For many years, the MBA at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) just off the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland was a small 90-person program that mostly attracted students in their early 30s. But the size and the age of the newest classes are changing
At a time when many U.S. schools are shrinking their MBA programs, IMD is expanding the size of its incoming cohort and aiming to appeal to much younger students. The changes are being led by Omar Toulan, who took over as dean of the MBA program in January after serving as a professor at the school for the previous five years. One of Europe’s leading business schools, IMD is a member of the so-called G8, an elite educational group that includes INSEAD, London Business School, HEC Paris, IESE and IE in Spain, and Cambridge and Oxford in Britain.
Within three years, Toulan tells Poets&Quants, IMD will increase the incoming cohort to 150 MBA students, a 67% increase from its more traditional 90-person class. The school has been gradually increasing the size of the program, from 90 in 2020 to 97 in 2021 to 104 currently and 120 next year.
IMD Aims To Attract More MBA Students In Their Late 20s
No less significant, however, is Toulan’s goal to welcome younger students to IMD’s unique 11-month-long MBA experience. Last year, the average age of an incoming MBA at IMD dropped to 31. This year it was 30. But Toulan says he wants it to “settle at 28 and 29” in line with most other elite MBA programs.
“We are looking for younger students,” he says. “If you want to grow the program and you are only attracting people who are over 30 then you are only targeting 20% of the people who want an MBA. At 24, you can probably reach 100% of the people who want an MBA. At 31 or 32, you only get 10% to 20% of them because most already have an MBA degree.”
Toulan believes that broadening the applicant pool for IMD will allow the school to increase the size of its MBA program without any sacrifices in quality. In fact, he believes that the increased diversity by age will enhance the MBA experience for everyone in the program. “We should be equally attractive to 26-, 27-, and 28-year-olds.”
IMD Has Doubled Scholarships To Bring Younger 20-Something Students Into Its MBA Program
To attract a younger crowd, IMD has doubled scholarships since 2021, with most of the increase devoted to under-30-aged students. The school’s current crop of 104 MBA students includes 39 nationalities and a record 37 women.
IMD may well judge candidates with less work experience differently, however. “If you are on the younger side, the bar will be higher,” he says. “We are looking for people who have something special despite their age that will allow them to actively participate and contribute in international conversations. But given the still small size of the program that is definitely feasible.”
Toulan brings a rich business background to the IMD MBA. Before joining IMD, he spent 19 years at McGill University in Montréal, Canada as both a tenured professor of strategy and associate dean of its MBA program. Plus, he served as a visiting professor at some of the biggest business schools around the world, including London Business School, INSEAD, Imperial College, and Stockholm School of Economics. Additionally, he’s worked at McKinsey & Company and the White House.
A Unique 11-Month MBA Journey Into Leadership, Sustainability & Doing
He believes his central challenge in the job is “to get the best people we can in the program, give them the best MBA experience possible, and then get them the jobs they want.” To recruit the best, IMD invites applicants to a unique “assessment day” on campus where candidates are interviewed but also put through several team exercises (see For These Jittery MBA Applicants, It’s The Ultimate Game Of Thrones). Toulan says the school has 35 assessment days a year, typically on Mondays and Thursdays and he tries to be at every one of them.
IMD’s leadership-focused MBA program is full of experiential learning requirements, innovation and digital labs, discovery trips to Buenos Aires, Dubai, and Silicon Valley, start-up projects, and intense personal coaching. The program, which begins in January, concludes before the end of the year with a seven-week international consulting assignment. Toulan has also added a major focus on sustainability (see The Business School Putting Sustainability At The Center Of Its MBA).
During the program, students are engaged in classes and projects from 8 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. daily. During the pandemic, class time was shortened to two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. Next year, that schedule will be expanded to 3 ours in the a.m. and three in the p.m. At one time, IMD would put its MBA students in classrooms for four hours every morning and four in the afternoon. “It is a much more intense experience than at many other schools,” says Toulan.