds Yukari Hayasaka.

“The best part is that you get to know everyone. I would say hi to any of my classmates knowing where they’re from, what their interests are, or who their teammates are. The proximity definitely makes a small batch special. You do not only have 90+ people, you have more than 90 people who you really know and can chat and feel comfortable with. I am pretty sure that this cannot be said of a batch of 500.”

Chinese New Year (with Yukari Hayasaka in front)


In a small program like IMD, MBAs also enjoy a wealth of resources and personal attention. The school boasts a 2:1 student-to-faculty ratio. That doesn’t count eight coaches, with one assigned per student for their entire year at IMD. This benefits students in two ways according to Simone Grancini. First, the small size enables faculty and coaches to closely monitor student development. At the same time, students can easily schedule 1:1 time for personal help.

“There is a unique opportunity to build personal relationships with professors,” adds Nicolas de Toledo. “IMD professors know each participant’s name, expertise, and contribution to the class. They gladly accept 1-1 lunches or dinners and are the bridge between the school and the business community through their global network. They help you to envision where you might fit best in your future career, and personally help you to get there.”

Here’s another benefit that you won’t find at many (if any) top business schools. “IMD even provides a personal psychoanalyst throughout the year to develop powerful insights into how our past influences our unconscious and semi-conscious thinking, and then how that manifests into behaviours,” explains David Roe. “IMD places such a huge emphasis on leadership skills, and for me it is one of the most important components of any MBA.”

IMD Class


By the numbers, IMD received 612 applications for a spot in the Class of 2021. The school accepted 26% of these applications and ultimately enrolled 98 students (with another four candidates choosing to defer). The class averaged a 682 GMAT, which extended to 690 at the median. Just 4% of the class submitted a GRE score. Overall, 97% of the class hails from outside Switzerland, with women accounting for 35% of the class.

Academically, the largest segment of the class majored in Engineering as undergrads. They represent 31% of the class. Business & Commerce and Finance & Economics majors make up 24% and 23% of the class respectively. The rest of the class is broken down into Social Sciences (9%), IT & Computer Sciences (7%), Law (4%), and Natural Sciences (2%).

In terms of professional experience, 27% of the class last worked in the Service Industry, which edges out the Manufacturing Industry at 25%. Financial Services (16%), Technology (11%), Energy (10%), Business Management Services (6%), and Healthcare (5%) round out the rest of the class.

Group work in “The Dungeon”


In a 2020 survey of MBA students and alumni conducted by The Economist, IMD scores ranked among the five-highest for Culture and Classmates, Alumni Effectiveness, and Post-MBA Pay — and 6th for Faculty Quality. How is IMD able to maintain excellence in these key metrics? This summer, Poets&Quants reached out to Anna Farrus, IMD’s MBA Recruitment and Admissions Director, From developments in AI and STEM programming to the most popular campus clubs, here are Farrus’ thoughts on the state of IMD.

P&Q: In recent years, there are several areas that have gained increased prominence in business school programming: STEM, Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, and Digital Disruption. How does IMD integrate these concepts across its curriculum?

AF: “The IMD MBA Program aims to develop reflective and responsible leaders who have the tools to excel in an increasingly global and digital world. This doesn’t just involve teaching the basic MBA toolkit, but ensuring that each participant has the global, digital, and entrepreneurial mindset needed to develop the agility to make an impact in a fast-paced, evolving world.

Every course integrates a digital dimension and gives a holistic view of the role of business. In addition, our Marketing Analytics and Digital Analytics courses are mandatory. They address Python and other data analytics and visualization tools, as well as their understanding of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Working in teams, with the support of digital coaches, they then put this knowledge into practice in a competitive environment – they clean and analyze data, crack a case, and demonstrate how to utilize data in creating a competitive advantage.

After the summer, a more global aspect is added through the Discovery Expedition, where they get to explore innovative, technical hubs around the world to understand how the global challenges and opportunities are shaping the future of business and society. Typically, this would involve visiting three hubs. In 2021, a COVID year, however this visit will be to one hub.”

Women’s Day Celebration

P&Q: IMD has reputation for being intense, with heavy reading and assignments. Why does IMD take this academic approach? How does this help develop MBAs as professionals?

AF: “In a world where there aren’t any right answers or easy solutions, leaders have to deal with an enormous amount of ambiguity and learn to deal with and appreciate other people’s point of view. The whole program is geared towards helping participants to develop the skills to do this, responsibly. Applicants are usually driven to advance quickly in their careers, they do not want to take two years out to explore different options, but they do want the necessary skills to succeed. So we provide a two-year curriculum in one year.

In the middle of the program, it’s not unusual for participants to think they’re not sure they can manage this and to find themselves in an insecure place. We put a lot of effort on personal development to help them unlock their real potential and discover their true capacity for understanding and dealing with complexity. They typically emerge with a very different vision of themselves as leaders who can deal with pace of the world today. They see what they’ve achieved and done together and realize that they can play an important role in modern, diverse organizations and society.”

P&Q: What has been the biggest news at the full-time MBA over the past year? How will these developments benefit future MBA students?

AF: “We were one of the first business schools to get our MBAs back on campus after the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. The majority of our participants come to Switzerland from different countries around the world, and it was important to us to offer them as much support as we could through this time.

With significant safety measures in place and with the agreement of the chief medical officer for our part of Switzerland, we have secured a “normal” MBA experience for our participants.

Our class of 2021 is the biggest class to date. We expect to continue to grow the gradually over the coming few years.

For the coming year, we will be strengthening even more the emphasis on reflective and responsible leadership in the program. What makes a good leader is the ability to make tough decisions. Through a series of initiatives we will put this skill to the test. We will also be increasing the presence of sustainability in the program, partly through our relationship with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).”

Student discussion (with Setika Gupta)

P&Q: What are the three differentiating features of your full-time MBA program? How do each of these enrich the learning of your MBA students?


“1. Some have called the IMD MBA program the longest leadership program in the world. As an institution dedicated to the development of not just managers but leaders, the MBA program embodies this ethos. The year-long leadership stream with its personal coaching component helps each participant identify and enhance their individual leadership style.

2. The second differentiator is the heavily experiential nature of the program. Roughly 40% of the contact hours are experiential in nature, be it the Innovation Week, the Start-up Projects, the Discovery Trip, or the International Consulting Projects. They provide a hands-on opportunity to put learning into practice.

3. Finally, there is the intimate nature of the program. The boutique size of the program allows personalized attention and a truly family style environment. At the same time, the large executive education base of IMD results in an alumni network of over 100,000 participants, resulting in the best of being small and large at the same time.”

Lunch time at IMD among MBA students

P&Q: What is the most popular club? Why does it attract so many of your MBA students?

AF: “Each year, six committees focusing on social, sports, speakers, yearbook, sustainability, and EI&D develop programs of activities. Typically, the most popular are the social, sports and speakers’ committees which help with bonding and maintaining a healthy lifestyle while networking and expanding their knowledge. We also encourage MBAs to take part in a career clusters which aim to assist participants to develop industry-specific understanding and expand their knowledge and network. This year, out of the 11 clusters the most popular are the Consulting, Finance and Healthcare, mainly due to possible post-MBA career opportunities within those fields.

Here are a few examples:

* The Consulting cluster organizes case cracking practice sessions and constantly boosts peers to improve their chances for consulting interviews.

* The Finance cluster organizes tutorials to simplify complicated financial concepts.

* The healthcare cluster organized a case competition allowing participants to build a case for a local health data start-up.”

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