Bettina Büchel: 'Now’s the time to make a strong push for adding a more diverse perspective to boards'
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Bettina Büchel is professor of strategy and organisation at IMD in Switzerland and recently relocated to the school’s new Singapore hub. There she will co-direct the first Singapore edition of IMD’s flagship Orchestrating Winning Performance executive programme, which begins next month. She is also heavily involved in IMD’s efforts to increase gender balance in European boardrooms as part of the European Business Schools Women on Boards Initiative.

Prof Büchel grew up in Germany and Malaysia and has a PhD from the University of Geneva. She spent four years in Bangkok as an assistant professor at the Asian Institute of Technology before joining IMD in 2000.

In her spare time, Prof Büchel enjoys travelling, skiing and playing tennis.

1. When did you know you wanted to teach?

It was during my PhD. I found a role model in Gilbert Probst, a professor at the University of Geneva and managing director of the World Economic Forum, who showed me how teaching could have an impact on people and businesses.

2. What is an average day at work like?

I usually start my days by checking news sites in English, German and French so I know what’s happening and what’s likely to be on the minds of leaders and managers throughout the world. If I’m not teaching then I’ll either have some research or programme development conversations with senior executives of the leading organisations we interact with at IMD. Sometimes I also get to have some less formal conversations too, because so many people in the business world have a second passion, such as being sporting or artistic performers or contributing to communities.

3. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

You can shape things if you wish to and have the passion to want to make a difference. But you must be willing to take action and follow through. It’s easy to have an opinion. It’s more difficult to execute.

4. What is the worst job you have ever had?

After university I worked as a waitress at a mountain-top restaurant in Switzerland. Only bike riders would normally go up there. It was terribly boring and it was also cold in the middle of summer. A great experience to learn how to entertain yourself, but not to be repeated.

5. What advice would you give to women in business?

Women have the possibility to shape and influence decision making, which is why I believe strongly in encouraging women to be on boards. Now’s the time to make a strong push for adding a more diverse perspective to boards and women often have a different viewpoint to offer that might get ignored otherwise.

6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

My advice to women in any male-dominated environment is to ensure you make yourself heard when you feel it’s necessary. This can be [done selectively] so that when you do say something, you’re listened to.

7. What is the last book you read?

Right now I’m reading A Widow for One Year by John Irving. It’s a great book about complex relationships between people that exposes the reader to the true feelings the characters have as if you were an actual witness to their lives. Ultimately it is relationships between people and their values that underlie any business venture.

8. What is your favourite business book?

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Within an organisation there’s often a moment in time when small things can add up to a non-reversible trend and you can almost feel it through what is being said and discussed. Someone with a good sense of what it takes to reach a tipping point can steer change very well and that’s what Gladwell describes so nicely.

9. How do you deal with pressure?

By having a good amount of resilience. It’s important to take a step back and not let things hit you immediately. If I get a bad email then I’ll take 24 hours to respond rather than firing back immediately.

10. What is your plan B?

I would either set up my own business or be dean of an academic institution in the developing world. There are countries in Asia that are growing tremendously fast, and institution-building plays a very important role there. A business school would have a huge opportunity to shape leading executives and potentially have a significant impact on the country as a whole.

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