Meet IMD Business School’s MBA Class Of 2023

Picture Switzerland. What comes to mind? How about luscious chocolates, luxury watches, and zesty cheeses? Maybe majestic, snow-capped mountains overlooking rolling, verdant hills and clear, freshwater lakes? Romantic, magical, spiritual – a snowy wonderland where castles tower over vineyards and rails carve through slopes to connect earth and sky. Some even imagine Christmas festivals year-round: fairytale villages of ice sculptures and skating rinks whose Alpine backdrops evoke Disney and Hallmark.

While the Swiss landscape has been described as dreamy, the people are a mix of open-minded and reserved – hardly a surprise for a country known for diplomatic neutrality and banking privacy. Amid it all, you’ll find Lausanne. Built along the banks of Lake Leman, it is the home of the International Olympic Committee. Geographically, Lausanne is just a 30-minute train ride to Geneva (with France only a lake ferry away). It is also the home of IMD – the International Institute for Management Development – one of the world’s most respected and rigorous one-year MBA programs.

2023 MBA Ski Trip

“A SMALL-TOWN FEEL”

Ask IMD alumni and they’ll tell you: Lausanne is a picture-perfect place to earn an MBA. Think peace and quiet – the best of two worlds, says ’22 alum Sarah Mumbi-Ndegwa – a “quant small-town feel” with easy access to employers and events in Geneva and Zurich. In contrast, Mumbi-Ndegwa’s classmate, Craig Ian Plaatjes, was struck by the beauty of Lausanne.

“I remember sipping coffee on my balcony as I stared in awe at the tranquility of Lake Geneva and the breathtaking beauty of the Alps and their snowy peaks in the background. A stressful day was easily remedied with a soothing lakeside walk.”

Considering IMD’s reputation for intensive leadership development, Lausanne seemingly reinforces the culture of the school. “The gorgeous scenery also provided the ideal backdrop for all the self-reflection IMD challenges us to take the time to do,” explains Amanda Tan, a ’23 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA.  “It’s as if the lake was designed with IMD in mind!”

IMD Library with view over Lake Geneva

BUILDING BONDS

Fast forward to the Class of 2023 and nature has been equally important to their experience. Stephanie Vetsch, a Canadian engineer, organized a ski trip for 20 classmates to Verbier, ranked as the world’s top ski resort by World Ski Awards in four of the past five years. Her best moment: teaching a classmate how to ski. This winter trip was also a highlight for Siya Xabanisa, a South African investment officer. While the trip enabled the class to enjoy themselves and connect, it also hammered home a major lesson to Xabanisa.

“It served as a powerful reminder of the urgent need to address environmental challenges,” he writes. “Witnessing the snow-covered landscape was a stark reminder of how climate change is impacting our world. It gave me a firsthand appreciation of the fragile beauty of nature and the importance of taking action to limit our environmental impact.”

More than that, these treks – among other activities – have helped the class deepen their relationships with each other. “When you spend weeks and months together, travelling across the globe, dancing at festivals, heatedly debating until the early mornings, trekking in the Swiss mountains, and exploring concerns and weaknesses with trained leadership coaches, you bond through shared experiences – whether positive or negative,” explains Akané Lièvre, a doctor-turned-consultant. “In the process you build an incredible amount of trust with each other. I have grown, both personally and professionally, through the help of my MBA colleagues and have created strong bonds that I hope will last a lifetime.”

IMD Campus Lausanne

IMPRESSIVE ACHIEVEMENTS

The Swiss are also famous for their army knives, which contain a series of practical tools ranging from a screwdriver to a nail file to a wire cutter. The Class of 2023 is equally versatile. Akané Lièvre previously worked for the UK’s National Health Service before taking a position at CHUV, one of the world’s top hospitals, as a doctor in the vacular center. Inspired by her mother, Kriti Bakshi taught at an underprivileged school on weekends while working in software engineering and product development. During this time, the percentage of students scoring over 70% doubled. At the same time, Jasper Schakel, an engineer from the Netherlands, spearheaded the African Water Corridor program in Ghana.

“[I helped build] the first pilot electro-coagulation water treatment plant in northern Ghana,” he explains. “The first one was a technology development program of the technical university of Delft that I helped to set up together with local stakeholders and other commercial parties like my employer. The second one is a development part of this program that can help to solve supply chain issues in Ghana and make drinking water more obtainable for isolated communities.”

Tomás Pérez Bacchi made his name in investments, even overseeing the rebranding of his last employer. At the Saudi Industrial Development Fund – which is expected to hold a trillion in assets within two years – Faisal Alkhalaf was part of a team that examined the fund’s two biggest loans at the time. Singapore’s Elvin Chua’s partnered with his deputy CEO to establish 20 new partnerships in markets ranging form venture capital to tech startups. Looking for someone who thrives in adversity? Meet Chao Fang, a ballerina who worked in business development for Alibaba. There, she built fashion categories “from scratch” and boosted growth merchandise value by three figures during COVID.

Fang is joined by Takafumi Shibata as one of the Class of 2023’s top strategists. “I was engaged in initiating and creating the mid-term business plan at Panasonic’s European headquarters in Germany, developing sales projections and facilitating discussions among stakeholders, including EU and Japanese top management,” Shibata explains. “Working closely with a director of the business unit in Europe, I created a key investment plan to increase sales headcounts at the European headquarters to develop business for the new product category, and managed to solicit Japan’s headquarters to make the investment, even though I needed to do all the pitches online due to COVID-19.”

2023 Discovery Expedition Singapore

STARTUP COLLECTS $100K PRIZE

The Class of 2023 has remained plenty busy since arriving in Lausanne. As part of her Business & Society class, Akané Lièvre visited the United Nations and later simulated a United National Climate Change Conference. Jasper Schakel and Stephanie Vetsch both made it the final round of the IMD Venture Award, with Schakel and his partner ultimately taking home the $100,000 prize. For Kriti Bakshi, the biggest achievement has been a chance in how she approaches business-related issues.

“As I came into IMD with a technical background, my problem-solving skills were limited to quantifiable “yes or no” answers. However, at IMD, I have learnt that in business, problems are rarely solved with cookie-cutter solutions and qualitative nuances go into strategic decision making. My biggest achievement at IMD has been the evolution of my skill set to where I can ingest quantitative and qualitative information, convert them into feasible recommendations, and story-board it to the audience.”

For Fao Chang, the biggest takeaway from the IMD MBA can be boiled down to one word: Self-awareness.  “For instance, “[I’ve learned] what triggers my emotions and why I react in a certain way. IMD provides an environment where I work with different teams for different projects. I receive feedback from professors, alumni, and peers and also have regular meetings with my IMD psychological analyst who is helping me better understand myself. We are all biased in some ways because of our upbringing, cultural background, etc. Thanks to IMD, I know where I come from, and this is an important starting point to build effective leadership in my point of view.”

The Class of 2023’s goals are as diverse as their backgrounds. Akané Lièvre intends to expand healthcare access, through a startup, NGO, or a pharma company. Jasper Schakel’s mission centers around boosting sustainable impact in water treatment using electro-chemical engineering. By the same token, Kriti Bakshi plans to build off her tech background to reinvent healthcare.

After graduation, I would love to work for tech companies to build products that improve the delivery of healthcare. The healthcare industry right now is at the brink of digital transformation, and I want to be the one to drive this change.”

2023 Class Visit to United Nations in Geneva

SMALL CLASS = BIG OPPORTUNITY

One differentiator of the IMD MBA experience, students say, is the small class size. This year’s class features 87 students. To critics, that translates to fewer opportunities to network. In reality, a small class offers several distinct advantages. That starts with a 2:1 student-to-faculty ratio, a number amplified by IMD’s robust executive education program, which ranks among the 10-best in the world according to The Financial Times. More than that, this ratio reflects a greater accessibility to IMD professors – and the expertise and networks they bring.

“In contrast to the challenges one might face in establishing personal connections with professors in bigger settings, our close-knit environment facilitates regular interactions with these experienced mentors,” observes Siya Xabanisa. “Their guidance and support have been instrumental in shaping my academic journey.”

Size also doesn’t dictate diversity. For one, the Class of 2023 hails from 36 countries. Even more, they are geographically disparate. Western Europe accounts for just 25% of class, with South Asia representing the second-largest segment at 24%. North America and Latin America each constitute a 10% share, while Eastern Europe, East and Central Asia, and Africa and the Middle East round out the class in near equal proportions. That cultural diversity is also expanded into professional backgrounds. Chao Fang notes that she has worked on seven different teams when it comes to projects, simulations, or integrated exercises (so far). As a result, she has encountered “new team dynamics and gained diverse perspectives.” Her classmate, Paulina Godoy, can vouch for her experience.  

“The best part of being in a small cohort is the opportunity to share your time with everyone,” explains the Amazon vendor manager from Guatemala. “We work in groups that change every module, allowing us to constantly work with different people and learn from their past experience. This gives us space to explore different views and working or leadership styles. We try to have lunch together as often as possible between classes, and most of us extend lunchtime by having a coffee at the school cafeteria or on the terrace. Outside of IMD, we are always making plans to spend time together.”

And there’s another advantage to a small classroom, adds Takafumi Shibata. “Not only does the small class foster unity and help us develop bonding, but it also urges a sense of responsibility for all of us to actively engage in both on- and off-campus activities.”

MBA students at IMD’s campus restaurant

LIVING LA VIDA LACUSTRE

One of those activities, say class members, are hanging out by the lake. Chao Fang raves about the running route around Lake Leman, with a panoramic view of the nearby mountains.  Similarly, Faisal Alkhalaf looks to the sidewalk alongside Lake Geneva.

“[It] is just across the street from the campus, is a great place to meditate, reflect, and simply think. It is so peaceful and refreshing. I always feel so much better after walking by the lake and sometimes go there between classes to clear my mind and recharge.”

The class hangout is unquestionably Lacustre, a restaurant and bar near campus. Paulina Godoy lauds the picturesque terrace, tasty pizzas, and the staff’s ability to “serve a Guinness properly.”  For Siya Xabanisa, Lacustre’s charm comes from the wide-ranging music, which he calls a “mini world tour.” And let’s just say Stephanie Vetsch could double as the restaurant’s hype (wo)man.

“Lacustre is a delightful venue within walking distance of the campus, known for its scrumptious oven-roasted pizza and a diverse selection of drinks. Nestled beautifully next to the water, it offers a picturesque setting. The DJ consistently plays catchy tunes, creating a lively atmosphere for dancing. The patio provides a perfect space for everyone to catch up, making it our go-to classic hangout spot.”

Looking for an unconventional hangout at IMD? Well, Kriti Bakshi has that covered too. “The usual suspects are the White Horse (a local bar), Lacustre (a lakeside restaurant), and Parc de Milan (a large park just behind the campus) – all of them are within easy walking distance from the campus. However, my favorite hang-out spot is the MBA study room area, known as the dungeons. This is where most of the action is! You will at any point find MBAs holed up in their rooms studying for upcoming exams, preparing their elevator pitches, or on conference calls with IMD alumni. In the background there will be a buzz coming from the Table Tennis recreation room or from the microwaves in the mini kitchen area, and someone will always be brewing a hot cup of coffee.”

Next Page: Interview with the MBA Program Delivery Director

Page 3: Profiles of IMD MBA Students

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.