- IMD Business School
IMD Impact Stories · Strategy

Hilti blends IMD online and on-campus learning to develop young execs

IMD provides key section of Hilti’s graduate trainee program
June 2016

Modularity, using components that can be separated and recombined, has been a game-changing development in many industries from rail to automotive and computing, and thus the subject of many a lesson at IMD business school.

But now IMD has taken those lessons to heart and has begun to experiment with what modularity might mean for developing executives.

Recently construction giant Hilti Corporation commissioned IMD to create a business education section of its graduate trainee program, which it runs to turn high-potential executives into the company’s future leaders.


The challenge was providing the best and most impactful learning experience but also allowing participants to continue to perform at their jobs all over the world.

IMD responded by blending carefully selected segments of its recently released suite of highly-personalized and interactive online-based programs, what it calls Online Programs, with on-campus learning to create a curriculum that was 100% tailored to Hilti’s development needs.

The Hilti participants began by undertaking units of IMD’s Online Programs  Strategic Thinking and Disruptive Innovation over six weeks from their own locations to give them a basis in strategy and to get their creative juices flowing.

Next, the 24 Hilti executives who are taking part in the experience came to IMD’s campus for one week in-person sessions with IMD’s renowned faculty to dive even deeper into subjects like strategy, emerging markets, speed, leadership, digital transformation, organizational change, and more.

They also had a surprise day outdoors in the Swiss mountains where IMD organized a scenario to test their limits, leadership skills and self-awareness.

After the week on campus, Hilti’s up-and-coming execs go back to their offices and complete another seven weeks of IMD’s online-based courses covering finance and how to lead strategic initiatives.

But just because they’re back to work, doesn’t mean they’re left alone to learn. One of the key elements of IMD’s Online Programs is that participants have coaches following them and providing individualized feedback. There is also ample opportunity for group and pair work with other participants.


Eivind Slaaen, Head of People and Development at Hilti and one of the minds behind the new format of program, had this to say: “I think the length of IMD’s Online Programs and the peer element are important parts of why they work so well. The peer element is motivating. If you’re alone, it’s easy not to do an online course. Also since they are studying for six weeks at a time and not, say, a year, it’s not so daunting.”

“You get a lot of personal feedback in the online courses. You know somebody took the time to look at what you did and to tell you how you can improve,” said Zlatan Alikadic, a participant from Sweden.

Elvind and a number of the participants found the mix of online and face-to-face learning a great way to combine theory with experiential and peer learning.

“The mix of online and face-to-face works especially well,” Elvind said. “It gives the participants a theoretical basis up front and then they come to IMD to work on applying and consolidating what they have learned leading up to the on-campus experience.”


Jerome Darbre, who works for Hilti and is based in Zurich, said the online part allowed them to learn a great deal in a time frame that he would have never been able to afford to take away from the office. And the on-campus part gave him an opportunity to build on the virtual interactions and connect face to face with colleagues from many of the far-flung offices of his own company. Once in Lausanne, he thought IMD’s faculty were impressive in person. “They were inspiring and you can tell that they have passion,” he said.

The program managed to convert at least one skeptic. Ernesto Pulido from Mexico said that he was not a fan of online learning before the experience, but due to the high quality of the overall product and the appropriateness of the assignments, he got a lot out of the distance parts. “Plus it was wonderful to actually meet the professors later,” he said.

One of the overall program highlights for Magdalena Gajda from Poland, who is currently based in the UK, was the outdoor leadership session. “We were put to the test in a stressful situation. You really find out who the leaders are and they are not who you might expect them to be.”

Zlatan Alikadic said the program gave him a sense of commitment from his company. “The company walks the talk; you can see that they are investing in younger executives for the future,” he said.

Paul Hunter, Director of Digital Learning at IMD said the way Online Programs are conceived at IMD makes it possible for individual units to be used on their own or combined with other online modules and on-campus sessions. “Increasingly organizations are looking for bespoke blended solutions that combine the best of digital with the best of face to face. The combination of IMD’s Online Programs and classroom interaction provides a convenient, flexible and fully immersive experience.”

Beauty of customization

IMD Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management Martha Maznevski directs the Hilti Outperformers blended program. “Thanks to the way our programs are put together, we could do something similar to what we did for Hilti for any organization, but the program might end up looking completely different because every company has different DNA. That’s the beauty of this type of learning customization,” Professor Maznevski said.

“IMD is great at offering the type of learning in the cloud that wasn’t available to companies before,” Elvind from Hilti said. “The modular nature of the program with IMD made it so we were sure to be able to adapt it to our company’s strategy,” he concluded.

Find out more about:

IMD’s Online Programs

Custom programs

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