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The Business School Putting Sustainability At The Center Of Its MBA

IMD Business School

In a new world changed forever by coronavirus, one leading European business school is embracing radical change. Starting January 2022, sustainability will be woven into the entire MBA curriculum at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.

As the pandemic goes into its second year, organizations are feeling the pressure from consumers to become more socially and ecologically responsible, says Omar Toulan, the incoming dean of IMD’s MBA. These issues, Toulan says, are becoming increasingly important to MBA students and graduates; most are seeking roles in companies that take a stand on issues that are in line with their values. That’s why — just in time for the program’s 50th anniversary — Toulan is leading such a major revamp.

In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, Toulan talks about how his leadership-focused program is undergoing changes to develop future leaders who are also competent in dealing with matters of sustainability — not only as climate change continues to accelerate, but also as social issues come to the forefront in the wake of covid-19. “Our vision is to develop leaders who transform organizations and contribute to society,” he says. “Traditionally, we’ve been more focused on transforming organizations. But you can’t ignore the impact you have on society. We want to make sure we’re balancing both sides of the equation; transforming organizations, but also impacting society. Sustainability is at the center of that.”

MEET OMAR TOULAN

Omar Toulan. Courtesy photo

Toulan has been a professor at IMD for five years. He will become dean of the MBA program January 1, 2022, taking over from Seán Meehan, who is becoming the dean of faculty. Toulan’s most excited by the potential of making an impact on participants’ lives through a leadership-focused program emphasizing sustainability. “An MBA has the potential to be a transformative and life-changing experience, ” he says.

Toulan brings a rich business background to the IMD MBA; 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.

He’s hopeful about how this MBA revamp will open participants’ minds to new opportunities; the upcoming 2022 class is made up of candidates from 39 nationalities, and only 2% are local to Switzerland. This year’s class will have the largest number of women in the program’s history, as well as the largest representation from Africa to date. “It’s rewarding to provide participants with opportunities that they wouldn’t have exposure to otherwise,” he says. “This program gives you a snapshot of the world in 11 months.”

Mostly, though, Toulan believes that this sustainability-focused education will help MBA candidates become purposeful leaders.

‘WE ALL WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE’

Not only does the MBA program at IMD have a new roster of sustainability-minded professors, it’s also developed a strategic partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, an organization of over 200 leading companies that share a vision for a world in which more than 9 billion people are able to live well, within planetary boundaries, by 2050. “The goal is not to become the next green MBA, where people only study at IMD if they want to work in the sustainability department of a company,” continues Toulan. “The goal is to give people the skills that they’ll need not just in their first job, but five or ten years down the road.”

Now more than ever, he believes that MBA graduates are looking for meaning and purpose.

“Purpose plays a huge role when participants choose which organization to work for,” he says. “People don’t only want to earn a decent salary; they want to have an impact. At the end of the day, we all want to make a difference.”

He says that this program will help to create reflective and responsible leaders who create impact. “What defines a leader is somebody who can make difficult decisions,” explains Toulan. “We want to give students the opportunity to practice making difficult decisions that take the environment and society into consideration. When designing policy, you have to think about how to satisfy both.”

Along with welcoming the most diverse class in 2022, it will also be the biggest. In past years, the school has capped the class at 90 students. This year, it will grow to 105. This is thanks to IMD’s increased outreach efforts and scholarship efforts to welcome more students of varying backgrounds.