Meet IMD Business School’s Distinguished Alumni: Kunal Chandra

Kunal Chandra: “I believe curiosity is at the heart of a professional’s growth.”

Kunal Chandra

Class / Grad Year: IMD’s Class of 2016 (December)

Current Employer / Role: Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer, RWE AG

Best memory at school: The IMD traditional integrative exercise was one of the key credit requirements for the IMD MBA. As the name suggests, the goal of this exercise was to integrate all our learnings across different subjects such as finance, marketing, accounting, strategy, operations etc. and build a business plan for a new product. It was conducted over three days with intermediate presentations to the jury consisting of internal and external members. All IMD student teams look forward to this exercise with a great deal of enthusiasm and we were no different. Starting at a leisurely pace on day 1, we distributed roles and responsibilities and built gantt charts to manage time over the next three days and we were quite confident that we had a plan. Besides a few meek contrary voices, most of us believed that not only did we have a plan but we had a winning plan.

By the end of day 1 though, it had become clear that our plan was going nowhere. For no one particular reason, rather a combination of many, we had reached an impasse on all fronts. The assigned roles were deemed wrong, the general direction was considered confusing and there was a mutiny against the appointed leader.

And from thereon started a rescue mission that meant that we had to go without sleep for more than 48 hours and recover from a complete disaster in our interim presentation to a face-saving performance in our final presentation. To the point that we got special mention for the biggest improvement in performance between the two presentations (just to be sure, this wasn’t a compliment). It wasn’t enough though to fetch us a position amongst the top three teams in the class. While the disappointment loomed large, the fatigue reigned supreme and we all decided to catch up on sleep before any sort of debrief.

As we debriefed this task over drinks, over the next hours and days, we realized it was one of the most formative experiences for us at IMD. It brought us together as a team and taught us a ton about leadership and teamwork.

Biggest achievement at school: I believe the MBA experience is as much about putting into your cohort’s learning journey as it is about taking out from it, therefore, I would consider my biggest achievement at school as the successful leadership of the Energy club during my year. I had leveraged my background and network in Energy to bring best in class speakers and conduct several high quality events to enable my classmates to prepare well for an energy career. Through the club we were also successful in securing short internships for a record number of students in large Energy companies.

Your advice to incoming first-years: In the first few weeks of your session, find time to reflect deeply and ask yourself if you are truly coming in with a learning mindset. Many students approach the MBA as some sort of a finish line. They think at the end of it awaits them a great job and a gallery of their friends and families who they can turn to and showcase their “gold medal”. However, I believe an MBA is not a finish line, rather the starting line for a long fulfilling professional and personal journey that lies ahead. A learning mindset is necessary to acknowledge and scale the complexities of the real world of business and to make the most of this journey. The one or two years in the MBA classroom can be a great practice ground to discover and cultivate the learning mindset.

Where do you currently live? Germany.

Fun fact about you: While at Siemens, in an impulsive decision, I took a break from my 13-year Energy career and took an assignment to build up the Autonomous driving portfolio. This was driven by my desire to experience the world of software and digitalization to which hitherto I wasn’t privy at all. It was also driven by my worldview that one can only truly test their leadership skills when they are operating outside of their comfort zone. Autonomous driving was as far out of my comfort zone as anything could ever be.

I had more success than I had hoped for and learnt more than I could have imagined. In hindsight those were perhaps the 2 most rewarding years of my career so far. And to top it all, I was inducted in the Automotive News Europe’s Rising Star Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed on only 25 professionals across Europe selected from an illustrious list of over 300 nominees.

Why did you chose your school? IMD offered me the possibility to transition from an individual achiever into a leader. I believed that at IMD, I would learn how to amplify my impact through building and nurturing great teams. With its small class size, focus on leadership and world class faculty for Finance and Strategy, I was convinced it would prepare me for more senior executive roles of the future. In hindsight I think I managed to fulfill all my objectives from an IMD MBA. My career has steadily progressed from leading business units and divisions to now being the Group Chief Strategy and Sustainability officer at a DAX 30 company.

The IMD MBA has given me a set of invaluable tools, particularly in the area of leadership and business skills, that I continue to use in the real world when faced with complex business challenges. IMD’s focus on exposing students to real world projects, with real executives and business leaders as counterparties, is particularly helpful in instilling confidence and the right business demeanor in the students.

What student organizations did you join? The Energy club and IMD representative for Global Network for Advance Management.

Favorite trait in others: I am always impressed with people’s curiosity. It is heartening to see how those who are curious are able to make rapid progress even in areas outside their expertise as well as to make significant contributions of their own. I believe curiosity is at the heart of a professional’s growth.

One thing you would’ve changed in the MBA experience: As mentioned earlier, one of my key, post-MBA goals was to transition to an executive career within the energy industry and therefore I did not spend much time networking across different industries. However, in the last years I have realized that energy transition is a complex topic with several touchpoints to other industries and sectors. An example would be the role that private equity and venture capital is playing in the energy transition. In hindsight, I should have put in more effort into understanding the interconnections between energy and the investment ecosystem and should have engaged more deeply with that ecosystem.

Favorite class? Finance by Nuno Fernandes.

One secret to success: In an MBA, we learn the formulaic approach, one where we tend to reduce the complex business world into a series of frameworks and templates. While this works well to scale many business problems, it does not work well when shaping a business career itself. My advice to students looking for a secret to success is therefore to stop looking for secrets. Success in any profession is built slowly over time through honing skills that are core to that field. Many people focus too much on career and too little on professional skills. I believe focusing on becoming a world class professional is far more important than a particular job title or career step.

What is your biggest regret? I did not spend more time learning languages early on in my life. Now I am trying hard to learn German and it is quite an enlightening experience in terms of how one engages with different cultures and also how it transforms the way we think.

What is the next thing you’re going to do on your bucket list? I have been very fortunate to live and work in 6 countries over the last many years, but now I want to spend more time traveling through India with my daughter and discovering the country afresh.

For more information on IMB Business School, visit its website here.

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