“Wherever you go, leave a much better place, and together, we can leave a much better world.”
These were the words of Hope Murera, IMD alumna and Managing Director and CEO of ZEP-RE (PTA Reinsurance Company) in a keynote speech during the graduation ceremony of the April 2022 class of Executive MBAs.
It was an evening of celebration but also reflection for the 48 graduates, who started their journey at the height of the COVID-19 crisis when the path out of the pandemic was far from certain.
Congratulating the EMBAs, IMD President and Nestlé Chaired Professor Jean-François Manzoni praised participants for balancing the demands of the program with the personal and professional challenges thrown up by the pandemic and, more recently, the invasion of Ukraine.
He also advised graduates to remain reflective and keep striving to become the best version of themselves as they continue their leadership journeys. “We do not have to be lifelong prisoners of our genetics and our education. We can do better,” said Professor Manzoni.
What does an EMBA grant you?
Speaking 20 years after her own graduation at IMD, Murera credited the program for broadening her own horizons. She urged the graduates to figure out where they can have the maximum impact and take time to expand their sphere of influence.
“You alone can define the impact, the footprint you want to leave,” said Murera who has helped ZEP-RE achieve gender parity across its ranks and focused its corporate social responsibility efforts on supporting the education of girls in eastern and southern Africa.
“You do not have to be the CEO to advocate for gender equity in your organization. You do not have to be in procurement to push for responsible sourcing. Choose to use your voice, your persuasion, and your leadership to advocate for and do good.”
In the face of global uncertainty, Murera said it was more important than ever to choose the right people for your team to navigate the turmoil. She also stressed the importance of building strong relationships and remaining humble.
“Be the ‘Chief Relationship Officer’ in your respective space. Build deep relationships, listen with empathy, and learn to say, ‘sorry we screwed up’.”
The importance of building bonds was also a theme touched upon by class valedictorian Dr Chrystèle Houphouët-Boigny.
As the pandemic moved back to a phase of relative normality at the start of this year, the graduates were looking forward to meeting all together during their discovery expedition to Estonia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, however, shattered that hope.
“All of a sudden, classmates saw their countries at war with one another. So, we had to reflect, respect, and adapt. And we did so, carefully, with calm, composure, and making sure to maintain the link that bonds us all,” said Houphouët-Boigny.
She gave special mention to one Ukrainian classmate, Taras Panasenko, who has stayed in the country to keep his chain of more than 800 discount stores open despite the challenges of war. “You turned your business around, no longer focusing on profits, but rather on survival. And even then, it was not about the survival of your business, you turned your attention to your stakeholders: your employees, your customers, your suppliers, your community.”
Dean of the EMBA program Professor Stefan Michel praised Panasenko’s leadership, passion and dedication to challenge what is and inspire what could be. “You are a role model for all of us, our thoughts are with you and all the people who are suffering because of this war.”
Valedictorian Houphouët-Boigny also thanked Profesor Michel who is handing over the baton to Professor Vanina Farber, describing him as a “brilliant brain and a brilliant professor.”
“What carried me during this program is the little sentence you whispered in our ears over and over again. To all of us, you said: we want ‘You’ to succeed,” she said. “I have learned with you that leadership is also committing on someone else’s success.”
As a final gesture, two of the graduating class presented a special edition of the Le Temps newspaper with the headline “New Horizons take off,” a reference to the name the class gave themselves.
“This is a wonderful surprise. New Horizons today making headline news,” concluded Professor Michel.