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Alumni Stories · Leadership

Asking questions and finding the answers on mountains hikes and at IMD

Why Jean-Francois Vryens keeps coming back
March 2017

Jean-Francois Vryens is a re - IMD Business Schoolgular at IMD, where he has been attending a program roughly every two years since 2006. “IMD has become my life toolbox.” He also goes on yearly two-week high mountain hikes alone with a guide to remote places around the world.

“Each time, I come back to my current life to be better.”


Vryens is a partner at Indufin, a Belgian and Luxemburg-based private equity investment company, as well as a board director of Bartech, Kyotec Group, Baobab Collection and Eloy Group. He says that he gets from IMD what he finds during his mountain hikes: a time to reflect and take hold of his life. Too many colleagues, he observes, collapse because they are always running and do not know how to slow down.

“I came to IMD to improve more deeply the knowledge I have of myself.”

Over the last ten years Jean-François has attended Strategic Finance, High Performance Boards, most recently, High Performance Leadership, and a number of others.

At about the same time he began coming to IMD, Jean-François also started his mountain retreats in faraway places. “I discovered that when you go alone to the middle of nowhere, you learn a lot about yourself. It opens your eyes.”

It was a revelation to him when, three years ago, the peer feedback he received during an IMD program brought him the same benefits. He says that the better you know yourself, the easier it is to understand your environment and to become a better leader.

“It’s very difficult to be transparent with people. We all have a fire burning within, but to share is a way of finding peace.”

Vryens was 41 years old and had just come through a “delicate” professional period. Now he was ready to move on and he found it useful to work with a coach to identify his areas of talent and use them at the adequate level.

The next IMD program he attended was High Performance Leadership, which, he claims, “is the best of best. I’ve never learned so much since I was three years old.”

Vryen’s IMD life-toolbox

At the end of every IMD program, Vryens jots down what he has learned. At the top of his list is to listen, listen, listen. He then lifts the lid of his IMD life-toolbox:

  • Always ask questions.

“Questions are the engine of my life.”

  • Keep asking questions.

“If you don’t get the answer, the question remains on the table.”

  • Try to be objective: gather the facts and figures.

“That’s the only way to gain a clear view before making a decision.”

  • Don’t bury the problems, bring them to the front.

“Problems are often the crucial element.”

  • Know your level of talent.

“Are you super strong, clever, cute, are you a humanitarian?”

  • There is no success without failure.

“Clear skies come after the storm.”

  • Find the right balance between risk and gain.

“I like to be in danger, but know not to be over-confident.”

  • If you want to evolve, put yourself in danger.

“It’s too easy to stay in the comfort zone.”

  • Create authenticity around the table.

“Make sure people know that you’re not playing poker.”

  • Create empathy.

“A day without a laugh is a lost day.”

Life-changing IMD

Before coming to IMD, Vryens spent a year at Harvard, where, he says, he was “super disappointed”. What he likes about the Lausanne business school is its size: “Size is crucial: the small sessions of 5 to 8 people are important to me.”

IMD’s biggest strength, he contends, is that it leaves you with something that you will always remember, both in terms of human experiences and practical approaches. “All the concepts and tools have been super useful to me to feel more fulfilled.”

His IMD life-toolbox, he explains, is also useful to guide and evaluate the people who work with him.

“Every day I take some time to think about what I’ve learned. It becomes a discipline.”

To mark his continued dedication to IMD, Jean-François has registered for the Advanced High Performance Leadership program in 2017.

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