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The stuff of leaders: IMD MBA Class of 2020 celebrates graduation with joy, hope and reflection after a challenging year

Stay true to the leader and the human being that you want to become, says IMD President Jean-François Manzoni at graduation ceremony.
December 2020
 - IMD Business School

In a year in which so many lost so much, IMD MBA Class of 2020 participants took the day to reflect on their actions and achievements in a graduation ceremony at IMD Lausanne.

A year no one could have predicted

“2020 challenged participants like it challenged everyone,” said Dean of the IMD MBA Program Professor Seán Meehan in his opening remarks. “They are wiser and better prepared for their careers and their lives – better than we could’ve imagined.”

With COVID-19 forcing a move to virtual learning overnight in mid-March, the lessons learned during this year of intensive study reach far beyond those typical of MBA programs.

Meehan continued: “You have the stuff leadership requires and I hope now you know it. You have shown unflagging determination, energy and commitment. You will see in time that it has been transformative.”

IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni congratulated this year’s graduates, speaking about the personal choices that differentiated those at the top. “Great leaders are great learners,” he said, commenting that graduates should seize this first day of their post-IMD life.

Alluding to the extraordinary challenges that participants had faced this year, he advised that keeping expectations to a minimum was a key tenet of happiness: “Your year was not what you were expecting. In years to come, remember to be mindful of your expectations and try to have as few as possible. Expectations often get in our way of being fully present in the moment, and the time we spend focusing on them not being met is time we can’t focus on now.”

Concluding with idea that to be a better leader, one should strive to be a better person, Manzoni emphasized the importance of being a giver rather than a taker.

Lessons from an alumna

IMD MBA alumna and President of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Marie-France Tschudin spoke on this, the 20th anniversary of her own graduation from the Institute. Her frank account of what she wished someone had told her at her graduation was a stark reminder of the importance of friends and family: “Don’t forget about the things that you love to do, and the people you love to be with. Basic but easy to forgo, the last thing on your list when you’re caught up in the rat race.”

Tschudin also spoke about caring about others, and readily admitted that the most rewarding and energizing part of her career has been helping others to shine.

“You’ll forget most of what you’ve learned; it’s not about the diploma but about the people sitting around you in this room. You will be there for each other in your most precious moments, opening up new opportunities for each other,” she said. “This is your free consulting firm, your biggest network. In 20 years, these will be the people who help your children get their first jobs.”

A light in the darkness

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by surprise and demanding flexibility across the board, program participants were forced to pivot and persevere.

IMD itself adapted to the pandemic with rapid innovation and was able, with the exception of the Swiss lockdown period, to conduct a fully face-to-face MBA experience, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place. While other academic institutions closed their doors, IMD vowed to remain a safe beacon in the storm for participants, most of whom had moved their lives – and often families – to Lausanne pursue their degree.

“Life is made up of an infinite number of small decisions, and they all have to do with the human phenomenon of hope,” said Valedictorian Anthony Wilson, who gave a moving speech on behalf of the IMD MBA 2020 graduating class.

Drawing on parallels between the high seas and higher education, he also took a moment of silence for those who couldn’t be at IMD today but have “contributed to all of our journeys”.

“I imagine you as a lighthouse on the stormy sea, the many MBA ships,” he said, expressing the class’s appreciation for IMD staff and faculty who had offered support during the difficult year. “You – Captains Jean-François and Seán – always stayed steadfast, giving joy to those MBA sailors.”

Awards for exceptional participants

At a celebratory lunch at IMD’s restaurant, Wilson took another honor as the recipient of the Hepper Award – a prize that goes to the most altruistic member of the class, as voted by their peers. The award is named for Michael Hepper, an IMD MBA participant who passed away in a tragic accident two weeks before graduating from the program in 1997.

Furthering IMD’s commitment to gender equality, Stephanie Hurry was presented with the Welshe Award. The award was founded by the late MBA 1989 alumna Jillian Welshe and honors a female participant who shows exemplary kindness, moral force of character, leadership and academic strength.

Haichen Liu took the Prix Fondation Vaudoise pour la Formation Bancaire (FVFB), an award that helps to honor how higher education plays a role in shaping banking and finance. Coming together with IMD, the Fondation Vaudoise pour la Formation Bancaire (FVFB) and the Association Vaudoise des Banques (AVB) have offered this prestigious, merit-based award for the past several years.

The strength of hope

Repeating the message of hope woven throughout the ceremony, Wilson paraphrased Václav Havel, reminding his peers that hope is an orientation of spirit and heart that transcends the world and is anchored in the beyond.

“As the sun sets over lac Léman this evening, I hope that we will always hold on to the friendships we made, lessons we learned and our achievements,” said Wilson.