Just in time
Looking back, Rafael Altavini reckons that he did IMD’s High Performance Leadership (HPL) program at exactly the right time.
Rafael, who is Brazilian, did his MBA at IMD in 2006 and joined Schindler, the Swiss elevator company, early the following year. He rose fast, taking senior roles in Switzerland and Thailand. In autumn 2011 he became supply chain director for Schindler in Brazil, managing 400 people and being responsible for the company’s manufacturing, purchasing, quality and logistics in the country.
It sounded like a great move. But this new job presented big leadership challenges, and Rafael was struggling to adapt. Partly it was the reverse culture shock of returning to his native Brazil after 12 years abroad. And partly it was people management.
“It was the first time I had run a supply chain,” Rafael says. “I was a very young person in a very senior position, and I had difficult relations with peers and subordinates who were older and more experienced.”
One day Rafael received an email from the IMD Alumni Club in Brazil regarding an HPL program taking place in São Paulo in October 2012. He was immediately interested, because he remembered the session that IMD Professor George Kohlrieser, the HPL program director, had led at the end of his MBA program in 2006. So with the support of his boss—the CEO of Schindler in Brazil— Rafael signed up for HPL São Paulo.
Then, one month before the program began, he learned that another job he had really wanted was no longer his.
“I was focusing my life and career on this big carrot in front of me, and then it was gone. I was shocked, and it was a very tough process,” he says. “I was struggling inside and punishing myself, and taking my family through that too. When I started HPL, I was becoming depressed.”
Every time Rafael thinks about his HPL experience, two things stand out almost like photographic memories. The first is Ed Chaffin, his team coach during the program.
“There was some very special chemistry with Ed,” Rafael says. “He was able to create an almost immediate openness, and a protective environment in which we could open up.”
Within two hours of meeting Chaffin, Rafael was in tears as his disappointment and frustrations poured out. He wasn’t the only one.
“In the first few hours, people in our team put their most horrible fears and toughest challenges on the table. It was very strong,” he says. “It’s essential to have coaching to help work things out, and Ed made each one of us contribute to the learning.”
His second memory of HPL is the discussion of grief and past wounds, which Rafael describes as “a huge emotional moment I’ll keep for the rest of my life.” He says he confronted personal issues that most people never talk about, and discovered sides of himself that he hadn’t explored before.
“George helped me work out a few ghosts I had in the back of my mind,” he says. “HPL was almost like a liberation process that helped me to regain my self-confidence, and to turn a downward spiral into a constructive cycle.”
The group dynamic was extremely important. Rafael says the HPL program had exactly the right sort of participants: mature, and ready to open up and share. They were international too, with more than half coming from outside Brazil.
Rafael needed a couple of weeks after HPL to digest things and settle down. He stayed in touch with Chaffin for some post-program coaching, and then he started to make some decisions.
He decided that he hadn’t really wanted that other job anyway. Instead of being motivated by money, status and pride, he wanted a job that made him happy. So he started to explore other positions within Schindler, and in February 2013 he told his boss that he wanted to pursue a career in HR.
Schindler granted his wish. By June of that year he was moving to Paris as a Vice-President of HR, dealing with South Europe, Africa and the Near East. And at the end of 2015 he’ll return in a senior HR role to Schindler’s corporate headquarters in Switzerland.
He’s much happier in this new chapter of his career, and he’s getting great feedback from his peers and bosses.
“I think that’s what HPL is about—playing very close to the best of your game with much less stress,” he says. “I took a leap of faith in what the program had to offer, and it’s been a fantastic journey. It’s a great program, and I feel very privileged.”
High Performance Leadership (HPL) is for experienced executives who want to achieve the next level of effectiveness in leading individuals, teams and large groups to their highest level of sustained performance.