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‘Keep pursuing your best self’ IMD President advises EMBA graduates

Taking a chance on a great idea, approaching each situation with compassion and cultivating generosity are the hallmarks of great leadership, December 2021 Executive MBA class hears at graduation ceremony.
December 2021
‘Keep pursuing your best self’ IMD President advises EMBA graduates - IMD Business School

As the 66 graduates received their diplomas on Saturday – the majority at the Lausanne Palace hotel and one via video link – they rejoiced in a shared sense of achievement.

Congratulating the EMBA class of December 2021, Jean-François Manzoni, IMD’s President and Nestlé Chaired professor, said participants had shown even more courage and resilience than previous cohorts by navigating the demands of the program and juggling personal and professional lives amid the restrictions wrought by the COVID crisis.

Strive to be your best self

He advised the graduates to regularly remind themselves of the leader and person they want to become. Only through regular reflection and remaining focused on those goals are you able to act in the way needed to become the best version of yourself, he said.

The graduates should also remember to be grateful and generous, to give before trying to receive, and, importantly, to invest time and energy in nurturing the bonds between their classmates. “In good times and in bad times, you can be for one another a fantastic source of insights, of strength, of contacts and simply of joy” he said.

Follow your heart

On the 20th anniversary of his own EMBA graduation, keynote speaker Hans Gattlen, partner at private equity firm Equity Nova, advised participants to follow their heart rather than focusing on financial rewards.

Starting his own career as a lawyer, he moved to a role as a business manager at an automotive company before eventually pivoting to entrepreneurial ventures. “I invested literally all my money, pledged my chalet in the mountains and gave up my corporate career. And, you know what? Absolutely no regrets!”

A key lesson from his EMBA was the need for persistence, he said. When Gattlen was first trying to drum up backing for Swiss Factory Group, an association of innovative manufacturers and engineers, he was met with skepticism. Remaining convinced the idea could help increase Switzerland’s success in manufacturing, he didn’t give up, and succeeded in incorporating the group in November last year as co-owner and chairman. “The IMD experience helped me to get and keep the confidence that it is worth fighting for good ideas.”

In an increasingly complex world, Gattlen predicted the most innovative companies would no longer be managed by a single CEO but by a team of managers with complementary know-how and personalities working towards a common goal. He urged the graduates to keep a lookout for people with different skills who share similar values and to try to collaborate with them, reminding them that many of these people would likely be among their EMBA classmates.

Don’t grow a thick skin

In his address, Stefan Michel, Dean of the EMBA Program and Professor of Marketing and Strategy, challenged the notion that leaders need a thick skin, saying “the thicker the skin, the less you feel – and the less you feel, the more indifferent you become.”

Instead, leaders should strive to be compassionate, to relate to others and their surroundings. “Compassion in leadership creates stronger connections between people. It improves collaboration, raises levels of trust, enhances loyalty.”

Quoting the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, Professor Michel concluded his remarks: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Create a safe place to thrive

Echoing Professor Manzoni, class valedictorian Aline Ballaman-Garibian, who is a board member at the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce, praised the EMBA for enabling participants to better understand their inner selves, roles, purpose, and authority.

She thanked family and friends for patiently and generously supporting participants and saluted the “joy, smartness and kindness” of her cohort, which, she said,  collectively allowed each individual to thrive.

“We encouraged the learning experience in each other, no one was left behind. We created a safe place, a safe place to learn, to laugh, to sleep in a tank or in a hall, but with the aim of respecting the others and the work to be done,” she said. “And do you know what happens when we create a safe place? It brings out the most sublime of each individual.”

A final salute to great leadership

Amid the congratulations for the graduating EMBAs, the group also paused to acknowledge another great achievement. Concluding the ceremony, Professor Michel thanked Terry Akitt, an IMD MBA alumna who has been director of the EMBA program delivery since 2014. Akit is taking early retirement to spend more time with her family.

He praised her for expanding the program to three cohorts per year, increasing the number of female participants to more than 30%, and managing the complex task of scheduling 12 global discovery expeditions each year. Akitt also was instrumental in helping IMD secure several accreditations, helping the Institute remain in the elite circle of business schools that are triple accredited.

“I want to thank you, Terry, for your commitment, your engagement, your passion for IMD and for the Executive MBA. I wish you more time with your “other” family, I wish you joy, health and happiness,” said Professor Michel.