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Alumni Stories · Leadership

“After doing HPL I dared more”

IMD Alumni Success Story: Sabine Fercher talks about the High Performance Leadership program
December 2014

“I’m pretty much a storyteller,” says Sabine Fercher. - IMD Business School

That might sound counter-intuitive coming from someone who recently became Chief Compliance Officer for Switzerland at Allianz, the German insurance and financial services company.

But the storytelling makes a lot of sense once you realize that Fercher needs to lead and motivate many people whom she doesn’t manage directly. That’s because her job is to make sure that Allianz’s Swiss operations comply with a wide range of international laws covering corruption, data protection, money laundering and antitrust.

“The law develops so fast that people can’t keep up. So you have to be able to convince people to work with you, and to motivate them,” she says.

“I don’t like to say ‘here’s the law—now do that,'” she says. “I prefer to say something like ‘have you seen that the Swiss authorities are looking into a case where people at a company got some football tickets?'”

And it was IMD’s High Performance Leadership program in April 2013 that helped Fercher to tell stories—and also to take a closer look at herself.

She initially applied to do a strategy program at IMD, but the program advisor looked at her CV and suggested that she try HPL instead. The program sounded interesting, so she decided to do that first and strategy later.

It turned out to be a great decision, even if she was initially a bit surprised at how different HPL was to typical executive education programs and in-house corporate training sessions.

“Doing HPL is like looking into a mirror and seeing much more than you usually see,” she says. “I hadn’t expected that.”

Fercher says that the six-day program was emotionally intense and contained “a lot of mind-openers,” including inspirational guest speakers such as Jamie Andrew. At the same time, she always felt comfortable in this new environment.

“It’s intense for everyone, so it doesn’t bother you that much. And George Kohlrieser is kind of like a father taking care of family members during that short week,” she says.

After finishing HPL she stayed at her previous company for another year, but she didn’t feel that the environment there suited her own expectations. So she decided to leave without having another job lined up.

“That’s something I would never have done before HPL, but I felt OK and secure,” she says. “After doing HPL I dared more, and I left my position confident that something else would come up.”

Her confidence was rewarded when she joined Allianz in September of this year, and she still thinks about the HPL program “all the time.”

“It has had a very broad effect on everything I do, in both my job and my private life. It just changes the mindset you have and frees you up to discover new things,” she says.

She really wants to do the Advanced High Performance Leadership (AHPL) program for experienced executives who have already attended HPL. But the time isn’t right just now, because she’s expecting twins in March.

And that will mean much more storytelling in the months and years to come.