Litong Zhang Scholarship impact story - IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Leadership

Leadership with a clear moral compass

Litong Zhang reveals how an IMD scholarship transformed his concept of what being a leader in business today means in terms of social impact
April 2024

After spending 10 years working in the energy manufacturing and Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) industries across the Middle East, Chinese national Litong Zhang felt it was time for a change.

Having successfully managed and closed multimillion-dollar project pipelines while building strong business relationships with multi-stakeholders, he had already acquired leadership skills in diverse cultural and business environments including China, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Working closely with senior executives across industries also afforded him the opportunity to learn about different leadership styles in competitive dynamics and uncertain scenarios.

Nonetheless, in 2021, Zhang – known to his friends as Brad – decided it was time for a career change and that the best way to decide on the next step in his journey would be to pursue an MBA. Unsurprisingly, as someone whose career highlights include streamlining business development strategy and managing a large client base, he did his research.

Litong Zhang - MBA - IMD - China - IMD Business School

He says, “I read and watched a lot about IMD and its MBA program and was very impressed with IMD’s vision and the immense impact IMD alumni have had. Each day it became clearer to me that I wanted to be a part of IMD.”

IMD alumni also proved extremely helpful in his due diligence: “To know more about the program, I connected with multiple MBA alumni and candidates. They all generously responded and shared their transformative experiences authentically, which provided further references for my decision to apply for IMD.”

Among all the programs he researched, Zhang says the IMD MBA stood out as the most attractive for its “strength in leadership development, very international and tight-knit cohort, world-renowned faculty and its experiential and evolving nature,” which “make it the best MBA program for me.”

That said, and despite knowing that, at the age of 33 and at a point in his life when he was ready to explore new life and career possibilities following the COVID-19 pandemic, he was “not fully financially prepared for the MBA program – something that made him “truly grateful” for the scholarship that saw him graduate in December 2022.  

This is why he believes scholarships for executive and continuing education are so important: “Theyre crucial for fostering inclusive engagements by supporting those with leadership potential and ambitions to have an impact but who otherwise wouldn’t be able to undertake continuous education and learning at the best time in their lives.” 

“The biggest takeaway from the MBA was the hard and soft leadership skills we developed at IMD that will enable us to transform organizations and contribute to having positive impacts.”


Profound influence

 The MBA served to enrich Zhang’s views on leadership. “We have lived through a severe global pandemic that disrupted businesses and lives so profoundly, complicated by ongoing wars, geopolitical tensions, and climate crises that are posing significant challenges for many,” he says. “Business leaders play essential roles in collectively addressing these challenges, not only in navigating businesses amid chaos and uncertainty, but also in taking responsibility as corporate citizens to foster a more sustainable and inclusive world. For me, the biggest takeaway from the MBA was the hard and soft leadership skills we developed to transform organizations and contribute to positive impacts.” 

Elaborating on this theme, he believes that the sheer magnitude of today’s challenges calls for “visionary and future-proof leadership” which, while it may not be fundamentally different in style from traditional approaches, is underscored by “a clear moral compass that envisions and guides organizations to achieve business and societal goals towards a more inclusive and sustainable future.”  

That means leaders need to consider the whole business ecosystem when undertaking initiatives and projects: “A core element is how to lead an organization that can sustainably succeed not only in business metrics along the value chain, but also in balancing the interests of various stakeholders for positive social impact. The leadership skills we acquired at IMD prepared us well to contribute to such a future.” 

Zhang also found great motivation from his peer group at IMD away from the classroom. The standout moment, he recalls, was crossing the finish line of the Lausanne Marathon, despite never having previously run more than a distance of five kilometers – an achievement that filled him with huge pride and a sense of accomplishment, and which he attributes to “the confidence and resilience built during the MBA program and the great support from my fellow colleagues in encouraging and helping me train.” 

Litong Zhang Scholarship impact story - IMD Business School

Empowering sustainable business growth

A truly intrepid traveler – he has backpacked 15 countries on three continents – the MBA also made it clear to him that he wanted to pursue an international career in which he could lead sustainable business growth and, he says, empower the [culture of] diversity and inclusion for which IMD stands. 

That epiphany, combined with his deeper understanding of global business challenges and opportunities, motivated him to return to Beijing in February 2023 to undertake a role as New Champions Lead for Asia Pacific at the World Economic Forum. Here, he says, he leveraged his MBA learnings to foster multi-stakeholder engagements with a focus on bridging innovative entrepreneurs and business leaders who are championing the future of the economy, society, and the environment to a global stage. 

Despite the geographical constraints, it’s clearly important to Zhang to stay in touch with his IMD classmates. He says, “We share interesting experiences and memorable moments from our cohort in our WhatsApp group. Mostly, I make Zoom calls and follow everyone’s Instagram to know their updates.” Together with other colleagues based in China, he has also been delighted to receive alumni friends visiting – and is “eagerly looking forward to receiving more friends when they travel to China.”