MBA Journal: Becoming a Leader

With the first part of Business Fundamentals over, the IMD (IMD Full-Time MBA Profile Class of 2011 is gaining momentum in this one-year marathon. The first three months were intense, but we never failed to play hard outside the classroom. I will always remember heading to the local bar on Feb. 11 and celebrating with our Egyptian classmates when President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, raising our glasses to others turning another year wiser, and walking with candles to Lake Geneva in memory of the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. These events remind us that even though we sometimes feel isolated as we are focused on school, the world continues to turn, and we need to fight to stay connected to it. That's not to say that the academics haven't left an impression.

Early in the program, we were presented with 15 startup companies in Switzerland that were interested in partnering with students. We submitted our choices and were matched with the companies in groups of six. Each company was in a different stage of business and faced unique challenges. When we started to work with them, we quickly got a sense of the startup environment. Although we were eager to jump in and help the entrepreneur succeed, this project was tricky to handle because we had to set aside time that we didn't have for it. We were working on this project in the midst of reading, preparing for cases, and working on other group projects. Nevertheless, what better way to learn about entrepreneurship than to work for a startup?

We also started our personal development elective (PDE) as part of the Leadership Stream. In this elective, we will spend 20 one-on-one sessions with a psychoanalyst to learn more about ourselves and get in touch with our feelings. Knowing thyself is truly something we are pushed to achieve, and this is impressively coordinated with analysis assignments, coaching sessions, and the PDE, which uses the intense work environment in our groups as a background for discussion. The leadership module continues to be one of the most transforming aspects of the program, and I continue to have "aha" moments when the dots connect.

During the first three months, we took core subjects, such as entrepreneurship, marketing, economy, operations, accounting, and finance, interspersed with classes on communication and critical thinking. The core classes are the foundation of an MBA, and although they are extremely important, these other courses outside the core stand out to me. The communication classes covered topics such as managerial writing, story boarding for slide presentations, and public speaking.

Capturing the Audience's Attention

An unforgettable class was public speaking, where an experienced actor from the U.K. engaged the class in a one-day workshop on how to "be ourselves but better with skill." Just like acting, giving presentations in the business world is a high-pressure performance. Being your genuine self is of the utmost importance. We spent the day role-playing and understanding how to capture the audience's attention with a stage actor's toolkit. In the end, we were convinced that his methods were credible, because he was able to capture the attention of 90 sleep-deprived students for an entire day.

Despite being taught about high-pressure performances, that was actually one of the lightest days. At the opposite pole was the integrative exercise. Not only are the classes in the program integrated, which means I sometimes find it hard to distinguish an accounting class from an organizational behavior class; also, specific main events test our understanding of business from a holistic point of view. These are the integrative exercises that are spread out throughout the year. In this particular exercise, we were given a case study at 1:30 p.m. and had to be ready to present a full business plan the next day at 9 a.m. to a panel of judges that consisted of faculty members. We were then given another 24 hours to revise the presentation according to the comments we were given. My group spent 20 hours straight working on the presentation, took a two-hour nap, and worked for another 20 hours to present the final version to the judges. We used everything we had learned in the first couple months to tackle the case, and we were so tired at the end, we were just happy it was over. I cannot wait until the next one arrives.

The next half of the module will include our trip to Paris to participate in the annual MBA Tournament organized by HEC Paris and another round of exams in June. We will also be preparing for our trip to South Africa to work with local enterprises at the end of July. There are many things to look forward to.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.