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Alumni Stories · Leadership

Turning point

IMD Alumni Success Story: Andras Incze on how HPL and AHPL changed his life for the better
February 2015

Some programs teach you a lot. Others change your life.

In eight years at Novartis, Andras Incze had done a number of programs at leading business schools. But it was after doing IMD’s High Performance Leadership (HPL) program in 2002 that his life began to change.

His is a story about running marathons, overcoming self-limiting beliefs, and finding the courage to set out on his own.

Seeking a transformation

Incze’s links with IMD go back to 1993, when he became the first Hungarian to do the school’s MBA program.

He joined Novartis in Budapest the following year before moving to the company’s Basel headquarters in 1998. As he moved into increasingly senior regional and global roles, he did several internal training programs at Novartis and also programs at other business schools.

“I learned a lot, but these were not programs that changed your life,” Incze says.

Since he already knew IMD from his MBA days, he signed up for HPL in 2002 with the aim of doing something more transformative. This was in the early days of the program under Professor George Kohlrieser, and participants worked in small study groups without coaches.

HPL gave Incze more energy, new objectives, and above all a desire to do things that were good both for him and for others.

“There are people for whom HPL substantially changes their life, and that happened for me as well,” he recalls.

The personal change came first.

After completing HPL, Incze decided to start running marathons—and his two sons accompanied him on their bikes during his long training runs.

“We had some fantastic discussions,” Incze says. “I could spend time with my sons while training and preparing for a challenge.”

He ran his first marathon in 2004, after more than two years of training. By 2011, he had run marathons on all seven continents, in locations including Easter Island, Antarctica, on the Great Wall of China, and Marrakesh.

During marathons he used the concept of the “mind’s eye” that he had picked up during HPL.

“If you look inside yourself, then you just look at the pain,” he says. “But if you convert yourself to look outside, you enjoy it because you see the goal in your mind. My speed actually picked up in the last five kilometers when I realized I could do it.”

The professional change took longer, because of what Incze describes as “self-limiting beliefs that were holding me back.”

The biggest of these was that he didn’t want authority, even though he managed plenty of people in his different roles at Novartis.

Incze’s fear of authority had deep roots in his own family history. When the Hungarian authorities nationalized property after the second world war, they took over his grandfather’s family apartment and forced them to share it with other families.

“And my grandfather was only given work in a distant city, far away from his family…” Incze says, his voice choking with emotion.

With Kohlrieser’s help, Incze started to overcome this fear during the Advanced High Performance Leadership (AHPL) program at IMD in 2010, and at a special invitation-only retreat that Kohlrieser organized at the Esalen Institute in California.

“I went through a transformation and got rid of this belief. This was a huge turning point,” he says.

From that point on, Incze worked toward his dream of setting up his own company—and being comfortable with the authority that would go with it. This became reality in early 2011 when he founded Akceso Advisors, a consulting firm that advises pharmaceutical companies on drug pricing and market access.

Business is going well, with clients including Baxter, Shire and Novo Nordisk. And in his spare time, Incze does volunteer work for the German charity DSW, promoting sexual and reproductive health education in East Africa.

At 52, Incze still lives in Basel and is much more comfortable in his own skin these days.

“HPL and AHPL are different to other programs,” he says. “You see others change and you see yourself change too. It’s truly transformational.”