MBA shows case for giving back

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Two days before graduating from my one-year MBA programme at IMD, I was contemplating my spreadsheet full of “extremely objective” criteria, which were to help me make an appropriate choice: should I (or not), commit to a job offer from a leading fashion brand? Or should I instead wait to explore other opportunities?

IMD Career Services had done an excellent job in helping us to define our goals and to reach our targeted companies. More than 60 international businesses visited the Lausanne, Switzerland, campus for just 90 students. At IMD, we also met top executives attending programmes tailored for their companies.

One country manager of a famous cosmetic group offered me his help and gave me superb advice and lists of his personal contacts in the industry. Within weeks, I obtained interviews targeted to my search, supported by the help of alumni who gave us insider insights. At this stage, most of my classmates were eager to make a decision; a few, such as myself, are still in the process – even now.

I had identified three criteria essential to my motivation and which seemed a strong “fit” with my competencies: a team with whom I can work and whom I can lead on a daily basis; products to which I strongly relate and that tend to have very short life cycles, such as ones in fashion; and, finally, a strong brand to generate hefty profits and strong enough to prevent competitors entering our markets. However, these criteria alone are not enough to make a career decision.

The past 10 months have passed with amazing speed: we have been through the straining first part of the programme, “Building Blocks” and its 100 hours-a-week commitment. We then strengthened our leadership skills with the help of individual coaches and “shrink” sessions. We flew to South Africa for a two-week “discovery trip” to meet social, political and business leaders and to understand issues the country is facing. We then focused for two months on an international consulting project; in my case, this was for a lingerie brand. Finally, speakers came to confront us with the new “real world” challenges we will face.

By year-end, not only are we now more articulate in our business practices but we are also more sensitive to what is happening around us. I feel so blessed to have been able to attend a leading MBA programme, to have my family with me all year and to live in western Europe with fine food, excellent education and freedoms. But with this great education comes a responsibility. Now it is time for me to give back: to my family, to my future employer and, ultimately, to society.

Innovation

When my wife agreed to come to IMD, she knew she would have to put her career on hold. To switch from a busy life in New York and Shanghai to an extremely quiet one in Switzerland, while continuing her roles as a wife and mother, was quite a shock.

My wife handled most of the home tasks by herself, always with a positive spirit, although she often felt quite lonely. With other MBA partners in the same situation, she feels she has made a few friends for life. After a year of sacrifice, my wife would like to resume her career and we have agreed to relocate to a big city, where she can obtain a fashion buyer position and “begin to grow” once more.

What we both like in fashion-related products is the fast pace with which they regenerate themselves.

When I choose my future employer, I would like to bring the skills of innovation and creativity to the existing structure and apply some of my newly acquired frameworks. Throughout this year, I have seen my “strategic thinking” growing month after month.

Earlier this month, Benoit Leleux, director of IMD’s MBA programme, took me to Argentina to interview one of the most prominent business leaders there: Lando Simonetti, founder of the polo brand La Martina. Prof Benoit has since asked me to develop and write an IMD case based on that enlightening meeting.

Business cases are at the forefront of the education at IMD. They ignite class discussions and raise vital issues. Now, we have a much greater ability to analyse more quickly what is called, in MBA jargon, “the key success factors” of the company: Mr Simonetti’s insistence on not diluting the brand and keeping the DNA of the company strong. He also maintains his financial independence towards banks and private equity firms. Moreover, Mr Simonetti has a knack for discovering talented students and hiring them. All these factors contribute to the growth of the company.

George Kohlrieser, professor of leadership and a highly regarded hostage negotiator, taught what for me is one of the key lessons in the final session of the year: he would say that Mr Simonetti’s persona provides a secure base for his team and has established an unusual aura of trust around him. He is authentic and charismatic. I hope that I, too, will become a secure base for my family and for my co-workers.

Finally, I now feel the need to contribute to society. I still have to find the right way, but with responsibilities comes duties.

As General Douglas MacArthur said: “Those who really want something find the means; others find excuses.”

During my IMD MBA, I was so fortunate to receive, to learn and to share knowledge, experience and friendship. Now it is time for me to give back.

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