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If business schools were ranked according to location, IMD would be a leader. It is on the shores of Lake Geneva, with the Alps as backdrop, in the historic city of Lausanne.
Much of its friendly atmosphere stems from its size. Peter Lorange, who has just announced he is stepping down as president says: “It is true we are a small place and it would be easier if we had more students, but that is the price we have to pay.”
The school was founded in 1990 in a merger between schools IMI and IMEDE. It is a not-for-profit foundation, independent and self-financing and has no debt.
He describes IMD as a boutique, but warns: “Our type of business model is not scaleable.”
It has a wide-ranging portfolio – open enrolment programmes, a full-time MBA, an executive MBA and company-specific partnership programmes.
However, IMD is known principally for its executive education. This accounts for 95 per cent of its work and Prof Lorange is
perplexed that other schools have not followed. “I am surprised at the lack of understanding about picking profitable niches. Executive education is where the action is. I think to really compete in the executive education niche you need to bring in fresh thinking to the classroom and think across axiomatic barriers,” he says.
John Walsh, professor of marketing, says companies are attracted by the personal approach. “We have a tradition of working very closely with companies [that come here]. We have a more market-focused view than a supplier view.”
The EMBA cohort is 62, from 23 nationalities and 29 industries, with an average of 14 years work experience, ensuring a diverse and multi-cultural class.
Marianne Vandenbosch, executive MBA programme manager, says the programme is different from the full-time MBA, with content tailored to participants. “We drive much of what they learn directly into their business and this helps companies to support them [participants].”
The programme is over six modules, supported by distance learning. Participants cover business fundamentals under IMD’s Program for Executive Development, then work on assignments tailored to their companies. These assignments are interspersed with visits to places such as Silicon Valley, Dublin, Shanghai and Bucharest.
The size of the full-time MBA programme remains static at 90 and there are no plans to increase it, although with six applications for each place IMD could easily do so.
Prof Lorange stresses that although the MBA is small, it is important intellectually to the school because new thinking is incubated within the programme. “This is a tremendous asset to us from a business point of view.”
“It has been a strategic choice to keep the programmes small,” adds Janet Shaner, director of MBA marketing. “What makes IMD special is the small class size. If you increase the class size you lose the personal approach.”
Selection is stringent. The GMAT – average 680 – is the first hurdle. “We are looking for international experience, people who have shown leadership, who have a reasonable amount of work experience [average is four to nine years], people who want to make a difference and are interested in growing their careers.”
Three projects are an integral part of the programme. Participants work on entrepreneurship projects in start-up businesses, followed by an international consulting project. The final project is a discovery expedition, visiting, for example, Argentina and looking at leadership in a difficult business environment.
Unlike many full-time programmes, time spent on electives is at a minimum. IMD believes students learn more from projects, core courses and peers.
The approach appears to have paid off. Katty Ooms Suter admissions and recruitment, says last year on graduation 85 per cent of participants had accepted a job offer and that rose to 94 per cent a month or so later.
“We don’t look for big talent training programmes, we place people in specific positions. Our career service is geared to making sure what students want.” She has already begun work for the incoming 2007 class.
IMD has eschewed a multi-campus approach. “The multi-campus approach is seriously wrong,” says Prof Lorange. “Top-quality academic work needs to be done in one place and we think it is a little bit presumptious to go to another country and tell them how things are to be run. We are much more humble, we think we can learn from our friends in other countries.”
IMD has also adopted a different tack when it comes to faculty and does not offer tenure.
Prof Lorange says that in return for good, relevant research-based teaching, faculty receive market-driven salaries with bonuses based on research outputs and teaching delivery. “We are doing really good, cutting-edge research.”
The school needs to work on brand-building. The IMD brand is not well- known outside Europe, but with the establishment of research centres in Shanghai and Mumbai, Prof Lorange anticipates it will be as well known in Asia and India as it is elsewhere.
He says until he goes the focus on executive education will continue. Whether his successor will follow his blueprint remains to be seen, but for Prof Lorange the secret of success is focus. “The simpler you can make it, the better chance you have of succeeding,” he says. With the EMBA programme at 19 in this year’s FT EMBA ranking, it appears to be moving in the right direction.