2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Craig Ian Plaatjes, IMD Business School

Craig Ian Plaatjes

IMD Business School

“An empathetic and multifaceted individual who is analytical yet creative and constantly strives for excellence.”

Hometown: Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Fun fact about yourself: Most people would assume that I am an analytical thinker because of my engineering background. However, I like to think that I am both an analytical and creative thinker. I am most happy when I am combining the two in ways that complement each other. Mathematics and science were always strong suits of mine throughout my schooling career, but that is only one dimension of mine. At age 7, I was introduced to poetry and public speaking and by 12, I had started playing guitar and had begun my cherished journey as an acrylic painter. I went on to win numerous arts, speaking, and design awards.

I cherish moments when I can bring creative ideas to life using my technical ability. Sometimes it is for personal reasons such as when I designed my own electric guitar, from the electronics to the paintwork. Other times it manifests in the professional world such as when I had to design a first-of-its-kind industrial solar plant control network that was completely modular, scalable, and re-deployable (could be uninstalled and reinstalled multiple times) for a portable solar concept. I love the idea that art and engineering are more similar than different. I believe that as the artist brings ideas to life through various mediums, so too does the engineer through scientific principles.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of Cape Town (UCT), Cape Town, South Africa
BSc Electrical & Computer Engineering (with Honors)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?

Company: Zutari (Pty) Ltd (formerly part of Aurecon Group)
Role: Professional Engineer
I have 5 years of experience working as an engineering consultant at Zutari, an international engineering and advisory firm based in South Africa. I helped deliver industrial-scale projects across Africa, Australia, and Asia in the water and renewable energy industries.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? N/A

Where will you be working after graduation?

Company: OTT Hydromet (Danaher)
Role: Global Product Manager
I’ll be relocating to Delft, Netherlands, to take on the Global Product Manager role for the solar division of OTT Hydromet, a Danaher operating company.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

1. Member of the Equity, Inclusivity, and Diversity Committee (EI&D)

As a committee, we organized EI&D-related events such as Pride talks, and we published an EI&D newsletter. In the newsletter, I wrote a piece on what it means to be a male ally to women in today’s society, and how we can use the principles of intercultural sensitivity to support the fight against gender-based violence, discrimination, injustice, and inequality against women. Coming from South Africa, where we have a history of racial and gender-based discrimination, I felt this was an important platform where I could share my thoughts and experiences with my peers and offer perspectives from my lived experiences of both privilege and discrimination.

2. Recipient of the IMD MBA Young Leaders Scholarship.

3. Graduated from the IMD MBA program with Honors.

4. Delivered the IMD 2022 graduation commencement speech.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My proudest achievement was delivering the graduation commencement speech and receiving a standing ovation. As the IMD MBA class of 2022, we had an extraordinarily transformative year together. Moreover, we had a collective experience that allowed each one of us to push beyond our own perceived limits. We grew intellectually, emotionally, and, for some of us, spiritually too.

Our traversal from candidates to graduates is intertwined with our traversal from strangers to life-long friends. We look back now upon a special journey that literally and figuratively changed our lives. Our Dean, Professor Omar Toulan, summed it up well when he said, “Being selected by your fellow classmates to deliver the graduation speech is an honor that one will never forget.” It was a deep-felt privilege for me to be responsible for honoring our collective experience and encapsulating our MBA journey. The IMD MBA journey is so much bigger than any one individual, and I am so proud to have represented my beautifully diverse, gifted, and passionate cohort.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m very proud of all the design work I have done on utility-scale solar projects, especially in emerging markets. These projects include Golomoti (Malawi’s first solar and energy storage facility) and the 216MW Hydra Energy Storage facility (one of South Africa’s largest hybrid energy facilities). The Golomoti project lays bare the source of my pride. I was the lead electrical, control, and instrumentation (EC&I) engineer, and managed the team that was responsible for the control system design for the facility. The control systems in an industrial facility can be compared to the brain in the human body – it gives life to the facility.

In 2022, the Golomoti project was awarded the prestigious title of “Utility-Scale Solar Project of the Year” by the Africa Solar Industry Association. It is one thing to have developed an integral part (the control system) of an award-winning project, but there is a richer sense of pride and achievement when I see the tangible impact of my work. With Golomoti up-and-running, 100,000 households now receive clean energy in a country where only 13.4% of the population has access to electricity, and it is estimated that the facility will reduce annual GHG emissions by 3,000 tons. I am most proud when I witness my work contributing to improving people’s lives and making a tangible positive impact on our planet such as with the case of Golomoti.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose IMD because of its immense focus on developing future leaders who can have far-reaching impacts throughout society. The fact that the IMD MBA is considered a leadership program molded into an MBA speaks volumes. I was attracted to IMD’s focus on personal and interpersonal development, which is evident in the leadership coaching, Personal Development Elective (PDE), and mentoring that are made available to students on top of the standard curriculum.

IMD appealed to me because they teach business fundamentals, but also explore the intersection of business and the broader social aspects of our world. Government, society, and business are all interconnected. We all form part of a large ecosystem that impacts and influences not just our daily lives but also the outlook of our futures. The IMD MBA program pushes candidates to constantly question the role business plays in this ecosystem and is tailored to develop visionary leaders to serve this ecosystem with integrity.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite course was Strategy Beyond the Market (SBM). This course spoke directly to the idea of how we live in an interconnected ecosystem where business and market decisions have far-reaching impacts on the rest of society. This resonated deeply with why I chose to attend business school. The premise of this course is that business leaders need to understand the social, political, regulatory, and cultural context in which they operate.

My home country, South Africa, has deep-rooted socioeconomic problems that will probably only be solved using systems thinking. So, I thoroughly enjoyed deep-diving into these socioeconomic intersections and how business and society influence one another. What made this learning experience so rich was the case examples taken from both developed markets as well as emerging markets. This course fed my desire to understand how business can be used to drive positive and negative ramifications on society. As I mentioned, I chose IMD because they strive to grow business leaders that can have far-reaching impacts throughout society. SBM shed light on the nuances and complexities of our interconnected ecosystem that I believe such a leader needs to understand.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite event/tradition was the Discovery Expeditions (DE). Each year, the IMD cohort goes on a Discovery Expedition to various parts of the globe. This is done to get an immersive learning experience in an array of different business and cultural contexts. At the same time, a lot of fun is had! I spent one week in Buenos Aires and one week in San Francisco. The similarities I witnessed between Argentina and South Africa made me more cognizant of how important it is to take lessons from people in different but similar contexts to us.

IMD’s tagline is “Real Learning. Real Impact”. The DE is an example of how this tagline is personified. Our learning was not only confined to the classroom or the European context, but encompassed a global outlook with tangible interactions, discussions, and experiences. The DE reflects IMD’s stance on academic, experiential, and diverse learning, and it speaks to IMD’s global focus.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have volunteered for more extracurricular roles from the start. I’m referring to the support roles such as blog writing and social media management. I shied away from these responsibilities, not because of a lack of motivation but because of a lack of confidence. In hindsight, I allowed my imposter syndrome to dictate a narrative that I was not good enough to contribute to these roles.

This was a fallacy, especially in an environment where the strength and value of the community are derived from collective participation. I did end up contributing a number of written pieces and was able to use my creative and technical skills to create video content that served the cohort and potential applicants. If I could go back, I would have been braver and gotten involved much sooner. That way I probably would have been able to give even more to the school and our community.

What is the biggest myth about your school? A big myth for me was that the school is more inclined to have cohorts of an older demographic and that the school is better for older candidates. It is true that our cohort’s average age was slightly higher than the global average, but the average only speaks to the central tendencies. The reality was that we had both older-than-average candidates as well as younger-than-average candidates. This is reflected in our cohort’s age range which was greater than 10 years.

One could argue that the school is more accommodating for older candidates and that could imply that the school is better for that demographic. Yet, at the same time, our cohort was not just diverse in nationality, gender, and professional experience, but also in age. It is this depth of diversity that stimulated and supported our learning environment, and this heterogenous approach enabled our diverse group to have a mutually beneficial experience across the many different spectrums.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised by the humanity I experienced at business school. The IMD class was filled with phenomenal individuals who have achieved extraordinary things in life already. I was surrounded by company vice presidents, doctors, pilots, designers, military veterans, and all-round go-getters. Each person carried a wealth of experience that championed their presence in the cohort.

Yet as we progressed through our MBA journey, I noticed that we all carried personal insecurities and vulnerabilities. I learned that imposter syndrome is something that affected most of us, irrespective of all the things one might have achieved. The humanity I experienced involved the secure space we created for each other, where we could acknowledge, embrace, and overcome our vulnerabilities with the support of our cohort. I expected business school to be a more competitive environment but was pleasantly surprised to find IMD more collaborative and uplifting.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Applying through the IMD Assessment Challenge instead of the traditional written application proved to be instrumental in my admission. The Assessment Challenge provides an interactive experience where you work in teams to solve a host of challenges.

Going this route meant that my application was assessed based on my ability to contribute in a team environment. I was able to use my engineering background to show my analytic and problem-solving skills while using my experience in leading student and professional teams to showcase my collaborative and leadership abilities. As someone who had more industrial than commercial work experience, this approach enabled me to actively demonstrate my skills and ability rather than trying to leverage limited experience to present myself thoroughly through written format.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have deep admiration and respect for Getrude Okoth Rae.

Getty, as she is affectionately known, has a tremendous balance of leadership, experience, and humility. She brought a wealth of experience as a management consultant and as a head of a tech venture. It is, however, one thing to bring experience and another thing to share it, and Getty definitely came to IMD not just to receive but to share. She shared her time and her voice when she represented our cohort as our class ombuds. She shared her thoughts and experience with consistent critical thinking and questioning in the classroom.

She represented our cohort at our MBA 50th anniversary celebrations where the entire IMD community witnessed how she walks and speaks with wisdom and gravitas that captivates everyone around her, yet she will never boast about her achievements. She supported our cohort by listening attentively, advising powerfully, and supporting wholeheartedly in whatever measure is required. Her bold and strong nature was on display as she coached our men’s basketball team to the MBAT semifinals, and her grace shone as she humbly accepted the Prix Fondation Vaudoise pour la Formation Bancaire (FVFB) merit-based award. It is a privilege for me to call her my MBA classmate and very dear friend.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1. Start a company or NGO that disrupts the education industry.

“There is a rigid dichotomy between private and public education in most parts of the world. I witnessed these extreme differences in my native South Africa where the Gini Coefficient is the highest in the world. Coming from a previously disadvantaged family, I have personal experience of the role proper education has in the trajectory of one’s life. I am fortunate to have a strong educational foundation which ultimately enabled me to achieve the privileged title of IMD MBA alumnus.

For the past 10 years, this problem of unequal access to adequate education has played on my mind. I have served and/or worked on the ground level with numerous education-based NGOs in South Africa, including SHAWCO and SAILI. I want to help improve the education system in South Africa, and hopefully far beyond that. I want to use my experience, skills, and understanding of the intersection of government, society, and business to help make quality education more accessible to underprivileged communities, irrespective of socioeconomic conditions.

2. Become a world-class inspirational public speaker.

For 22 years I have been practicing and growing my passion for public speaking. I do feel, however, that I truly found my proverbial voice during my time at IMD. I entered the program with such a high degree of imposter syndrome, yet over time I realized that I had a strong ability to articulate a clear and impactful message and to deliver it with empathy and vigor. It took my classmates to tell me, “When you speak, people listen”.

Jonathan Gottschall, in his HBR IdeasCast episode, said that stories are not good, they are just powerful. An ability to communicate and captivate people is not inherently good nor is it bad, but it is extremely powerful in shaping ideas, thoughts, and opinions and mobilizing action. I want to use my skill for good, I want to inspire others with my stories about my experiences and lessons, and I want to coach other people to find their voices as well.

What made Craig Ian Plaatjes such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Craig is an analytical and creative thinker with a BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering and 5 years of experience in engineering consulting in the industrial power and automation industry. Due to his unique profile and performance during the admissions process, he was awarded the Young Leaders Scholarship. He complimented it by graduating with Honors and was elected as the graduation class speaker. He is a stellar and captivating speaker. The response he received from his classmates and all those in the audience was a testament to his ability to inspire and motivate.

In addition, to excelling in public speaking and academics, Craig was heavily invested in the class Equity, Inclusivity, and Diversity Committee, where he led the pride talks, allyship program, and awareness newsletters.

We wish him all the best and look forward to engaging with him as a highly valued alumnus.”

Omar Toulan
Professor of Strategy and International Management
MBA Dean and Hilti Chair


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